I recently came across a very bad photo I took years ago of this elegant and ingenious dial in Magdalene College. My image is too awful to be the basis of a feature. However BSS has in its records this excellent quality photograph with a short account to accompany it.
A competition among first year engineering students led to the creation of this most striking double vertical dial, mounted in 1987 on the south-facing wall of Benson Court. It was designed by Will Carter in stone and stainless steel and features the motto: ‘Facilius inter philosophos quam inter horologia conveniet.’ (It is easier to gain agreement among philosophers than among timepieces – Seneca) The prize-winning design has the Equation of Time built into the gracefully curving hour lines. A spot of light shining through a pierced stainless steel sun marks the time on each dial.
‘Facilius inter philosophos quam inter horologia conveniet.’ (It is easier to gain agreement among philosophers than among timepieces – Seneca)
GSS Category: Vertical Dial; Double Dial; Modern Dial; Competition Dial
BRYMPTON d’EVERCY . SOMERSET . CUBE DIAL with BALL FINIAL
Brympton d’Evercy is a fine Somerset country house with a long history of intertwined families down the ages. For more on the house & grounds, see HERE. The chapel of St Andrew has scratch dials that are featured HERE. The estate is a mere 2m W of the clatter of Yeovil yet hidden away in its own parkland, and best reached by map reading, satnav or luck. 50.9361 / -2.6847 / ST519154
The long (75m) balustraded south terrace looks out over parkland with a small lake. The dial dates to mid-C19, probably added ± 1860 as part of the design for the terrace building project. If the dial is older, it must have been relocated. HE describes the ashlar retaining wall with chamfered plinth, capped with a stone balustrade with intermediate piers on which are set a variety of urns and other ornaments, and in the centre of the long western section a block sundial with ball finial, on which is inscribed LAT 50-56, 17.30, having sheet metal gnomons, 2 of which are broken. The 4 gnomons are shown together further down this page.
The motto on the S face of the dial reads PEREUNT ET IMPUTANTUR, which Gatty gives as ‘they perish and are reckoned’. Its original form as a Martial epigram directly references the sun’s involvement in this process.
GRADE II † Large Cube Dial on a tall column. BLB / HE give the most complete descriptions: Date uncertain, probably C17 or early C18; 1st recorded 1781. Ashlar. Tall quatrefoil pier on plinth, with ring and moulded capital supporting cube with dials and gnomons to each face, reeded domical (domed) cap. An unusual feature whose origin is unknown, removed in 1781 and re-erected to the west end of the cathedral in 1785, removed and sold in 1881, and returned and re-erected on its present site in 1929.
BHO notes: A sundial near the south doorway of the cathedral was removed in 1781 and re-erected in 1785 at the west end in order to regulate the clock on the tower. It was removed in 1881 and passed into private hands. It was returned to the cathedral in 1929 and placed on a pedestal in its present position south of the nave.
The clock in question was (without going into detail) probably the first Cathedral clock, which was in position by 1491. BHO suggests that the original clock was still in place in early C17 and probably not replaced or superseded by another clock until late C18. If so, the dial’s removal and re-erection in 1780s would have been to regulate the original clock.
The handsome domed dial has a single gnomon on each face. The gnomons and lines obviously differ on each side. Numerals are Arabic rather than Roman.
Assuming the Cathedral conforms to the usual church orientation, the Cube’s angle in its position on the S side of the building is some 45º out of true from what might be expected. Presumably the explanation is that the cube was originally cut for a different position, and after several relocations its present position and orientation provides optimum accuracy. Any other suggestions would be welcome.
BRITISH SUNDIAL SOCIETY . ARMILLARY SPHERE . PARADE GARDENS . BATH
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.
GRADE II* † Saxon origins, mentioned DB, no remnants remain. Nave dated c1180; rebuilding ± 1200, chancel added; tower added then or soon after. Mid-Victorian restorations; shingled spire rebuilt 1913. Much of interest within the church – see HERE for highlights. 6m NE of Guildford. 51.2509 / -0.5052 / TQ044512
There are 4 dials, each of significance. On the S wall of the chancel, there is a wonderful dial framed in ashlar stone as if to emphasise its qualities. Inside the church – not just inside the porch – are 3 dials cut on the same stone. Interior dials are almost inevitably the result of relocation and are scarce enough (cf THORNFORD); 3 together must be very rare.
POSITION Relocated from a buttress to the S wall of the chancel, enclosed by a surround of 4 stones set into the local flint and described elsewhere as …marred by the addition of an inappropriate stone frame (an arguable view?). BSS notes a possible inversion based on variations in the size of the dots; but that would nullify the point of the emphatic noon line design. Unless the 4 pocks were added later of course…
DATE The dial seems so sophisticated in design and execution that I had thought it ±C15. However BHO records a stone on which is cut an early circular sundial probably of the 12th century; it has three circles and is divided in twenty-four spaces by radiating lines; four dots mark the hour of noon and a small cross that of six p.m. A Surrey survey records Dated c 1180 by Johnston (1900, 74), SyAC, 21 (1908), 83-100. This date certainly corresponds to the construction of the nave / the additions soon after. So this is a very early dial probably dating from the construction of the church in its present form and clearly merits its prominent location and ashlar protection.
