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 163,415 pages of information and 245,908 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.

John Browning (1831-1925)

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John Browning (1830/31–1925), scientific instrument maker, of Spencer, Browning and Co and John Browning

1830/1 Born in Kent, the son of William Browning (1785-1862), an optician, and his wife Sophia.

William Browning conducted an instrument-making business at 111 Minories, London, which his son later claimed had been established as early as 1765. It has been suggested that this was the shop Charles Dickens had in mind in describing that of Solomon Gills in Dombey and Son.

1845 William married Susan Hane in London[1]

c.1846 Joined his father's business, Spencer, Browning and Co, as an apprentice.

In the academic year 1848/9 he was working in the shop every other day while attending classes at the recently founded Royal College of Chemistry under Professor A. W. Hoffmann.

c.1848 Built himself his first tricycle at the age of seventeen.

1851 William Browning 66, optician employing 3 (?) men, lived in St Botolph Aldgate with Susan Browning 39, Lucy Browning 26, Susan Browning 15, John Browning 18, Richard Browning 13, Harry Browning 4, Maria Browning 17[2]

1854 With his father, took over the London business of Spencer, Browning and Co

1856 Browning took over his father's London business - see John Browning. He was already expert in the design and manufacture of precision scientific instruments.

1856-72 he obtained various provisional patents, for stereoscopes, telescopes, cameras, barometers, and photometers, but did not seek to obtain full protection.

1862 he received a prize medal at the International Exhibition in London for his temperature-compensated aneroid barometers.

He was a keen observer of Mars and Jupiter, and his preferred researches led him to construct and market affordable reflecting telescopes, and to undertake numerous experiments with telephones and phonographs.

Member of several scientific societies

He was held in high esteem in the scientific community because for many years he was the leading English designer and manufacturer of spectroscopes, both for laboratories and especially for those attached to telescopes. General Sabine, in an address to the Royal Society, spoke at length on Browning's technical improvements to optical instruments.

c1870 Browning undertook the reconstruction of all the self-registering meteorological instruments at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and also turned his attention to improvements in the microscope, making a special one for Professor Hermann von Helmholtz.

From 1870 to 1880 he was a member of the Aeronautical Society and its council

1871 Browning was a widower, living at 4 Greville Road, Richmond, Surrey, with three younger sisters.

He improved electric lamps and the condensers used with induction coils

1872 Browning's business, which employed some seventy men besides "bunting girls", or flagmakers, was transferred to 63 Strand. When the factory at 6 Vine Street became inadequate, new premises were acquired in Southampton Street and Exeter Street, both close to the Strand, and after 1904 other premises in the Strand were acquired for the shop.

Early 1870s he employed Adam Hilger on his arrival from Paris, with his brother, who became Browning's foreman.

1874 A widower when he married a widow, Charlotte Hotten, daughter of William Stringer, carver and designer.

Browning's medical training and skill with lenses enabled him to develop the ophthalmic side of his business: in 1876 he was prescribing and making astigmatic lenses, and he improved Lindsay Johnson's ophthalmoscope.

He was the first President of the British Optical Association (1895-1900).

1890 Married for the third time to Annie Woolley.

In later years Browning's business declined

1901 John Browning 65, refractioner and optician (retired), Annie Browning 35, Minnie W Browning 1[3]

c1905 he retired and went to live first at Kelsey, Gloucestershire,

1911 John Browning 72, lived in Cheltenham, with Annie Browning 43, Minnie Browning 11[4]

1925 Died at Cheltenham, on 14 December 1925.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. BMD
  2. 1851 census
  3. 1901 census
  4. 1911 census
  • Biography, ODNB