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‘The Father of English Clockmaking’ – Thomas Tompion

Thomas Tompion
Thomas Tompion

Clockmaking in the UK has a long and celebrated past right from the set-up of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. Commonly called the Clockmakers Company this was founded way back in 1631 when King Charles I set it up by Royal Charter.

Oldest Horological Institution in the World

This is the oldest surviving horological institution in the world. Its moto is ‘Tempus Rerum Imperator’ , Time is the ruler of (all) things. Throughout the nearly four centuries since then one clock maker stands out in a group of some amazing clock makers. The question is who is the most famous of all clockmakers? The person would be the person known as ‘The Father of English Clockmaking’, the great Thomas Tompion. Thomas Tompion was Master of the Clockmakers Company in 1704.

Amazing Works of Tompion

Thomas Tompion produced some amazing works, often quite diverse and some very complex. It is definately the fact individuals like this raised the standards of clockmaking throughout the horological profession. This meant England was the foremost country for the production of clocks in the 18th century.

Thomas life and work is studied in a book by R.W.Symonds. Anyone interested in reading more about this great clock maker I would ask your library to try and source you a copy of this great book.

Outstanding Thomas Tompion clock C1680

Start of the Journey

The journey to be known as the most influential and most respected clock maker throughout history starts from the tiny hamlet of Ickfield Green in Northill, Bedfordshire. Thomas was the eldest son of Thomas Tompion , a blacksmith and his wife Margaret. Thomas was baptized on the 25th July 1639. Some 32 years later he was admitted into the Clockmakers Company as a ‘Brother’ on 4th September 1671.

Apprentaship Dues

He paid his fee for doing so of 30 shillings. Very little is known about these growing up years or where he learnt his formidable clock-making skills. It is assumed though he was taught through working with his father at home in his blacksmiths.

Father was a Blacksmith

Blacksmiths at the time were known to have made the ‘Great Clocks’, or what we know today as turret clocks for places like churches. It is also assumed Thomas had loved the idea of working directly in clocks. This can be seen by the fact his father who died in 1665 gave his tools to his younger son James. We can take from this Thomas already had acquired his own tools in clock making and his father tools were not necessary. If we look at many other famous clock makers like Harrison many of them are self taught.

Water Lane Clock Business

We do know for a fact that in 1674 Tompion moved into Water Lane where he continued his clock-making business for the rest of his years.It is amazing the rise to fame of Thomas, even from the very start of his new business he met people like Dr. Robert Hooke.

Dr Robert Hooke

Hooke was a leading gentleman of the day specializing in physics and mathematics. He was a great intellect and undoubtedly a real inventive genius. Hooke commissioned Thomas Tompion to make a quadrant for the Royal Society.News must of quickly spread of Tompions talent. The working relationship of Tompion and Hooke was the real catalyst for this massive rise in fame and prestige for Tompion.

Technological Advancements

I am of the belief these two collaborated closely on a number of great technological advancements. For instance in 1675 Hooke asked Tompion for help in proving he and not Huygens had invented the spiral spring balance for watches. The result ended up that Tompion was the first to actually apply this spring balance to a watch. Many people see Tompion as a maker of larger clocks but it was the success in watches with the huge demand at the time that really brought dividends.

Royal Observatory Clocks

Tompion’s name was mentioned in all the important corridors of the day. Just two years after he moved into Water Lane he was commissioned by Sir Jonas Moore to build two clocks for the new observatory in Greenwich. These clocks were of a year duration and very accurate. These clocks were testament to this clock-makers talent. Another famous clock maker George Graham joined Tompion at his Water Lane premises. In 1696, he married Tompion’s niece Elizabeth. Edward Banger also joined Tompion between 1701-08 but when Banger left from 1710-1713 when Tompion died, his clocks were signed ‘Tompion and Graham’.

George Graham
George Graham

Westminster Abbey Burial

Thomas Tompion and George Graham have the honour of being both buried in Westminster Abbey and Tompion’s graveyard can still be seen today. He left his business and most of his estate to George Graham and his wife. Graham continued Tompions high standards. In the book by R.W.Symonds I believe there is an account where someone comes into Tompions shop in Water Lane with a watch. Tompion looks at it, goes into the back and smashes it with a hammer. He remarks this is not a proper Tompion and he gives him a genuine watch in return.

Fakes Around Even in the 18th century

This shows even way back then Tompion was so famous people were copying his work. There are lots of clocks signed Tompion but always be careful in buying to check the clock is a genuine item. Genuine clocks by Tompion are rare and often fetch in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. If you would like to contact us about acquiring a Thomas Tompion or any other famous clock-maker  please visit here for antique clocks for sale.

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What is my Antique Clock Worth ?

I must get asked numerous times every day the question, What is my clock worth ? Well to answer this it depends on a variety of factors before even looking at the clock in question. It depends on whether you want a replacement or insurance value. You may want to know what I will get for my antique clock in an ‘as is’, un-restored condition. These values will be significantly different.