DEREK RENN in his research on the dials of Surrey considered this dial to be the most elaborate in the county, describing it as three concentric circles divided by 24 equidistant radii, having drilled holes at the intersections, as well as on the arms of an external cross and beside another line at right angles to the cross.
HOW THE DIAL WORKS AS A CALENDAR
DR also explains ingeniously how the dial might have worked: This would function best as an equatorial dial… mounted in the plane of the equator with its upright pointer parallel to the earth’s axis and not vertical, but even then little more than one-half of the dial would be necessary. A possible explanation is that the dial also functioned as a calendar: a peg was moved daily from hole to hole, the cross marking the point at which the peg progressed to the next circle. Another peg counted the number of complete circuits of the ‘board’ for the year on the four separate holes, with the odd days as well. In arithmetical terms: 24 x 3 x (4+1) – 360, +(4+1) = 365
DIALS 2 – 4
These 3 dials are closely grouped on a single stone on the north face of the west jamb of the south doorway. It would be interesting to know where they were originally located, and when / why they were moved to their present position with a purely decorative function.
DIAL 1 has 7 lines including the horizontals in a late a.m. to early p.m. formation. They are rather untidily incised and only 6 are clearly distinguishable. They are within a very faint perimeter curve, with 3 extending beyond it.
DIAL 2 has 5 lines radiating from a large (for its size) style hole. The lines are interestingly formed: 2 lightly cut a.m. lines; 2 deeper cut p.m. lines and extended noon line. The incisions of the latter 3 are unusually decorative, with one being slightly wedge-shaped. Overall, it seems clear that the afternoon was the most important time for daily religious purposes.
DIAL 3 is fully encircled with one clear line roughly corresponding to Tierce. The other 2 (3?) are faint and rudimentary in comparison. Another large style hole completes the design.
GSS Category: Scratch Dial; Multiple Dials; Early Dials
All photos: Keith Salvesen. Research material: usual resources BLB HE BHO &co; David Ross; Derek Renn
GRADE I † Early C13 chancel with trace transepts (BHO); C14 crossing tower; C15 south chapel and nave; restoration mid-C19 (Ferrey). A most unusual late C17 octagonal dial; 6m SW of Blandford Forum, just off the main road to Dorchester (12m). 50.8004 / -2.234 / ST836001
VERTICAL DIAL C17
The remarkable vertical dial is located at the apex of the S Chapel gable. It dates to late C17 (BHO). The lines radiating from the top end of the gnomon are reminiscent of a scratch dial. The dial is canted for accuracy, and deeply enough to accommodate a rare E dial. Both gnomons are unusual, not least by being more toothed than merely serrated.
THE EAST DIAL
It is very unusual (and possibly unique) to bother to delineate the east or west edge of a canted dial; and really quite strange to use such a tall gnomon, which will only cast a shadow for an hour or two at most.JF / BSS
John Foad (BSS) kindly marked up a close-up of the E. dial to show how it would have worked. He writes: It should have diagonal hour lines on it, though there is probably only room for a couple, as it will only see the sun briefly around 6 each morning. There is a suggestion in the records that there were at one time 2 raised lines, but a magnified image reveals no surviving evidence.
The Borough Gardens in Dorchester are close to the centre of town. They were laid out and opened in the 1890s as ‘pleasure grounds’, as they remain. There is plenty to offer for all ages in an agreeable undulating space. Lawns, tennis courts, a bandstand, paddling pool, playground, a fountain, a memorial obelisk and more.
Amongst the attractions, close to the bandstand, is a modern analemmatic sundial. I don’t know the date it was laid out, but the BSS record is 1998 with the note: The dial is laid out in the play area near the bandstand. Hour markers adjusted for longitude, an hour added for summertime use. Shows hours from 7am to 7pm.
When I visited a few days ago, several small boys were having a kick around, with the dial in the centre of the pitch. No other type of dial would have worked for the purpose. The dial was partly concealed by uncut grass and leaves – the latter covering each numbered stone completely (I had to move some). I liked the way that the dial has several roles: time-telling in an interesting way; an open invitation to be the gnomon; an educative function; and artful horizontal stonework blending in with grassy and leafy surroundings. And a ‘jumpers for goalposts’ pitch into the bargain.
Wolfeton House (sometimes Wolveton) is a fine Grade 1 Elizabethan manor house with medieval origins. It stands amidst the the water meadows of the River Frome near Charminster, just N of Dorchester. Admired by Hardy. For more about the house, its history, and how to stay in the Gatehouse (dated 1534) see:
Some time ago we went to Wolfeton in connection with the the Pevsner Buildings of England series. I was able to photograph this most interesting sundial, though with a rather rustic camera and in low light. The dial is not in the optimum place for its primary purpose, but with its pleasing symmetrical design it suits where it stands.
