Mr Henry Bridges’ Microcosm

Update: This book has been completely rewritten and will be released as ‘Mr Bridges’ Enlightenment Machine’ in various formats in early 2018.

This is the strange story about a giant musical & astronomical clock that toured much of the western world between 1733 and its disappearance around 1775. I have spent years tracking this enormous machine, at 10 foot by 6 foot, it had moving scenes, demonstrated astronomy and the arts and played music. I  have got a lot of dates from newspapers, but I have only 1 description of the performance, from educational reformer Richard L Edgeworth.  It is mentioned in the book by Mormon Civil War veteran, Edward J Wood ‘Curiosities of Clocks and Watches; From the Earliest Times’, but no citation is given.

The following is a list of the clock’s appearances as far as I have tracked it, so this should help you.  Anything from the states would be great, because I can’t get to the archives, and those pioneers didn’t have a lot of entertainments, so, like George Washington, there may be records out there.  It was in New York, Boston and Philadelphia in 1756.

This is the surviving piece in the British Museum. The reason it is often overlooked is because nobody really notices what it was as it was often called a machine or mechanism, hardly something you would cross the road to see but  one of those things that once you know it you see it everywhere. This is an amazing story, and has obsessed me for years. Be warned! It may be contagious!

Microcosm – Significant Dates

1733 Microcosm exhibited Waltham Abbey by Henry Bridges. 1st mention in newspapers –Fog’s Weekly Journal 29 Sep 1733 ‘completed after 8 years study’ to be viewed at the ‘author’s house’
1734 Henry Bridges published 2’ x 1 ½’ print of Micro dedicated to James Brydges, Duke of Chandos including medallions Henry Bridges & I Newton
1734 July Micro London: King’s theatre, Haymarket, Sep to Xmas Royal Exchange
1736 Aug 17-31 Great Booth during fair. [Bartholomew’s]. Has been shown to the royal family, most of nobility & gentry
1736 11 Nov – 25 Mar 1737 @ late Golden Lyon tavern between Temple Gates on Fleet St ’judged worthy to adorn the palace of a prince…complete chamber organ
Feb 17 Waltham Abbey home to let
1740 Henry Bridges sold Micro to Edward Davis – incorrect
1741 Micro @ Mitre, London Charing Cross enhanced with 2 planetariums ie solar system & Jupiter’s satellites
c1741 Henry Bridges ad ‘being engaged in much business at home’ he would be willing to sell
1741 M on view Mitre, nr Charing Cross. Included an organ which was played at intervals. Over 1,000 wheels and pinions. “Mr Bridges being engaged in much Business at home would be wiling to dispose of this machine, either wholly , or in Partnership.”
1746 19 Apr – 10 June Raven, College Green Dublin
1747 Micro Mr Walter’s, near the town hall Bath willing to accept proper person as partner or sell outright 700g

1748 April 8+ weeks including views of machinery. Evening 6d no viewing M
1748 M September, @ Gloucester
1749 Feb – March over Exeter ‘Change Modern Microcosm’ designed for Paris in a short time

