Wind up Wednesday - Polesden Lacey house blog

A close up of a gilt mantel clock at Polesden Lacey

The large and varied collection of clocks at Polesden Lacey require regular love and attention. For Conservation Assistant Sharon this makes every Wednesday 'wind up' day.

At Polesden Lacey we are lucky enough to have a wonderful collection of 18 clocks, from seventeenth-century longcase (or grandfather) clocks to Louis XVI ormolu mantel clocks to wooden kitchen clocks.

Part of my role is to wind the clocks once a week – hence wind up Wednesday. Keeping the clocks running helps to create the ‘lived in’ feeling that so many visitors comment on, and it’s lovely to be in the house when they all chime on the hour.

Before I begin, I remove my rings and watch to avoid any chance of catching them and causing damage to the pieces. As always when we’re handling collection items, I wear vinyl gloves; many of the clocks in our collection have gilt metal parts that can be damaged by the sweat and moisture on hands.

As part of my winding kit, I take a hard hat, the box of winding keys and a folder that contains information on all the clocks in the collection.

Polesden's log of all its clocks together with their keys
Clock windup tools and maintenance log
Polesden's log of all its clocks together with their keys

Each clock has its own winding key, longcase clocks have crank keys, and all have to be wound gently. Before I wind each clock, I record the time that it tells and note whether it is running fast or slow. By doing this regularly I can see if any problems arise, and adjust when needed.

Clocks are sensitive to change and it’s best if the same person winds them on the same day and at the same time every week. They are also affected by the weather and changes in temperature, as I found during the snowy weather earlier in the year. Due to the cold, many of the clocks in the house slowed down, and the turret clock had to be restarted completely, as it was 5 hours behind.

The turret clock is probably the trickiest to wind – not only does it involve a climb up two ladders and walking along a low-ceilinged passage in the roof (hence the hard hat), but the dial mechanism is back to front.

George III Parliament clock
A wooden wall-mounted clock
George III Parliament clock

Of all the clocks in our collection, my favourite has to be the George III japanned ‘Parliament’ clock that hangs in the east corridor and dates from the mid-1700s. It’s unique in our collection as it’s an unusual size – not a full longcase, or a short cartel clock.  I also love the delicate painted pattern on the dial and the gilt and brown chinoiserie detailing on the case.

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