IFFLEY . OXFORD . ST MARY THE VIRGIN – 2 scratch dials

St Mary . Iffley . Oxford


GRADE 1 † An exceptional Romanesque church built mid to late C12 (nave, tower, chancel) with later additions, restoration, and conservation. The Norman features dominate, especially the wonderful doorways. There’s too much history here (and in Iffley village) to distil: PEV should be the first stop, or BHO online Best of all, go there. SE. Oxford 51.7274 / -1.2382 / SP527034


St Mary has two dials, one conventional, and one of a most unusual type that I haven’t met before. In relation to Dial 1, it’s worth mentioning that in 2017 conservation architects oversaw “a programme of conservative repair to the exuberant Romanesque masonry of the church’s west front and south door. This included the application by stone conservators of a pigmented limewash, helping to preserve the stone and improve the overall legibility of the facade”.


St Mary . Iffley . Oxford – Scratch Dial 1

Dial 1 is on the right side of the lovely S. doorway. It has 4 straight radials, 3 with terminal pocks. The noon line may have a second pock above the end one; there are perhaps other dots. The style hole in the join of the stones creates the horizontal line. The careful preservation methods noted above have to an extent made the dial hard to analyse in greater detail. Fortunately BSS has an archive image that predates recent work. Much more detail is evident; for example the pocks are clearer (and there are more of them). It makes for an interesting comparison.

St Mary . Iffley . Oxford – Scratch Dial 1 (BSS archive)



This highly unusual dial (if it is one at all) is on the S. side of the church, in the angle where the tower meets the nave. It consists of 4 incised parallel lines on a single stone. Just that. The passage of the day can be observed as the sun moves round, with the quoin acting as a vertical gnomon. The shadow cast moves gradually over the 4 lines from left to right, indicating the time of day. Its position suggests that it was primarily of use as a morning dial, perhaps signifying the Canonical hours for Mass. BSS records it as a ‘linear scale of markings from the wall shadow’.

St Mary . Iffley . Oxford – Scratch Dial 2

The photos below give an idea of how the dial works in practice. I visited on a sunny day, but unfortunately at the wrong time of day to test the shadow theory. This dial is yet another that I need to revisit to understand it.

GSS Category: Scratch Dial

All photos: Keith Salvesen