Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vulliamy, Benjamin Lewis
VULLIAMY, BENJAMIN LEWIS (1780–1854), clockmaker, born on 25 Jan. 1780, was the son of Benjamin Vulliamy, clockmaker, of Pall Mall, and elder brother of Lewis Vulliamy [q. v.] The family was of Swiss origin. Justin Vulliamy, an ancestor, coming to England in 1704 to study the construction of English clocks and watches, under one Benjamin Gray, finally succeeded to his master's business at 68 Pall Mall, after having married his daughter. The old shop was situated where the Marlborough Club now stands (view in Cassell's Old and New London, iv. 139). The firm obtained the appointment of clockmakers to the crown in 1742, which it held for 112 years. Benjamin, the father of the subject of this article, was the first to sink an artesian well in England. This he did on the family property of Norland, at the foot of Notting Hill, where Norland Square now stands. The well and engine-room still exist at the back of Norland Terrace (see Philosophical Transactions, 1797, p. 325; Nicholson, Journal of Natural Philosophy, ii. 276).
Benjamin Lewis commenced early to make a special study of horology. Succeeding to the business, he erected clocks for several important buildings, including the victualling yard, Plymouth, Windsor Castle, churches at Norwood, Leytonstone, and Stratford, St. Mary's Church, and the University Press at Oxford, and the cathedral at Calcutta. The clock at the post office, St. Martin's-le-Grand, was one made by Vulliamy for the Earl of Lonsdale. Vulliamy was a man of considerable ingenuity, and introduced several peculiarities and improvements into his clocks.
Vulliamy was elected associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 13 March 1838, was auditor for the year 1842, and obtained in 1846 a premium of books for a paper on railway clocks. He was made free of the Clockmakers' Company on 4 Dec. 1809, admitted to the livery in January 1810, and five times filled the office of master. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 14 Jan. 1831, and retained his connection with the society till his death. He was a man of refined taste in art, and possessed no small knowledge of architecture, paintings, and engravings. His library was extensive and well chosen, especially in that portion which related to his profession, and he possessed a valuable collection of ancient watches (Archæologia, xxx. 92). He enriched the libraries of the Clockmakers' Company and of the Institution of Civil Engineers. To the company he also gave numerous models and specimens of clocks and watches, and to the institution he presented in 1847 the works of a clock made by Thomas Tompion [q. v.] about 1670 for Charles II, by whom it was given to Barbara Villiers, duchess of Cleveland. On 1 March 1850 he exhibited to the Royal Archæological Institute six carvings in ivory by Fiamminge. He died on 8 Jan. 1854, leaving two sons, Benjamin Lewis (1817–1886) and George John (noticed below).
He published: 1. ‘Some Considerations on the Subject of Public Clocks,’ London, 1828, 1831 (a supplement was issued in 1830, and again in 1831). 2. ‘Summary of the Advantages attendant upon the new Mode of Construction of a Turret Clock,’ London, 1831. 3. ‘On the Construction and Regulation of Clocks for Railway Stations,’ London, 1845 (reprinted from the ‘Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers’). 4. ‘On the Construction and Theory of the Dead-beat Escapement for Clocks,’ London, 1846. 5. ‘A Portion of the Papers relating to the Great Clock for the New Palace at Westminster,’ London, 1848. He wrote an account of the Stockton motion in English repeaters for the article ‘Watch’ in Rees's ‘Cyclopædia.’
The second son, George John Vulliamy (1817–1886), architect, was born in Pall Mall on 19 May 1817. He was admitted to Westminster school on 13 Feb. 1826, and on leaving was articled to Messrs. Joseph Bramah & Son, engineers, in 1833. In July 1836 he entered the office of Sir Charles Barry [q. v.], with whom he remained till 1841. He then went abroad, and visited France, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt. While travelling he was employed by Henry Gally Knight [q. v.] to make drawings for his work on the ‘Ecclesiastical Architecture of Italy,’ 1842–4. Returning to England in 1843, he commenced practising as an architect, and subsequently assisted his uncle, Lewis Vulliamy. He exhibited designs in the Royal Academy in 1838 and in 1845. He erected a mansion at Dyffryn, Monmouthshire, and the Swiss protestant church in Endell Street (1853). He became a member of the Royal Archæological Institute in December 1848, and acted as secretary for some time. He exhibited objects of interest at the meetings of the institute on several occasions.
On 15 March 1861 he was elected superintending architect to the metropolitan board of works, and thenceforth devoted all his time to the work. He designed for the board some buildings in Victoria Street, several fire-brigade stations, and the pedestal and sphinxes for Cleopatra's needle on the embankment. He resigned his appointment in May 1886 on account of ill-health, and died at his residence, Ingress House, Greenhithe, on 12 Nov. 1886. He was buried on 17 Nov. at Stone, near Dartford.[Gent. Mag. 1854, i. 325; Builder, 1886, 1. 760, li. 724, 753; Minutes of Proc. of Institution of Civil Engineers, i. 21, ii. 51, iv. 63, v. 2, vi. 495, xiv. 156–7; Lists of the Royal Astronomical Soc., kindly supplied by W. H. Wesley, esq, and of the Royal Archæological Institute, by A. D. Lyell, esq.; Archæological Journal, vii. 88; Atkins and Overall's Clockmakers' Company, pp. 88–9, 176; Royal Acad. Exhibition Catalogues; Dict. of Architecture; Barker and Stenning's Westminster School Reg.]