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Thomas Tompion

Thomas Tompion

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Thomas Tompion was an English clock maker, watchmaker and mechanician who is still regarded to this day as the Father of English Clockmaking. Tompion's work includes some of the most historic and important clocks and watches in the world and can command very high prices whenever outstanding examples appear at auction. A plaque commemorates the house he shared on Fleet Street with his equally famous pupil and successor George Graham
George Graham (clockmaker)
George Graham was an English clockmaker, inventor, and geophysicist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.He was born to George Graham in Kirklinton, Cumberland. A Friend like his mentor Thomas Tompion, Graham left Cumberland in 1688 for London to work with Tompion...

.

His apprentices included George Allett, Edward Banger, Henry Callowe (Callot), Daniel Delander, Richard Emes, Ambrose Gardner, Obadiah Gardner, William Graham (nephew of George Graham), George Harrison, Whitestone Littlemore, Jeremiah Martin, Charles Molins (Molyns), William Mourlay, Charles Murray, Robert Pattison, William Sherwood, Richard Street, Charles Sypson, William Thompson, James Tunn and Thomas White many of whom became important makers and workmen in their own right.

Biography


Thomas Tompion was born around 1639 and was baptized on 25 July 1639 in Northill
Northill
Northill is a village and civil parish in the county of Bedfordshire, England. It falls under the Northill and Blunham ward in the Central Bedfordshire local authority. As of 2001 Northill had a population of about 900 people. The village is also the administrative centre of the civil parish of...

, Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire is a ceremonial county of historic origin in England that forms part of the East of England region.It borders Cambridgeshire to the north-east, Northamptonshire to the north, Buckinghamshire to the west and Hertfordshire to the south-east....

, England. The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Clockmakers were formed by a Royal Charter in 1631. Originally, no person was allowed to sell clocks unless they were a member of the Company. However, such requirements have since been relaxed and later...

 maintains the family cottage in Ickwell
Ickwell
Ickwell is a hamlet in Bedfordshire, England.With the settlements of Upper and Lower Caldecote, Thorncote, Hatch, Brook End, Cow Pastures, Vinegar Hill and Budna, the hamlet of Ickwell makes up the civil parish of Northill.-History:...

, his home village. He was the eldest son of a blacksmith, also named Thomas Tompion, and probably worked as a blacksmith until 1664 when he became an apprentice of a London clockmaker. Very little of his earlier years is known. The first reference to Tompion in London is recorded around the end of 1670 in Water Lane (now Whitefriars Street) off Fleet Street.

His early clock making style shows a strong connection with Joseph Knibb
Joseph Knibb
Joseph Knibb was an English clockmaker.-Biography:He was born as the fifth son of Thomas Knibb, yeoman of Claydon, in 1640. He was cousin to Samuel Knibb, clockmaker, to whom he was apprenticed in 1655. After serving his seven years he moved to Oxford in 1662, the year Samuel moved to London.In...

. This is of interest as Tompion's most important early patron was the scientist Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke FRS was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath.His adult life comprised three distinct periods: as a scientific inquirer lacking money; achieving great wealth and standing through his reputation for hard work and scrupulous honesty following the great fire of 1666, but...

 who must have known the Knibb family in Oxford. Hooke's relationship with Tompion was the key to his success as it opened doors to Royal patronage as well as giving him access to the latest technology.

Tompion's excellence was based on the sound design of his productions as well as the high quality of the materials used. This together with the outstanding skills of the workmen he employed gave him an unrivalled reputation throughout the known world.
Tompion was an early member of the Clockmakers' Company of London — he joined in 1671 and became a master in 1704. He was also one of the few watchmaker
Watchmaker
A watchmaker is an artisan who makes and repairs watches. Since virtually all watches are now factory made, most modern watchmakers solely repair watches. However, originally they were master craftsmen who built watches, including all their parts, by hand...

s to become a member of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

. He joined in partnership with Edward Banger in 1701 until about 1707 or 1708.

