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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Tompion Clock

One of the jobs I am privileged to do as Collections Manager at the Roman Baths is to wind the Tompion Clock. It has stood in Bath’s Pump Room since 1709 and its older than the present Room!

The 1670s-1700s were an interesting time in the history of telling the time: pendulums had only recently been invented and clock makers were working out how to improve clocks and watches’ accuracy particularly with springs, making it possible to take these fragile instruments onto ships. 

Thomas Tompion was (and still is) a well-regarded clock maker. He worked for Charles II, William III and Queen Anne. As a friend of the first Astronomer Royal, Flamsted, two of his clocks were built into the Observatory, Greenwich.  And after a successful life, having made over 700 clocks and 6,000 watches when he died his work was recognised with a burial in Westminster Abbey.

The clock with its hood removed 

The Bath clock is, to get technical, a long case equation clock.  This means its much bigger than a grandfather clock (it stands over three metres high) and it has a kidney shaped dial which reflects the solar time which is not regular like the ticking of a clock because of the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun. This was important to the men of science as that was what they were used to from sundials. Even so, to check an equation clock its necessary to regularly use a sundial to get “the sun’s time”.  So all of these clocks were supplied with a sun dial!  Ours is outside the nearest window in the Pump Room. 

Tompion's sundial outside the Pump Room

Unlike most of Tompion’s clocks, which were given mahogany wood cases, ours has an oak one.  Another difference is that it has to be wound every 3 weeks which sounds good until you consider the one Tompion made  for William III now in Buckingham Palace needs to be wound only once a year!

Some people have suggested these difference are because Tompion made the clock cheaply and gave it the City of Bath not so much as a gift but a very large advertisement in the social centre of Bath!   However, as he did live here for   and he was made an honorary freedman of the city before he gave the clock, that doesn’t sound fair.

Our earliest photograph (early 20th century) of the Tompion Clock in the Pump Room with the Victorian colour scheme!

Apart from the pedigree of this clock, I love it because of its elaborate details: the urn and foliage decoration around the dial, and the fire gilt finials with mini flames on top!

I’m surprised that it shows the date: but this means throughout the year we have to ever so carefully, don gloves, and move the delicate hands around to show the right date.  


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