1749 Sep-October Worcester. Possibly heading to France from here.
1750 Jan 2 wanted on or near Haymarket, St James, etc room – now @ Royal Exchange Coffee House
1750 4 Jan @ Great Assembly Room over East End Exeter Exchange on the Strand. Bills containing particulars for free, at site &c
1750 M @ 4/6 Jan London Evening Post London Great Assembly Room over the East End of Exeter Exchange, Strand Haymarket including 4 planetariums – solar system, Jupiter satellites, eclipses, & retrograde motion, cometarium (Halley due 1758) transit of Venus (due 1761) print 4 sale
31 March General Advertiser waiting for proper passage to go abroad
1750 5 April Exeter Exchange waiting for proper passage to go abroad
1750 16 May till Fri @ Exeter Exchange, then to Royal Exchange Coffee House. Looking for partner or sale 800g
1750 June 6-July 14. gone July 18
1751 6 Feb Royal Exchange Coffee house till next Sat then near opera house, Haymarket.
1751 24 Apr @ corner Little Sufolk st facing Opera House, Haymarket
1751 2 – 17 July still there, short stay. Invited to Bath & Hotwells – this did not happen
8 Aug hoping to move to Bishopsgate area – then on show Little Suffolk St Haymarket
1752 M @ Faulcon Inn Cambridge June/July
1753 M @ Yarmouth, Norwich, Walsingham, Kings Lynn
1753 Feb 3 – 3 Mar @ Mr Boon’s on the Quay Yarmouth Its stay will be short, being designed next for Norwich.
May 12 -21 July Micro arrived & 2b seen and a lecture heard upon it in Mr Pike’s (late Mr Oliver’s) great Dancing Room on the Cockey Lane, Norwich
21-28 July gone
28 July – 6 Oct The reason why the Micro is taken down is in order to receive a new Addition with some improvements, all the Assize week and the week after, is what the unskilled in Mechanism call Perpetual Motion.
10 Nov – 5 Jan 1754 Micro in Walsingham, King’s Head. Cannot be moved without considerable expense and loss of time so will not be shown @ Wells, Fakenham or any other place till Lyn
1754 12 – 26 Jan Micro @ Duke’s Head, Lyn during time of the market. Lecture heard upon it (till sold)
Wanted – an honest, good Natur’d sober ingenious young man about 18 or 20 year old that can write tolerable and would be instructed to exhibit the microcosm. 26 Jan – 2 Feb gone
1756 Microcosm in America
Feb 2 Post Boy Philadelphia, New York Gazette or the … coming there from New York ‘we hear, the Microcosm now at Philadelphia will speedily be here, and for a short time exhibited to publick View- Country Life 25 Aug 1944
16 Feb New York … ‘To be seen at the New-Exchange – closed 23 Mar as ‘proprietors’ unable to extend let on room. George Washington took several ladies to see it – he records it in his accounts but does not describe it.
17 May Boston Gazette– 2b seen for a short time @ house of William Fletcher, Merchant, New…
1756 James Bridges set up premises St Michael’s Hill ‘he had come from the American Colonies’
1757 March 12 – 21 Apr @ Bell Tavern, Broads St ‘Tickets to be had of Mr Bridges, Architect on St Michaels Hill and at the above place
1758 12 Apr @ Late Royal Exchange coffee house Threadneedle st – short stay till 29th inst will be sold at public sale about September next by which time a proper place will be appointed &c
1758 Royal Exchange Coffee House 1s/pp till April Spring Gardens & Kingston Surrey & Guildford
1759 Jan – May puff ‘now in metropolis’
1761 Printed description of M made available, printed for Ed Davis
1761 M @ Plymouth, Tavistock, Truro, Falmouth
1763 M @ Birmingham
1763 3rd Edition A Succinct Description of that Elaborate Pile of Art Called the Microcosm’ pub Coventry for proprietor Edward Davis
1764 M @ Bridgenorth, Shrewsbury, Wellington, Stafford, Litchfield, Derby, Leicester
1765 M autumn Richard Edgeworth @ Chester
? 1765 M Glasgow booklet
1766 M @ Newcastle on Tyne?
1767 M @ /Edinburgh, Glasgow ?, Dublin, Waterford, Kilkenny, Cork– M Newcastle & Dublin pamphlets
1769 Dec 9 during winter/end March @ Shaw’s Court, Dame St Dublin – succinct account & print 4 sale
1771 M @ York
1772 18 July Norwich Mercury now @ Yarmouth Ship Tavern – Handbill – just arrived from its tour through Scotland & Ireland
1772 M @ Woodbridge, Bungay, Beccles, Yarmouth, Norwich, Swaffham, Bury St Edmunds, Colchester
1772 18 July arrived Yarmouth Great Room, ship Tavern Jail St near New Hall
Just published with handsome frontispiece 6d succinct description …
8 – 29 Aug micro arrived Norwich Rampant Horse Great Room St Stephens till sat night
5 Sep micro arrived Crown Inn, Swaffham
1773 3 -22 Mar succinct description on sale & m on display proprietor’s house 3rd door from John St, Pall Mall
1773 1 June puff letter @ , same address, opposite Golden Ball Pall Mall, microcosm over door
1773 @ London, Pall Mall
October – Salisbury Music Festival. Salisbury & Winchester Journal. John Marsh, composer, Journal mentions his intention to see the microcosm.
1773 11 Oct – 23 Dec Bath – Mr Davis, Machine Organ-maker, from Pall Mall, @ the Great Room at the Vine,
NB At the above room may be had, of the proprietor, solar, compound & single microscopes, opera glasses, reading glasses of various sorts, glasses for short sights ; magnifying glasses on a new construction, telescopes, umbrellas etc all of the latest improvements
1774 1 – 29 Jan Bristol then London
M @ Bristol, London, Pall Mall ?
1774 28 Apr @ Pall Mall before final departure from this kingdom. Fixed for 28th inst (when it will be conveyed to a foreign court)
1774 23 May positively last week – final departure from kingdom fixed for 30th
1774 30 May, 2 June @ Pall Mall crowds, so delayed to Saturday next
1775M @ Bristol Gloucester, Worcester – M 3 Dec 74 – 16 Jan 75 last tour of England with museum exhibit 2 musical temples worth £4,000 for Emperor of China FF. Advertised 2nd to temples, then put in leading place. On show at Merchant Taylors’ Hall, no mention of famous visitors. Cox’s Museum at Cooper’s Hall, grand visit from mayor & family. Gone by Jan 21

