Phases Of The Moon

Last night I finished reading Josephine Tey’s finely crafted novel ‘Brat Farrar’. What was intriguing about this work was that we knew from the outset that the eponymous character  was a fraudulently claiming to be a long lost, presumed dead, scion of the Ashby family. The mystery was how long he would be able to carry it off. Having been well-schooled in the final twists of the wonderful little stories of Bruce Goodman at I was quite pleased to have guessed the two in this one that made sense of the whole story. Tey is an accomplished writer whose prose flows most elegantly. Her sentences are of appropriately varied lengths, her characterisation insightful, and her construction impeccable.

Brat Farrar006My Folio Society edition features an introduction by Ruth Rendell and illustrations by J. Richard Allen, one of which graces the front board.

Grandfather Clock

Martin Fairhurst of Dials brought and set up Jackie’s grandfather clock this morning. The chime has a very pretty tinkling sound.

It is great fun to have the man-in-the moon lurking behind clouds on the face of our newly acquired clock. But, as made apparent in an essay dated 3/99 by Charles Probst, on the website of Charles Edwin Inc, these representations of the phases of the moon had a valuable practical purpose.  I have paraphrased extracts from Mr. Probst’s work, and adapted the text to our specific example.

Using a mechanical clock’s display to mark the state of the moon’s phase is an old and common tradition among makers of clocks from virtually every country.  Lunar displays on clocks are known in Germany from the end of the 16th century. When long-case clocks for homeowners in England became popular in the late 17th century, street and road lighting for travel at night hardly existed anywhere. If one wanted to have friends over or travel out, one had to know when moonlight would be available. Also near the end of the 17th century, the English Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, worked out his tables showing that the moon’s phases were closely linked to the regular rise and fall of the tides. Since few coastal streams had bridges, it was useful to know when a coach could ford a stream and keep the owner and his powder dry, and a clock could provide the information.

The lunar cycle starts at the new moon with no man-in-the-moon face showing on the clock, and progresses to the full face showing on the 15th day, the full moon, and back to no face again as the moon wanes.

Our lunar dial is partially concealed on each side of its opening in the main dial plate by semi-circular “humps” that allow the painted face to emerge slowly just as the real moon goes out of and back into the earth’s shadow. The humps contain maps of the eastern and western hemispheres. Today’s moon being a 12.3% waning crescent, it is barely visible behind the right hand hump.

Brass had been engraved to produce the dials until painted ones emerged in England about 1772.

Woman on clock face

The young lady decorating our example, made by Thomas de Grachy of Jersey between 1822 and 1834, sports a contemporary period dress.


such as those still favoured by Kate Greenaway in her book illustrations some fifty or so years later.

The bottom dial is a calendar one. We are not sure how to read it.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s spicy Thai chicken with sweet potato, runner beans and carrots, followed by custard tarts. She finished the sauvignon blanc and I drank Jean Truffot bourgogne hautes cotes de suits 2012.


  1. As you know the Chinese calendar follows the phases of the moon to this day. All festivals and important dates are still celebrated by their lunar dates and therefore a different day every year in the Gregorian calendar or there would not be a new moon on New Year’s Day or a full moon at Mid Autumn Festival.

  2. Thanks for the “little push”, Derrick. And I loved your run down on the “new” grandfather clock. I’m waiting for the next pension payment in order to get the chimes mended on ours. They are turned off at present – but it still keeps perfect time. How quickly (without realising) one gets to note the time throughout the day with the chimes removing any need to glance at the dial!

  3. How I would love to have such a wonderful clock… Older societies reckoned time by the moon, and our more “scientific” world reckons time by the sun, but now you can do both— and in two hemispheres!

  4. What a clock! Looks like you find just the right spot for it. Once upon a time, I read somewhere, “The sun gives us life, but we love the moon.” And so we do.

  5. I do like the clock and your explanation of its phase display. Also it’s nice to be reminded of Josephine Tey, whose mysteries I may be able to revisit at some point. I did like Brat Farrar and her other mysteries. I think she wrote more than those, though…

  6. I just love Jackie’s clock and all the historical information too Derrick.

    Sadly though such a delightful clock wouldn’t work correctly here the southern hemisphere because the moon waxes from the left. side – unless the settings could be changed………

  7. I love all the little lunar tidbits in this post, particularly the information about using the moon as a celestial lamp so your friends could visit at night. I’ve always loved that old military expression “Keep your powder dry”. May have to use that in a future story. Give Harry a past in some exotic army. Hmmm. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. I love the book cover! and your praise of it has made me jot it down for a near future read! What a beautiful clock face! I don’t think an apple watch would still be operational 200 years from now…

  9. Beautiful grandfather clock Derrick ~ wonderful wood grain and face. To me there is something comforting listening to old clocks run and chime.

  10. Gosh such tremendously clever mechanical aspects to your fine Grandfather clock… I can’t even imagine how someone dreamt of them, let alone designed the functionality.
    Martin must have such a fascinating job, applying his knowledge to different mechanisms and solving errors to make them ‘tick’ again!

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