William Spencer (navigational instrument maker)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
William Spencer
SBR Logo.png
Born c. 1751
Died c. 1816
Nationality English
Occupation Mathematical Instrument Maker
Known for Navigational Instruments for:
Spencer & Browning
Spencer, Browning & Rust

William Spencer (c. 1751 – c. 1816) was an English mathematical instrument maker of the 18th and 19th centuries. After he apprenticed with instrument maker Richard Rust, Spencer entered into a partnership with Samuel Browning to form the company of Spencer & Browning. When Ebenezer Rust joined the partnership, the resultant firm was known as Spencer, Browning & Rust. William Spencer and his partners manufactured navigational instruments for both domestic and international markets.


Seven-year contract of indenture of apprentice William Spencer to master Richard Rust, dated 4 November 1766

William Spencer, son of Anthony Spencer, was born in around 1751 in England.[1][2] On 4 November 1766, at the approximate age of fifteen, William Spencer signed a seven-year contract of indenture (pictured) to Richard Rust, "Citizen and Grocer" of London, England. The contract indicated that his father Anthony Spencer was a shoemaker of the parish of Church Minshull in the County Palatine of Chester, now simply known as Cheshire. In consideration of the sum of ten pounds paid by William's father, Richard Rust agreed to instruct his apprentice, as well as provide him with the necessities of life, including food, drink, clothing, and lodging.[1]

The agreement also outlined a strict code of conduct for the apprentice. Among other things, the contract stipulated that the apprentice could not: "waste the Goods of his said Master, nor lend them unlawfully to any. He shall not commit Fornication, nor contract Matrimony, within the said Term. He shall not play at Cards, Dice, Tables, or any other unlawful Games, whereby his said Master may have any loss. With his own Goods or others, during the said Term, without Licence of his said Master he shall neither buy nor sell. He shall not haunt Taverns, or Playhouses, nor absent himself from his said Master's Service Day nor Night unlawfully."[1]

The agreement also indicated that Richard Rust was responsible for paying a duty to the Stamp Office, usually within one month of the date of the contract.[1] William Spencer's master Richard Rust was a well-known mathematical instrument maker who ran a busy shop on Tower Hill in London.[3] As in this case, a mathematical instrument maker often specialized in navigational instruments.[4] Rust himself had apprenticed, and received his freedom in 1752.[3] In William Spencer's contract of indenture, Richard Rust was referred to as a Grocer.[1] This signified that he was a member of the Grocers' Company.[5] Richard Rust died in around 1785; his will was proved in December 1785.[3]

Grocers' Company[edit]

The term "grocer" originally had a meaning different from the current customary usage. It referred to a retailer who "traded in gross quantities" and, therefore, encompassed a wide variety of merchants. This included manufacturers and purveyors of mathematical instruments.[6][7] The Worshipful Company of Grocers, more colloquially known as the Grocers' Company, is one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of London. The company found its origins in the Ancient Guild of Pepperers and the first record of the guild dates back to 1100. In 1345, members of the Ancient Guild of Pepperers established a fraternity in the City of London. The first reference to the fraternity as the Company of Grossers was recorded in 1373. Three years later, in 1376, the name of the organization was changed to the Company of Grocers.[5] Of the Great Twelve Livery Companies, the Worshipful Company of Grocers ranks second in order of precedence, behind the Worshipful Company of Mercers, as determined by the mayor and aldermen of London in 1515.[5][8]

The Ancient Guild of Pepperers chose a camel as its symbol. Black pepper is one of the world's most popular spices and has been for centuries. Peppercorns have at times been considered portable wealth. Pepper originally came over land, and this is the reason for the choice of the camel as a symbol.[9] The camel is incorporated into the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, which also includes two griffins holding a shield (pictured).

Spencer & Browning[edit]

Spencer, Browning & Rust quintant sextant or lattice sextant at the United States Geological Survey Museum

William Spencer and Samuel Browning first formed a partnership between 1778 and 1781.[10][11] The resultant company of Spencer & Browning manufactured instruments for navigational use.[12] The partners of the firm were also referred to as "optical and mathematical instrument" makers.[11] Both of the partners, William Spencer and Samuel Browning, were members of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, and thus were referred to as Grocers, in addition to instrument makers.[13][14] Samuel Browning was married to William Spencer's sister Catherine (17 May 1777).

