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TOMPION no.145.
A true Dutch striking English clock.

By: Melgert Spaander.

Table of contents:

Dutch striking.
Striking parts.
Strike No Strike.
Reconstruction of the pull repeat.
Bolt & Shutter maintaining power.


At the Drents Museum in Assen (The Netherlands) one can find a modest but distinguished longcase clock among many fine examples of Dutch furniture. After closer observation the dial of this clock appears to bear not a Dutch name but the signature: Tho=Tompion Londini Fecit.  
Immediately the question arises as to how this work of art, made by this London clockmaker of repute, came to be in the eastern province of Drenthe? Peter Schoonewille, the Drents  Museum’s curator, has explained that many years ago this clock was bequeathed to the museum by the old aristocratic family de Vos van Steenwijk, together with its family archive. It was said that  the clock had been in the family estate for many years. The importance of the clock among the Museum’s collections was made clearer following a visit by J.H. Leopold of the British Museum who was able to examine it and underline its special qualities.

Fig. 1a (click to enlarge)
The dial signature on Tompion's No 145.

The decision was taken to restore the case and following this attention was paid to the movement in order that it could run safely. The movement appears to be of a month’s duration and has a complicated striking  mechanism, which is fully recognizable as a Thomas Tompion design. Although the clock was functional, the many empty holes in the plates suggested that several parts were missing. A detailed examination to determine its original  construction was carried out and documented.  Finally, with the help of Jeremy Evans at  the British Museum we had the opportunity to compare this clock in detail with all the Tompion clocks he has documented extensively throughout the years.

As a result of this work the clock has given  away many of its secrets and made it possible for the striking mechanism, the complicated pull-repeat and the bolt & shutter maintaining power to be reconstructed at some future date. In the mean time, the restored clock can be admired at the Drents Museum in Assen in expectation of its possible reconstruction. The clock has also been on display in the recent Huygens Legacy Exhibition at Palace 'Het Loo', exhibit No.76.


The signature on the clock ‘Tho=Tompion Londini Fecit’  is engraved on the base of the dial (Fig. 1a) and  the number 145 is stamped on the left side of the trunk door (Fig. 1b) and also on the base of the back plate (Fig. 1c). There are also the  initials VH scratched on the back of the dial  components in several places (Figs 1d&e).

Fig. 1d & 1e. (click to enlarge)
 The initials VH engraved on the back of the
date ring (top) and the seconds chapter ring.

The  clock appears to have been made within the  period 1685-1690.  The fire-gilt 11 in. square dial (Fig. 1f )  has four fire-gilt cherub spandrels and features  both wheatear banding along the borders and engraving between the spandrels. There is a  seconds ring and date aperture and the chapter  ring has markers for half-quarters, quarters,  half-hours (Tompion’s favored cross style) and  minutes (numbered every five). The strike/no  strike lever is situated at IX. The blued steel hands are of a design commonly used by  Tompion.

Fig. 1b & 1c (click to enlarge)
The number stamped on the door edge and the lower edge of the back plate.

The case of the clock is of oak, veneered  in walnut, with wheatear banding on all sides and inlaid on the front with colored full floral  marquetry. The originally rising hood, has been altered to a sliding hood with front door. The hood columns are missing. There are frets in the side windows and a frieze runs around three  sides below the top moldings. Fixing marks on the top of the hood could have been for a dome  or cresting. The plinth has been altered and runs  over the marquetry of the base (Fig. 1g).


Fig. 1g (click to enlarge)
Marquetry case of Tompion’s No.145.

The month-going movement (Figs 1h,i,j&k)  has specially tapered plates, separated by six knobbed pillars. Holes in the pillars slide over pins in the seat board, the whole being secured by an adjustable hook on the case back board. The bolt & shutter maintaining power, activated by a cord inside the trunk, is all missing. The escapement is recoil anchor and the seconds-beating pendulum is adjusted by a round nut  with Arabic numbers. The movement has an  inside rack for Dutch striking: the hour on a large bell, and at the half, the coming hour on a small one. Locking is done on the rack and  the snail is on the hour wheel. The striking train  is on the left whilst the hammers are on the right. There is also a passing-strike mechanism, the first quarter on the large bell and the third  quarter on the small one. Repeating work by pulling a cord on either side of the trunk, accurate to half an hour, is all missing.

Fig. 1f (click to enlarge)
The dial of Tompion's No 145 before and after restoration.

