Monday, 11 September 2017

The Charles Clay Musical Clocks

Charles Clay (d.1740).
The Mechanical Musical Clocks.

With Sculptural embellishments by Rysbrack and Roubiliac, Paintings by Amigoni and music by Handel.

Amigoni (Amiconi) Venetian painter worked in London from 1730 - 1739

Some notes and photographs.

Originally from Stockton, Yorkshire Charles Clay trained as a machine watchmaker. 

First noted when he petitioned parliament for a patent for a musical repeating watch or clock - unfortunately the Quaker Daniel Quare who had produced a similar mechanism at the same time opposed Clay's applicationand was supported by the Company of Clock Makers.

Although there was prolonged litigation (at the considerable cost of £73 -17s - 11d) to the Company from February 1716 until the latter months of 1717, Quare was finally successful in and Clay's petition for a patent was refused.

He was established in near St Mary le Strand  by at least 1720, where he remained until his death 20 years later. By 1723 he was appointed Clockmaker to His Majesty's Board of Works, a post he held for the remainder of his life. In 1731 he supplied the clock over the gateway at St James's Palace.

 The 'Temple of the Four Great Monarchies of the World' was put on display shortly after his death; the clock had been completed by John Pyke, a clock and watch maker of Bedford Row who had been apprenticed in 1710 and admitted to the Freedom of the Clockmakers' Company in 1720.

A List of Mechanical Musical Clocks by Charles Clay

1. Museum of the Royal Palace, Beijing, signed and dated 1730.  Organ still in place.
2. Royal Palace, Naples. Signed twice 'Cha: Clay London' and Cha: Clay / Fecit 1730 '. Organ still in place 
3. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 'Being the first made in perfection N ° 1 Cha: Clay London Fecit'. dated 1735 - Organ still in place
4. The 'Braamcamp' clock -  c. 1736 - 40 - Organ still in place.
5. Castleton House, Celbridge, Ireland.
6. Windsor Castle, Berkshire, GB. - Organ still in place.
7. Board Room, Treasury Buildings, London.  
8. Kensington Palace, Temple of the Four Great Monarchies, London, 1740, completed by John Pyke.  Plinth a modern replacement.

Clay Musical Clock
Signed and dated 1730.
Low resolution photograph.
Museum of the Royal Palace Beijing.


Clay Musical Clock
Royal Palace, Naples.

Signed Cha: Clay London and Cha:Clay / Fecit 1730.

It is believed English-born Prime Minister of the Neapolitan Kingdom, Sir John Acton
(1736–1810), bequeathed the clock to Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples between 1779 and

The dial plate features a near identical relief to the Beijing Apollo clock (see above).


Charles Clay Musical Clock
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
7' 7" tall overall.

A small weight driven pipe organ is housed inside and is operated by a tune barrel, which
is engraved as follows, ‘Being the first/made in perfection/N: 1 Cha: Clay London Fecit.’

The small dial is exactly the same as the Beijing and Naples Clocks (see above).

Signed and Dated 1735
Acquired from the collection of Lord Burnham at the sale of the contents of Hall Barn House, Buckinghamshire in September 1969.

The original repertoire still remains engraved on the scroll, which is held by the gilt bronze
winged figure that surmounts the case. The right arm of the figure was used to select
the tune. The scroll reads: Sonata/Traveste /Aria/Gavotta/Traveste/Arieta/Arieta/
Traveste/Praelude.5 Evidence suggests that the original music shown on the scroll was
written by Handel.


Charles Clay Musical Clock
The Gerret Braamcamp Clock
Gerret Braamcamp (1699 - 1771).

c. 1736 - 40.
Signed C. Clay on the dial. and Cha. Clay London on the Cylinder.

Sold at the Robert de Balkany Sale to the Museum Speelklok

Photographs Courtesey Sotheby's Paris

Gerrit Braamcamp Distiller, timber merchant, shipbuilder and art collector.

Frontispiece to Le Temple des Arts ou Le Cabinet de M Braamcamp by M. de Bastide.
Amsterdam 1766.
Engraving Reinier Vinkeles after Jacob Xavery
213 x 153 mm.

for the remarkable collection of Gerrit Braamcamp see -

Clay Astronomical Clock in the Board Room Treasury Buildings, Whitehall, Westminster.

The Board Room designed by William Kent 1735.

Currently the best photograph I can locate!

