Clocking in at Attingham Park

The best thing about clocks is their ubiquity; their key function is the same now as it was when they were made, and the National Trust’s collection of clocks features timepieces that are 300-400 years old that are still in good working order! They give a presence to a property that makes their surroundings ‘alive’ and can add to the ambiance of the space they occupy.

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The Clock Tower at Attingham Park

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Horological Study Day held at Attingham Park in Shropshire. The course was led by Elliott Nixon from the Institute of Conservation (ICON) and he delivered the course content with real humour and enthusiasm! (His quips about women being better at looking after clocks that men really made me laugh!)  I met fellow ‘clockies’ from other properties across the Trust including Belton House, Erddig, Packwood House and The Vyne.

As many of us are directly responsible for the care of clocks at our properties we had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and to seek advice to help with any problems we might be encountering. Most of us were reassured to find that we have a good understanding of our clocks, how they work and how to care for them. We discussed the importance of having a ‘captain’ to look after the clocks at each of our properties, and the importance of having a ‘sidekick’ who is confident and able to look after the care of the clocks in my absence. Cllocks often respond to the person caring for them, as they become used to that same person’s ‘touch’ when they wind them.  Introduce an different ‘touch’ to the clocks and they will act strangely, often losing time or stopping all together. We all agreed that something always goes wrong whilst we are away, regardless of who is looking after the clocks!

It’s important to be aware of  aware of each clocks individual needs and that when it comes to winding, regularity is the key (if you’ll excuse the pun)! It is important to stick to a pattern when winding clocks and that you ensure yourself enough time to wind the clocks without feeling rushed, as this is when damage can potentially occur. In the past clocks have been mistreated or poorly handled, so it’s vital that the same person/people are looking after them all year around.

Clock winding in the Gold Room (Image: Eddie Hyde photography)

Clock winding in the Gold Room (Image: Eddie Hyde photography)

Elliott was quick to dispel the myth surrounding ‘over winding’ clocks – it’s just not possible! It is often more likely that the clock hasn’t been wound enough or that there is another underlying problem. It is always best to wind by feel or by counting until you reach the ‘tell’, and that all comes down to the individual who is doing the winding.

Lesage elephant mantle clock c. 1850

Lesage elephant mantle clock c. 1850

Having visited Attingham a number of times I wasn’t going to turn down any opportunity to see the House again, espeically during it’s closed season. Caroline, Conservation & Engagement Assistant at Attingham, gave us a tour of the mansion, where we learnt about Attingham’s ongoing project to restore their Picture Gallery.  The project aims to bring the mansion back to life, and visitors have been able step behind the scenes and see conservation work in action a whilst they work to rescue and restore the stunning John Nash roof covering the Picture Gallery.

The nearly completed ceiling

The nearly completed ceiling

A team of specialist contractors have been working hard on the roof to clean the original glazing and restore it to it’s former glory. The roof has been leaking for hundreds of years and even a secondary roof installed by the National Trust in the 1970s was not enough to prevent the water seepage, causing damage to the collections below, as well as the original features of the building. The new secondary roof will be a state-of-the-art “floating” glass roof, made of Pilkington glass mounted on a steel framework. It will protect Nash’s original roof from the elements and also control its environment, essentially creating a self contained ‘museum gallery’ within the house.

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Detail of the Nash glazed roof

 

In the Picture Gallery itself is currently being re-gilded, cleaned and painted.

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Materials used for re-gilding in the Picture Gallery

 

The team at Attingham also made an exciting discovery; some initials were found carved into the top of one of the columns in the Picture Gallery. They believe it to be the signature of the architect and designer John Nash, although they are waiting for this to be verified.

Could this be John Nash's signature?

Could this be John Nash’s signature?

We were also some of the last visitors to have the opportunity to climb the scaffolding up to the top of the Picture Gallery. We saw conservators working on the last of the gilding and admired the recently completed trompe-l’oeil decoration on the ceiling.

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Trompe-l’oeil decoration

In the Picture Gallery below, They have also created a special case to store their chandelier in so that it would be protected from the work going on around it, but could still be seen by members of the public. At over 6 foot in height, this chandelier is amongst the largest of Attingham’s objects!

Chandelier c.1810

Chandelier c.1810

Find out more about Attingham’s Through the Roof project here. Come and watch us wind the clocks every Wednesday, beginning 4 March 2015.

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