West Dean College

View the wood chip fired boiler installation and clock workshops
17th February 2009

15 members enjoyed a visit to West Dean College, near Chichester, which was in two parts. First, we visited the wood chip fired boiler plant. The output provides heat for the large historic building and its numerous outbuildings. The concept of wood chip heating was decided upon over 20 years ago following a visit by staff to Sweden. The plant installed as a result of this decision is of Swedish manufacture and has only recently become the standby, a new Austrian boiler having been commissioned a week before our visit.

All the wood is harvested from the College estate, amounting to some 1800 tonnes wet per annum. This is air dried for a year to 18 months before use when the weight is some 1200 t. Currently, all the wood being used is thinnings from the replanting of commercial woodlands following the 1987 hurricane and is of no commercial value as timber. There is sufficient for the College to sell wood chips to other users.

The wood is brought from the woods by tractor and trailer to the boiler house already cut into usable lengths, stacked and fed into the chipping machine from which it is transferred by
conveyor to the covered store. There is also a log splitting machine for larger timber.

It was explained to us that wood chip does not “slide” and there is a system of four hydraulic rams which keep the pile disturbed causing it the “flow” into an auger feeder and thence to the boiler.

We were fortunate to be able to see the new boiler bearing in mind that the visit was arranged over a year ago.

The output of the boiler is hot water at 90 deg C. To the surprise of some of us, all the water used is town’s water, the system being purged and chemically treated once a year

Our guides were the Head Forester and the Clerk of Works together with the College carpenter, the latter being on call for any automatic alarm, otherwise the boiler is unattended, all of who gave us clear descriptions of the system and plant and answered many questions.

The second part of the visit was to the Clock Workshop in the main College building. Here, the College runs one and two year courses in clock restoration, the students coming from many countries around the world. Matthew Read, a former student himself and newly appointed as Head of the Course gave us a talk which spanned from the basics of horology to the future employment prospects for graduates, which is mainly in lucrative self-employment although the courses are run in collaboration with the British Antique Dealers Association. Matthew told us that the examples the students work on as part of their training are sometimes extremely valuable and come from many sources from private individuals to the National Trust and museums. One student in his second year is making a reproduction of a Thomas Tompion clock, which will be on display at the Greenwich Observatory.

Members had discussions with the students and discussed the work they were doing. We got the impression that the students enjoyed our visit as much as we did.

R Norton