MA Conservation Studies specialising in Clocks and Related Objects 2018 - 2019

Dale Sardeson

Horological conservator

Which course/s did you study and the dates?

FdA Historic Craft Practices: Clocks 2016 – 2018
MA Conservation Studies (Clocks & Related Objects) 2018 – 2019

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

Probably the project that I am most proud of being involved with since graduating would be the Bowes Swan Study Week in October 2021. The Swan is such a unique and important object and it was a huge privilege to be able to see, study and handle it, as well as to contribute to the varied and complex discussions about its future interpretation and conservation. The other people who were involved in the study week have such a wealth of knowledge and experience, so it was a real joy to spend a few days with them and be involved in such a dynamic exchange of ideas and perspectives. You can watch a short documentary film about the week here.

Talk us through your career path since graduating.

I was fortunate enough to have a job opportunity lined up for when I graduated at JE Allnutt & Son in Midhurst. Allnutts work with a strong conservation framework, but it is ultimately a commercial repair workshop, which means it is a fast-paced work environment that processes a huge variety of clocks – the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly! Being at Allnutts has been hugely beneficial for my technical skill and understanding of horology because of the sheer volume and diversity of work. I work part-time for myself and part-time for the shop, so as time went on and I built up my experience and became more settled into the pace and headspace of work (vs. study), I started to get involved with more heritage and museum work, beginning by working alongside other more experienced conservators and gradually taking on more responsibility myself. Now, my self-employed work is largely on the heritage side of things, with regular work for museums and National Trust properties across London and the South of England. I also began teaching in the clocks department at West Dean in 2021 one day a week, supporting the planning and delivery of the course.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am actually just about to take some time off for Paternity, so have been focussing on tying up, finishing and delivering a few different projects. I have just finished studio work on three interesting clocks for the National Trust properties Lacock Abbey & Westwood Manor - a longcase regulator, a table clock made for the Turkish market, and a musical longcase clock. The musical clock in particular was quite a challenge and different from the types of clocks I typically get to work on. It is a large, wooden-framed mechanism made in the Black Forest in the early 19th Century. Flute clocks of this type were often exported without cases and then cased according to local custom, often found in public houses where their musical work would provide entertainment for patrons, acting as a sort of proto-jukebox!

Do you have any tips for recent graduates?

Say yes to everything! If you can afford to take an opportunity to be involved in a project, then do it, even if it’s not your particular area of interest or you think it doesn’t directly contribute to your career plan. You never know, you might gain a new interest! OR you may meet someone you wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to and that might lead to further interesting opportunities. So, the first bit of advice is to take any opportunity that comes to you if you can. The second bit is to create opportunities for yourself. If you know of someone who is doing the kind of work you would like to do, or involved in a project that is of interest to you, contact them and ask if you can come and spend a day or two with them, shadowing, helping and learning. The worst that can happen is they say no, but I think you’ll find there are very few gatekeepers in conservation and most people are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience.

How do you think studying at West Dean College prepared you for what you do now?

Well, when I started on the FdA course I had almost no previous experience of clockmaking and not the first idea about conservation of cultural heritage! So, the education I had at West Dean built me from the ground up into a professional conservator with a thorough technical understanding of horology and a rounded framework of critical thinking and decision making for conservation. Of course, there is always more to learn when you finish studying, but the skills I gained at West Dean prepared me to continue my professional development successfully in the workplace.

What's your favourite memory from your time at the College?

Rather than a specific memory, something that I really enjoyed about West Dean was the shared learning environment and opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration. Being able to see what the more advanced students were working on when I was in the earliest stages of my learning got me inspired and interested in areas I might not otherwise have seen, and having such a close community with students from other specialisms lead to a lot of interesting possibilities for collaboration and learning different skills.

Did you receive any form of funding to study at West Dean?

I did! My accommodation was fully funded in the first and second year, and I also got a scholarship for my second year which covered all of my tuition fees as well. For my Master’s I received a different scholarship which covered all of my tuition and some of my living costs as well. I felt really fortunate to receive this support, I certainly couldn’t have stayed for the third year without it, but we are very lucky to have a wide range of scholarships and bursaries available so that no one who needs support should miss out.

Did you have a different career before coming to West Dean? If so why did you change career paths?

I wouldn’t say I had any kind of path before coming to West Dean. I was always quite academic at school so got railroaded in that direction when I was doing my GCSEs and A-levels. By the time I left school I realised that wasn’t the direction I really wanted to go with my life, but felt like I didn’t really have much of any other option. I tried working in an office for a few years, but it really made me miserable, and I knew I wanted something more hands-on, but had no relevant training. I spent a lot of time bouncing between labouring-type jobs and generally being a twenty-something with no idea what he wanted to do when he grew up! There were a good few years where I reconsidered university and what I might do, but kept talking myself out of it thinking it was too late or that I didn’t have the skills I would need. Eventually, whilst looking into the potential avenues for a horological career path (I had a casual interest at that point), I came across the FdA course at West Dean. Seeing how it was designed for those with little-to-no experience finally gave me the confidence to feel like I wouldn’t be coming in too late and without the skills to keep up, as I could see that the course would give me everything I needed.

Find out more about studying horology here.