The following repair marks have been found
on the movement:

g de groen 17 October 1896
J vd Kolk 14 sept 1900
J Daverschot J Post 16.9.28
P Kluin 3 nov 1930
Schmole 1941 Groningen


In the literature ‘Dutch striking’ is mostly defined as striking the hours on a large bell and at the half-hour on a small bell. Only rarely is it further indicated ) how many blows are given at a certain half-hour, and that many Dutch clocks give one blow at the quarters on either the large or the small bell. In Holland three kind of striking methods are in use, of which the third type has two variations.



Fig. 1h, 1i, 1j & 1k.(click to enlarge)
Four views of the movement The number of the clock can be seen clearly at the bottom of the back plate
(Fig. 1k).

If literally translated into English, these
Dutch terms would be:

1. ‘Single strike’

At the hour the right number of blows on
a bell.
At the half-hour 1 blow on the same bell.

2. ‘Double strike’

At the hour the right number of blows on
a large bell.
At the half-hour the number of blows of
the coming hour on a small bell.

3A. ‘Quarter strike’

At the hour the right number of blows on
a large bell.
At the first quarter 1 blow on the same large
At the half-hour the number of blows of
the coming hour on a small bell.
At the third quarter 1 blow on the same
small bell.

3B. ‘Quarter strike’

At the hour the right number of blows on
a large bell.
At the first quarter 1 blow on a small bell.
At the half-hour the number of blows of
the coming hour on the same small bell.
At the third quarter 1 blow on the same
large bell.

In Holland the clock strikes the coming hour at the half-hour. This reflects the way that the time is told in the Dutch language. In Holland, at the half-hour one counts towards the coming hour: ‘half three’ means 14:30. In England at the half-hour one starts from the passed hour: ‘half  past two’ means 14:30. All together it makes a difference of an hour.  

The English version of 3A (not found in  Holland) strikes as follows:

3A. ‘Quarter strike’   (English version)

At the hour the right number of blows on
a large bell.

At the first quarter 1 blow on the same large
At the half-hour the number of blows of
the passed hour on a small bell.
At the third quarter 1 blow on the same
small bell.

Clock No.145 strikes according Dutch version 3A, so at the half-hour the number of blows of the coming hour are struck. In a rack-striking clock, the orientation of the hole in the hour hand boss is essential in this matter

Fig. 2a, 2b & 2c.(click to enlarge)
The snail, the snail disassembled and the hour hand fitting on the hour pipe
(see following).


If, as is the case in No.145, the pipe of the hour wheel (with its square shoulder for fixing the hour hand) is made in one piece together with the snail, the number of blows is fixed to the time the hand is showing (Figs 2a,b&c). Normally the square fixing hole is aligned along the axis of the hand. With such a ‘normal’ hand, No.145 would have struck the number of blows of the passed hour, at the half-hour, so following the English method 3A.

However, the position of the fixing hole in the hour hand of No.145 is turned 15º (½  hour anti-clockwise) (Fig. 2d) and because of  this the clock strikes the coming hour at the  half-hour in the Dutch way. Its design does not  differ from other hands leaving the workshop  of Tompion at the time, except in this detail. It  would be interesting to know if this particular  hand (Figs 2e&f ) was made in London or later  in a workshop in Holland.

Fig. 2 d (click to enlarge)
Square fixing hole in the hour hand, offset 15° to ensure correct Dutch striking.

Fig. 2 e (click to enlarge)
Detail of hour hand before repair.

Fig. 2 f (click to enlarge)
Detail of the minute hand.

Of the Tompion clocks we have seen, No.311  at Lyme Park bears the greatest resemblance to No.145 with its pull repeat and Strike/Silent  on the dial. The hour hand is a ‘normal’ one  and indeed it strikes the English way at the  half-hour. The catalogue of clocks at Lyme Park however indicates that it has Dutch striking. English clocks exported to the Netherlands  up until c.1750, have the hour hand with a  round hole to be fixed on a round shoulder of  the hour pipe by a tiny screw through a little hole in the hand (or steady pin in a small slot). By making just another little hole (or slot) 1/24 of the circumstance next to it, the striking system is modified to suit the Dutch market.
Screwing a separate snail on the hour wheel was another way of solving the problem. With an extra hole in this part, the same adaptation could also be obtained.


With lever (E) in position N (Figs 3a,b&c), the  clock will be prevented from striking during normal running. The bent arm of lever (E) turns the horizontal pivoted pin (Aa) of the  lifting piece in such a way, that this pin can no  longer reach the rack hook (B) to release the rack (Figs 3d, e & f ). Thus the lifting piece (A) rises and drops of every half an hour without any effect, whilst the striking train is kept available for repeating.