The inscription is an intriguing mystery. At the time I was less engaged with dials, or I might have made more effort to record the details and to take a decent photo. As it is, I cannot make much sense of it. The initial letter U… could perhaps be the start of Umbra? But that assumes the words are in Latin. I have checked the main motto resources including Gatty (original, and revised & expanded); and various less comprehensive sources. I will add the translation if I can make any more sense of the text. Meanwhile, any ideas would be welcome. Actual knowledge, the more so.
UMBRA VIDET UMBRAM VIVE HODIE. A shadow marks the shadow. Live to day.
As it turns out, Gatty did record this dial, attributing it to a neighbouring village Bradford Peverell rather than Charminster. She noted the inscription is somewhat defaced. The dial was possibly erected by George Purling about 1815-20, when the garden was laid out). The same motto is on the tower of Broughton-Gifford Church, near Melksham,
HOW THE DIAL WORKS
This is a polar dial, with the end edges of the cross pieces acting as gnomons (cf the polar dial at Tintinhull). The dial should be oriented so these point north, ie with the inscription on the south face. However, it is clearly not orientated like that, so it now acts as an interesting garden ornament. John Foad (BSS) has kindly marked up a photo to show how the dial would work if correctly positioned.
The inscription might give a clue to the dial’s date. My amateur guess is that it is somewhere between mid-C18 and early C19.
GSS Category: Multiple Dial; Old Dial; Garden Dial
All photos: Keith Salvesen; *John Foad BSS for additional material / expertise (see Addendum)
GRADE I † C13 et seq, on early C12 site. Gradual development but (unusually) with little obvious C19 workBHO. Good C16 bench ends. S porch built c1440, originally thatched, with the cube sundial added later. The scratch dials of St Margaret will be written up separately from this unusual dial that, in fact, is not strictly cubic. 5m NW of Yeovil; just S of dread A303. 50.9746 / -2.7156 / ST498197
I wrote this piece without access to the BSS dial records, temporarily unavailable online. I had originally described this dial rather broadly as a cube, aware that it wasn’t quite right. Having now got back into the archive, I am better informed (if not wiser). Some of the points I raise below are clarified. Here is the official entry:
There are 3 polar scaphe dials on the porch gable. Possibly C17 or C18. The dial probably showed all hours of sunlight when correctly installed. Now the orientation is incorrect, the polar axis points East and the dial is shaded by a yew tree. The stone is heavily lichened.
The large block of stone cut as a sundial is balanced (as it seems) on the end of the S porch roof. Its usefulness as a dial nowadays is reduced by it being partly obscured by the shadows of nearby trees. I have not seen similar dials in England but I believe there are a few in Scotland.
I originally confessed that I had no idea how this dial might have worked in practice, nor could I comment on the design, nor suggest how many dials (3?) or even ‘shadow casting edges’ there are. John Foad BSS has kindly marked up 2 images which help to understand the way the dial functioned.
The famous Bewcastle Anglo-Saxon cross is located in St Cuthbert’s churchyard. It is dated in some sources as C8 and in others as early as C7. Whichever, it is generally believed to be the oldest British sundial. PEV praised it, with the similar Ruthwell cross, as the greatest achievement of their date in the whole of Europe. There is a replica in the British Museum.
There is understandably a mass of online material analysing and explaining the cross, the wonderful carvings, and the meanings to be derived from them. I need to bypass these to focus on the astonishing early sundial incorporated into the elaborate decoration. For other aspects the Wiki entry BEWCASTLE CROSS is a good place to start.
THE BEWCASTLE DIAL
The dial is in a prominent position on the upper half of the south face. The BSS record describes the cross as Celtic, with the dial being integral to the overall design. 8 lines are noted, with the vertical line on the right side considered to be a later addition (but see below). The noon line is emphasised by being deeper cut, with 9am even more so and ending (perhaps) in a large hole. The dial must have been easy to read from afar. BSS has 3 close-up images in the archive which give a clear view of the dial and its slightly wider context.
Bewcastle is used as an example in the Wiki entry for the TIDE DIAL The article includes useful explanations and images. These lead to other related topics for those who want to investigate further. More importantly, there is a helpful analysis of the details of the sundial’s design, and how it would have worked in practice. The cross is believed to be in its original position, and one can imagine the way in which the passage of the day would have been marked for the benefit of the community.
The oldest surviving English tide dial is on the 7th- or 8th-century Bewcastle Cross… carved on the south face of a Celtic cross… and is divided by five principal lines into four tides. Two of these lines, those for 9 am and noon, are crossed at the point. The four spaces are further subdivided so as to give the twelve daylight hours of the Romans. On one side of the dial, there is a vertical line which touches the semicircular border at the second afternoon hour. This may be an accident, but the same kind of line is found on the dial in the crypt of Bamburgh Church, where it marks a later hour of the day. The sundial may have been used for calculating the date of the spring equinox and hence Easter.
‘Plaster Cast of an Early English Sundial’ . 1930s. (Science Museum)
Plaster cast (mounted in wooden frame) of the sundial on Bewcastle Cross, Cumberland, 670 CE. The day is divided into ‘tides’, which are cut into the stone. The gnomon is missing. Credit: A. J. Lothian