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Thomas Tompion (1639-1713)

Thomas Tompion is among the foremost clockmakers in English history. He was the inventor of the recoil escapement for clocks and the cylinder escapement for watches, and enjoyed the patronage of three successive sovereigns – Charles II (1630-85), William III (1650-1702) and Queen Anne (1665-1714).  Examples of his work in the Royal Collection today include long-case clocks, bracket clocks and barometers, all of exquisite quality and design.

Tompion established his business near Fleet Street in 1671, and was associated with the eminent mathematician and scientist Robert Hooke. Hooke had previously invented the siphon wheel barometer, which registers changes in atmospheric pressure on a clock-like dial, and it was Tompion he asked to make the instrument a physical reality.  Together, the pair also prepared a bespoke watch for Charles II in 1675.

By the 1690s, Tompion ranked as the most prosperous clockmaker in the country, with a household of 19 people. During his lifetime, some 650 clocks and 5000 numbered watches were produced by his workshop.  He operated at the sign of 'The Dial and the Three Crowns' – perhaps to indicate his service to three successive sovereigns.  The most enthusiastic of these was William III, for whom Tompion made several longcase clocks, as well as four early barometers.  Several remain in the Royal Collection today.  When the King died, Tompion was owed £564 'for clocks and watches &c. presented by the late King to the Duke of Florence' – an indication that many of his royal commissions were elaborate presentation pieces for foreign governments and officials.  Tompion's other works included mathematical instruments and sundials, one of which can be seen at Hampton Court Palace.

Tompion was born in Bedfordshire, where he was baptised in 1639. He died in 1713 and is buried in the central aisle of Westminster Abbey.


Objects associated with Thomas Tompion (1639-1713)