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
The collection of the National Museum of the Middle Ages is housed in a wonderful building, at one time an abbatiale. There is some debate about the dates of the origins and the building of the Hôtel; and of later rebuilding / restoration. The large sundial on the south wall of the courtyard is dated 1674. This was the reign of the Sun King (1643 – 1715), and a sun with its rays was an obviously fitting theme for the times.
The lines on the dial face are carefully graduated and the hours marked with Arabic numerals. Several lines terminate in arrows, suggesting a busy schedule of mainly forenoon masses.
NIL SINE NOBIS. A. B. F. 1674.
The inscription is usually translated as Nothing [Exists] Without Us. Margaret Gatty (1809-18730, in her comprehensive work The Book of Sun-Dials, gave the Cluny dial an unusually detailed entry:
NIL SINE NOBIS. A. B. F. 1674. Nothing exists without us.
A dial on the wall of a courtyard on the south side of the Hôtel Cluny, Paris, had this inscription. The word nobis referred to the rays of the sun which were represented on its face. The Hôtel Cluny, a very beautiful specimen of rather elaborate fourteenth century Gothic architecture, was bought in 1625 for the abbess and nuns of Port Royal, and was known as Port Royal de Paris. It was re-established by Louis XIV. in 1665, on a fresh basis, and was looked upon as schismatic by the community of Port Royal des Champs. This dial must have been erected in the time of the first abbess of the new foundation, Sœur Dorothée Perdreau, who held office till 1684.
Cluny Museum and its sundial: detailed entry by Margaret Gatty
SCALLOP SHELLS and HERALDIC MOTTOS
The scallop shells are interwoven with two inscriptions (or possibly a single one in two parts) which deserve a mention as part of the overall design. The shells themselves evidence an ancient Pilgrimage route that passed close by – the long Rue St Jacques is a few meters to the North.
The heraldic mottos are said to read, firstly: Servire Deo Regnare Est – To Serve God Is To Reign; MG suggests, without much conviction, that the other (or part of it) may be as shown below.
With very rusty Latin and a bit of internet work, I can’t make either interpretation fit the scrolls we can see. Possibly they relate to a different part of the Musée, and the shell one(s) are different. I’ll have to leave the reader to try to puzzle this out (all suggestions welcome).
GSS Category: Early Sundial / Vertical Dial; French Sundial; Sundial Motto
Credits: all photos Keith Salvesen – please seek use permission for these detailed ones; Musée Cluny for the Unicorn
GRADE II* † C11th-century, built by monks of Holy Island as a chapel of ease. C13 / C14 pele tower added as protection from incursions by Scots. C19 restorations. At some time (? when the tower was built) the fine Norman entrance was blocked. Extensive views from the tower’s parapet. 3m S of Berwick-upon-Tweed. 55.7001 / -1.998 / NU002451
A weathered C18 vertical dial with a short gnomon that casts a very visible shadow. The shape of the dial stone, with its pedimented square, is very pleasing. The lines are enclosed in a frame, with Arabic numerals from 6 to 6 around its edge. The use of Arabic numerals rather than Roman suggests a later dial of this period. 9 lines are detectable, some only just. Only 6 numerals are clear. I can’t make any sense of the remains of the inscription. I wondered if some of the sandstone – especially LLQ – is repair or natural deterioration. Expanding this very good photograph, I think the latter: the dial is showing the signs of its age.
GSS Category: Vertical Dial; Old Dial; Gnomon Design
Credits: Erika Clarkson for introducing me to this church and for her photos that begat this post, so to speak; James Towill for his photo of St Anne’s uploaded to Geograph cc; Walter Baxter for his excellent close-up of the dial uploaded to Geograph cc and for his specific use permission to reproduce it full-size
GRADE II* † C12 origins; tower & S porch C15; chancel, vestry, south aisle and chapel c1876 (G E Street). Wonderful C12 inner door with chevrons, shielded by porch; C12 font with a story to tell (below). A charming and very Dorset church. 4m SE of Bere Regis; 10m NE of Dorchester. 50.7759 / -2.2833 / SY801974
St Andrew has 3 dials. Dial 1 is a true scratch dial located in the NE corner of the nave, as is Dial 2 on the stone below (largely obscured by lichen, easy to overlook). Dial 3 is a transitional dial above the porch entrance.
Dial 1 is easily identified by its prominent filled gnomon hole from which 3 lines radiate in LLQ. There is also a perimeter curve of 5 (?6) pocks (diag).
Dial 2, on the stone immediately below Dial, 1 has no discernible lines. BSS records 5 pocks of varying size that are (given the lichen) more or less visible seen in conjunction with the BSS diagram below. They are basically shallow dents, in contrast to the ‘drilled hole’ type of pock usually encountered.
A transitional dial above the archway of the C15 S porch. Accuracy in marking the passage of time became increasingly important, not least with the advent of clocks. Dial design and construction involved taking a scientific approach to making time-telling more reliable and more legible. St Andrew is a good example. Rather than being scratched directly onto a stone intrinsic to the church structure, this dial stone is on what BHO describes as a square raised panel.
