Monday 9 October 2023

The Charles Clay Musical Clocks - Repost. 2.


                             The Charles Clay Musical Clocks - Repost. 2.

Catalogue entry from an unknown auction sale -

The 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.

1739. Whitehall Treasury Chambers. Mr Lowther is to pay Mr Clay the clock maker £13-2s-0d in full of all his demands for looking after and repairing the Treasury clock 1721 March 25th to 1725 Aug.18th or any time after. (Calendar of Treasury Books Vol.4). - BHO.


A 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 -


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

The Clock is 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 at the time 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.

1738. March 2nd. On Thursday last Mr Clay entertained their Royal Highness the Prince and Princess of Wales with his musical machine at their Royal Highness house in St James Square and after having heard the beautiful strains of music was graciously pleased. (Stamford Mercury Newspaper).

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.

Above Clipping from The Daily Advertiser, 14 January, 1744.

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. 


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

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 David Wilson entitled -

New Information from the society of Arts: Roubiliac's Model of Hercules and Atlas and Nathaniel Smith's model of St Andrew after Duquesnoy - in the Sculpture Journal volume 16.2 (2007).

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