John Taylor (inventor)

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John C. Taylor
Born 25 November 1936
Nationality British
Citizenship British
Alma mater Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Occupation British inventor, entrepreneur, horologist and philanthropist
Known for Development of thermostatic controls
Construction of the Corpus Clock

John Crawshaw Taylor[1] OBE (born 25 November 1936) is a British inventor, entrepreneur, horologist and philanthropist best known for his extensive research into electric kettles.


John Taylor was educated at King William's College on the Isle of Man[2] and studied engineering at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge from 1956 to 1959.[3] After graduating in 1959, he joined his father Eric Taylor's company Otter Controls as a Graduate Trainee,[2] and it is said that he "soon revealed himself to have inherited his father's inventive genius".[4]

When Eric Taylor died in 1971, his son took over as Chairman of Otter Controls.[4] He focused on the business of Castletown Thermostats, a subsidiary of Otter Controls, and in 1979 he split Castletown Thermostats and Otter Controls into two independent companies, with John Taylor becoming Chairman of Castletown.[5] Two years later, Castletown Thermostats changed its name to Strix Ltd, and in 1984, Eddie Davies was appointed as Chief Executive, with Taylor remaining Chairman.

Castletown Thermostats had started by making bimetallic thermostats for use in various industries. In the 1960s, the market for electric kettles was growing, and Castletown extended its manufacturing plant to produce and test a new device for controlling kettles.[4] During the 20 years from 1979 until 1999 in which Taylor and Davies led Strix, the company developed several successful product series, expanded worldwide,[6] sold over 200 million thermostat controls for electric kettles, and received several Queen's Awards and other awards.[5]

In 2001 Taylor received an Honorary Doctorate at UMIST and was made Visiting Professor of Innovation in recognition of over 150 patents in his own name.[2][4] He was also elected Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.[1]

In 2000, in a bid to expand into the new growth market of coffee makers, Strix raised £50m of capital from HSBC Private Equity by selling 40% of its shares, valuing the company at £125m. This investment diluted Taylor's shareholding in Strix to 24%.[4][7] In 2005, ABN AMRO Capital led a leveraged buyout of Strix;[8] the value of the transaction was not disclosed. Today, Strix employs 1000 people, holds over 600 patents, and turns over more than £100 million per year. Strix controls are incorporated into electric kettles from many leading manufacturers, and it is estimated that they are used over one billion times per day worldwide, by over 20% of the world's population.[5]

Philanthropic activities[edit]

Since his retirement in 1999,[6] Taylor has focussed on using his wealth to support educational institutions in the UK. His 'generous donation' enabled the creation of the STRIX Centre for Manufacturing at UMIST which opened in 2003.[5] He has also been a very active benefactor of his former Cambridge college, Corpus Christi, by contributing £2.5m[9] towards the construction of a new student library, the Taylor Library[10] as well as funding numerous undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships and bursaries.[11][12][13]

He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to business and horology.[14]

Horology and the Chronophage clocks[edit]

Taylor attracted public attention in September 2008 when the Corpus Clock, also known as the Chronophage, was installed on the outer wall of the Taylor Library of Corpus Christi College and unveiled by Stephen Hawking.[15] John Taylor spent £1m of his own money in the construction of the Corpus Clock and gave it as a gift to the college.[9]

The second in the series, the Midsummer Chronophage, depicts a science-fiction fly and has been exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, the Science Museum, London [16] and the National Museum of Scotland.[17] Like the Corpus Chronophage, its face is made from 24-carat gold plate on stainless steel.

The third is the Dragon Chronophage, exhibited in Shanghai on March 27–30, 2015 as part of Design Shanghai, China's premier design event. It features a Chinese dragon with appears to swallow a pearl every hour.[18]

The fourth Chronophage is a private commission, and its details are currently being kept secret at the customer's request.

There are features that are common to all of the Chronophage clocks. They are all designed to show the grasshopper escapement, part of a conventional clock mechanism that was invented by John Harrison. The grasshopper escapement, which is usually internal, is externalised and appears to drag the escape wheel around the rim of the clock.

When building the Corpus Chronophage, Taylor found that the inertia issues presented by such a large grasshopper escapement made the mechanism unworkable. With reference to this problem, he has said, "We had to turn a disaster into an advantage. Our efforts to prevent the amplitude of the pendulum from increasing led us to the idea of running both fast and slow and correcting them." The final outcome was a mechanical clock that is assisted by mechanical controls and a periodic signal from the atomic clock at the National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom).[19] All of the Chronophage clocks use this method of telling time, which allows Taylor to explore the concept of relative time as theorised by Albert Einstein.


  1. ^ a b John Taylor in the Directory of Fellows of Corpus Christi College (– Scholar search), retrieved 21 September 2008 [dead link][dead link]
  2. ^ a b c Annual Report 2001-2002 (PDF), Manx Electric Authority, retrieved 21 September 2008 
  3. ^ Taylor, John, "The Corpus Clock", The Pelican, Corpus Christi College alumni magazine (Easter Term edition): 20–21 
  4. ^ a b c d e Cohen, M.L., Company History: Strix Ltd., retrieved 21 September 2008 
  5. ^ a b c d History of Strix, Strix Ltd, retrieved 21 September 2008 
  6. ^ a b History of Strix, Strix Ltd, retrieved 21 September 2008 
  7. ^ "HSBC Private Equity acquires a stake in Strix Group" (Press release). Montagu Private Equity. Retrieved 21 September 2008. 
  8. ^ "Strix LBO reaches boiling point" (Press release). ABN AMRO Capital. 22 April 2005. Retrieved 21 September 2008. 
  9. ^ a b Kennedy, Maev (18 September 2008), Beware the time-eater: Cambridge University's monstrous new clock, London:, retrieved 20 September 2008 
  10. ^ Taylor Library on Corpus Christi College website, archived from the original (– Scholar search) on 25 May 2008, retrieved 21 September 2008 [dead link]
  11. ^, Corpus Christi College admissions office, archived from the original (– Scholar search) on 31 March 2008, retrieved 21 September 2008 [dead link]
  12. ^ Kleppmann, M, The Chronophage and a story about John Taylor, retrieved 21 September 2008 
  13. ^ Jardine, Lisa (26 September 2008), Inventing the basics, BBC News Magazine, retrieved 30 September 2008 
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59647. p. 12. 31 December 2010.
  15. ^ Hawking unveils 'strangest clock',, 19 September 2008, retrieved 19 September 2008 
  16. ^ Edwards, Mark (10 November 2011), 'Time-Eater' clock on display at Saatchi gallery, London:, retrieved 11 March 2015 
  17. ^ Midsummer Chronophage displayed at National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh:, 24 May 2012, retrieved 11 March 2015 
  18. ^ Corpus clock inventor creates new dragon chronophage to be exhibited in Shanghai, Edinburgh:, 24 May 2012, retrieved 11 March 2015 
  19. ^ Malcolmson, James (March 2014), Consumed by Time,, retrieved 11 March 2015