William Dobbie was born 9 May 1796 and apprenticed to the business of his father, whom he succeeded in 1836. On the death of his father he was appointed by the Stintmasters to take charge of the town clock at a salary of two guineas yearly. In April, 1839, he was chosen as Watch and Clock Maker in Ordinary to Queen Victoria. On the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, Falkirk was made a Parliamentary Burgh, and received a municipal constitution, with a Council of twelve, including a Provost, three Bailies, and a Treasurer. Out of thirty candidates, Mr Dobbie was chosen a Councillor at the first election in 1833, and in 1843 was placed at the top of the poll; two years, later, 1845, he was appointed a Bailie, retiring in 1846. Like Russell he made barometers and one was exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Shortly afterwards William Dobbie started a long series of subscription sales in which he put up a quantity of valuable goods and sold “shares” to the general public, those with the lucky shares won the objects – essentially a form of gambling! He also acted as the local agent of the Northern Fire and Life Insurance Company.
In 1827 he married Isabella Mungall or Bell, a widow, who died at Falkirk on 11th December, 1844. Their eldest son was George Dobbie II. The second youngest son, Alexander Monro, moved to the Grange area in Bo’ness, where he died in August 1853. (It is probable that Thomas Dobbie who had a clockmaker’s shop in Glasgow was another son. This became William & George Dobbie). A third son, Charles Augustus Murray, died at the family home at Rosepark on 18 January 1863. William, Dobbie I died at Rosepark Cottage, Falkirk, on 10 March, 1864. Miss Dobbie of Roespark Cottage, presumably his daughter, then settled the business. Shortly thereafter a Miss Dobbie also turns up as a watchmaker in Bo’ness along with George and William Dobbie practitioners of that trade.
On 13 February 1840 the marriage of Queen Victoria was celebrated in Falkirk. The town bells rang all day. A request was put out asking shopkeepers to illuminate. This call was responded to by a great number in the High Street and at seven o’clock the street seemed ablaze. The window of Mr Dobbie, clockmaker to Her Majesty, attracted universal notice. An elegant device lighted by gas filled the three windows, in one was the letter V., in the centre a heart, and in the left an A. The letters were formed of brass pipe, and about 300 jets at gas were lighted therefrom.
“our-public-spirited townsman, Mr Dobbie, clockmaker to the Queen [showed the advantages of transparent dials]… by placing a beautiful clock, with transparent dial, over his shop door. When lighted the general remarks are, that an effort should be made to light up the town’s clock in a similar way. The index is connected with a very superior case clock inside, to which is also attached a spring acted upon by an alarm, the index of which may be set at any hour, so that the gas is shut even to a second of time. Mr Dobbie has allowed it to continue lighted until five o’clock in the morning.”(Falkirk Herald 12 September 1844, 4).
William Dobbie became a member of the Falkirk Lodge on 26 December, 1814. On 27 December 1815, he was passed and raised to the high degree of Master Mason; Junior Warden, 12 December 1817; Senior Warden, 11 December 1818 and 1819; acted as Depute Master, 1820 and 1821; Secretary of the Lodge, December 1824. On the resignation of the Master of the Lodge, William Leishman, in the latter year, we are informed by a minute of date 15 October that “The Brethren unanimously elected Brother William Dobbie to be Right Worshipful Master, who agreed to fill that office till next election, and he made choice, of Br. George Lightbody to be his Depute, and Br. James Turner to be his Secretary.”
Private collection. White painted dial “WILLM DOBBIE CLOCKMAKER; TO THE QUEEN FALKIRK”. The spandrels show the four seasons with a seated woman appropriately clothed for each. In each she wears a long tartan skirt. Spring is shown with a bunch of grapes; summer holding a wreath; autumn holding a sickle; winter wearing a shawl and with her hands firmly enclosed in a muff. The scene in the arch shown a man and women seated by a table in a panelled room; he plays a musical instrument. It probably represents Rizzio and Mary Queen of Scots.
The painted pendulum shows a castle beside a lake. (Courtesy of Annette Logan and Kim Fairchild).
William Dobbie saw himself as the successor of John Russell for craftsmanship and even produced barometers, as is seen from his advertisements in the newspapers:
“IMPROVED ROYAL BAROMETERS with Movements, finished equal to the finest Watch. The Barometers have two indexes, the one of the common range, and the other indicating the thousandth part of an inch in the Rise or Fall of the mercury with the greatest precision, and are made on the same principle as those the late Mr Russell of this town had the honour of presenting to Alexander, the late Emperor of Russia, his late Majesty George the Third, and to the then Prince Regent.
It may be proper to mention, however, that the Barometers made by Mr R. had brass knobs fixed to the pinions for turning the Registers, and although they were correctly set in order to ascertain the change of the atmosphere in a given time, this could not be depended upon – because any person could have moved the Registers, and the Cases of his Barometers were made of plain Mahogany, ornamented with brass wire and painted glass, – whereas those I make have moveable keys for setting the Registers, which can be taken out at pleasure, thereby preventing any one altering them, and the Cases I furnish are both more substantial and costly – being made of the finest Rosewood, richly carved, of a beautiful design and high finish. W.D. therefore maintains that his Royal Barometers are not only improved in their utility, but very much so in point of elegance, and while his charge is from 12 to20 guineas, Mr R’s was from 15 to 20 guineas and upwards.”(Falkirk Herald 15 May 1851).