Dr Robert Hooke

Dr Robert HookeNo Account of famous clockmakers would be complete without a consideration of the large part played in horological development by this celebrated scientist. Hooke was born in 1635 and entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1653, where he worked with Dr Ward on astronomical operations and met the scientist Robert Boyle. He was a fellow of the New Royal Society (1663) and became Professor of Mechanics with care of the Repository. He was appointed Professor of Geometry at Gresham College.

Hooke was ‘a bachelor, somewhat crooked, pale of the face and of a forceful and somewhat quarrelsome disposition’.

It is possible that he invented the anchor escapement, although the first clock made with that mechanism was made by the clockmaker William Clement.

His interests were very wide and with his appointment at the Royal Society, he had contact with all the important scientists of his time. He was the first to suggest that a compensated pendulum could be made by using the different coefficients of expansion of brass and steel, but no use of this possibility was made for some considerable time.

He demonstrated before the Royal Society the great improvement of a spring suspension for a pendulum in 1666 with the additional advantage that the suspension could be varied by a slit in the mounting block, allowing the pendulum to be shortened or lengthened and time-keeping so regulated. In 1672 he invented a tooth- and wheel-cutting machine which allowed all wheels to be most accurately and satisfactorily made.

In 1674 he contacted Tompion with a request for a quadrant, which instrument Tompion made to his great satisfaction. From this date he appears to have been a friend and of the greatest help to Tompion. Indeed, it can be appreciated that Tompion had worked for some years without achieving any great reputation, but following his meeting with Hooke great change came about. Tompion is noted for the excellent cutting of his wheels and this was most probably due to his use of Hooke’s cutting machine.

Hooke had been experimenting with a balance spring for watches since 1660 and he was upset to find that Huygens using the French maker, Thuret, had constructed balance-spring mechanisms. In an endeavour to establish his own priority, Hooke asked Tompion in 1675 to construct a watch which he submitted to Charles II. The King had already had an example of the work of Huygens and Thuret shown to him by Oldenburg, who was also a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Charles asked that a watch of the Hooke-Tompion variety should be made for him and although this was done, it was far from being a great success with constant need for attention. The outcome was that Charles did not grant either a patent, but Tompion gained a reputation from being thus introduced to the King. From this date Tompion’s work flourished and his workshop expanded greatly. He was in constant contact with Hooke: both bachelors visited one another in their homes and Hooke would keep Tompion abreast with all the recent developments. Tompion was indeed lucky to have met the illustrious Doctor.

From 1675 onwards, Tompion produced a number of complicated astrolabe, calendar and equation clocks, possibly with the help and encouragement of Hooke. His work of this period 1675 – 1705, is of the very highest quality, although he did at the same time produce ‘standard’ bracket and longcase clocks. He made a year equation clock for William III in 1695 and a clock of three months’ duration for the bed-chamber of William at Hampton Court Palace.

By this time the workshop of Tompion was fully established with assistants, engraver, wheel cutters, hand cutters, casters, gilders, etc. and the great master was ready to hand over the immediate control of his workshop to his nephew, Banger.

The long pendulum combined with Hooke’s anchor escapement meant that the longcase clock became a precision instrument and the wheel-cutting machine together with Tompion’s great skill, produced watches of excellent accuracy the norm. English clockmakers found themselves leading the world, a position in no small measure due to the help of Dr Robert Hooke. Hooke died in 1703.

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