BATH . PARADE GARDENS. British Sundial Society – Armillary Sphere

Bath Abbey . Diego Delso Geo cc


Bath . Commemorative Sundial Plaque

The plaque above gives all the details (including a bar code) necessary to admire and appreciate this excellent armillary sphere that was installed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the foundation of BSS. My visit to Bath was spoiled by bad weather: gloom with only occasional respite from rain. Hence these rather unsatisfactory photos, which I have had to cheer up somewhat. I intend to replace them in due course, when a visit to Bath coincides with sunshine. The Motto, explained below, describes my predicament.

The gallery of images below gives a 360º view of the dial against glimpses of the Bath setting. One or two are meant to be ‘arty’, never my strong suit.


‘I ONLY RECKON THE BRIGHT HOURS’ is the translation given by Margaret Gatty (p.45 of the compact volume). Other versions include I ONLY COUNT CLEAR HOURS and I ONLY COUNT THE HOURS THAT ARE SERENE. MG wrote (of the succinct Latin version) that the motto is too good to be uncommon, and gives a number of locations where it may be found in England, Scotland, and (unexpectedly) Venice, of which Hazlitt wrote …there is a softness and a harmony in the words and in the thought unparalleled. None of the above modern motto variations works very well; it’s hard to come up with a translation as elegant as the original in Latin. The word ‘serenas’ is the real problem….

ADDENDUM Dictionary research including Chambers – far the best for archaic words and usages – clarifies the motto. A subsidiary meaning of ‘serene’ was, in the past, ‘an expanse of clear sky’; ‘cloudless’; or in one source, ‘sunny’. On countless modern sundials, this Latin formulation is the familiar I only count the sunny hours.

Sundial Aldeburgh . David Dixon Geo cc

GSS Category: Armillary Dial; Armillary Sphere, Commemorative Sundial

All photos: Keith Salvesen except header image Diego Delso Geo cc; Moot Hall, Aldeburgh Dial David Dixon Geo cc




This article was written a while back, in the pre-Covid era. Now I have a sundial site up and running, this dial and some others from Florence have a new space.

Florence in January.  -8°C at night, zero during the day – but sunny enough in the middle of the day to be able to have coffee or even lunch outside. Apart from the Uffizi, no queues for anywhere. Most significant places on the tourist trail almost to oneself. Despite the cold, there is no frost: the air is so dry that the pavements, piazzas and even the cars are quite clear of frozen white crystals. By the river I caught the electric flash of a male kingfisher flying up from the water to an overhanging bush, his hunting perch. I watched him as he scanned the water below, occasionally diving down and returning to the same branch. Twice, I could see the glint of a tiny fish in his beak. 


Over the years I don’t know how often I have crossed the Ponte Vecchio – or even simply walked to the mid-point to admire the views up and down river from the open areas between the pricey shops. This time I was walking the length of the Vasari corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. A section runs straight over the bridge and then passes across the facade of Santa Felicita, into which the Medici family could sneak from the corridor to a large private balcony for spiritual refreshment. Passing the middle of the west side of the bridge, in the ‘tourist photo op’ gap where Cellini’s bust adds to the photogenic view, I have never before looked upwards.


Here, on the roof of a shop, is an ancient sundial, supported by a white marble pillar. An eroded and almost illegible engraving below the pillar records that in 1333, floods caused the bridge to collapse and that “twelve years later, as pleased the Commune, it was rebuilt with this ornamentation”. The sundial itself, with its columnar divisions reminiscent of a rose window, marks the CANONICAL HOURS. The gnomon’s shadow indicates the hour of the day. If the sundial is the ‘ornamentation’ to which the inscription refers, then it is around 650 years old.

If you look closely, you’ll see, halfway up the south face of the hexagonal column, a lizardsundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-1

Seeing the sundial for the first time ever, yet in such a familiar place was a reminder that Florence is a city that demands great attention as one walks through the streets. Many buildings, even unassuming ones, have fine adornments high up that will catch the eye… but only if you are looking out for them.