Richard of Wallingford

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Richard of Wallingford
Richard of Wallingford.jpg
Richard of Wallingford is measuring with a pair of compasses in this 14th-century miniature.
Wallingford, England
OccupationAstronomer, horologist, cleric, mathematician, astrologer
For the Constable of Wallingford Castle, see Richard of Wallingford.[1]

Richard of Wallingford (1292–1336) was an English mathematician, astronomer, horologist, and cleric who made major contributions to astronomy and horology while serving as abbot of St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire.


Richard was born, the son of a blacksmith, at Wallingford in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) in England in 1292. When he was orphaned he was taken to William de Kirkeby the Prior of Holy Trinity Priory. Richard subsequently spent six years studying at Oxford University before becoming a monk at St Albans. He later studied for nine more years at Oxford. In 1327 he became abbot of St Albans.

Richard of Wallingford is best known for the astronomical clock he designed, while he was abbot, which is described in the Tractatus Horologii Astronomici (1327). The clock was completed about 20 years after Richard's death by William of Walsham but was apparently destroyed during Henry VIII's reformation and the dissolution of St Albans Abbey in 1539. His clock almost certainly was the most complex clock mechanism in existence at the time in the British Isles, and one of the most sophisticated ones anywhere.[2] The only other clocklike mechanism of comparable complexity that is documented in the 14th century is the astrarium by Giovanni de Dondi. It gave the mean time in equal and unequal hours, as well as the true solar time. It also displayed the phases of the moon and showed the positions of the lunar nodes and the height of tide at London Bridge.[3][4]

Based on the 14th-century literary evidence still surviving in the 20th century, several scholars of horological history have tried to build recreations of Richard of Wallingford's clock. The best known of these was built by Haward Horological and for many years was displayed at the Time Museum (now defunct) in Rockford, Illinois; it is currently on display at the Halim Time and Glass Museum in Evanston, Illinois).[5] One was built by Eric Watson and is now in the Wallingford Museum; one built in 1988 is located at St Albans Cathedral; and one was built by Don Unwin for the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge.[6]

Richard also designed and constructed calculation devices: a torquetum, the Rectangulus, and an equatorium, which he called Albion. The Albion could be used for astronomical calculations such as lunar, solar and planetary longitudes and could predict eclipses, and was capable of doing this without relying on a set of tables that had to be copied out.[7] This is described in the Tractatus Albionis. He published other works on trigonometry, celestial coordinates, astrology, and various religious works.

Richard suffered from what was then thought to be leprosy (although it might have been scrofula or tuberculosis) which he apparently contracted when he went to have his position as abbot of St Albans Abbey confirmed by the Pope at Avignon. He died at St Albans in 1336.

See also[edit]


  • Falk, Seb (2020). The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-1-324-00293-2.
Richard of Wallingford pointing to a clock, in reference to his gift to the abbey. His face is disfigured, possibly by leprosy.
  1. ^ Richard of Wallingford, abbot and mathematician is not to be confused with the later Richard of Wallingford, constable of Wallingford Castle, and supporter of Wat Tyler in the English peasants' revolt of 1381.
  2. ^ Thomas E. Woods Jr., How the Catholic Church Built the Western Civilization, page 36
  3. ^ Falk 2020, p. 60.
  4. ^ Durant, Will (1957). The Reformation. The Story of Civilization. 6. Simon and Schuster. p. 242.
  5. ^ Halim Time & Glass Museum. "Richard of Wallingford". Facebook. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  6. ^ Falk 2020, p. 61.
  7. ^ Hannam, James. God's philosophers: how the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science. Icon Books Ltd, 2009, 156

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