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Mid-Victorian Wall Thermometer by Chadburn & Son of Fenchurch Street London


A super quality Mid-Victorian wall thermometer by Chadburn & Son of 105 Fenchurch Street, London.

This instrument is comprised of an ebony base with brass suspension ring to the back and chamfered edges to meet a glass scale plate printed with opaline white background and black text.

The scale registers from 20 – 130 in Fahrenheit to the left-hand side and from 10 – 50 Centigrade on the right. The maker’s name, Chadburn & Son is written to the top and the address, “105 Fenchurch St, London” and the thermometer is affixed to the plate by two brass clasps with the bulb being protected by a brass cover.

The Chadburn family have a long history of involvement in the manufacture of scientific instruments. Beginning as a partnership in 1818 between William Chadburn and David Wright, by 1838 the business seems to have been bequeathed to the brothers Alfred & Francis Wright Chadburn, (the latter’s middle name presumably a dedication to David Wright from his business partner) and in 1841 a third and more renowned brother, Charles Henry had joined the company which was now renamed as Chadburn Brothers. The business had long been based in Sheffield at Nursery Street although in 1845, Charles Henry Chadburn relocated to Liverpool to open a new branch at Lord Street. The Brothers gained honourable mention for their exhibits at The Great Exhibition of 1851 and were granted a Royal Warrant by Prince Albert around this period.

The distinction between Chadburn Brothers and Chadburn & Son is surprisingly difficult to unravel given that they were one of the larger regional Victorian families of instrument makers. Recent research (mainly by AD Morrison-Low) Sheffield archival records suggest that Chadburn Brothers continued to exist until 1894 and was at that point being run by a Mr WT Morgan who was a nephew of the former owners. Charles Henry Chadburn was also retired by this point but had continued to trade in Liverpool until 1861 as a branch of the Sheffield company. From this point he was joined in business by his son William and the Liverpool business was renamed as Chadburn & Son selling much the same stock as before.

In 1875, The Gazette provides evidence of the dissolution of the father and son partnership with his son William continuing the business, presumably for reasons of his father’s retirement. By this point, the company (given the address on the thermometer) had already expanded the business to London with premises at 105 Fenchurch Street, London and it is likely that they were also trading in Glasgow and Newcastle as is evidenced on Chadburn & Sons advertising from the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. It seems likely also that the 1861 partnership had originally been formed as a distinct business and removed from its earlier association with Chadburn Brothers as there were no other parties involved in the dissolution process.

William seems to have taken a great interest in ship’s telegraph technology and had already lodged a number of designs for instrumentation whilst in partnership with his father. At the time of the dissolution of the partnership William was already overseeing production of the Chadburn engine order telegraph and with the company renamed Chadburn & Sons to incorporate William’s offspring, it continued to grow from strength to strength. William Chadburn’s greatest stroke of luck was his association with Thomas Ismay, founder of the White Star Line to whom he lived in close proximity. This association led to Chadburn & Sons commissions for numerous ocean liners including the ill-fated RMS Titanic for which engine room telegraphs and steam whistles were manufactured.  

The Titanic incident seems not to have dented the Chadburn’s reputation as they were still in business in 1898 when the business was renamed Chadburn’s Ship Telegraph Company Limited. Their advertising in the 1880’s suggest that they had largely specialised in the production of ship’s telegraphs so the name change seems a sensible adjustment and they continued under that guise until 1944 whereafter the name changed again to just Chadburn’s. Their advertising in the 1950’s shows the company continuing to trade in all of the original UK locations with the addition of a Belfast branch and it is interesting to note that they had returned to selling all kinds of, “navigation instruments and marine equipment”. The remaining history of the company is unknown, although a Chadburns company is still in existence today selling manual and power transmissions for land and sea applications. It is likely that this company has some connection to the original.

Given the evidence above, this thermometer would have been manufactured during the period between 1861 and 1875 when Chadburn & Son were in existence. The address at 105 Fenchurch Street provides no further succinct dating evidence as it is not clear when the expansion to London took place and it was maintained under Chadburn & Sons until the late 1870’s. Advertising in the 1880’s shows the premises had moved to 96 Fenchurch Street.  

A super quality scientific instrument from an extremely interesting maker. The attention to detail on this instrument is just lovely. It has one fault in the glass to the top of the thermometer plate probably caused by weakness in the glass where the screws are placed through but this does not detract from the overall effect of this wonderful piece. Pricing has been adjusted in consideration of this slight imperfection.  

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