"This clock is "evidently the one referred to in an entry of 6th November, 1740, in the Treasury Minute Book: 'Mr. Lowther is to pay out of the King's money in his hands a sum not exceeding £160 for the great clock and all its furniture set up in the Lords' room here, to Mrs, Clay, widow of Mr. Clay who made the same…' A further entry of 4th May, 1742, records a petition from Mrs. Clay for an allowance for keeping in order the Treasury clock in their Lordships' room, which was made by her husband. The Secretaries to the Treasury were to agree with her as to a payment for this service, which they did at £4 per annum." (The Treasury, by Sir Thos. L. Heath, pp. 227–8.)"

Extract and Photograph from British History Online, Survey of London 1931. Plate 23.

see -

Treasury Building, 1814.


Musical Clock by Charles Clay.

These pages below from Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers, FJ Britten, 1904 Second Edition.

In an Article in The Musical Quarterly - Vol. 5, No. 4 (Oct., 1919), pp. 538-552 by William Barclay Squire entitled  Handel's Clock Music Mr Squire relates how he contacted Percy Webster who assisted Britten with his work who informed him that it had been previously owned by Mr F.A. English of Addington Park, Surrey.

see also -


Charles Clay Musical Clock.
Castletown House, Celbridge, County Kildare, Ireland. 

The Clock 98 tall cms x 81 cms wide.

Provenance - 

believed to have been taken to Castletown by and Katherine Conolly nee Conyngham d.1752, the wife of the Speaker of the Irish house of Commons William Connolly (1662 - 1729) 
William Conolly was the richest man in Ireland

Recorded in an inventory in the Grand Entrance and Inner Hall in 1893/4

by descent to Major William Francis Conolly-Carew 
Purchased by Desmond Guiness in 1966 
Desmond Guiness had purchased the house in 1967 from a Major Wilson who had bought the house and its collection in 1965.
Bought by the Castletown Foundation in 1975.
The chimes not currently functioning

Information from Castletown Decorative Arts pub 2011

Office of Public Works Ireland
Very kindly supplied by Celine of the Guides reception at Castletown 


The Temple of the Four Grand Monarchies of the World.

A Charles Clay Musical Clock.

Commenced by Charles Clay and completed by John Pyke.
 in the Rotunda at Kensington Palace.

Acquired by Princess Augusta after 1743.

Excerpt below from Tessa Murdoch, Apollo, November 2013's+melody.-a0351262546

In November 1743, Clay's widow advertised 'a most magnificent and curious MUSICAL MACHINE, CALL'D The temple of the four Grand Monarchies of the World (viz. the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian and the Roman) founded by Ninus, Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar. The Musick was composed by Geminiani, Handel and Corelli: and properly adapted to the machine by Mr Geminiani. It performs not only in Concert, but alternatively on several Instruments, in a most surprising manner, exceeding the Performance of the best Hands. Note. The Inside Work may be seen by those who desire it.' 

 This clock was finished by John Pyke, clockmaker to Frederick, Prince of Wales, and its elaborate case included reliefs in silver, based on models by Rysbrack and bronzes representing the seated figures of the four Grand Monarchies modelled by the French London-based sculptor Louis Francois Roubiliac (1702-62). The clock was surmounted by Roubiliac's figures of Hercules and Atlas supporting the globe . 

In December 1743 it was available to view at John Pyke's premises at the corner of Brownlow Street, facing Bedford Row near Gray's Inn. It apparently cost more than £4,500  

The case was a 'noble Structure, a regular Piece of Architecture in the Corinthian Order ... made of fine Ebony, with Mouldings of Brass; its Columns and Entablatures are also of Brass adorn'd with Modilions, Capitals, Bases and other ornaments of Silver in the most elegant Taste. It is supported with a Pedestal of circular Form, made of Curious Wood, with Brass Mouldings, and adorn'd with other Ornaments of Brass, upon which it turns round at Pleasure for the greater Conveniency of the Spectators'.  

This clock was also later acquired for Augusta, widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales. 

The long delay between the completion of the clock and its acquisition for the Royal Collection explains Clay's frustration with the challenge of marketing his musical creations. 

Three days before his death, he 'order'd a Musical Machine, which had cost him about 20 Years Time, and upwards of £2000 to bring to perfection, to be beat to Pieces, and entirely destroy'd to prevent the Expense of the Time and Money of any one who should attempt to finish it after his death'. 

It seems unlikely that Mrs Clay carried out her husband's death-bed wishes. 

Above Clipping from The Daily Advertiser, 14 January 1744

Bronze mounts by Louis Francois Roubiliac

All photographs above from the Royal Collection.

