Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 162,491 pages of information and 244,521 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

T. Cooke and Sons

From Graces Guide
1870. Engraving Machine
1871. 10 inch equatorial telescope.

T. Cooke and Sons, maker of camera lenses, of Buckingham Works, York.

1837 The scientific instrument manufacturing business was founded by Thomas Cooke in Stonegate, York. He was a self-taught optical engineer of great ability.

Later moved to larger premises in Coney Street, York.

1855 The business had grown substantially. Cooke built his own factory, the Buckingham Works, on Bishophill, York, producing a great range of goods from spectacles, telescopes and surveying equipment to sundials, clocks and lathes. This was the first telescope factory in England. Here Cooke was joined by his two sons Frederick and Thomas.

1855 Exhibited at the Paris Universal Exhibition, winning the first of many awards, a first class medal for his clock-driven equatorial telescope with a 7.5 inch aperture.

Cooke was also a very competent horologist; he produced large turret clocks, including one for the Great Industrial Exhibition in London in 1862.

1866 Demonstrated a steam-powered car at the York Exhibition.

1868 James Alfred Cooke left the Partnership with Thomas Cooke, Charles Frederick Cooke, Thomas Cooke the younger, in the trade or business of Astronomical and Mathematical Instrument Manufacturers, Turret Clock Makers, and Machinists, carried on by them at the Buckingham Works, in the city of York, in Southampton-street, the Strand, in the city of London, or elsewhere, under the style or firm of T. Cooke and Sons[1]

1868 By the time of Cooke's death, the firm was on the brink of liquidation; it was saved by Sir James Meek, who sold it on to James Wigglesworth, a close friend of Thomas Cooke. Wigglesworth entered into partnership with Frederick and Thomas Cooke junior and the business survived[2]. The firm continued to expand and export goods worldwide, particularly astronomical and surveying equipment.

1868 Completed construction of the Newall equatorial telescope, the largest telescope in the world at that time. This was Cooke’s most ambitious project and required him to build a 25 inch refracting telescope, far greater in size than in the observatory in Greenwich. The project took seven years but Cooke died shortly before its completion.

Cooke’s replaced Troughton and Simms as the suppliers for the primary survey of India and went on to supply the theodolite for construction of the Forth Bridge.

Frederick Cooke developed a special lightweight construction for observatory domes, used as far afield as Brussels, Rio de Janeiro, Madras, Odessa and Sofia.

1879 Proceedings for Liquidation by Arrangement or Composition with Creditors were instituted by Hannah Cooke, of Riccall, in the county of York, Widow, Charles Frederick Cooke, of the same place, and Thomas Cooke, of No. 8, New Walk-terrace, in the parish of Gate Fulford, in the said county of York, trading under the style or firm of T. Cooke and Sons, at Buckingham Works, Bishophill, Coney-street and Clementhorpe, all in the city of York, as Opticians, Engineers, Turret Clock Makers, and Ship Builders.[3]

The partnership became James Wigglesworth

1882 The partnership became C. F. Cooke, T. Cooke, Robert Wigglesworth, A. Taylor.

1893 the company's manager H. Dennis Taylor patented the "Cooke Triplet" lens, made of three optical elements made of different sorts of glass. With this construction chromatic aberration was reduced to a minimum. Taylor took his design to Taylor, Taylor and Hobson for manufacture.

1893 Charles Frederick Cooke left the partnership with Thomas Cooke and Robert Wigglesworth[4]

Despite continuing financial difficulties, the Buckingham works continued to grow, earning praise from the journal Engineering, which referred to Cooke’s as precision engineers “par excellence”.

1894 Frederick Cooke retired in favour of Alfred Taylor

1895 London premises were again sought just as developments were being made in the fields of optical munitions, railway signalling and pneumatic dispatch systems.

1897 Incorporated as a limited company.

1900s By the turn of the century, defence products for the home market had also become an important field.

By 1914 Directors: T. Cooke, R. Wigglesworth (Chairman), A. Taylor (Managing Director), H. D. Taylor, J. C. Ford, A. H. Pollen.

1914 Engineers, opticians and scientific instrument manufacturers. Specialities: range-finding apparatus, surveying instruments and telescopes. Employees 400. [5]

1914 A new factory was built on Bishophill, York, to cope with war work.

1915 Vickers Ltd acquired control of T. Cooke and Sons, a scientific instrument manufacturing business. Vickers had long had an interest in the military side of Cooke's products such as rangefinders, gunsights and surveying equipment, adapted to military needs.

1917 Harold Dennis Taylor and of T. Cooke and Sons Limited, whose registered office is at 6, Lendel, York petitioned for an extension of the Letters Patent for "An Improved Short Base Range Finder," bearing date the 6th day of June, 1904, for a further term.[6]

c.1919 George Dowty worked for Cookes on Naval rangefinders

1920 Engraving and Profiling Machine. Full details with photos and drawings. [7]

1920 June. Issued catalogue on pneumatic dispatch installations for transmission of letters etc. [8]

1921 Horace W. Lee designed the Cooke Speed Panchro, a cine prime lens that chromatically enhanced an image when filming under restricted illumination.

1922 Troughton and Simms merged with T. Cooke and Sons to form Cooke, Troughton and Simms.

Although Cooke’s had been acquired by Vickers in 1915, it continued to trade as Cooke, Troughton and Simms until 1963.

From 1963 to 1989, the firm was known as Vickers Instruments.


The company still exists as Cooke Optics Ltd and continues to develop camera lenses

See Company web site

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [2] University of York - University Library
  1. London gazette 26 June 1868
  2. [1] Yorkshire Phil Soc
  3. London gazette 25 March 1879
  4. The London Gazette 19 May 1893
  5. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  6. The London Gazette 23 November 1917
  7. The Engineer 1920/06/18 p630
  8. The Engineer 1920/06/25 p662