Winding back the clocks

Gabby clocks Ickworth

Meet Gabby Brasier, Ickworth Conservation Assistant as she talks us through her favourite task for the week!

How often do you wind the clocks?

The clocks at Ickworth are French striking clocks which run on an eight day cycle. Therefore I wind them once a week every Tuesday at the same time of day. This regular cycle is important to keep the clocks’ mechanisms running consistently and smoothly.

I have the overall responsibility of winding the clocks. This allows me to become familiar with the particular quirks of each clock and means that they are wound with the same level of tension. In my absence, my understudy takes care of the clocks for me.

What is your routine?

I follow a set routine to avoid causing damage to the mainspring which is very fragile. I start by examining whether the clock is running on time and recording the exact amount of minutes that the clock is fast or slow. This helps me to analyse the working pattern of every clock.


Next I wind the clocks using an individual butterfly key for each clock. I wear nitrile gloves and carefully place the key into the winding square. I turn the key gently but firmly in a clockwise direction in 90 degree turns. I continue turning until the spring feels tight and comes to a natural stop. I record the number of revolutions to evaluate the amount of turns required for the clock to be fully wound.

Following this, I correct the time by adjusting the clock hands. This needs to be done with great care as the hands are thin and delicate. If the clock is slow, I gently move the hands forward in a clockwise direction to the correct time. If the clock is fast, I move the hands forward through a full 12 hour cycle as it is damaging to move the hands backwards. I always allow the clock to strike at each half hour when moving the hands forward.

All being well, this sequence enables the clocks to continue running with little alteration to the time.

A french clock in the Smoking room, part of Ickworth's extensive collection of treasures
french clock ickworth
A french clock in the Smoking room, part of Ickworth's extensive collection of treasures

What happens to the clocks over winter?

The clocks are allowed to slowly wind down and rest. We remove dust from the exterior of the clocks using soft pony hair brushes and place an acid-free tissue paper hat over the clock for protection from dust.

In spring, the horological conservator visits us to restart the clocks. He inspects the condition of the interior mechanism and checks the oil which can solidify or spread when left over long periods.

Do you have a favourite clock?

The Smoking Room clock has to be my favourite. I love the shining golden colour of the ormolu, the detail of the floral pattern and the cherub’s overflowing trumpet of flowers and fruit. It also makes a cheerful noise when it strikes. This clock is easy to wind but often runs ten minutes late!

Look out for me winding the clocks every Tuesday between 12-1pm!