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London Mahogany Moon-Phase Grandfather Clocks

Moon-Phase antique grandfather clock by James Clarke of London
James Clarke London Grandfather Clock with Moon feature

A while back now I wrote a blog about moon-phase antique clocks. We restored this superb antique grandfather clock by James Clarke of London. I thought it was important to write a little more. More about London mahogany moon-phase clocks in particular and why they are so rare and sought after.

A fine 12 inch chapter ring and spandrels brass dial with moon and strike silent feature to the 3 o clock position on the dial
Lovely moon-phase James Clarke dial

London clocks with Moons

This clock above is a simply beautiful example of a London moon-phase clock. You will notice the high quality matted centre to the cast brass dial. Chapter ring and spandrels and subsidiary calendar. Recessed seconds feature and lovely engraving to the moon discs to the arch. The name is prominently engraved to the cartouche around the arch. It has beautiful painted moon disc and a special extra feature of strike/silent lever to the three o’clock position on the dial.

Lovely movement view of Clarke of London 8 day clock
Lovely 8 day moon movement by James Clarke of London C1770

Moon Workings

The picture above shows the beautiful workings of this James Clarke 8 day antique clock. You will notice one large extending piece of brass for the front plate top. This is so that the dial feet can miss the moon disc. Lovely high quality 5 pillar London movement, all now beautifully restored back to showroom condition.

I will now return to why so few London clocks have moon features.

Reasons why there so few London clocks with Moons

I suppose there are two main reasons. The first reason which is an important point to start from is the size of the London dials. Provincial 12 inch dials tend to be 17 inches high which would allow for a full semi circle to the arch. Easily enough space for a feature like a rotating moon disc. On a London clock the height is 1 inch less. That means on a 12 inch wide dial, the height of the dial is only 16 inches. The space to the arch is now no longer a full semi-circle and far more restricting. On the dial above you will notice the arch is not a semi-circle. The cartouche around the arch tapers to the centre.

Trading outside London

The second reason is centred around the fact that London is London. Trading in the UK outside London was not really required back then There were plenty of wealthy clients in and around London. Moons generally were required to check when to travel. Generally merchants would travel on and around full moons, so the risk of the Highwayman was not so great. Clearly some clocks like those with high tide, will also occur sometimes with moons.

High Water Tidal Clocks

Knowing when your high tide in your local port like London bridge was also important for the merchants. Travelling around London with the fact they had good street lighting fired by oil lamps after 1750 was not so hazardous. Knowing when the next full moon was, was not really as important.

As discussed in my other blog about moon phase clocks, there were lots of different types of moon. It is the rolling moon like that on the James Clarke clock that was the most popular. Two moons appear on these discs, but only one can be visible at any one time. Generally on London clocks the moon is accompanied by a starry sky rather than country scenes on provincial clocks.

29 and a half days in a lunar month

There are, as previously discussed, 29 and a half days in a lunar month. We divide up the 12 months into either 31, 30,29 or 28 days to compensate. The exact lunar cycle is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds I believe, I hope my memory is right ! The clocks moon as it is 29 and a half days and is therefore fairly accurate, once set !

Lovely mahogany veneers and case features of this top quality London clock by James Clarke
Full length picture of the James Clarke London mahogany clock

James Clarke Clock

The James Clarke antique grandfather clock picture above shows what a top quality clock should look like. The dial and movement show amazing high quality features and detailing. The case shows only the finest London case making features of the late 18th century. Quarter columns and brass capitals to the base. Moulding to bridge top door and base and 2 plinths are but some of these lovely features. To view this clock please visit our shop in London, Pendulum of Mayfair or contact us through our website . James Clarke is listed as working in Newgate Street, London and was apprentice in 1760 and a member of the Clockmakers Company from 1768-78.

Daniel R Clements

#SBS Theo Paphitis Winner August 2014 : Antique Clocks Twitter

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The most famous clock in the world – Big Ben

Big Ben


The worlds most photographed antique clock has been standing proudly to dominate London’s skyline for over 150 years. Big Ben is how everyone has come to call it,  is the nickname for the great bell of the clock. Now everyone refers to Big Ben as the overall clock and tower. The tower as it so happens is to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen. This is to celebrate the Queen’s 60 year reign.

Great Tom

The clock tower as we know today as ‘Big Ben’ is not the first clock tower to stand in Parliament’s grounds. The first tower nicknamed ‘Great Tom’ was built in 1288-90. A second tower replaced the first in 1367 and this was the first chiming public clock in England. In 1707 this tower had fallen into a state of disrepair and was demolished. When a terrible fire destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster in 1834, architects submitted designs for the new Palace. Of the 97 designs submitted, Sir Charles Barry’s was picked. His design did not originally have a clock tower but this was added to his design in 1836. Construction of this tower began in 1843.

Dent Clockmaker

Clearly the manufacture of the mechanism for the clock needed to be done by a specialist. The Queens clockmaker at the time was Vulliamy and he wanted to design and make the clock. Other specialist clockmakers also believed they should make the clock. A series of disputes therefore resulted and it was decided to appoint a referee to make the decision on who made the clock. The decision was left to the Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy. He set the standards by which the clock must keep, Denision a barrister and gitfted amateur clockmaker assisted in this decision.

Delays in Building Big Ben

All this led to delays in the decision. It was not until Feb 1852 that it was decided that Dent was to  build the clock to Denison’s own design. Dent died in 1853 and so the clock was completed by Dents stepson, Frederick in 1854. It cost £2,500 to make. The tower itself was still not finished though and so the clock was kept at Dents factory in the meantime.

Denison Design

Denison made refinements to the clock while waiting for the clock tower to be finished (1859). He invented a ‘Double Three-legged Gravity Escapement’. This was a revolutionary and an ingenious invention and refinement. It made sure the pendulum was unaffected by external factors, such as wind pressure on the clock hands. A constant impulse was always applied to the pendulum. This escapement won worldwide acclaim, it is now known as the ‘ Grimthorpe escapement’, and Denision was later made Baron Grimthorpe in 1886 as a result.

Long Pendulum of Big Ben

The pendulum to the clock is 13 feet long and installed in a windproof box, it beats every 2 seconds. On top of this pendulum there are old coins. Adding weight to the top of the pendulum will lift the pendulum’s centre of gravity and thus shorten the effective length of the pendulum. This has the effect of speeding the clock up by just under half a second a day.

Symbol of London Big Ben

The clock has become one of the main symbols for the United Kingdom and London in particular. From the news programs like ITN to New Year celebrations, to General Election’s end of voting. Big Ben is the centre of our life. It stands proud and has had numerous years superb service. It has sted the test of time and London would not be the same without it. A truly remarkable achievement. The clocks Westminster Chime is typical of clocks after C.1860 and is found on many modern clocks. Most Georgian antique clocks just strike the hour on a single bell.

Daniel Clements –