Pyke Organ Clock Project: Treating the Dial and Automata

By Jonathon Kelly

This is next instalment in a series of posts on the conservation work and historical research on the George Pyke Organ Clock at West Dean College in 2014. The Pyke Clock is now working again and back on permanent display at Temple Newsam House in Leeds, England.

This post is the second of two posts about the automata dial. Part one provides a description of the dial and its automata.

This post describes some of the problems encountered with the dial and the automata and subsequent treatment decisions.

Front of Dial

Given the age of the dial, its painted front surface was in overall good condition. There were very few losses to the paint, which was protected by a clear shellac. The colours were still vivid enough to present a vibrant scene.

Where there were obvious paint losses however, treatment decisions had to be made. Paint losses were mainly found on the moving figures.

The most notable example are the milk maid and boy figures, which had obviously suffered some damage leading to the loss of the milkmaid's head. A soft solder repair had been made to reattach the figure to the driving chain. The heat applied during soldering destroyed the paint, leaving only traces.

If some of the original paint had remained there would have been a case to consolidate and stabilise the paint with the option to touch up missing paint or not. The most conservative option would have been to not do anything apart from consolidating what was there.

However the decision was made to solder on a new head and to re-paint. These figures were the only part of the entire dial scene without paint and the brass headless figures walking across the bridge did look a little strange. Importantly, the justification for this course of action was based on the fact that the original paint was no longer there.

Two West Dean books students, C├ęcilia Duminuco and Snow Fain, who both already have degrees in paintings conservation, offered to repaint the figures by making paint from pigments widely used in the eighteenth century. A little research provided some images of eighteenth century milkmaids (and children) on which to base the painted figures.

Behind the dial

As was mentioned in a previous Pyke clock post Identifying the Music, some years ago a very heavy weight-122lbs (55kg)-had been substituted to run the Pyke clock's barrel organ. This was done to force the organ to work to overcome problems which would otherwise prevent it from working.

Friction in the moving parts of the automaton, which is driven by the barrel organ, was arguably the greatest of these problems.

Various parts of the mechanism had become problematic due to wear, dried up lubrication and breakage. Examples of these follow.

Seized links due to dried up lubrication in the chains caused misalignment of the some figures as they passed over the pulleys. This could result in snagging, which would cause extra drag on the whole mechanism.

Damage and misalignment

Broken tooth on lower drive wheel

In order to replace the broken tooth, the old repaired tooth next to it had to be replaced at the same time.

This repair technique is frequently used when repairing wheels on clocks, automata and other similar mechanisms. It allows the original toothed wheel to be retained rather than being replaced.

Repairing these and other similar problems, followed by cleaning and re-lubricating where necessary, the automata mechanism was returned to smooth working order.

By the end of the Pyke project the driving weight required to operate the organ and its automata dial was almost halved as a result of the work done. This substantial reduction of load will prolong the working life of the Pyke organ clock.