Insurance, As Is or replacement Value?

For an insurance valuation. It will be a value of what you would need to spend if you had to replace the clock with a similar example from a dealer. Clearly buying an antique clock from a dealer like ourselves is completely different than buying a clock from an auction. Reputable dealers give guarantees to the clock condition, it will have been examined, cleaned, restored and put into showroom condition. The clock will be in good working order and it will come with a guarantee.

Huge Difference in Values

Dealers will sometimes deliver and setup the clocks in your home. None of these guarantees or working order or showroom condition factors come with clocks sold in auction or most times on ebay. On average it takes 3-5 days to restore a grandfather clock movement. 5-10 days to restore a cabinet. When you add up this restoration, you will realise clocks in auction are not necessarily that cheap. They are not restored but also they are not guaranteed genuine most of the time.

Buyer Beware at Auctions

It is buyer beware for buying at auction. Normally the conditions in the backs of the catalogues give the auctioneer a massive get out clause. Reputable dealer does not have this. So expect a valuation for insurance to be several times the rate of a simple buy it now valuation. Also it is good to remember auctioneer valuations does not mean you will get that for the item. You will have to take into account auctioneer fees for selling. These can mount up. You could receive 1/3 or even less than what the buyer paid for the goods. You may also have to wait several weeks for your money.

Family Heirloom

It may be the case your antique clock is a family heirloom and the value of it is not really the issue. You may be dividing your family estate out and need to know a rough price for the estate. You may want to more about the clock and any information on the maker that is available. I will endevour to help you with any research on your clocks value and information. Contact me directly at Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd. Please send reduced sized images and do not expect a formal valuation. I will try and do this for free of charge for you. My love is for antique clocks and I will go out of my way to help individuals as much as I can. Clearly these valuations I will carry out for you are only to give you an idea. You may need formal valuations, these are chargeable however.

Fluctuating Valuations

When I undertake valuations, yes I will need to know the type of valuation you require. Valuations as described above these can differ greatly. There are lots of criteria when performing a valuation of a clock. The most important factor for me is the clock is genuine and in good but honest condition. Value would be significantly reduced if the dial is not original to the movement or the movement is not original to the cabinet. Some clocks have led a very chequered life.


Either damp homes or central heated homes have sometimes meant clock cases have been ruined. These will then be furnishing clocks but not have as great an ‘as is’ value. Clearly some times important makers add to the value of the clock, but on valuing you must be sure the clock maker is genuine to the clock.

As you can see the valuation is not an easy one but if you want to contact me now, if you have always wondered about your clock, feel free to do so. What is your antique clock worth find out now ?

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Painted Antique Furniture and Clocks

Georgian table decorated in the manner of great artist Pergolesi

Famous Names in Furniture

When I come to think of 18th century antique furniture design, I think primarily of 4 names. There is the great Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, Thomas Sheraton and last but by no means least Robert Adam. Robert Adam was probably better known for his influence on architecture in the 18th century but he also designed lovely pieces of furniture.

Famous Floral Designs, Pergolesi

It was on one of his trips to the Continent to study foreign designs he came across Michael Angelo Pergolesi. Pergolesi was one of the main characters in the start of painted antique furniture. Designs on antique furniture up to this point had been inlaid into the wood surface.

Fine GIII Satinwood painted decorated side table

Pergolesi trip to UK

Pergolesi stayed in the UK until the end of the 18th century. He worked with the celebrated Adelphi firm. He designed and painted beautiful pieces of furniture and the occasional antique clock. Many of these works decorated with fine figures, flowers and classical urns. He published a book of these designs taken between 1777 and 1801. He worked with other leading figures at he time, many were members of the Royal Academy. These individuals revolutionized the decoration applied to antique furniture.

Lovely delicate armchair  with fine designs in manner of celebrated artist Pergolesi

Pergolesi Designs

Pergolesi designs on antique furniture are rare by the fact he worked only a sort period of time in the UK. Those who worked with him in this area left London to work overseas before the end of the 18th century. With this short window of opportunity, very few pieces were made by these celebrated artists and designers, making them highly sought after. Later work like this can be seen in the late 19th century. This is when this type of work hit a revival in the fashion moods at the time.

A link to the clock decorated below can be found by clicking here Gill of Rye Grandfather Clock.

Lovely longcase clock in satinwood with white dial and painted scenes


Age of Satinwood

Most of written information on this subject can be found by reading books on the ‘Age of Satinwood’. Many pieces were decorated on this wood surface as satinwood offers a ‘plain canvas’ so to speak for the artists work. It is also true though you will see works decorated on mahogany cabinets in the last quarter of the 18th century. One outstanding such painted decorated clock is seen below.

Ached brass dial moon longcase clock with case of London design but finely decorated with flowers and  urns



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How to Repair a Grandfather Clock ?