The text below is lifted in its entirety from the Royal Collection website for which I can make no apologies. I coudn't do better. I have only created the paragraphs to make this information slightly more digestible.

see -

A large square and elaborately decorated musical clock, the four dials painted with allegorical scenes - by Amigoni - and applied silver bas-reliefs - by Rysbrack - and a bronze group with Atlas - by Roubilliac - at the top and corners with applied double columns and four bronze sculptures representing four of the monarchies of the world at the base of the clock.
The four faces represent the foundation of the four great empires of antiquity - Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome.

The creator of the clock, Charles Clay, came from Flockton in the West Riding of Yorkshire. First known when, in 1716, he petitioned the King for a Patent in respect of a repeating device for pocket watches. The application was ultimately unsuccessful following the opposition of the Clockmakers' Company - at a cost to the Company of the not inconsiderable sum of £74 17s. 11d. He arrived in London c. 1720 and set up in premises near St. Mary-le-Strand Church and by 1723 had been appointed Clockmaker to His Majesty's Board of Works in which capacity, in 1731, he made a clock for the gatehouse at St. James's Palace.

The 'Temple of the Four Great Monarchies of the World' was put on display shortly after his death; the clock had been completed by John Pyke, a clock and watch maker of Bedford Row who had been apprenticed in 1710 and admitted to the Freedom of the Clockmakers' Company in 1720.
A newspaper cutting of 31 December 1743 describes the clock 'A DESCRIPTION of a most magnificent and curious MUSICAL MACHINE, CALL'D The temple of the four Grand Monarchies of the World (viz. the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman) which were founded by Ninus, Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, and Augustus Caesar. Begun by the late ingenious MR CHARLES GRAY, and finish'd y Mr PYKE, Clock and Watchmaker, in Bedford-Row, London. The whole having cost upwards of 45000l. and is to be seen every day at the corner of Brownlow Street facing Bedford-Row, near Gray's inn, London, from ten 0'Clock in the Morning till Seven in the Evening..........
 'The Musick consists of an agreeable Variety of Pieces, composed by the three great Masters Geminiani, Handel and Corelli; and properly adapted to the machine by mr Geminiani. It performs not only in Concert, but alternatively on several Instruments, in a most surprising manner, exceeding the Performance of the best Hands.'

The advetisement continues with a description of the four faces:
'This Temple has four front avenues leading into it, through which you may see the Subjects relating to each Monarchy finely represented in Historical Painting. By Signor Amiconi.
'At the entrance of each Avenue is represented in Sculpture the Genii of the Arts and Sciences as Paintings, Sculpture, Geometry, Musick, Architecture, Arithmetick, and Astronomy, all which Sciences have been used in the building and adorning this Fabrick. They are made of Silver in Alto Relievo, by Mr. Rysbrack and are reposing on a Piece of Architecture in Basso Relievo, made of Brass, in true Perspective; by the Obelisks on which stand eight Deities in Silver, in their respective Attitudes, as having some Allusion to the Subjects of each Piece of Painting. These represent some remarkable Passage in the Lives of the before mentioned famous Founders of these memorable Monarchies.
'The first Piece of Painting represents Ninus setting up his Father's image and using it to be worshipped, making it an awful Asylum for all Sort of Malefactors and granting every Petition made to it, which proved the Beginning of Idolotary. The presiding Deities are Cybele and Saturn; Cybele represents the Earth and is call'd the Mother of all Gods; and Saturn, said to be the same with Noah, was the Ancestor of Nimrod, or Belus, who was the Father of Ninus.

 'The second Piece represents the Tragic Death of Cyrus, the Founder of the Persian Monarchy, by Thomyris, Queen of the Massigetes, a Nation of the Scythians, who having laid in Ambush for him and slain him, cut off his head and before her Attendance putting it into a Tub of Blood, said, Cyrus, now take thy fill of Blood, which thou has always thirsted afters. The Deities that preside here are Mars and Venus. Mars was particularly ador'd by the Scythians, who build him a Temple of Iron; and Venus was adored by the Persians under the Title of Venus Coelestis.

 'The third Piece is the Marriage of Alexander the Great, at Susa, with Statira, the Daughter of Darius. This Hero put an End of the Persian Monarchy, and established the Grecian. The Presiding Gods are Jupiter and Mercury; the former alludes to Alexander's pretending to descend from Jupiter Ammon, the other to the dexterous Genius of the Greeks, who excelled all other Nations at that Time in most kinds of Knowledge and Learning.

''The fourth Piece represents Augustus Ceasar giving Peace to Rome by the Deaths of Brutus and Cassius and the Overthrow of Mark Anthony, after which Augustus was peaceably acknowledge Emperor by the whole Roman People. Here are the images of Apollo and Diana; Apollo's Temple there being one of the riches and beautifullest of all Antiquity.' The original movement, including a musical mechanism, and stand missing. 

