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History of English watchmaking in London

It is often thought that precision timekeeping is a relatively recent concept when in fact, the need for accurate time keeping became acute in the 16th centuries when seafaring nations began to look to the New World for riches.

Domestic clocks from the 16th and 17th century mainly consisted of highly-detailed intricate watches and spring-driven house clocks encased in precious metals.

English advances in horology

Image of principle English mechanical watchmakers - Thomas Tompion, George Graham & John Harrison – all members of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers of London

Clockwise: Thomas Tompion, George Graham, John Harrison

Image representing Britian's maritime supremacy

British Empire's maritime supremacy

Image of the Newgate Street clock unveiling ceremony. The clock was built to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers of London

Newgate Street clock unveiling ceremony

Close-up image of the Newgate Street clock that features the wandering hour dial

Windmills inspired Newgate Street clock

Many of the most significant advances in horology in the sixteenth and seventeenth century were made not in Switzerland but in London, in a drive to maintain the maritime supremacy which led to the creation of the British Empire.

The principle watchmakers mostly congregated in the City of London and belonged to the Clockmaker's Company. They included luminaries such as:

  • Daniel Quare, one of the most renowned English clockmakers of his time
  • Thomas Tompion, known today as the father of English watchmaking
  • George Graham who developed the spring escapement
  • John Harrison who designed and built the world’s first successful maritime clock. This maritime click accuracy was great enough to allow the determination of longitude over long distances

Celebrating 375 years of English watchmaking expertise

To celebrate the 375th Anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, a new public clock has been erected in Newgate Street. It is situated some 200 yards from St. Paul's Cathedral, where Newgate meets King Edward Street. It is the gift of the Clockmakers to the City and bears the Company's arms.

J & T Windmills is delighted to be a co-sponsor in this project; indeed the design of the clock draws its inspiration from the work of Joseph Windmills himself. The wandering hour dial was devised for domestic clocks in the mid-17th century and immediately adopted by a few leading London makers.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the design was adapted for use in a few exclusive London-made pocket watches, including a group by Windmills. The hour numerals pass in turn across an aperture in the upper part of the circular dial, pointing as they travel, to the minutes. As a new hour rises, so the old one sets.

The clock has been designed by Joanna Migdal and constructed by Smith of Derby.