Richard of Wallingford, Abbot

SUBJECT AREA: Horology
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b. 1291/2 Wallingford, England
d. 23 May 1336 St Albans, Hertfordshire, England
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English cleric, mathematician and astronomer who produced the earliest mechanical clock of which there is detailed knowledge.
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Richard, the son of a blacksmith, was adopted by the Prior of Wallingford when his father died and educated at Oxford. He then joined the monastery at St Albans and was ordained as a priest in 1317. After a further period at Oxford studying mathematics and astronomy he returned to St Albans as Abbot in 1327. Shortly after he had been elected Abbot he started work on a very elaborate astronomical clock. The escapement and the striking mechanism of this clock were unusual. The former was a variation on the verge escapement, and the hour striking (up to twenty-four) was controlled by a series of pins laid out in a helical pattern on a drum. However, timekeeping was of secondary importance as the main purpose of the clock was to show the motion of the Sun, Moon and planets (the details of the planet mechanism are lost) and to demonstrate eclipses. This was achieved in a very precise manner by a series of ingenious mechanisms, such as the elliptical wheel that was used to derive the variable motion of the sun.
Richard died of leprosy, which he had contracted during a visit to obtain papal confirmation of his appointment, and the clock was completed after his death. The last recorded reference to it was made by John Leyland, shortly before the dissolution of the monasteries. It is now known only from incomplete manuscript copies of Richard's treatise. A modern reconstruction has been made based upon J.D.North's interpretation of the manuscript.
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Bibliography
For the drafts of Richard's Treatise on the Clock, with translation and commentary, see J.D.North, 1976, Richard of Wallingford, 3 vols, Oxford.
Further Reading
See J.D.North's definitive work above: for biographical information see Vol. 2, pp. 1–16. Most of the shorter accounts appeared before the publication of North's treatise and are therefore of more limited use.
G.White, 1978, "Evolution of the epicyclic gear—part 2", Chartered Mechanical Engineer (April): 85–8 (an account of Richard's use of epicyclic gearing).
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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