Unique stone clock goes back in time

26th Oct 2017

While clocks across the UK will be turning back an hour this weekend, one unique timepiece will be moving back 200 years in time.

A rare sandstone longcase clock produced in the 1820s, owned by Sir Walter Scott and believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, has been restored to its full working glory and will be wound up on Sunday October 29th.

The clock was initially discovered in pieces during the recent restoration of Abbotsford, Scott’s home near Melrose, and set aside as a curiosity, with cataloguers assuming it to be a full-size sculpture of a clock. Last year, after raising the funds for its conservation, cleaning and rebuild, further research and exploration revealed it had once been a working clock, and further funds have been raised to return it to working order for the first time in living memory. The movement and hands had been lost over time, but clock restorer Grant Lees, of Galashiels, searched high and low for an original Georgian movement of the right configuration for the unusual case, and antique blue steel hands for the clock face. ‘The main challenge with this project was finding a period clock movement where the shaft for the hands and the two winding squares exactly matched the positon of those drilled through the dial. We're lucky to have found something appropriate as it would hardly be right or ethical to start drilling new holes through a 25mm thick sandstone exterior! I've really enjoyed the challenge of working with one of the most unusual clocks I've ever encountered.’

The Abbotsford Trust intends to restore these moving elements to the clock and invites people to come and see the piece in its new home in the Visitor Centre exhibition space.

Kirsty Archer Thompson, Collections and Interpretation Manager at Abbotsford, said: “The clock is one of the most unusual items in the Abbotsford collection and we believe it's the only one of its kind in the world. The carved ornaments on the top imitate the detail on Georgian longcase clocks made from woods such as mahogany and oak, but this example is unique in being entirely hewn from local stone."

“It symbolises not only the unique character and wit of Sir Walter Scott’s interior decoration here at Abbotsford, but also the considerable skill of the mason responsible for sculpting the three individual sections that lock together. Even the mortise and tenon joints usually found in carpentry have been expertly recreated in stone. I believe it to be a physical representation of the phrase “time stands still.”

A hinged sandstone door allowing access to the pendulum had survived, but a substantial fragment had been lost, along with the original hinges. Rather than use modern hinges to rehang the door, which is heavy and fragile, the Trust decided to preserve it in storage and commissioned the fabrication of a Perspex window, so that visitors can see inside.

As well as the skills of Grant Lees, the restoration project also benefitted from the knowledge and expert advice of conservator Charles Stable, and has been financed by donations from private charitable trusts and intrigued members of the public alike. Kirsty commented: “We are grateful to the experts who have helped us return the clock to its former glory, and to those who have given generously to the project, particularly those members of the local community and visitors from further afield who have donated to our crowd-funding campaign. The costs of preserving and conserving Sir Walter Scott’s collection are substantial, and we couldn’t do it without this kind of support.”

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