Eagle eyed visitors to Raby Castle in the early months of 2022 will have noticed that The Keep tower had been clad in scaffolding. Thanks to a grant from Historic England and Historic House Foundation, we have been able to carry out some much-needed roof repairs and conservation work on The Keep’s distinctive clock and sundial faces. We caught up with Castle Curator, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown to find out more.
The work provided a perfect opportunity for us to delve into the history of these important time-pieces. In the days before mechanical clocks, fixed and portable sundials were the commonest means of telling the time. The earliest surviving sundial that the castle team were aware of was the metal dial fixed to The Keep wall… or so we thought. When the metal sundial was removed to travel to specialist conservators Smith of Derby, a second dial was revealed, painted directly onto the castle wall. Paint analysis and research is currently being carried out on this surprising discovery.
The two dials of the castle clock were also sent for conservation and re-gilding. Paintings dating from the late 18th century show the clock facing out from Bulmer’s Tower, only really visible from the Park. The clock was probably moved to The Keep tower in the 1840s where it could be seen more easily by the family, their guests and staff.
This move would have coincided with the standardisation of British time as a result of the growth of the railways, where ‘local time’ measured on sundials by the position of the sun in the sky, was too unreliable for tight railway timetables. It has remained there ever since as the lovely watercolour from Raby Castle’s 1903 visitors book shows. Our research on the clock and sundials continues and we will
share our discoveries in a special Raby Castle blog later on in the year now that these important time-pieces are back in situ.