Scan of a drawing by Nathaniel Smith c. 1759.
from an Excellent Article by the estimable David Wilson entitled 
New Information from the society of Arts: Roubiliacs Model of Hercules and Atlas and Nathaniel Smith's model of St Andrew after Duquesnoy - in the Sculpture Journal volume 16.2 (2007).

see -

Clipping from The Daily Advertiser 31 Dec 1743


Reference above to a Clay Clock in the Genral Advertiser 6 April 1744
for Auction at Aaron Lambe's Great Auction Room in Pall Mall.

Presumably it did not sell and was included in the next auction

Clipping from the Daily Advertiser 25 April 1744
Panel from a Clock by Charles Clay.
c. 1739 - 40

Perhaps from a clock under construction in his workshop when he died.

The Intriguing Gilt Bronze Panel Apollo with Time and Harmony acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2009.

NB Similarities with the Birmingham, Beijing and Naples clock faces  (see above).


Another remarkable clock the mechanism devised by Charles Clay.

Acquired by either Frederick, Prince of Wales, c. 1743-50, or by Augusta, Princess of Wales, 1759.

The piece makes its focal point a rock-crystal casket by the Augsburg goldsmith Melchior Baumgartner (1621 - 86) whose inscription (in German) is found on a panel inside the lid ‘I Master Melchior Baumgartner have made this casket in Augsburg and covered it with silver in the year 1664’. 

Also incorporated in the casket are forty panels of rock crystal, engraved with land- and sea-scapes – with the six principal panels of canted rectangular form and bevelled edges. The panels depict figures and houses in landscapes, while each side panel depicts a shipping scene, one during a calm, the other during a storm. The panels are divided by rock crystal columns with Corinthian capitals in silver-gilt. 

Almost all remaining areas are decorated by exquisite applied enamelled and silver-gilt mounts of fruiting swags and floral trails. At each angle in a shell-headed niche is a gilt bronze figure of a Greek goddess. Below the casket is a stepped pedestal containing both a clock and organ, which plays ten melodies, all but two of which correspond to settings composed by Handel. 

The early history of the Augsburg casket is unknown, although Baumgartner is known to have supplied similarly elaborate pieces to the Bavarian and Brunswick courts . 

This clock is first noted in a London newspaper advertisement of 27 August 1743, in which Sarah Clay, widow of Charles Clay, announced the exhibition at Cecil Street, off the Strand, of ‘the most curious and valuable piece of clock work left by her late husband’ The Temple and Oracle of Apollo, and charging 1s per person to view. 

The entire ensemble is described in splendid language as it appears today (less the group of St George & the Dragon and the eponymous Apollo figure, now lost). This announcement suggests that it was through the agency of the maker / entrepreneur Charles Clay (or his widow’s) that the casket, clock-work and organ were assembled into its present, spectacular form.

This description above  adapted from the Royal Collection website


John Pyke (-1762) and his son George Pyke (d. 1777)
Bedford Row, London
Mechanical Musical Clock
dated 1765
Temple Newsam House. Leeds

Barrell repinned in 1817.

Arrived at Temple Newsam in 1954
Provenance Kitson Clarke family Leeds.
the Collection of the Duke of Buckingham Stowe
believed to have been in the collection of Marie Antoinette.

Pyke was apprenticed in 1710 and admitted to the Freedom of the Clockmakers’ Company in 1720 and died in 1762.

For an excellent overview see

Restored and conserved at West Dean College in 2014. They provided meticulous commentary of the process on their website -

See -

An advertisement displaying the extent of his ability in Lloyd’s
Evening Post 19–22 March 1779, is quoted here in full:

On the Premises, by Order of the Executriz, on Tuesday
the 23rd Inst. at Eleven o’Clock,

Property of Mr. GEORGE PYKE, deceased.
(Late Organ-Builder to his Majesty, and esteemed the first
Mechanic in that Branch of any in the Kingdom). At his
late House, the upper End of Bedford-row, Holborn.
Compromising a large Finger Organ, with a Swell;
a ditto with Finger Keys, which plays the Barrels by Hand;
Machine and Hand Organs, upright and other
Harpsichords, an Organ clock, and several others
&c &c.

To be Viewed two Days preceding the Sale, when
Catalogues may be had on the Premises; and at Mr.
Ridgeway’s, Fenchurch-street. 

Note, the Business will be carried on by Mrs.
Pyke, widow of the deceased, and Mr. Holland his
late Apprentice and Nephew, who return their grateful,
Thanks to the Nobility and Gentry for their past Favours,
and solicit the Continuance of them, to merit which the

utmost Attention will be given.


