The 2008 Silver Swan Conservation Project - week 8
Day 36 - 20 October
On Friday most of the “inner vertebrae” was cleaned with just a few pieces left to finish. Today will see the completion of the rest of these parts. Matthew has decided it will be best to put the complicated neck structure back together straight away instead of leaving it apart like the rest of the Swan.
Karen has started to take the main frame apart, what she manages to dismantle by the end of the day will be soaked overnight ready for cleaning tomorrow. Tomorrow is a big day for the Swan as Matthew will be delivering the main springs to Durham University where they will be taken apart.
Karen’s next task is making sure that all of the pieces are in numerical order so that the reassembly process will go as smoothly as possible.
Day 37 - 21 October
The Swan’s neck movement is driven by four huge springs, each about 1mm thick which means that the power they generate is about 80 times more powerful than a domestic bracket clock of the same period. Two springs are each contained within a spring barrel and held in place by a spring arbor (a central rod with two clips on). The last time that these were seen and inspected was during the restoration of the 1970s by Mr Tom Bryson Smith. This means that they have also not been lubricated since then.
Today is a very important day and one we have been anticipating for the last few weeks. Matthew is taking the two main springs to Durham University so that the springs can be removed from the spring barrel. On first sight, the springs look to be in reasonable condition but without further investigation we will not know properly. What is clear is that they and the spring arbor are dried out and require lubrication with oil. They will also require cleaning to remove old and stale oil.
They have to be removed from the spring barrel with care. To do this, Matthew has designed a wooden jig which will act as a holder and support for the barrel, holding it firm while other purpose made tools will be made to wind the springs thereby enabling them to be removed from the barrel.
There are wear marks on the main barrel which have been caused by the steel wire which is attached to move all the pieces, added in the 1970s. The original would have been made by animal gut and we will investigate replacing the wire cable with gut, though the length and diameter required, 4 meters at 4.2mm thick, is not a standard size and will require a lengthy drying process at the manufacturers.
Day 38 - 22 October
The trip to Durham University Engineering Department yesterday went really well. 6 Springs were removed. The 4 which operate the neck movement appear to be 19th century, replacing the originals. 1 of the springs operating the water movement also appears to be 19th century, but the other is a later edition possibly 1970’s. All were removed from their barrels with the help of some very impressive machinery. Matthew and Ray Mand managed to achieve this by mid afternoon. After further inspection the springs are in good condition but brittle, indicating they are a little ‘tired’. There is still a lot of power in them allowing them to carry on working for a long time yet.
2 of the 6 springs are completely dried out but all will need to be cleaned and re-lubricated. This will allow the Arbor to work properly and stop the wearing of the bearing.
When Matthew arrived back from Durham he started to put the neck back together.
Today he will focus on dismantling the Swan’s head and documenting it. Karen is still busy with the time consuming process of cleaning the frame. On the pieces that are finished marks can be seen that were made 235 years ago when it was first made.
Day 39 - 23 October
Yesterday Matthew put together the Swan’s “inner vertebrae”. Their appearance is surprisingly modern, though clearly the result of an experimental mind of the eighteenth century and not something that could easily be made today, because of the lack of skills and independent labour outside of the commercial and industrial sector.
He then dismantled the Swan’s head and photographed the parts. These are typically recognisable as having been created by competent eighteenth century watchmakers and it is the skill and intricacy with which these have been executed that is striking. For example the “lazy tongs” which allows the fish to move in and out of the mouth is a delightful piece of engineering.
The work that has gone into the Swan’s neck and head mechanism never ceases to amaze. In the design of this, John Joseph Merlin's genius is evident. It is easy to see how he went on to invent roller skates and other ingenious mechanisms that amazed and delighted his contemporaries and confirmed his place as one of the most eccentric and imaginative inventive minds of his day.
Day 40 - 24 October
Yesterday Matthew started to reassemble the head mechanism. He noticed that the mounting block the fish sits on is wearing slightly. Some time in the near future this problem will need to be addressed, allowing the fish mechanism to operate for many years to come.
Karen is still hard at work cleaning the frame that the Swan sits on.
Today will see the work continuing on the head and neck.
For a full BBC INside Out film of the Silver Swan please click on the following link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/england/realmedia/insideout/northeast/090114_io_north_east_swan?size=16x9&bgc=C0C0C0&nbram=1&bbram=1&nbwm=1&bbwm=1
To be kept informed about The Bowes Museum please click here