Thomas Cooke (machinist)

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Thomas Cooke

This page is about the scientific instrument maker. For other persons named Thomas Cooke, see Thomas Cooke (disambiguation)

Thomas Cooke (8 March 1807 – 19 October 1868) was a British scientific instrument maker based in York. He founded T. Cooke & Sons, the scientific instrument company.[1][2]


Thomas Cooke telescope at Carter Observatory, in Wellington, New Zealand

Thomas Cooke was born in Allerthorpe, near Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of James Cook (a shoemaker).[1][3][4][5]

His formal education consisted of two years at an elementary school (possibly the school of John Whitaker, also of Allerthorpe),[3] but he continued learning after this and he taught himself navigation and astronomy with the intention of becoming a sailor. His mother dissuaded him from that career and in 1829 he moved to York and worked as a mathematics schoolmaster at the Rev. Schackley's School in Ogleforth,[6] near York Minster. He also taught in various ladies' schools to increase his income.

His marriage to Hannah was to produce seven children, five of whom were boys. Two of these Charles Frederick (1836–98) and Thomas (1839–1919) subsequently joined him in the business he founded in 1836 at number 50 (now renumbered to 18) Stonegate, close to York Minster with the assistance of a loan of £100 from his wife's uncle.

Cooke studied optics and became interested in making telescopes, the first of which was a refracting telescope with the base of a tumbler shaped to form its lens. This led to his friends including John Phillips encouraging him to make telescopes and other optical devices commercially.[7][8][9]


In 1837 he established his first optical business in a small shop at 50 Stonegate, York, and later moved to larger premises in Coney Street. He built his first telescope for William Gray. At that time, the excise tax on glass discouraged the making of refracting telescopes, which were usually imported from abroad. Cooke was thus one of the pioneers of making such telescopes in Britain.

He made more instruments and built his reputation. He was not only an optician but had mechanical abilities as well, and among other things, manufactured turret clocks for church towers. He founded the firm T. Cooke & Sons. In 1855 he moved to bigger premises, the Buckingham Works at Bishophill in York, where factory methods of production were first applied to optical instruments.[10] He exhibited at the York Exhibition in 1866 demonstrating his three-wheeled, steam powered car which he claimed could carry 15 people at 15 mph for a distance of 40 miles.[11]

One of his finest achievements was the construction of the 25-inch 'Newall' refractor for Robert Stirling Newall; sadly, Thomas died before seeing it completed. For some years the Newall was the largest refracting telescope in the world.[12] On Newall's death it was donated to the Cambridge Observatory and finally moved in 1959 to Mount Penteli observatory in Penteli, Greece. He made a telescope for the Royal Observatory, also Greenwich and another for Prince Albert. The firm amalgamated with Troughton & Simms (London) to become Cooke, Troughton & Simms in 1922 and this later became part of Vickers, but still run by his sons Thomas & Frederick.

Thomas Cooke was succeeded by his sons, Thomas and Frederick. He is buried in York Cemetery.

Telescopes in use today[edit]

Thomas Cooke telescope at Carter Observatory, in Wellington, New Zealand
Thomas Cooke refractor in Bootham School Observatory

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pritchard, Charles (1868). "Thomas Cooke". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. London: Royal Astronomical Society. 129: 130–135. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Argyle, Robert W. (2007). "Thomas Cooke (1807–1868)–A Great English Telescope Maker". The Observatory. 127: 392–400. Bibcode:2007Obs...127..392A. Retrieved 17 November 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Allerthorpe Directory of Trades and Professions for 1823". GENUKI. 29 May 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Martin Lunn. "Thomas Cooke: Telescope Maker of York.” Pp.115–128 in Whitworth (2000).Whitworth, Alan. 2000. Aspects of York: Discovering Local History. Barnsley, Wharncliffe Books.
  5. ^ Clerke, A. M.; Brech, Alison J. (2004). "Cooke, Thomas (1807–1868)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6183. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 
  6. ^ A Brief account of Durham Cathedral: with notices of the castle, university ... – Google Boeken. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Feinstein, C. H., ed. (1981). York 1831–1981:150 Years of Scientific Endeavour and Social Change. The Ebor Press. p. 38. ISBN 0-900657-56-1. 
  8. ^ Willis, Ronald (1988) [1972]. The illustrated portrait of York (4th ed.). Robert Hale Limited. p. 184. ISBN 0-7090-3468-7. 
  9. ^ McConnell, Anita (1992) [1992]. Instrument makers to the world, A history of Cooke, Troughton and Simms (1st ed.). University of York. p. 50. ISBN 1-85072-096-7. 
  10. ^ Feinsten, C. H., ed. (1981). York 1831–1981:150 Years of Scientific Endeavour and Social Change. The Ebor Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-900657-56-1. 
  11. ^ Gilbank, P. "Thomas Cooke". Retrieved 16 March 2014. 
  12. ^ a b The Hellenic Archives of Scientific Instruments. "Newall Refractor". Retrieved 16 March 2014. 
  13. ^ Charman, Matt. "5-inch and 4.5-inch Telescopes – Hampshire Astronomical Group (HAG) – Clanfield Observatory". Hampshire Astronomical Group, Clanfield Observatory, Hampshire, UK: Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  14. ^ "AAA Home Page". Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  15. ^ "Home Page". Retrieved 26 August 2016. 
  16. ^ "AO | Одесская астрономическая обсерватория". Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  17. ^ "Fry Telescope". 17 April 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  18. ^ "ULO Home Page". 17 April 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  19. ^ "About". Blackett Observatory. 11 October 2002. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 

External links[edit]