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Pagoda clock

Henry Borrell (fl.1795 - 1840)

Category

Horology

Date

1820 - 1830

Materials

Ormolu

Measurements

110 x 36.6 x 30.1 cm

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Collection

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

NT 514745

Caption

If you are fortunate enough to arrive at the right time at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, you can see and listen to a spectacle that has delighted guests since the 1800s. This clock, in the shape of a pagoda, not only tells the time but also puts on an automated spectacle every three hours: a tune plays upon 12 bells, while three jewelled pineapple plants on each tier of the pagoda lift from their pots and spin around. This rare and impressive clock is attributed to the eminent 18th-century jeweller and automaton-maker James Cox (1723–1800), who created other mechanical automata for an international market. We do not know who first owned this remarkable clock, but it is likely to have been a special commission, perhaps for a wealthy foreign collector.

Summary

Gilt metal and enamelled musical tower clock in the ‘Chinese taste’. In the form of a tiered pagoda, the upper three enclosing tubs of flowers mounted in coloured pastes and with an obelisk finial, the lower tier with an enamelled dial. The clock has historically been attributed to James Cox (c. 1723-1800). The replacement clock dial and movement are by Henry Borrell, c. 1825, who was working in London between 1790 and 1840. The clock functions as a timepiece, music player and automata. Every three hours a tune plays upon 12 bells, while three jewelled pineapple plants on each tier of the pagoda lift from their pots and rotate. The individual tunes have not been identified but are of a type of folk music known as Scottish Airs.

Full description

English clocks began to be exported to China in the late sixteenth century. By the eighteenth century, imported luxurious clocks and automata – known in England as ‘sing-songs’ – were a prominent feature of the collections of many Chinese emperors and high-ranking court officials. Clocks became part of courtly gift giving traditions, with courtiers and overseas visitors presenting spectacular clocks to the Qianlong emperor, who would in turn gift clocks to his courtiers. This pagoda clock has historically been attributed to James Cox (c. 1723-1800), a London jeweller and entrepreneur. Cox was a prolific manufacturer and exporter of clocks and automata to China and many of his commissions were destined for the imperial palaces.The replacement clock dial and movement are by Henry Borrell, who was working in London between 1790 and 1840. The pagoda clock functions as a timepiece, music player and automata. Every three hours a tune plays upon 12 bells, while three jewelled pineapple plants on each tier of the pagoda lift from their pots and rotate. The individual tunes have not been identified but are of a type of folk music known as Scottish Airs. This clock and two others now in the collection at Anglesey Abbey were sold by Robersons’ of Knightsbridge, around 1923-5. The catalogue describes the clocks as having been ‘gathered by an Irish gentleman during the course of his world travels before the Great War’, though this individual has not been identified, or the story verified. Although the details of its history of ownership are not known, there is evidence that this clock was once in China. Fragments of newspaper and a leaflet found inside the clock during conservation treatment have a date range of between 1912 and 1914, giving an indication of the date it may have left the country. The paper was probably used to wedge the decorative enamelled panels to stop them from moving and becoming damaged during transit. Clocks of this type were usually made in pairs and the pagoda clock is no exception. Its companion was in the collection of a Miss Derry by 1934 until it was sold by her neice in 1968. It appeared on the market again in 1980 (Bonhams, Knightsbridge, 12 December 1980, Lot 60) and was acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from Jeremy Ltd. of London in 1981. It was sold as part of their collection by Christie's on 20 October 2022. The musical movement of this partner clock was made by John Mottram, who worked in London from 1790-1808. It is possible that he was also involved in the creation of the Anglesey Abbey pagoda clock. The clock is scratched with the signature of the clock restorer, Harold Carter-Bowles (1889-1961), who worked on the clock prior to its sale by Robersons’.

Provenance

Bequeathed to the National Trust by Huttleston Rogers Broughton, 1st Lord Fairhaven (1896-1966) with the house and the rest of the contents.

Makers and roles

Henry Borrell (fl.1795 - 1840), maker attributed to James Cox (fl.1749 - 1792/92), maker Harold Carter-Bowles (1889 - 1961) , restorer

References

Calnan 2016: C. Calnan ‘A ‘Sing-Song’ Restored. The innovative conservation of Anglesey Abbey’s Pagoda Clock’ ABC Bulletin, Autumn 2016, pp. 1-3. Bevan 2015: P. Bevan ’The Pagoda Clock at Anglesey Abbey’ (2015) https://www.bicc.ac.uk/files/2016/03/The-Pagoda-Clock-at-Anglesey-Abbey.docx (accessed March 2021) Bevan 2016: P. Bevan ‘The Qianlong Emperor’s English Clocks: To China and Back – Baubles, Bells and Booty’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramics Society, Vol. 81, 2016-17, pp. 103-110 Bevan 2016: P. Bevan ‘Tracing the Chinese Origins of Two Automata Clocks from Anglesey Abbey’ ABC Bulletin, Autumn 2016, pp. 3-4.

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