A Day at West Dean College

Having spent a memorable year (1995/96) learning how to restore early English clocks at West Dean College, your Web Manager thought it was about time to bring you up-to-date. The course is heavily slanted towards practical work, teaching practical skills using traditional materials, together with essential theory and the history of timekeeping. Students are encouraged to keep notes and read around their subject, making use of the excellent library facilities. Part of their assessment requires them to write a dissertation on an horological subject.

There is now an exciting new development, once the basics have been learn, towards 'new build' and the construction of replicas. The images above show a replica of the Greenwich Tompion, constructed by Johan Ten Hoeve. These clocks are located in the Octagon Room in Flamteed House, the Old Observatory. Below are some images of an astronomical clock being designed and constructed by David Higgon. He cut out all the wheel blanks, cut the teeth and crossed them out over a weekend (he's even faster than me!!). The movement is a modified form of Harrison's grasshopper escapement. I greatly look forward to meeting these talented horologists, and must pay a visit to West Dean in the near future. Images courtesy of West Dean College.

The view of the house is taken from the track leading to the arboretum, where Edward James is buried. The clock workshop is well equipped and is situated at the right-hand end of the college as viewed in the picture, just to the right of the clock tower (with cupula).

The present house was built by Sir James Peachey, first Baron Selsey who in 1804 commissioned James Wyatt to rebuild and enlarge it. The house was again enlarged in 1891 by William James, flint being the main construction material. From the front of the college the parkland landscape appears continuous, but in fact the formal grounds are protected from the grazing sheep and cattle by a ha-ha which follows the line of the River Lavant. The eye is guided towards the fine arboretum by the grassy slopes of a tree-lined dry valley, so typical of this chalk landscape. Within the arboretum, as in the formal gardens are many exotic species, and the collection is continually being added to. The grounds also have a fine walled kitchen garden, the glasshouses having been recently restored.

Before his death in 1984, Edward James formed a charitable educational trust, the estate providing a place of study for artists, craftsmen and musicians. This is continued to this day in the form full-time residential courses including a Tapestry workshop, furniture and ceramic restoration, the restoration of antique clocks and the manufacture of early musical instruments. Many short courses are also run. This view of the clock workshop shows the present students hard at work!! Each student has his own workbench with watchmakers lathe, vice etc. Hand tools are personal items, but the workshop is well equipped with larger lathes, a wheel-cutting engine, pillar drill etc.

It was nearly dark when I took my leave of the college, but I had time to take a few atmospheric shots of the evening mist as it gradually filled the valley in the college grounds.

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