(1639–1713) was an English master
clockmaker and watchmaker known today as the father of English
. His work includes some of the most important
clocks and watches in the world and his work commands huge prices
whenever it appears at auction. His apprentices included George
Allett, Edward Banger, Henry Carlowe, Daniel Delander, Ricard Ems,
Ambrose Gardner, Obadiah Gardner, William Graham (nephew of George
Graham), George Harrison, Whitestone Littlemore, Jerimiah Martin,
Charles Molins, William Mourlay, Charles Murray, Robert Pattison,
William Sherwood, Richard Street, Charles Sypson, William Thompson,
James Tunn and Thomas White many of whom became important
clockmakers in their own right.
Tompion was born around 1639 and was baptized on 25 July 1639 in Northill, Bedfordshire, England.
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.
Clockmaking in London
Tompion was an early member of the Clockmakers' Company
joined in 1671 and became a master in 1704. He was also one of the
to become a member of the
. He joined in
partnership with Edward Banger
until about 1707 or 1708.
Observatory was established in 1676, King Charles II selected Tompion to create
two clocks based on an escapement designed by Richard Towneley, that would be wound only
once a year.
They proved to be very accurate and were
instrumental in the accurate calculations for astronomers.
Due to his relationship with the scientist Robert Hooke
he made some of the first watches
. These were much more accurate than earlier watches. He
invented the first widely used balance spring regulator, used in
pocketwatches until the late 1800s. He also invented the cylinder escapement
that allowed him to
create flat watches. He also worked on the spring escapement
As England's most prominent watchmaker
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
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.
In 1711 Tompion joined in partnership with George Graham
, who later
developed the spring escapement further after Tompion's death. He
also continued Tompion's scheme to number his watches in three
series: plain, repeating and special.
Tompion died on 20 November 1713 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Many of his clocks are still operational
today, including two of his one-year clocks in Buckingham
Examples of his work
In the 1986 film Clockwise
school of which John Cleese
is headmaster was named for Thomas Tompion, appropriate given the
headmaster's attention to punctuality.