Henry Hindley (1701-1771) was a remarkable Yorkshire clockmaker, watchmaker, maker of scientific instruments and inventor whose many achievements are now only just being recognised.

Hindley was born into a Catholic family in Lancashire, probably near Wigan, and came to York in 1730 with his wife, son (Joseph), and daughter (Elizabeth). The family attended church at St Michael-le-Belfrey (next to York Minster) and Elizabeth was educated at the Bar Convent. In 1731, Hindley was granted freedom of the City of York, allowing him to trade within the City walls:

upon his making and presenting a very good and handsome eight day clock and case for the Lord Mayor’s House [work on the Mansion House having been completed in 1730] and another for the common hall [the City’s Guildhall] and taking care of the same for one year

Hindley’s death is recorded in the St Michael-le-Belfrey burial register, on March 25, 1771.

Hindley’s first workshop (and home) was in Low Petergate, York; a premises bought by Mr Gent, printer, in 1731 and let to Hindley in the same year. This house still stands and is now occupied by the restaurant, La Vecchia Scuola, named for a previous occupant, York College for Girls. In 1769, Hindley moved to a workshop on the corner of Stonegate and Blake Street. This premises was demolished, and re-built, in the late 1700s by Thomas Haxby, piano maker.

Pamphlet scan_Keystone-Hindley Gear Co.Circa. 1920

Hindley’s inventions include a fusee-cutting engine and a screw-cutting lathe, as well as one of the first dividing engines for the construction of accurately-graduated arcs on scientific instruments. He was also the maker of the world’s first equatorially-mounted telescope, which can now be seen in Burton Constable Hall, East Yorkshire . The telescope was described in detail in an advertisement placed  by Hindley in the York Courant on August 13, 1754 and later reported by John Smeaton in a paper, read at The Royal Society on 17 November 1785, entitled, Observations on the graduation of astronomical instruments, with an explanation of the method invented by the late Mr Henry Hindley of York, clockmaker, to divide circles into any given number of parts’. The telescope is of particular interest because of the use of worm gears of enveloping or globoidal form. In engineering, this design of gear is still widely referred to as the Hindley Worm.

Hindley’s globoidal worm cut on his famous ‘engine’, circa 1740. From the mount of the universal, equatorially mounted telescope

As reported in ‘Gear Solutions’, a magazine published for the mechanical engineering trade,

da Vinci studied and sketched cycloidal and globoidal gears. But it was in 1765 that we first know of its successful application in a dividing engine. The hourglass-shaped worm was cut by a straight sided tool set in the worm’s axial plane and traveling in a circular path, the center of which was that of the mating worm gear. The 13-inch diameter gear had 360 teeth. Invented by the clock maker Henry Hindley, his name has become associated with a specific design of globoidal worm […] In 1910, Dr. W.F. Lanchester designed a globoidal worm for use in the rear axle drive of his automobiles. They were made to the practice of the Keystone-Hindley Gear Co. […] By the thirties globoidal drives had developed into either a plane or cone design. Current AGMA standard 6035-A02 does not include the Wildhaber, only the Hindley, and the more recently designed forms that do not use a constant base circle to form the tooth profiles.

Another, later, telescope by Hindley is in the collection of the Science Museum, London.

Hindley is believed to have made around 40 longcase clocks, 15 spring clocks and 12 turret clocks. Several of his clocks remain in York, at:

  • York Castle Museum (five longcase clocks, a sundial and a watch),
  • York Minster (a turret clock – with two striking figures, Gog and Magog – in the North Transept and a spring clock in the Vestry),
  • Fairfax House (a spring clock),
  • The Bar Convent (a turret clock installed in 1768 and a longcase clock),
  • The Mansion House (the two longcase clocks that bought Hindley’s freedom of the City of York).

As John Holmes, Hindley’s apprentice and cousin of John Smeaton (the engineer and builder of the Eddystone lighthouse), said, in a letter to the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ in 1754:

‘Tis much to be regretted that one of the greatest mechanical geniuses and most accurate artists of the age should, from continually adding one invention to another, and from having been fixed in the country, where his productions have been neglected, have had neither the leisure nor the encouragement to make any of them publick; this however, I can confirm to be the case with Mr Hindley, clock and watch maker of York.

Hindley’s contribution deserves the widest possible recognition, given his potential to inspire a new generation of makers, inventors and engineers who walk past his workshop(s) in York.

Information about the blue plaque scheme administered by the York Civic Trust, and the opportunity comment on the current proposals for new blue plaques in York, including one for Henry Hindley, is available here: https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/next-blue-plaque/

Matthew Read and Rachel Wicaksono


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