Figs. 3a & 3b (click to enlarge)
a) Detail of the Strike/No strike slot in the dial.
b) The Strike/No strike lever behind the dial.

 Fig. 3c (click to enlarge)
Deatail of the  Strike/No strike system, showing the lever E, the pivoted pin Aa, and the rack hook B. 


Fig. 3f (click to enlarge)
Lifting piece A with pivoting pin.

 End of this section, click here to continue.


  Back to previous section.


The repeat mechanism is completely missing. By starting with the empty holes in the plates and studying striking trains of other Tompions, gradually we were able to reconstruct its unusual operation (Figs 4a,b&c).

If either cord to the left or right side of the case was pulled during the first half of an hour, the large bell would sound the passed hour and during the second half the small bell would sound the coming hour. The multi-function repeat lever (D) was located in the upper left corner, pivoted in the back plate and a cock (R) screwed on the front plate. The strong spring (G) screwed on the cock holds this lever in its upper position. On pulling the cord for repetition, the main arm of lever (D) comes down to press with pin (d) on the scrolled back end of the lifting piece (A), resulting in a normal striking procedure as every half an hour.

However just a few minutes before every half-hour the repeat work is susceptible to failure as the strike changes over from one bell to the other or from striking 2 or 3 (for example).


Figs. 4b. (click to enlarge)
Views of the movement showing the area where the repeat mechanism is missing.

Fig. 4b. (click to enlarge)
Diagrammatic representation of the missing repeat mechanism. Compare with fig 4a.

If the rack (C) falls on the snail at that very moment, the gathering pallet could jam on a rack tooth, so blocking the striking train completely. This problem was effectively solved by Tompion by bringing lifting piece (A) into use for repetition. A few minutes before the clock strikes, the lifting piece (A) moves upward, meanwhile blocking with its hook (Aa) the frontal arm of repeat lever (D). As a consequence the repeat cord can not be pulled for a short period of minutes. After the critical transition has passed and lifting piece (A) has dropped off, the cord is free for repetition again. In addition, by using the warning, the rack was given enough time to drop properly onto the snail.


Fig. 4c. (click to enlarge)
View of the movement with the front plate removed. Compare with Fig 4b for the missing repeat work.

So as to enjoy a good night’s rest, the S/N lever (E) not only silenced the striking train but the passing strike as well. In position N the tip of lever (E) moved pin (Dd) on the frontal arm of repeat lever (D) slightly to the left, so that its other arm between the plates was holding back the quarter hammers (H&I) by means of an intermediate lever (K) pivoted in the back plate.

However, to achieve a repeat in position N, activating the lifting piece (A) is not enough; the scrolled back end of rack hook (B) has to be pressed by pin (d) on the main arm of lever (D) as well. This is necessary, because in position N, lever (E) has turned away pin (Aa) in lifting piece (A), taking away its connection towards rack hook (B) to unlock the rack (C) and release the striking train.


All the holes for the parts needed still exist. It is possible to restore the mechanism in Tompion style whilst dealing with the lack of space on the front plate, as found on other clocks made by him.


Fig. 5. (click to enlarge)
The hood showing the marquetry.

Traces remaining in the hood (Figs 5a&b) prove that it was made as a rising hood with a fixed glazed front panel and columns on the corners. At an early stage it was converted to a hinged door, locked by a key.


Figs. 5a (click to enlarge)
Traces of the former rising hood and pillars.

Remaining saw marks (Fig. 5c shows one example) and the corresponding wood veins of separate parts, formerly one piece, are evidence of this procedure. This whole operation made the sometimes daily operated S/N lever on the dial accessible without lifting the hood.

Fig. 5b. (click to enlarge)
Internal view of the hood, showing the cutting of the door

Figs. 5c. (click to enlarge)
Detail of the saw marks made when the hood was cut to make a door, and the corresponding wood veins of separate parts, formerly one piece.

For securing the hood, a pin fixed at the back of the door enters a hole in the trunk when closing this door which is then locked by a key. This assembly (Figs 5d&e) has also been found on other Tompion cases.


Fig. 5d & 5e. (click to enlarge)
Location pin in door frame and corresponding hole in the case upstand.

In a later period the hood was modified from rising to sliding and locked by a turn catch (this can be seen in Fig. 5b). However the remains of a lock with its spring (Fig. 5f ) are witness to the original rising hood construction. The columns appear to have been removed only recently. Traces on the top of the hood (Fig. 5g) suggest the former presence of a dome or carved cresting on three sides.