1938 Microcosm astronomical clock found in Paris by Courtney A Ilbert in a plain wooden 9 foot high case. He cleaned, restored and rebuilt it. Tradition rest was destroyed in French Revolution. Following Mr Ilbert’s death in 1957, his collection was acquired by the British Museum.

7 thoughts on “Mr Henry Bridges’ Microcosm

  1. Hi Barb,

    I’ll keep an eye open for any mentions of the clock. In the meantime, I love the idea that my Farrow ancestors in Gt Walsingham probably went to see it. There can’t have been too much going on in the parish and I imagine the entire town turned out to see the “show”.

    Is the book already available from Amazon?

    Regards from autumnal South Africa


    • Many thanks for this. I am pretty sure anyone with the money would have seen it. There is even a chance that someone might have a copy of the pamphlet mouldering away somewhere – copies are dotted around the various archives.
      Yes, the book has been on amazon for over a year. You can read the first few chapters on authonomy and see what others say aobut it.
      I am giving a 20 minute paper in London on it later this year, as it spent a lot of time in the capital.
      I really love the idea of people around the world helping with research, I do bits for people from abroad – it’s no big deal as I live near the record office. I can’t decide if Henry was a genius or a fool. Probably both like the rest of us. cheers


  2. I’m interested in Organ Clocks and I have some material that might help.

    1. another press report:
    Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Saturday 5 March 1774
    ‘Mr. Davis., Machine –Organ maker, of Pall-mall, London, respectfully informs the Nobility and Gentry , that he has brought to this city, that inimitable piece of mechanism called the MICROCOSM, which will be exhibited every day until the 16th inst. at the great room in Ship-lane.’

    2. Edward Davis was certainly an organ builder and made alterations at St. Michael’s church in Coventry in 1763: so this fits in with your Coventry reference

    Other Davises were also organ builders in London but James (born 1762) and his brother David would have been too young to be active in 1763 or 1773. An Aaron Davis supplied a barrel mechanism to an organ in London in 1743 (London Daily Post, 8 July.)

    A certain amount is known about James and David Davis, but unfortunately practically nothing about Edward or Aaron.

    BW Paul


    • Thanks for this. I knew of your Davis but this one toured with the micro from about 1760 to when the trail goes cold in 1775. This one worked for James cox so I think he was a Londoner. Think he witnessed Henry’s will in 1754. He had been working about 20 years so puts his birth about 1735ish. I suspect he was related to the Davies sisters Marianne who played the glass harmonica & Cecilia the soprano.


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