Press Release: Ground-breaking work on dynamic historic objects at West Dean College

Conservators at West Dean College have been working on an automaton clock in the form of a Chinese Pagoda. a rare musical clock made in London and exported to Beijing in the late 18th Century. The clock, circa 1760, is part of the National Trust Collection at Angelsey Abbey which is famous for its important collection of clocks. Initial investigations revealed that the clock mechanisms were suffering from continuous wear and tear. The mechanisms for playing music and rotating three decorative 'pineapple' ornaments had become so delicate that conservators at the College agreed with Trust staff to incorporate digital technology to reproduce the music, rather than expose the clock to further duress.

The project was led by ICON accredited clock conservator Matthew Read who is Clocks Programme Leader at West Dean with Postgraduate student Brittany Cox, who carried out much of the conservation cleaning and maintenance of the object including preparation of the original project report. John Butt and Mark Record designed and prototyped and made the electronics elements of the new control mechanism and John Leonard who digitally recorded the original music.

"The challenge in conserving this historical clock was in making the digital drive movement to interface with the historic mechanism and without causing alteration, using traditional clock-making practices. It is important that new conservation work does not alter the original, historic features. The aim is to ensure that our work can be reversed at any time in the future to preserve the integrity of the object for future generations," says Matthew Read. "The Pagoda Clock project challenges the parameters of what is understood as conservation and puts West Dean College and the National Trust at the forefront of pushing the boundaries in terms of conservation of dynamic objects."

Read believes that bringing a clock to life deepens not only the understanding of the specific object, but adds a dimension to the visitor experience in museums and galleries. He will be talking at the prestigious Museums + Heritage Show at Olympia in April (29 - 30) and challenging the more conventional conservation view by looking at the benefits and risks of conserving and displaying moving objects to engage and excite museum visitors, rather than relying on hi-tech interpretation to provide a satisfying museum experience.

West Dean College has an international reputation for teaching in Conservation and 95% of students state reputation as the reason they chose to study at the College. Conservation students gain hands-on experience working on unique and often rare objects from acclaimed collections. Combined with theoretical and scientific study and collaboration across the disciplines, many graduates go on to work in some of the world's finest institutions, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, National Maritime Museum, The British Museum and Imperial War Museum, or establish their own conservation practice.

In recognition of the increasing difficulties in funding for postgraduate education the College offers a wide range of bursaries and scholarships for talented students who would not otherwise be able to study at West Dean.

Full information and funding options are in the prospectus at


Notes to editors

  • West Dean College is part of The Edward James Foundation, an educational charitable trust established in 1964, also comprising West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and the West Dean Tapestry Studio. Charity No. 1126084.
  • All photography is free to use for editorial purposes.
  • Any journalist interested in attending a short course or event for news or review purposes, high res images or information on filming should contact the Media Relations Team.
  • West Dean College is situated on the A286, six miles north of Chichester and within easy access of Portsmouth, Guildford, Brighton and London.

Media contact information

For media accreditation or high-resolution digital images, please contact:

Irene Caswell, Senior Media Relations Officer +44 (0)1243 818301


West Dean College and Gardens, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 OQZ


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