2019 Annual Meeting

The Life, Work and Context of Alexander Cumming

Held in the Leopold Muller Lecture Theatre at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF, on Saturday 18 May 2019.

10.00 Museum doors opened. Registration with tea, coffee and biscuits.

10.30 Chair’s introduction

10.35 Gloria Clifton, A Biographical Sketch of Alexander Cumming, Watchmaker and Mechanician, 1731/2–1814

11.10 Charlotte Rostek, The Third Earl of Bute’s Patronage of Alexander Cumming

11.45 Jonathan Betts, Alexander Cumming and Precision Timekeeping

12.15 Lunch in the Queen’s House

14.00 Annual General Meeting and presentation of awards

15.00 Rebekah Higgitt, The Metropolitan Science of Georgian London

15.35 Peter Holmes, The Case for Chippendale?

16.10 Alison Boyle, The Life of a Cumming Clock: Luke Howard’s Barometric Researches, 1814–1847, and Beyond

16.40 Closing words.

In August 2017, the Science Museum unveiled the latest exhibit in its flagship Making the Modern World gallery. Newly on show was a pedestal barograph clock that was previously on loan to the Museum but had recently been permanently acquired with support from the Art Fund and Wolfson Foundation. It dates from 1766 and was made by Alexander Cumming, clockmaker to King George III, and is one of only four of its type known to have been constructed by the London maker.

After Cumming’s death the clock was bought by the famed meteorologist Luke Howard and used to make systematic observations that are among the world’s first urban climate studies. The clock’s exuberant carved mahogany case has been attributed to the esteemed cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale and displays the detailed craft skill that expressed the status of science in the 18th century.

The acquisition of this crucially important clock prompted the theme of this year’s AHS Annual Meeting, which was the second in a series started in 2017 looking in detail at the life and times of celebrated figures in horological history. What do we know about the life, work and context of Alexander Cumming, and what more can we learn? Who was in Cumming’s network and what was the role of science, and scientific instruments, in Georgian society? And what else, besides clocks and watches, did this important mechanician make – and with whom?

The day’s events were arranged with the kind sponsorship and support of Sotheby’s.