1 William, Barclay Squire, Handel’s Clock Music. Musical Quarterly, 1919, pp. 528–42.
2 Webb, M. I. (1954), Michael Rysbrack, Sculptor, Country Life: Limited, London, pp. 137–38.
3 Roberts, Hugh, ‘So Beautiful a Style’, Country Life, 23 November 1995, pp. 58–59.
4 Murray, E. Croft, ‘The Ingenious Mr Clay’, Country Life, 31 December 1948, pp. 1378–80.
5 Croft, E. Murray, ‘Musical Clocks by Charles Clay’, Country Life, 21 April 1950, pp. 1112–13.
6 ‘Treasures from the Forbidden City’, Speelklok Museum, Utrecht, 2010, Catalogue No. 1, pp. 82–89.
7 Dawe, Donovan, ‘The Mysterious Pyke, Organ Builder’, Musical Times, January 1974, pp. 68–70.


Another remarkable Astronomical Clock by Charles Clay

Victoria and Albert Museum

In 1736, a bill from the Huguenot jeweler Peter Dutens to Frederick, Prince of Wales for an eight day clock which shows the signs of the zodiac and the rising of the sun, reveals the close connections between the jewellers' and clockmakers' trades. The clock dial plate was drawn in London by Clay and was enamelled white and blue with the days and months and signs of the zodiac. The clock mechanism was imported from Paris, and Dutens supplied 'a Gold Sun chased' and the 'side Frizes to the Case & Glass'

Offices of the Duchy of Cornwall: The Accounts of Frederick, Prince of Wales, Vol. VI

All photographs above courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum


Pinchbeck's Musical Clock

Clipping from The Daily Post, Classified Ads  I April 1729.


Pinchbeck Daily Journal. 16 April 1729.


The movement of another mechanical musical clock called the Micocosm by Henry Bridges survives - without the organ or case.
Discovered in a replacement case in Paris in 1920 and purchased by the BM in 1958.

Microcosm, or the world in miniature; movement re-discovered in Paris in 1920; original case containing the moving picture scene and the organ had not survived; two silvered-metal astronomical dials, upper with twenty-four hour ring, centre seconds, based on the Ptolemaic system; lower with Copernican system with four subsidiary dials showing calendar, age of moon, dominical letter and golden numbers, with 'ting-tang' quarter-strike and compensated pendulum; arched dial with repoussé foliage spandrel; enclosed in mahogany case with plain panels and moulded bridges; domed hood surmounted by five metal-gilt spherical and obelisk finials; enclosed in massive mahogany case of later date.  TRAIN-COUNTS.   Upper section of movement carries hour and quarter trains:- Hours. Gt wheel 80 2nd wheel 80/10 3rd wheel 64/8 4th wheel 56/8 Fly 8  Quarters. Gt wheel 80 2nd wheel 84/8 3rd wheel 64/7 4th wheel 56/8 Fly 8

see -

For a useful timeline for Bridges' Microcosm see -

Above A reconstruction of the Bridges' Microcosm
Perhaps rather fanciful - There is a contemporary engraving listed by the British Museum.
not currently available online.

This work pub 1767 is available at the Wellcome Library.

A Succinct DESCRIPTION OF THAT Elaborate PILE OF ART, called the MICROCOSM With a Short Account of the SOLAR SYSTEM, third edition with additions, Coventry, MDCCLXIII".
The clock consisted of a large edifice in the form of a Roman temple, ten feet high and six feet wide (305 x 183 cm). A number of levels displayed representations of the nine Muses on Parnassus, Orpheus charming the wild beasts in the forest, a grove with birds flying and singing, a clock with both the Ptolemaic and Copernican celestial systems and a landscape with a prospect of the Ocean and ships sailing. The foreground was animated with coaches, carts, chaises, people, birds and dogs. Finally, there was a busy carpenter's yard. An organ, harpsichord, spinet, flute and whistle with thoroughbass accompaniment played eight melodies:
"At length all the various Parts of this Machine are at once presented to the Spectator's View in Motion, when upwards of one thousand two Hundred Wheels and Pinions move all together; And during the whole Performance, it plays several fine Pieces of Music on the Organ, in a very elegant Manner; and the Organ is likewise provided with a Set of Keys, so that Ladies or Gentlemen may, themselves perform on the Organ what Pieces of Music they best like."

I am taking the liberty of posting pages relevant to Pinchbeck, Bridges etc from The Shows of London by Richard D Altick pub. 1978, rather than transcribe it - an excellent work which should be purchased by anyone with an interest in entertainment in London in the 18th century.


The Temple of Arts and Sciences

Clipping Daily Advertiser 26 April 1744

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