Thomas Lombe, the eldest son of Henry Lombe, a weaver from Norwich, was born on 5th September, 1685. His father died when he was a child and as a teenager went to London where he was apprenticed as a mercer to Samuel Totton. After he finished his training he established himself as a merchant in the city.
In 1718 Lombe obtained a patent for a "new invention of three sorts of engines never before made or used in Great Britain, one to wind the finest raw silk, another to spin, and the other to twist". His critics later claimed that his invention was based on a machine that had been used in Italy since the early part of the 17th century.
After making several of these silk weaving engines, Thomas and his brother, John Lombe, built a silk mill in Derby. It was claimed by William Hutton, in the History of Derby, that the Italians were so angry that the Lombe brothers had stolen their invention, that they sent a women to kill the men. John Lombe did die in 1722 and Hutton believes he was poisoned.
By the 1730s Lombe employed over 300 workers in his large factory in Derby. This inspired others to imitate his success. Silk factories were established in Manchester, London, Norwich, Macclesfield, Chesterfield and Stockport.
Thomas Lombe continued to run the silk mill and when his patent expired in 1732, he petitioned Parliament for it to be extended. Lombe argued that his invention had broken the Italian monopoly of the silk trade and had helped to lower the price of the commodity. Lombe's proposal was rejected but Parliament did agree to grant him a reward of £14,000.
Lombe was a London alderman and was the city's sheriff in 1727. Thomas Lombe died on 3rd January, 1739, leaving a fortune of £120,000, which was bequeathed in equal shares to his widow and his two daughters, Hannah and Mary.