The dial has slightly angled edges with ‘extensions’ on both sides. It is not canted, so probably faces due S. It is a six-to-six dial with – originally – 12 lines (14, with the horizontal as 2). The hours 4 & 5 are cut deeper, perhaps denoting the most important Mass of the day. Some lines have weathered away in part or completely. There are a number of pocks. The recorder noted 4 trace (semi-)circles, one being close to the gnomon hole. The original gnomon was in the upper hole where there is now a square stub of iron rod. The lower arrangement indicates, I think, a later conversion / updating from a simple rod gnomon to a ‘proper’ one that required a footing; and perhaps a lamp bracket.
RARE FEATURE It’s not completely clear from my rather poor iPhone photos, but if you look carefully at the edge R side where there is the wide margin, you can see that the lines marking 4 & 5 extend onto the side of the dial face and continue down the side of the stone panel. Those short lines are visible from the side even if the rest of the dial is not. I wouldn’t have paid it much attention had I not also visited the neighbouring village of Winterbourne Whitchurch where there is an emphatic example of a ‘side-dial’ complete with a most unusual gnomon. My understanding is that this arrangement amounts to a morning dial read from E.
This is the 4th church I have come across where church events have entailed the use of a dial to tie in decorations etc with wire. In each case the wire was effective as an improvised gnomon.
During the Victorian period it was sometimes the fashion to throw out ancient fonts and Street did just that, installing in its place a new replacement. Fortunately, the old Norman font, decorated with a cable motif, was rediscovered in 1930 and put back in the north aisle, where it remains in use to this day.DHCT [This is an example of throwing the bath out with the baby water]
GSS Category: Scratch Dial; Mass Dial ; Transitional Dial
GRADE I † Late C14, C15; C17 alterations inc. porch with date 1650 on keystone. Restorations mid-C19. Very recent skilled restoration 2020. Millennial dial with date-casting gnomon (cf BUCKLAND NEWTON). C18 box pews, candlelit services, Purdue bell c1580. Graffiti and witch marks. 14 formy consecration crosses both outside and inside (see locations below). A perfect small Dorset church standing alone, remnant of a plague village. There has been a recent very skilful restoration that has not impacted on the original charm of St Mary. 6m S of Sherborne. 50.8868 / -2.4902 / ST656098
A remarkable and very rare C15 dial, possibly unique (cf nearby THORNFORD). It is located on a window sill of the S aisle, incised at an angle of 35º. It is quite difficult to examine – even close to – because of erosion and lichen. The style hole is centred on the stone divide between 2 windows. To be effective it must have been angled forwards: C15 dial deliberately positioned centrally. Gnomon must have been bent over, perhaps horizontally. Lines are quite accurately cut GLP.
There were originally 12 lines – the full complement for a semicircular dial. However, many are so weathered that they are barely visible – some not at all. The church is across the fields from us and I have spent some time with the dial, examining it and photographing it at different angles and in different light. I’ve managed to identify 8 lines including the horizontals, much as shown on the second BSS diagram below. The most visible lines are these:
The porch has a date of 1650 and a new [millennium] sundial commemorates the Great Crested Newt that meant that a field nearby could not be developed for housing. Friends of Holnest Church.
A particularly good example of a meaningful local dial designed specifically for its location and time. The Battle of the Newt being won as the new Millennium approached, a fine dial to record both events was fully merited.
WITCH MARKS & GRAFFITI
The S porch has a rich variety of medieval church marks. The example stones shown above have witch / ritual protection / apotropaic marks to ward off evil, in particular a number of Marian marks VV (Virgo Virginum / Virgin of Virgins). There are also initials and C17 dates.
There are 14 in all, 12 being the usual maximum. 5 are inside the church on the tower walls
Consecration Crosses: On chancel— flanking E. window externally, four crosses; flanking S. doorway, two crosses. On nave—W. of heads of N. windows, two crosses. On S. aisle—over E. window and W. of S. window, two crosses. On W. tower, on N. and S. walls, one cross and below W. window, two crosses; formy crosses fourteen in all, mediæval. BHO
GSS Category: Scratch Dial, Mass Dial; Church Marks, Witch Marks, Protection Marks; Consecration Crosses
GRADE I † Founded by St. Aldhelm in AD 705 as a Saxon Cathedral, Sherborne Abbey became a Benedictine monastery, and following the Dissolution of the monasteries, a Parish Church of some splendour. Of all the architectural features, the astonishing [earliest majorPEV] fan vaulting is arguably the finest. This is not the place for discussion of the merits of the church. The Wiki entry is a helpful source for an overview of SHERBORNE ABBEY
The large Vertical dial at the E end is impressive and visible from some distance. The Old Shirburnian Society records:
The south-facing vertical dial on the south-east end of Sherborne Abbey was erected in 1745 by Sherborne School at a cost of £5.5s.0d. It was built by the Sherborne architect Benjamin Bastard (1690-1776), son of Thomas Bastard of Blandford Forum.
