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British Industrial History

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Francis Watkins, Senior

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Francis Watkins, Senior (1723-1791), optician

c.1723 Born son of Jeremiah Watkins and his first wife, Mary (née Whitney).

c1737 Apprenticed to the instrument maker Nathaniel Adams at the Golden Spectacles, Charing Cross. Following his master's death, Watkins completed his training under Edward Scarlett senior and Henry Walder

1746 Gained his freedom of the Spectaclemakers' Company

1747 returned to his original master's premises at Charing Cross to trade on his own account. Developed an electrical machine, which he sold with an accompanying tract.

1748 or 49 Married the widow Clarinda Walder; they had two daughters, Frances (b. 1749) and Clarinda (b. 1753), but no male heirs.

Went into optics, designing an improved refracting telescope and a microscope, assisted by two apprentices: Addison Smith and Henry Pyefinch.

Approached by John Dollond, who held a patent for achromatic lenses, to form a partnership to market refracting telescopes, which took place in 1758.

After John Dollond's death Watkins began to sell his own telescopes without declaring these sales to Dollond's son, Peter. The latter then paid Watkins £200 to cease manufacture, thereby becoming sole patentee. Watkins continued manufacturing, and was sued. Peter Dollond's case was upheld.

1764 The Spectaclemakers' Company petitioned the king to have Dollond's patent annulled. Watkins was master of the company at this time. The court upheld Dollond's right to the patent.

Later, when Peter Dollond became master of the Spectaclemakers' Company, Watkins adamantly refused to pay his dues.

To ensure the continuity of his business, he invited his nephews, Jeremiah and Walter, to join him.

c.1784 Watkins retired to Richmond, though he retained an interest in both the business and his various properties at Charing Cross.

1791 died in Richmond, Surrey; his nephews inherited the business.

See Watkins and Hill

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