Fig. 5f. (click to enlarge)
Marks left on the back board by the removal of the original catch and spring for the rising hood.

Fig. 5g. (click to enlarge)
Tel-tale marks left on the top of the hood by removal of a cresting or dome.

Both sides of the trunk have little brass tubes
for guiding the cords via brass pulleys, mounted on the back the right of the upper molding, towards the repeat mechanism (Figs 5h&i).

Fig. 5h. (click to enlarge)
hole for brass guide tube  for repeat cord, in the right hand side of the case.

The original feet are missing and recently skirting has been applied which covers the bottom of the marquetry panel.

Fig. 55. (click to enlarge)
Melgert Spaander, Robert Schilten and curator Peter Schoonewille studying the case at the Drents Museum.


Apparently Tompion’s clocks No 131, 311 & 387 contain almost identical constructions of the repeat work designed for No.145. The movement of No.311 at Lyme Park (Fig. 6a) is also executed with the same specially shaped plates (Fig. 6b).

Fig. 6a. (click to enlarge)
Tompion's no. 311 at Lyme park, National Trust.

Fig. 6b. (click to enlarge)
View of the movement of Tompion's no. 311, with similar shaped plates.

Though Tompion movements may have strong resemblances, they often diverge in serial number. In Jeremy Evans’ view this indicates that Tompion used to make several standard movements and dials which he kept ‘on the shelf’ in his workshop ready for finishing when required. The countless conversions and adaptations we found in No.145, verifiably made at a very early stage, confirm Jeremy’s ideas in this matter.

When William III became King of England  in 1689, Tompion found him to be a great lover of technical instruments and he became an important client. The King ordered the  most complicated movements from Tompion  in precious eye-catching cases to embellish his sumptuous palaces. William also gave away clocks or watches as gifts to many of his  international relations and acquaintances, so objects signed by Tompion appear on the scene all over the world. Being Stadholder of Holland, William III acted as a mediator for Tompion and gave him opportunities to increase his export activities to the Netherlands and other parts of continental Europe.

On 6th May 1697 Tompion gained a passport for traveling through the Netherlands together with a Dr Pragest. ) His introduction to wealthy Dutch families may well have resulted in a number of important orders.

According to its dating of 1685-1690, based on its number and appearance, No.145 would have been too old to be made specifically for the visit of 1697. This implies that either Tompion exported this clock in an earlier period, or that he adapted an older clock especially for Dutch clientele, to be sold during his voyage.

The noble family de Vos van Steenwijk was the last owner of No.145, but they may have also been the first. The family archive possibly contains relevant details regarding this subject. The lay out of the striking parts shows at least, that No.145 originally was made to be used in England.

In both Holland and England was a demand for clocks fully striking at the hour, as well as at the half-hour on different bells. Essentially most English clocks with so called Dutch striking, have nothing to do with Holland at all, except the exported ones of course. It may well be that this striking method formerly had its own name in England, and fell into disuse together with the device itself. It would be interesting to know if the expression ‘Dutch striking’ was used in the seventeenth century, or originated as late as the twentieth century. Generally speaking, grande sonnerie is not practiced in clocks made in Holland, probably because this way of striking would only lead to confusion in determining the time by sound.

This investigation of Tompion’s No.145 throws extra light on the practices of clockmakers on both sides of the English Channel during the period when William III was at the same time Stadholder of Holland and King of England.


The reconstruction of the missing mechanism in Tompion’s No.145 has yet to be carried out. It is important that any future work is reversible, and the original are not altered.


I would like to thank Robert Schilten, Jaap Boonstra and Michael Applebee for their much appreciated assistance. Also, I am indebted to Peter Schoonewille of the Drents Museum in Assen, Clair Bissell of Lyme Park (National Trust), and J.H. Leopold and Jeremy Evans of the British Museum. It would have been difficult to complete this work without their help.

Zutphen, The Netherlands, Oct. 2004.




























1. Hans van den Ende, Dr Frits van Kersen, Maria F. van Kersen-Halbertsma, Dr John C. Taylor and Neil R. Taylor, Huygens’ Legacy, catalogue of an exhibition held at Paleis Het Loo, (Castletown, Isle of Man: Fromanteel Ltd, 2004), pp.218-219. (back to text)

2. See, for example, R.W. Symonds, THOMAS TOMPION his life and work, (B.T.Batsford, 1951), p.115 and Tom
Robinson, The Longcase Clock, (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors Club, 1981), p.132.
(back to text)

3. Symonds, op. cit., p.41.
(back to text)

back to text.