Tom Johnston reports
The Bowes Museum's famous Silver Swan is undergoing major restoration work to restore it to its former glory.
The life-size, solid silver automaton has been on display at the site in Barnard Castle for 250 years, drawing in generations of visitors to watch its daily performances.
However, following the coronavirus pandemic, the daily shows ground to a halt and the swan stood still.
The swan has now been entirely dismantled, with the team having to meticulously document, photograph and label each of its many thousand parts.
It is hoped the swan will be back in its rightful place and performing again in time for Christmas.
Keith Scobie-Youngs from the Cumbria Clock Company, which is undertaking the restoration, said: "To work on the Bowes swan is high up there. It's one of the best projects we've been involved in. All the time in conservation and restoration, you're learning, there's always something around the corner."
He continued: "What we're experiencing here is something similar to what we're used to but very, very special.
"When you start to understand the thought processes that [John Joseph] Merlin had while building this clock, you realise how clever they were. They may not have had the machinery, but they had the intellect to make this things be so realistic and wonderful."
The Silver Swan, designed by John Joseph Merlin, was made in the workshop of inventor James Cox in London and was put on display in his museum in 1773.
John Bowes bought it almost a century later, acquiring it from a Parisian jeweller for a fee of around 5,000 francs.
JC Li got into clockworks by servicing watches in his spare time. Now, as part of the Cumbria Clock Company, he is playing his part in restoring this one-of-a-kind object.
"We've never worked on an object quite like this before," he said. "We do dynamic objects and clocks and winding systems for projects like Big Ben. But nothing quite like the swan - so it's a learning opportunity for all of us."
Many of the parts of the swan are currently on display in the museum's Silver Swan Gallery - though some moving parts have been sent to London and the Cumbria Clock Company's workshop for repairs.
Hannah Fox, the museum's executive director, said: "It's fascinating to see it in its deconstructed state - and a little sad actually to see it too, because it feels very vulnerable and it's so unusual to see it in its current state, of almost being uncomplicated.
"But to be able to see the detail of its manufacture and to see the intricacy of the detail, the workpersonship that's gone behind putting this beautiful object together and is actually a once in a lifetime experience to see.
"We cannot wait to see her up and running again. It's the most exciting thing. I haven't actually seen her working in person. As a new person to the museum really, landing here within the last couple of years, it's so exciting to be able to see what everybody's been talking about to me for so long and to be able to open that up and share it for generations to come."
The restoration has been funded in part by a grant of £146,324 from the National Heritage Lottery Fund but the Museum is appealing for the public's help to raise a further £18,000.
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