Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Machines in Jacobian London: They Existed!

Early Jacobian London was an odd place: Elizabeth was dead yet Shakespeare still wrote; Copernicus was infamous yet Galileo had yet to publish; Puritans praised the word yet images flourished. James himself was a patron of the art yet his personal motto--Verbum Dei--certainly indicates the reverance for text.

The era was not one of great scientific innovation. Francis Bacon was still known as a politician and not as a scientific innovator. Giordono Bruno visited Oxford in 1588 (the same year as Ramelli's opus), fifteen years before the ascension of James. The scholars he met were versed in ancient languages and Aristotle but were ignorant of mathematics or astronomy. He referred to Oxford as "a constellation of ignorant, obstinate pendants: a herd of donkeys and swine." (Nicolson, 2003)

Machines were not unknown in this early modern England. For example, Roger Cecil--James's chief advisor--was a collector of machines. His architect, the great Inigo Jones, was also interested in machines. Jones and Ben Jonson created a masque for Cecil that features "flying devices, cloud machines, diaphonous glasses and the new landscape scenery." (Hulse, 34) In a note decorating the margins of his copy of Vitruvius Jones stated: "being in Parris the yeare. 1609. a Prouancall maad a triall to make a Perpetuall mosio[n] but did not Reusire." (Higgott, 26). A perpetual motion machine had also been demonstrated by Cornelius Drebbel.

The mining machines depicted by Agricola also had a place in England. Elizabeth recruited a group of German miners--the Haugs--to explore copper mining operations throughout England. Particularly rich veins were found near the Cumberland town of Keswick. They extracted roughly 600,000 poinds of copper ore and were the process of completing a smelting house and furnaces at Keswick. On 8 October 1566, the Earl of Cumberland refused to allow the Germans to remove the ore. The machines included crushers and stampers, perhaps resembling the equipment depicted by Agricola in book VIII of his De Re Metallica. (Ash, 2001)

Other early machines included grain mills--there were thousands at the time of the Domesday Book--and the use of water power for reducing ore. Pumps were also used for draining water from mines. In 1486, for example, the monks of Finchale spend over 9-pounds on a pump, including housing, fittings, and horses. Their accounts even include an ongoing expense: "de la pompe." In the second half of the sixteenth century, a series of different applicants recieved patents for devices related to draining mines. Sir William Cecil, Roger's father, appears in connection with some of these machines. A letter from William Humfrey dated July 1565 "recommends an Almain engineer, who can raise water one hundred fathoms high, by a newly invented engine." (Pratt, 779)

Pratt describes another interesting twist in the history of machines. While my instinct is to separate mathematical instruments such as Besson's cosmography from industrial machinery. But in April of 1598, Edward Wright--Cambridge Master of Arts--was granted a patent for a "mathematical instrument" that was a water-draining device. It was conceived "by long and painful study of the mathematical sciences."

In the late 1580s, one Peter Morris was also involved with two considerable early engineering products. One involved draining the fens surrounding Ely "by certain engines and devices never knowen or used before." The purpose of the other project was pump water into London using a wheel installed below London Bridge. The wheel was about twenty feet in diamter and fourteen feet long. The wheel drove sixteen force-pumps with seven-inch cylinders.

[ed. It seems odd to read Pratt's work. It was penned in the late twilight of the Victorian era, just before The Great War change our relationship with machinery forever.]


Ash, Eric H. (2001). "Queen v. Northumberland, and the control of technical expertise." History of Science 39:215-240.

Higgott, Gordon (1983). "Inigo Jones in Provence." Architectural History 26:24-34,123-131.

Hulse, Lynn (1991). "The musical patronage of Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612)." Journal of the Royal Musical Association 116.1:24-40.

Nicolson, Adam (2003). God's secretaries: the making of the King James Bible. New York : Harper Collins.

Pratt, Julius W. (1914). "Machinery in sixteenth-century English industry." The Journal of Political Economy 22.8: 775-790.


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