George Graham was born in 1674, going to London in 1688 when he was apprenticed to Henry Aske for seven years. He was admitted as a freeman of the Clockmakers Company in 1695 and entered the service of Thomas Tompion. In 1696 he married Tompions niece, Elizabeth.
He worked with Tompion until the latter’s death in 1713. He invented the dead beat escapement in 1715 and the mercurial pendulum in 1726, which together produced a very fine degree of accuracy in longcase clocks.
On Tompion’s death, he continued as is shown from an advertisement in the London Gazette for November 1713:
George Graham, nephew of the late Mr Thomas Tompion, who lived with him upwards of seventeen years, and managed his trade for several years past, whose name was joined with Mr Tompion’s for some time before his death, and to whom he left all his stock and work, finished and unfinished, continues to carry on the said trade at the dwelling house of the said Mr Tompion, at the sign of the Dial and Three Crowns, at the corner of Water Lane, in Fleet Street, London, where all persons may be accommodated as formerly.
Tompion was not in good health for the last four or five years of his life and it is possible that most of the work from their workshop of the period 1710 to 1713 was the work of Graham.
Graham modified the cylinder escapement in watches and continued with the serial numbers of Tompion. He appears to have made some 3,000 watches and 174 clocks of all types. Like Tompion, his work was primarily that of a watchmaker as the trade in watches was so much more profitable than that in clocks. The clocks are numbered 600 to 744. Graham was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1721 and became a Member of the Council in 1722. He was an active member of the society and contributed no less than twenty one papers. He had a great interest in scientific instruments and in astronomical matters. In 1722 he was Master of the Clockmakers Company.
Graham was buried in Westminster Abbey in the Tompion grave. It must not be thought that this was so very great an honour as it would be today. At the time it was possible for a successful tradesman to ‘buy’ a place in the Abbey, if he was well thought of, as were Tompion and Graham, and possibly friendly with the Dean. Accounts show that Graham was obviously highly thought of by the Dean, as at the end of the accounts it is stated: ‘Mr Graham was buried under the gravestone of the late Mr Tompion; and My Lord The Dean gave orders for an inscription to the memory of Mr Graham to be added after that formerly made for Mr Tompion, without paying anything for the same.’
The famous gravestone reads:
Here lies the body of Mr Thomas Tompion who departed this life on the 20th November 1713 in the 75th year of his age. Also the body of George Graham a London watchmaker and F.R.S., whose curious inventions do honour to British genius, whose accurate performance are standard of mechanical skill. He died XVI of November MDCLI in the LXXVIII year of his age.
The stone was moved from its original position when the nave was undergoing re-pavement in 1838, but was replaced by the Dean Stanley in its original position in 1866.
Image copyright Wikipedia