IT was a duty and a privilege carried out by hand by employees of the same clockmakers for more than half a century.

Now the tradition is due to end as the last seven civic clocks in the Scottish capital that are still wound by hand are to be converted from manual to an automated winding system.

Staff from James Ritchie and Sons Clockmakers have taken on the task at least once a week for Edinburgh City Council for more than 50 years, and while the 200-year-old clockmaker will still maintain the auto-wind system which is easier and safer for workers with clocks such as St Giles', where it must be wound twice a week taking half an hour on each occasion, its role is significantly changed.

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The other clocks, the Canongate Tollbooth (People's Story Museum), Highland Tollbooth Church in the Lawnmarket - The Hub - St Giles Cathedral, South Leith Parish Church, St Mary's Church, Bellevue Crescent, St Stephen's Church, St Vincent Street and the Time Ball on Calton Hill, all cost £8,000 a year to wind and maintain.

A one-off payment of £25,288 will cover auto-wind machines for the seven clocks.

Alan Wilson, 63, of James Ritchie and Sons, has wound each clock himself over the decades and is familiar with all 38.

He said: "I've worked her over 30 years. I know them all personally."

The four clocks included on the Royal Mile were made by Ritchie and Sons.

Mr Wilson said the new system retains the integrity of the clocks' workings, adding: "The automated system is safer and quicker and doesn't compromise the mechanism.

"It is the modern way of doing it."

The system is controlled and operated from a laptop and involves attaching a control box to the clock's existing mechanism.

Among the civic clocks to be converted is St Stephen's, the church which was bought by Leslie Benzies, of Grand Theft Auto game company Rockstar North, for use as a community building. The council has a historical duty to maintain such clocks.

Now part of the Smith of Derby group, Ritchie and Sons was established in 1809. It will also continue to handwind and maintain private clocks and others among the city's collection including a number of grandfather and grandmother clocks in the city chambers and the Time Ball, an integral part of the A listed Nelson Monument on Calton Hill.

In 1903 the firm created the mechanism for the first floral clock in Princes Street Gardens and presented its clock to St Giles in 1912.

Richard Lewis, Edinburgh's culture convener, said: "Auto-winding is widely used in other parts of the UK, from the bells of St Mary's in Lanark to the clock face of London's St Paul's Cathedral.

"We still plan to regularly clean and maintain the city's civic clocks and carry out necessary repairs, but the winding process, which needs to take place fortnightly and even weekly at some venues, could be controlled remotely.

"Some of the capital's clocks are difficult to access and this changeover could also avoid potential health and safety risks."