Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Clock, Watch and Instrument Makers in England


The 17th century was a time of political and religious turbulence, but also a time of great advances in science. As global exploration and trade were developing fast, better navigation was a priority: much work therefore focused on mapping the stars, and on more accurate ways of telling the time wherever you were. Many Quaker craftsmen were involved in this, and three of them made particularly significant contributions.

Thomas Tompion (1638? -1713)

He probably learnt metalworking from his blacksmith father, in Northill, Bedfordshire, before he was apprenticed to a London clockmaker. He became a highly skilled and versatile craftsman, and was admitted as a ‘brother’ to the Company of Clockmakers in 1671.

He was soon in demand for prestigious commissions. In 1674 he made a turret clock for the Tower of London, and also worked with physicist Robert Hooke, curator of experiments at the Royal Society. Tompion made a quadrant that enabled Hooke to make accurate measurements of the angles of elevation of stars and the angles between stars as seen from Earth. (Hooke had been very critical of the naked-eye astronomical observation of many of his contemporaries, and Tompion’s new quadrant demonstrated that he was right).

In 1675 he made a ‘grandfather’ clock for mathematician and astronomer Jonas Moore, who then commissioned him to build two clocks and a sextant for the new Greenwich Observatory. These clocks were so well made that they were able to run for a year at a time without any adjustment, and the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, used them to great effect in his many astronomical observations.

He and Hooke also worked on improving barometers, and Tompion made the first mercury barometers to be offered for general sale.  Hooke also studied the compression and extension of mechanical springs (formulating Hooke’s Law). In the 1690s Tompion used this principle to great effect. He made a clock for King William III that was so well made that it is still in working order. Watches were increasingly in demand at this time, and Tompion made huge strides in their manufacture too.

He died in 1713 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Daniel Quare (1648-1742)

Although he was ten years younger than Tompion, he became a brother to the Company of Clockmakers at the same time, in 1671.He was an outstanding and innovative watchmaker.

He was at the forefront of the development of the ‘repeating’ watch that could chime the hours at the press of a button. He was also amongst the first watchmakers to use jewel endstones in watches to improve their action and durability, and to use dust caps to keep the movements clean.  He made a bedroom clock for King William III that only needed to be wound once a year. Furthermore it did not strike the hours so that the King’s sleep would not be disturbed. He made other instruments too, and in 1695 he was granted a patent for his invention of the portable weatherglass (a barometer). 

We only know of Tompion’s Quakerism through the fact that he had many Quaker apprentices, but Quare had grown up in a strict Quaker family, and lived his convictions very publicly. He had his goods confiscated on a number of occasions for refusing to pay tithes to the church, and he declined the appointment of watchmaker to King William III because he refused to take the oath of allegiance.  (The disappointed king found a way round this by instructing that Quare should be given access to the royal apartments, using a back entrance to the palace, so that they could continue to meet.)

Quare took an active role in the work of the Society of Friends.  He used his influence at Court to petition successfully for the release of two Friends imprisoned in Westmoreland. He also presented four Quakers to William III to give a statement of the sufferings of Friends. He assisted fellow Quaker John Bellers in drawing up ‘Proposals for Raising a College of Industry of all Useful Trades’ in 1695. The college never opened but led to the establishment of a Quaker workhouse at Clerkenwell where Quare was responsible for some of the boys for a number of years.  He is buried in the Quaker burial ground in Bunhill Fields in London.

George Graham (1673-1751)

He was one of Tompion’s apprentices. He married Tompion’s niece, and eventually inherited his business.  In 1720 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. Graham had a particular interest in astronomical instruments and made a major contribution to  the Greenwich Observatory. In 1725 he constructed its ‘Mural Arc’, whch enabled the correct position of heavenly bodies at any given time to be accurately recorded. Like Tompion he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Print this article