A horologoical overhaul!

The Conservation Team look after four working clocks in the show rooms. However Knole’s largest working clock actually lives outside, on top of Archbishop Bouchier’s tower. This clock is looked after by the Knole Premises Team. Like the Conservation Team the Premises Team is a mixture of staff and volunteers. Their role is to look after and maintain the fabric of the building, but there would need to be a whole other blog post just to explain everything it is that they do…so back to the clock.

Very little documentation has been uncovered on the history of the clock other than it was previously housed over the Great Hall and moved to its present position in 1744. The dials have undergone several changes. In photographs from the 1870s, the clock still had only one hand, a typical feature of early clocks. By 1912 it had two hands and a larger central blue portion on the face. The edges of the lead covered wooden board were painted to emphasise the hexagonal shape – a feature which does not exist in the current face which appears circular from a distance.

The clock in the 1870s

The clock in the 1870s

The clock after 1912

The clock after 1912

By the post-war period, the dials had their current appearance with a circular painted dial and the hexagonal shape not picked out in black.

Post WWI image of the clock

Post WWI image of the clock

Back in January the face from the southern side of the clock turret was removed. The deterioration of the face had stopped the clock from functioning and it was removed to enable the clock to start working again. The face had become quite distorted and the hands could not turn.We took this opportunity  to undertake a close examination of the face so we could determine how we would go about redecorating all the faces and rectifying the problems in the structure.

The clock face is on display in Stone Court.

The clock face is on display in Stone Court.

The clock face weighed 213Kg and was only held in place by the brass screws gripping the lead skin – molded over a wooden base – as the wood had rotted away and was suffering from wet rot. The face required a crane to lift it to the ground and this was done at the same time as scaffolding was being removed following extensive building work. We found no evidence of an earlier clock face on the timber – however there was evidence of an earlier lead covering. This unusual choice of a very heavy material has probably contributed to some of the structural problems shown in each face but more obviously in the southern side.

Paint research was commissioned in order to determine the extent and character of the current paint scheme. Analysis indicates that the painted and gilded clock face retains only its existing decoration over a lead base. The materials identified in this decoration scheme suggest that it was applied at some point after 1920. The ways in which the lead is joined suggests a pre-war date, somewhere during the 1930s.

The tower clock mechanism

The tower clock mechanism.

Following consultation with our clock conservators and other specialists, our proposal is to remove the remaining three defective dials, all of which are in a similar poor and defective condition. It is evident from the condition of the dials that the method of construction is unsuitable, not only because the wooden backboard has rotted, but also due to the weight in using lead to encapsulate it. New dials can be manufactured using a marine plywood backboard, with a stainless steel dial plate front and sides, copying the construction method of the existing dials.

The chosen dial design can then be replicated onto the stainless steel dial plate. We propose that this follows the earlier pre-war design where the octagonal shape is emphasized. We feel that this approach will restore the appropriate appearance to the clock tower, keep the workings in good order and reduce the impact the weight is having on the turret structure itself.

Scaffold going up ready for the conservation work to the clock to begin.

Scaffold going up ready for the conservation work to the clock to begin.

Watch this space for more updates on the clock!

The Conservation and Premises Teams


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