Astronomical clock at Buckingham Palace

Bismillah. I visited Buckingham Palace (open to the public until October 1st this year) last week and enquired about the magnificent astronomical clock in the Lower Corridor, after the Ambassadors’ entrance and at the beginning of the public tour. Here is the curator’s reply:

I hope you enjoyed your recent visit to Buckingham Palace. My colleagues in the Visitor Office in the Palace have informed me that you wanted to know a little more about the astronomical clock in the Lower Corridor of the Palace.

The clock is dated to around 1820, but it is unsigned, so it is not immediately clear who made it. We know from a label affixed to its back that it was purchased by Queen Mary, so it did not come into the Royal Collection until the 20th Century. It has occupied the position it has today since it was purchased, as it is mentioned in H. Clifford-Smith’s 1931 seminal publication Buckingham Palace as being in the Lower Corridor of the palace. He describes the clock as:

“A very uncommon and interesting astronomical clock dating from about 1820 – a remarkable feature of which is the central dial showing sidereal time , with the procession of the stars around the north pole driven by the clock above it. The case, of beautifully figured mahogany, is inlaid with bands of rosewood.”

Although similar clocks have appeared on the London market since, they too are unsigned. However I am told by my colleagues from our clock conservation workshop that many of its internal workings are very much in the style of a maker called Henry Jenkins. One of his confirmed productions is now in the British Museum and the internal workings are similar to the Royal Collection clock. Jenkins published a book entitled “A Description of Several Astronomical and Geographical Clocks with an Account of their Motions and Uses” in 1778, which reflects many of the techniques used in the movement of the clock in the Lower Corridor.

I’m told the bar across the face showing sidereal time is intended to represent the horizon, so it is possible to see the movement of the stars both above and below it.

I hope this information is of interest to you, please do not hesitate in contacting me if I can help further.

Kind regards,

David Oakey
Assitant to the Deputy Surveyor of The Queen’s Works of Art
The Royal Collection
St James’s Palace

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2 Responses to “Astronomical clock at Buckingham Palace”

  1. David Higgon Says:

    The book by Henry Jenkins is not easy to come by – I’m a clockmaker with a special interest in astronomical clocks, so I tried to track it down. No scans available online, no copy at the British Library – at least not on their online index. I eventually found the only copy I know of in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. In fact their collection of papers and books is housed in Guildhall library, who’s staff were very helpful in digging it out for me.
    I photographed it cover to cover (919MB), but haven’t had a chance to crop and resize the pages yet.
    Possibly a better book for astronomical work is Fergusson’s “Select Mechanical Exercises” from about 1780. Another book that’s not too easy to get hold of – the last copy I saw for sale was priced over £1,000.

    Feel free to contact me at daedalus “at” lineone “dot” net if you’ve got any questions.

    David

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      Thank you, David. I have edited the way your email address appears to reduce the chance of spam.

      You may be interested to know that one of the 20th century’s leading experts in Hadith (Prophetic traditions), Sheikh Muhammad Nasiruddin of Albania, was also a horologist and in fact earned a living for much of his life from making and repairing clocks. 🙂

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