The modern gnomon is effective and casts an attractive shadow; it could be argued that its style and fixings do not quite do justice to a C18 dial.
The gallery above might suggest overuse of saturation, but the photos – at various distances to show other features – were taken on an iPhone on a bright sunny early winter’s morning, and are un-enhanced (not always the case, I must admit). We were fortunate enough to be married in this glorious building.
A painted (gold Roman numerals and hour lines on white) vertical timber dial 1000 mm wide by 1200 mm high on the south wall of the courtyard of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham over the entrance to the dining hall. It has an ornate scroll gnomon also painted gold. The RHK, built in 1684, was in use as a retirement home for soldiers until 1927. Following restoration the building was reopened in 1991 as the Irish Museum of Modern Art .
I am hoping to be able to get more detailed / close-up photos of the dial…
GSS Category: Vertical Dial
Photos: Keith Salvesen; BSS Archive; Text M. J. Harley BSS
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 Close in Salisbury has plenty to recommend it besides a central building for which superlatives are inadequate. Malmesbury House (GV I) by St Ann’s Gate has a particular claim to fame in sundial terms, with the context succinctly explained in the image below. 51.0659 / -1.7938 / SU145296
The very fine sundial on the house is dated 1749. The motto is part of the familiar speech taken from Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5 as Macbeth reacts to the news of Lady Macbeth’s death. It’s not exactly uplifting.
Below is a short text from the Gospel of St John. The dial itself is in very good condition. My amateurishness precludes any meaningful interpretation of the scientific aspect. I will add any significant details in due course.
GRADE I † Late C13; C15 enlargement and alterations. Tower c1730 with a plaque over the doorway: This Steeple was Built The Bells set in Order and Fixt. At the Charge of Robert Thinge Gent. Lately Deceased A.D. 1731-1732. Dial undated. 8m NE of Ipswich. 52.1133 / 1.2459 / TM223510
The vertical sundial is immediately below the clock. As David Ross has written, what is immediately obvious as you walk up the path to the door is a large sundial set against the south wall of the tower, below a Victorian clock – as if the Victorians did not quite trust the sundial. Both timepieces are set below a round-headed window that would be perfectly at home in a railway station. (David Ross, Britain Express)
PEV (Suffolk E) is also unenthusiasic about the tower, which showed how the Georgians could be every bit as insensitive as the much-maligned Victorians.
HOW THE DIAL WORKS (1)
The break-arch shaped dial has a motto within the arch that reads: Life pas’s like a shadow. Roman and Arabic numerals are used to show the time. At the gnomon base are two arcs showing the time elsewhere. Analysis indicates that the scale with Roman numerals suggests Damascus; the scale with Arabic numerals suggests Barbados.
The main dial shows 5am to 4pm in Roman numerals, divided into quarter hours. The gnomon rod has an ‘S’ shaped supporter and a ball nodus. This is associated with the 11 declination lines numbered 8, 9, J0, J1, J2, J3, J4, J5, J6 (8 to 16 for daylight hours), with outer lines unnumbered.
The above notes are based on BSS records. The complete entry is below
HOW THE DIAL WORKS (2)
This break-arch shaped dial on the south wall of the church tower, below a clock, declines about 23° to the east. The tower dates from 1731-32, but it is not known whether the dial is contemporary.
A motto within the arch reads: LIFE PAS’S LIKE / A SHADOW. Scales around the gnomon root show the time at two other places, but they are not named. The outer scale, with Roman numerals for 8am to 7pm, using XII and IIII, shows the time at about 37° E, so may be intended to show Damascus time. The inner scale, with Arabic numerals 1 to 12, shows the time at about longitude 60° W, possibly for Barbados.
The main dial shows 5am to 4pm in upright Roman numerals using XII and IIII, divided to quarter hours. The gnomon rod has an ‘S’ shaped supporter and carries a ball nodus, which is associated with nine declination lines numbered 8, 9, J0,J1, J2, J3, J4, J5, J6 (8 to 16 for the hours of daylight).
The nine vertical lines crossing these are for azimuth, the nodus shadow showing the direction of the sun. They are also unlabelled, but will indicate bearings of SEbE, SE, SEbS, SSE, SbE, S, SbW, SSW and SWbS.
A report in September 1983 found the dial completely bare, presumably prior to a restoration.
LIFE PAS’S LIKE A SHADOW
A rare variant of the many inscriptions that link Life with Shadow(s). Pas’s is said to reflect the Suffolk dialect at the time. There is another example of the ‘misspelling’ (as we might say now) of the word pass. At St Mary, Bucknall, Shropshire, the 1712 dial is inscribed Tyme Paseth.
Tempus Fugit on the C19 clock is… comfortingly familiar
If you want to find out more about St Mary and other churches in Suffolk, I recommend the website of Simon Knott SUFFOLK CHURCHESa journey through the churches of Suffolk