Unique hand-carved stone sundials and etched brass sundials
Art and Science combined
Highly Commended Award
Professional Class of the 2010 British Sundial Society’s Competition for good sundial design & manufacture
Highly Commended Awards for sundial restoration 2005 and 2010
I design, make and restore sundials. These include horizontal garden sundials mounted on a pedestal, vertical sundials for buildings and garden walls, multi-sundials with several faces, school playground sundials and old sundials on historic buildings and churches.
Most sundials are designed and made specially to order.
Gift vouchers can be supplied for a sundial to be made at a later date. A presentation drawing of the design can be supplied with the voucher, or the recipient can decide on the design later. These are suitable for personalised wedding, retirement, Christmas or birthday presents.
I also offer hand-painted signwriting and fine hand-cut lettering for inscriptions, memorials, gravestones, housenames and company nameplates.
I do not have a brochure but will send copies of photographs on request.
After reading prices and ordering please contact me if you have any questions or wish to discuss a commission.
Stone pedestals and columns can be designed, made, delivered and installed to order.
Bespoke stone pedestals and columns can be made from a variety of stones. An ornamental Portland stone pedestal (without the sundial) is likely to cost around £1500 + delivery. The price of stone varies so prices on the photographs are for guidance only.
I can source and set up reconstituted stone pedestals and columns.
There is a good range at www.haddonstone.co.uk from around £200 + delivery.
There are many old sundials in urgent need of restoration, particularly on churches. I can advise on preservation or restoration, undertake repairs or make replicas.
I can provide condition reports, proposals for repairs and quotations for submission to planning authorities and architects. I try to research and write up the history of any sundial I restore. After each restoration a written record of the repairs and ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs are provided.
Before the invention of reliable clock mechanisms people used sundials to tell the time. In the absence of a universal time signal, clocks still had to be regulated by using a sundial up until the arrival of the electric telegraph in the mid 19th century.
I will work with you to create a memorial to celebrate your pet.
Please contact me to discuss your requirements. I will work to your budget.
Installation service available.
Fine hand-cut and hand-painted for inscriptions, plaques, memorials, gravestones, housenames, canal boats etc.
Enhance the entrance to your business with an impressive stone-built sign or nameplate.
Carved coats of arms for entrances to corporate buildings.
I have published several articles about sundials in the Bulletin of the British Sundial Society. These are available to view as PDF’s*
Published in the Bulletin of the British Sundial Society Volume 12 (i), February 2000.
This article appeared in the Bulletin of the British Sundial Society Volume 12 (i),
SUNDIALS AT NEW COLLEGE, OXFORD
There is a long history of sundials in Oxford with many splendid examples, old and new,
in college gardens and on college buildings. The Museum of the History of Science in
Broad Street has a fine collection of portable sundials.
At New College (founded in 1379, and not at all new) there has been a tradition of
dialling on a grand scale. After a day rummaging in the college library and in oak chests
in the medieval Muniment Tower I found a print of the 1670’s showing a large
horizontal dial planted out as part of a knot garden in the college grounds. I estimate it
must have been 30ft in diameter.
Fig.1. A print of the 1670s showing a large horizontal sundial in the knot
Marvell’s poem The Garden, published in 1680, describes something similar:
How well the skilful Gard’ner drew
Of flow’rs and herbes this Dial new;
Where from above the milder sun
Does Through a fragrant Zodiack run;
And, as it works, th’industrious Bee
Computes its time as well as we.
The gnomon in the print appears to have been a simple pole. The dial shows the hours
4am to 8pm. In another quadrant of the knot garden Charles I’s arms are laid out with
‘28’ visible in the lower right hand corner – presumably 1628.
William Williams’ print of the garden in 1732 shows the dial again, unchanged except
that 4am is written as IV instead of IIII. Now Charles II’s coat of arms are next to it and
the date has disappeared. The other quadrants of the knot garden appear to have been
redesigned, so one might conclude that the garden fell into disrepair during the
Commonwealth, and was replanted in Charles II’s reign.
Fig.2 A print of 1732 showing a redesigned knot garden still with sundial
The knot garden dial is mentioned by William Gilpin in a letter of 1742, but I have found
no later record.
A vertical south sundial on the Muniment Tower first appears in another print by William
Williams of 1733. The dial bears the date 1696.
Fig.3. A print of 1733. The earliest evidence of a sundial on the Muniment Tower with
‘1696’ written on it.
It is shown again in prints of the 1770’s, 1820 and 1850. There is also mention of a dial
in the accounts for buildings in the Bursar’s long book of 1676, though it is not clear
Sol. To Mr Bird for mending ye diall ut per billam £1/2/0
An additional storey to the building adjoining the Muniment Tower was built in 1674.