When the Royal Observatory
Royal Observatory, Greenwich
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich , in London, England played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and is best known as the location of the prime meridian...

 was established in 1676, King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 selected Tompion to create two clocks based on Hooke's idea of a very long pendulum. Each was driven by an escapement designed by Richard Towneley
Richard Towneley
Richard Towneley was an English mathematician and astronomer from Towneley near Burnley, Lancashire. He was one of a group of seventeenth century astronomers in the north of England, which included Jeremiah Horrocks, William Crabtree and William Gascoigne, the pioneer astronomers who laid the...

, with both clocks only needing to be wound once a year. They proved to be highly accurate and were instrumental in achieving the accurate calculations needed for astronomical observation.


Due to his relationship with the scientist Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke FRS was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath.His adult life comprised three distinct periods: as a scientific inquirer lacking money; achieving great wealth and standing through his reputation for hard work and scrupulous honesty following the great fire of 1666, but...

 he made some of the first watch
Watch
A watch is a small timepiece, typically worn either on the wrist or attached on a chain and carried in a pocket, with wristwatches being the most common type of watch used today. They evolved in the 17th century from spring powered clocks, which appeared in the 15th century. The first watches were...

es with balance spring
Balance spring
A balance spring, or hairspring, is a part used in mechanical timepieces. The balance spring, attached to the balance wheel, controls the speed at which the wheels of the timepiece turn, and thus the rate of movement of the hands...

s, these were much more accurate than earlier watches. Although several different kinds were experimented with, the final form was with a plain spiral balance spring. The first of this kind was made for King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 and is signed "Rob. Hooke invert. 1658. T. Tompion fecit, 1675."

It is often stated that Tompion invented the first widely used balance spring regulator used in pocket watches until the late 19th century, in which the Curb Pins are mounted on a sector-rack, moved by a pinion fitted with a graduated disc. However, this is not correct as such regulators were already in use in French balance spring watches of the 1670s.

As England's most prominent watchmaker
Watchmaker
A watchmaker is an artisan who makes and repairs watches. Since virtually all watches are now factory made, most modern watchmakers solely repair watches. However, originally they were master craftsmen who built watches, including all their parts, by hand...

, Tompion built about 5,500 watches and 650 clocks during his career. Tompion's clocks are known for their ingenuity of design and robust construction. His three-train grande sonnerie
Grande sonnerie
Grande sonnerie is a complication in a mechanical watch or clock which combines a quarter striking mechanism with a repeater. On the quarter-hour, it strikes the number of hours audibly on a gong, and then the number of quarter-hours since the hour on a second gong. In addition it can strike the...

bracket clocks are masterpieces. Another of his innovations was to create a numbering system for his spring and long-case clocks which is thought to be the first time that a serial numbering system was applied to manufactured goods.

Later life


In 1711 Tompion joined in partnership with George Graham
George Graham (clockmaker)
George Graham was an English clockmaker, inventor, and geophysicist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.He was born to George Graham in Kirklinton, Cumberland. A Friend like his mentor Thomas Tompion, Graham left Cumberland in 1688 for London to work with Tompion...

, who further developed the designs of both scientific instruments as well as clocks and watches after Tompion's death, he also continued Tompion's numbering system for his clocks and watches.

Thomas Tompion died on 20 November 1713 and was buried in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

. Many of his clocks are still operational today, including two of his one-year clocks in Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, in London, is the principal residence and office of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality...

.

Examples of his work

  • An eight day double pull repeating table clock in ebonised case. London. c 1700. Moyse's Hall Museum Bury St Edmunds UK

Cultural references


In the 1986 film Clockwise (film)
Clockwise (film)
Clockwise is a 1986 British comedy film starring John Cleese. It was directed by Christopher Morahan, written by Michael Frayn and produced by Michael Codron. The film was co-produced by Moment Films and Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment...

, the school of which John Cleese
John Cleese
John Marwood Cleese is an English actor, comedian, writer, and film producer. He achieved success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and as a scriptwriter and performer on The Frost Report...

's character is headmaster was named for Thomas Tompion, appropriate given the headmaster's attention to punctuality.