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Astronomical Clock, by Thomas Barry and James Moorcroft


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About the artwork

The clock has three dials on different faces. The first gives the time and the phases of the moon, and has shutters in the arch above showing the varying length of day and night. The second face gives the date in the form of a perpetual calendar, with automatic adjustments for leap years. Above it is a dial giving the movements of the principal stars. The third face shows the orbits of the moon and the six planets then known.

This extraordinary clock shows the ambition and technological expertise of the South-West Lancashire horological industry in the late 18th century. No other clock of equal merit is known to survive. An Astronomical clock at this period represented the summit of achievement as it was a combination of scientific and artistic challenges.

Mathew Boulton, in a letter to the Derbyshire clockmaker John Whitehurst stated ‘I am determined to make such like sciences fashionable among many fine folk’ and this conscious marriage of science and art was an essential aspect of the Industrial Revolution. The astronomical work is important because it not only accurately displays the motions of the planets but also allows religious feasts to be predicted as well as showing the motion of the moon, which allows the prediction of tides. The combination of all these features in one clock is exceptional.  The splendid mahogany case is of a basically, classical design.

English Astronomical clocks are very rare. This unusual and complicated piece not only has extensive astronomical work but also has a musical train. No other clock made in the North West, including those by Barker, Wigan demonstrates astronomical functions to this degree of sophistication.

Thomas Barry was born in 1756 and it is possible that he was the son ofJoseph Berry/Barry, a breeches maker, and Margaret Culshaw. He is knownto have produced and signed a number of good quality clocks but not oneis as accomplished as this example.

The location of the clockhas been known since about 1900 when it was owned by Mr Jack Guest. The family were originally based in Liverpool but moved to Cheshire inthe early 1900s when Jack Guest became a Farm Agent to Bulmers, thecider makers. When he retired in 1938 he moved to Leominster and theclock was subsequently inherited by his daughter. On her death, herexecutors placed the clock with Brightwells for sale. It was describedas ‘A rare late 18th Century Bracket Clock’.

At the time of writing thecatalogue it was not noticed that the interior of the case was signedJ. Moorcroft, Ormskirk. However, this was noted by several horologistswho viewed the object before it was sold. James Moorcroft, CabinetMaker, appears to have been the first child of Silvester TallowChandler and Mary Moorcroft. He married Mary Greenough in 1816.