Garnet grandfather clock dial after cleaning

Bringing back to life an old dusty and somewhat dilapidated antique grandfather clock into a stunning clock fit for any home is a skill that few people can master. Our workshop here in Cheshire has many years of experience in repairing and restoring antique clocks and furniture. Each having differing respective challenges. I must first say I would only recommend in undertaking such a complex and painstaking restoration if you have the necessary skills and knowledge to achieve this.

Value After Restoration

Poor quality restoration can reduce the value of any fine antique. Sympathetic restoration by highly skilled craftsmen is really important in this respect. Some of our repairs that we have to carry out on clocks is to take away old poor quality repairs. It is usually the case a ‘sleepy’ grandfather clock can actually be easier to repair in may ways than an over restored example.

It is easy to over restore

Once something has been ‘over restored’ it is very hard to correct. The lovely patina in many cases has been stripped off. The beautiful colour underneath the years of grime has been ruined Generally by whatever pot of stain the culprit has used. It is the case restoring sympathetically takes a lot longer, but the end result is far far superior.

We have lots of superb restored North West or Liverpool clocks for sale, you will see a lovely examples if you can visit our search facilty on our website to see various Liverpool clocks here.

North West Clocks

In this blog I will be looking at a lovely North West clock that we have just restored here in Cheshire. To give you some idea of the time taken, the cabinet required just short of 9 full days work. The movement about 2 and a half days.

If only the maker William Garnett of Bold could see the clock now. The clock looking probably even lovelier than it did when it was new back in C1770

    Before – After Restoration Images

Back to life the Bold movement now cleaned and overhauled

As you can view from the pictures above, the Garnett of Bold antique clock movement has been cleaned and overhauled. It has been brought back to life so to speak. 2 and a half days in the critical A and E department of our Cheshire antique clock workshop and now its heartbeat is working strongly again.

antique cabinet being repaired before restoration

Bold Garnet antique clock cabinet requiring professional restoration

Pictures pre and post Restoration

As you can see from the various pictures taken prior to the restoration taking place, the clock cabinet was in a poor state of affairs. It required some difficult sympathetic restoration to bring this past master back to life. The base panel was warped and twisted and another issue was the wood that was veneered on was all shapes. The hood door mask was smashed and various mouldings and feet to the clock needed attention. The cleat to the trunk door was also loose and the clock had numerous places of small repairs to be completed.

Time consuming work

All time consuming and meticulous work. It is vital for any of these repairs to be undertaken with wood of the same age and colour and grain. A good match can then be obtained. Replacing a foot or moulding with new wood will make it impossible for the repair to match correctly.

Humidity controlled environment

We have a store (all humidity controlled) of 17th ,18th and 19th century woods so a good match can be achieved. Animal glues are used in repairs just like in the past. Animal glues have a great quality that is pretty much unmatched by modern glues. The veneer stuck down with animal glue can be reheated if necessary and unstuck. This meant performing repairs, like was necessary to the base panel of the clock, was possible.

Careful work to base panel of Bold of Garnett clock

Difficult Repairs

In the pictures above very difficult repairs had to be carried out on the base panel. The base panel was warped and their was no way the wood the the veneers to the front had been veneered on could be saved. It had multiple splits and was really rough chopped. We had to remove all the veneer from the base panel. Upmost care has to be taken here. The mentioned veneer is stuck down traditionally with animal glues. An iron and wet rag can therefore be used to steam the veneers off the damaged back panel. A 18th century flat piece of mahogany was used to glue the original veneers back down and straps were used. The twisting of the base panel is reduced in the future.

Period wood Used

All wood used in this process is wood of the correct age of the clock. The veneer is clamped and glued with animal glue as before. The outside of the clock now has a perfectly flat base panel.This will be structurally sound for the years ahead.

Lots of small and more complex repairs on this Garnett of Bold clock

Above you will see lots of tasks carried out by our antique furniture restoration department. The top of the mask was replaced in 18th century wood and various other smaller repairs all over the cabinet. In the next series of pictures you will see the final completed restoration. All work carried out sympathetically and preserving the beautiful colour and patina of this clock. I hope you will agree a repair carried out to the highest standards and making the clock sound for future generations.

Lovely colour and patination Garnett of Bold clock


I could give you many references on the quality of our restoration. Our antique clock and furniture repair and restoration department has carried out many complex tasks. We have undertaken repairs for major Embassy’s in London. Important Hotels and for influential private individuals. I remember a Sotheby’s director who attended our shop opening many years ago of Pendulum of Mayfair in London, said he had never seen as sympathetic restoration before. We pride oursleves on this.

Come see for yourself

You can view items on our website to see our standards or even better still drop by our shop in London. Also visit our antique repair and restoration workshop premises in Cheshire where this work is carried out.
If you want any information or prices on having your clock professionally overhauled and repaired. You can also follow my antique clocks tweets on twitter. Alternatively please read and like my antique clocks page on Facebook.