Oxford University


In 1653, Hooke secured a place at Christ Church, Oxford. Some sources mention he was a 'Servitor' to a "Mr. Goodman". Other sources mention he secured a chorister's place.

It was only on 31st. July 1658 that Hooke formally matriculated at the University.

He did not receive his qualification - Master of Arts - until 1662 or 1663.

Political circumstances now determined the course of events. Many of the scientists in Oxford had been appointed because of their Puritan sympathies and they now lost their positions and moved to London.

Thomas Willis

Thomas Willis

He lived from 1654 in the household of Thomas Willis and assisted him in its chemical experiments, in Beam Hall in St. Johnís Street (now Merton Street). Unofficial religious services were held here.

For a while Hooke assisted Willis with his dissection experiments.

A chance surviving copy of Willis' pioneering De anima brutorum, a gift from the author, was chosen by Hooke from Wilkins' library on his death as a memento - at John Tillotson's invitation. This book is now in the Wellcome Library. You can read the book here : De anima brutorum

Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle was looking for an assistant and Willis recommended Hooke to him. From 1655, when Boyle finally settled in Oxford (he had been distracted by events in Ireland for a couple of years), he was employed by Boyle, whose main interests were in chemistry, but Hooke's first project was to construct an air pump. He also lived with Boyle in Deep Hall, High Street.

In 1643, Torricelli had produced a vacuum in a tube over mercury. Von Guericke had shown the power of a vacuum with his 'Magdeburg Hemispheres.

In 1658 or 1659 Hooke developed an air pump for Boyle's experiments based on the pump of Boyle's former assistant Ralph Greatorex (a pump which was an improvement itself on von Guericke's), which was considered, in Hooke's words, "too gross to perform any great matter." Hooke designed and built what is essentially the modern air pump.

It is known that Hooke had a particularly keen eye, and was an adept mathematician, neither of which seemed to apply to Boyle. Some sources suggest that Hooke probably made the observations and may well have developed the mathematics of Boyle's Law. Regardless, it is clear that Hooke was a valued assistant to Boyle and the two retained a mutual high regard.

In 1660, Boyle published 'The Spring of the Air', describing 43 experiments using of the air pump, in which Hooke recives due credit.

Spirit (alcohol) to preserve anatomical specimens

Boyle's Law

Wadham College

The warden of Wadham College at the time was John Wilkins, who had a profound impact on Hooke and those around him. Wilkins' "philosophical meetings" in his study were clearly important, though few records survive except for the experiments Boyle conducted in 1658 and published in 1660. This group went on to form the nucleus of the Royal Society. Although he had been appointed by Parliament, Wilkins was also a Royalist

Wilkins gave him a copy of his book Mathematical Magick, or the wonders that may be performed by mechanical geometry which he had published five years before Hooke arrived in Oxford. This book encouraged Hooke to continue to try to invent a flying machine and he conducted experiments in the grounds of Wadham College with pulleys. View the book here : Mathematical Magick

Wilkins also wrote 'Discovery of a New World in the Moon'

Members of the group included


In 1655, according to his autobiographical notes, Hooke began to acquaint himself with astronomy, inspired by John Ward and Seth Ward. Hooke applied himself to the improvement of the pendulum and in 1657 or 1658, he began to improve on pendulum mechanisms, studying the work of Riccioli, and going on to study both gravitation and the mechanics of timekeeping.

Hooke recorded that he conceived of a way to determine longitude and, in the process, Hooke demonstrated a pocket-watch of his own devising, fitted with a coil spring attached to the arbour of the balance. He was backed by Boyle, Wren, Moray and Brouncker in his attempt to patent this spring controlled clock and a patent was actually drawn up. It could have led to him making a fortune, but when he realised that the patent would allow anyone who improved on his design to receive the royalties, he refused to continue with the patent.

Essentially he had realised the weakness of the pendulum clock in keeping time on a ship which was pitching and tossing, he wondered about the " ... use of springs instead of gravity for making a body vibrate in any posture."

Rather than the balance wheel being controlled by a pendulum which in turn operated through gravity, he reasoned that controlling the balance wheel with a spring would have huge advantages for a portable timekeeper that one might carry around or one which would have to continue to keep the correct time on a ship. Beginning his experiments around 1658 he had made two significant steps by 1660, namely the use of a balance controlled by a spiral spring and an improved escapement called the anchor escapement. In 1660 he discovered an instance of Hooke's law while working these designs for the balance springs of clocks. However he only announced the general law of elasticity in his lecture 'Of Spring' given in 1678.

In 1658 applied circular pendulum to watches, discovery unknown until 1675.

John Locke was also an acquaintance from Oxford