Spencer, Browning & Rust[edit]

When Ebenezer Rust joined the partnership of Spencer and Browning in 1784, the firm of Spencer, Browning & Rust was established.[10] The company was in operation in London from 1784 to 1840,[12] initially doing business from 327 Wapping High Street. Later, the firm operated out of 66 Wapping High Street.[11] Spencer, Browning & Rust was a successful company, given the large number of surviving nautical instruments.[10] The firm manufactured a variety of navigational instruments, including octants, sextants, telescopes, and compasses, for both domestic and international markets. Nautical instruments marked with the SBR logo are found in the museums of a number of countries.[15][16] One of the oldest items in the collection of the United States Geological Survey Museum is a quintant sextant or lattice sextant (pictured) that was manufactured by Spencer, Browning & Rust.[17] The last surviving original partner, Samuel Browning, died in about 1819.[11] The firm continued as Smith, Browning & Rust, operated by relatives of the original partners, until 1840. After the 1838 death of Ebenezer Rust's son Ebenezer Rust, Junior, the firm was renamed Spencer, Browning & Co.[12][18][19]


William Spencer and his wife Ann had no children but he was followed in the business by the sons of his brother John Spencer: Samuel, John, Anthony and William Spencer as well the sons of his sister Catherine Spencer (the wife of his partner Samuel Browning): Richard, William and Samuel Browning.[2] William Spencer, died about 1816.[2] The Grocer's will was proved on 20 August 1816.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Spencer, William. "London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681–1925". London Metropolitan Archives (as re-printed on Ancestry.com). Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Andrews, A. D. (1996). "Cyclopaedia of Telescope Makers Part 6 (Sin-Syk)". Irish Astronomical Journal. 23 (2): 228, 231. Bibcode:1996IrAJ...23..215A. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Joyce Brown M.A. (1979). Mathematical instrument-makers in the Grocers' Company, 1688–1800. Science Museum. pp. 84, 90. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Scientific Instruments". uh.edu. University of Houston's College of Engineering. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c "Grocers' Company". grocershall.co.uk. Grocers' Company. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  6. ^ "Wiltshire Community History". history.wiltshire.gov.uk. Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  7. ^ Joyce Brown M.A. (1979). Mathematical instrument-makers in the Grocers' Company, 1688–1800. Science Museum. p. iii. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  8. ^ "The Mercers' Company". mercers.co.uk. The Mercers' Company. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "Salt and pepper". historyextra.com. BBC History Magazine. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c Willem Frederik Jacob Mörzer Bruyns; Richard Dunn (15 August 2009). Sextants at Greenwich (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 45–46. ISBN 9780199532544. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d Andrews, A. D. (1992). "Cyclopaedia of Telescope Makers Part 1 (A-F): Browning, Samuel". Irish Astronomical Journal. 20 (3): 131. Bibcode:1992IrAJ...20..102A. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c "Spencer, Browning & Rust". americanhistory.si.edu. Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "Webster Signature Database". historydb.adlerplanetarium.org. Adler Planetarium. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "Webster Signature Database". historydb.adlerplanetarium.org. Adler Planetarium. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  15. ^ "Octant or Hadley Quadrant manufactured by Spencer, Browning & Rust (1784–1840); London, England". images.rom.on.ca. Royal Ontario Museum. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "H5722 1 ebony octant by Spencer Browning & Rust". powerhousemuseum.com. Powerhouse Museum. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  17. ^ "Quintant Sextant or Lattice Sextant". gallery.usgs.gov. United States Geological Survey Museum. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  18. ^ Andrews, A. D. (1995). "Cyclopaedia of Telescope Makers Part 4 O-R: Rust, Richard". Irish Astronomical Journal. 22 (1): 96. Bibcode:1995IrAJ...22...43A. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  19. ^ Joyce Brown M.A. (1979). Mathematical instrument-makers in the Grocers' Company, 1688–1800. Science Museum. pp. 84, 90. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  20. ^ Joyce Brown M.A. (1979). Mathematical instrument-makers in the Grocers' Company, 1688–1800. Science Museum. p. 90. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 

External links[edit]