Richard Greene's Museum

In December 2003 this newsletter carried an account of Richard Greene's "Museum of Curiosities" with particular reference to an early English musical altar clock in his collection that has since become known as "The Lichfield Clock". Dr Richard Greene was an apothecary who had trained in Shrewsbury before returning to Lichfield in the early 1740s; he subsequently become a prominent citizen and a friend of Samuel Johnson.

Richard Greene's famous museum was located in Market Street (then known as Saddler Street) in the second half of the 18th century; his former house at No. 12 was one of those demolished when the present City Arcade was built. There is no record of the maker but the ornate clock is engraved on the dial with the arms of Richard Greene impaled with those of his first wife Mary Dawson - so it is not surprising that it took pride of place in his collection.

After Richard's death in 1793 the collection was dispersed by his family. The unusual musical altar clock travelled south, to appear in 1801 in the catalogue of Walter Honeywood Yate's museum at Bromesberrow Place in Gloucestershire. Sadly, that gentleman "rapidly embarrassed the family finances" and in 1811 the estate was sold to Joseph Pitt who, in turn, sold it in 1818 to David Ricardo of Gatcombe Park near Bath. The house then became the home of his son Osman Ricardo, who later became the MP for Worcester. The whereabouts of the clock during this period are unknown although some items from Richard Greene's original "collection of curiosities" did return to Lichfield.

Sometime later in the 19th century the clock came into the possession of Charles Conolly of Midford Castle, Somerset and was donated to the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath by his widow, Louisa Conolly (The Marquesa di Sant' Agata), following her death in January 1899. In 2015 the Lichfield Clock was fully restored with funding provided by the Friends of the Victoria Gallery and the South West Museums Council. It is now prominently displayed in the main gallery, accompanied by a brief note on the history of the clock and details of its recent restoration.

The Lichfield Clock in 2019
Photograph by Helen Cousins
with permission from the
Victoria Art Gallery

The Lichfield Clock
The newsletter article in December 2003

The following document came to our notice recently. It is a letter published in The Gentleman's Magazine for October 1788. The subject matter refers to the Richard Greene museum, which was sited in Sadler Street (now Market Street) in Lichfield. One of the artefacts housed in the Museum was a musical altar clock (English circa 1740-1750). The clock is currently housed in the Victoria Art gallery in Bath. It would be interesting to hear from members who may have knowledge of the Richard Greene museum and the current whereabouts of the artefacts it contained.

Tony Crookes
December, 2003

The extract from 'The Gentlemans Magazine'

The View meets the eye of the spectator when he stands with his back to the Organ; the scale is rather too small to do justice to the articles, nor does it include the most rare and valuable. It consists of two rooms communicating with each other by an opening crowned by an elliptical arch from whose centre suspends, by brass chains, a buffalo's horn - mounted and neatly painted with the arms and crest of the late Thomas Aston, of Aston in Cheshire. It was used as a drinking cup, bearing the motto 'Preft Compiere'. Also the tusk of an elephant, dug out of a gravel pit near Stratford-on-Avon, six feet below the surface of the ground; when taken up it measured nearly a yard and three-quarters in length, the ivory by long continuance in the earth, was rendered as soft as chalk.

A collection of South Seas rarities, brought over by Captain Cook and other navigators, fills the glass case on the left hand. The opposite one on the right hand contains a collection of fire-arms; among which are the match-lock, wheel-lock and snaphance; Turkish, Spanish, Italian and old English muskets. Pistols, of almost all kinds, occupy the lower part of the case.

In the centre of the inner room appears an uncommon musical altar clock whose outer case (as in the plate) represents a Gothic church tower, adorned with pinnacles, battlements, images etc. and crowned with an octagonal lantern of open-work.

For a more particular description of these articles and for a general account of the museum reference must be made to the printed catalogue, sold in Lichfield, the last edition of which appeared in 1786; dedicated to Sir Ashton Lever and Mr Pennant.

It is bad justice to the public-spirited collector to record that the museum is constantly open for the inspection of the curious, except on Sundays, gratis. The drawing was made by Mr Straiger, painter, of this City.

September 9th, 1788