Astronomical regulator clock

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made in London

Postcard of Astronomical regulator clock.
© National Museums Scotland

Astronomical regulator clock

This much-travelled clock made by George Graham's former assistant John Shelton (fl. 1717-77) has been used as the master regulator in astronomical and gravitational experiments all over the world. Not all of its history is clear, but it seems certain that it was one of a group of regulators by Shelton purchased by the Royal Society, London, in 1760, and taken by Captain James Cook (1728-79) to Tahiti for the observation of the 1769 transit of Venus. In 1774, it was used by Neville Maskelyne (1732-1811) in his gravitational measurements at Schiehallion in Perthshire.

The long case astronomical regulator clock is signed on the square silvered-brass dial: 'John Shelton / London', and dated by Shelton on the low circle, '1756'. It has a gridiron pendulum on sprung suspension, in a wainscot case (on later base), with glass panelled door and peep sights at the side. It is also marked 'KO' [Kew Observatory] and 'BNO / 33 ' [Ben Nevis Observatory].

Extensive experiments with compound pendulums were made in the 1820s and 1850s with this clock as one of the principal reference standards. It latterly became the master clock at the observatories at Kew, Ben Nevis and Eskdalemuir.

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Online ID: 000-180-000-996-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1978.1
Date: 1756
What: Counter scales
Description: Counter scales
  • Bryden, D.J. James Short and his telescopes. Edinburgh, 1968, p 28. 
  • Howse, Derek and Beresford Hutchinson. The Saga of the Shelton Clocks. Antiquarian Horology 6 (1969), pp 281-98. 
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