It would have made the high south face of the tower wall more accessible for the
construction of a dial. In any case, we can be certain that there was a dial in that position
from 1696 to about 1850.
The south wall of the tower was mostly refaced at the turn of the 20th century when
much restoration was overseen by the architect Champneys. He produced a design
drawing for a stone horizontal dial for the college in 1899, perhaps after having the
remains of the tower dial dismantled.
The present Warden and Fellows of New College were keen to have a dial again and
commissioned me to make a replacement. I made the design as simple and as large as
possible because the site is 40-50ft above the ground and can only be viewed from the
ground. The dial measures 15ft x 17ft and is carved directly into the tower. The numerals
are a foot high. ‘MM’ for 2000 is inverted to give ‘WW’ for William of Wyckham,
founder of the college.
Fig. 4. The new sundial on completion in September,1999
Fig. 5. The new sundial viewed from the college gardens
The gnomon is 15’ 6” long and was made by Iron Awe of Garsington, Oxford from 1”
stainless tube with supporting stainless scroll-work, all painted black. The scrollwork is
supposed to echo scrollwork on the iron railings of the college garden below, and it also
copies some wonderful gnomons on a 17th century cube dial at Steeple Ashton, Wiltshire.
The diameter of the gnomon tube was determined very unscientifically by one person
holding up different thicknesses of wood while the other looked up from the quad. This
was done in bright Spring sunshine when one could easily see a shadow from a 1”
diameter piece of wood, but with hindsight I think something thicker would have made
the dial easier for the uninitiated to read. On this dial the time is read from the middle of
the shadow of the tube, not the leading edge.
After much discussion it was decided gnomon should have a wall plate running along the
substyle line bolted into the wall with expanding rawl bolts, and two pairs of braces to
make quite sure it could not come adrift in a high wind. This design copied a gnomon
shown in one of the 19th century prints of the original dial, but it was a big mistake
because as soon as it was mounted one could see that the shadows of the braces combined
with the shadows of the scrollwork were appallingly confusing. Moral – always make a
model, even of the gnomon! The gnomon was taken down and one set of braces replaced
with stainless yacht cables which are invisible from the ground – my thanks to BSS
member Tony Moss for suggesting this. The remaining braces are quite useful for
indicating where the gnomon bar is as their shadows point from either side towards the
bar’s shadow between 11am and 3pm. They also provide essential support for the weight
of metal. The gnomon needed three men to carry it into the college and seven to heave it
up to the tower using a pully.
Fig.6. The arrival of the gnomon
Before carving straight into the wall of a listed building I had to make sure I had the
declination of the wall right! I am grateful to another BSS member, John Ingram, for his
help. He measured the declination with the horizontal board with vertical string method,
while I used a pin in a vertical board (both methods described by Waugh) and I also
borrowed Piers Nicholson’s meridian alidade which can be used for declination
measurement as well as for laying out meridians. The results were disconcertingly varied
and I came to the conclusion that although the wall was plumb (a credit to medieval
craftsmen) it had a horizontal wave in it. I settled on a declination of 10° west of south
and made a model. All along I was worried about accuracy because any error would be
greatly scaled-up on the full-size dial.
Once a scaffold was erected I marked out the dial using a grid and a chalk line. This was
a very laborious task. John Davis had just made a much larger version of his laser trigon
(Bull.BSS 99.3 144-146 (1999) for marking out dials. This was exactly what was needed.
He kindly came to try it out but found he had made the mounting so precisely to fit a 1”
stainless style tube that it would not fit over the additional three coats of paint which had
The gnomon was put up again by the long-suffering men of the maintenance department
at the college and I was horrified to discover that the dial was four minutes slow. After
much debate and a little help from Pythagoras, it turned out that the gnomon angle was
incorrect. Iron Awe adjusted the angle. The gnomon was put up again, this time with
another invention of John Davis’ attached - a laser attached to the style pointing
downwards along its length to a plane mirror on an equatorial mount on a tripod stationed
below the tip of the gnomon. The mirror was accurately positioned to be perpendicular to
the polar axis (and to the gnomon when in its correct position). The laser beam was
reflected back up the gnomon and onto a sighting screen surrounding the laser. A
theodolite, co-mounted on a purpose-built jig, was used to position the mirror at the
correct angle using the sun’s position.
Fig. 7. John Davis’ invention for aligning the gnomon
The gnomon was aligned to the pole and now tells local apparent time to within 20
seconds of time. Some readers may think this is not precise enough, but considering the
problems involved I am quite pleased with this, and one can certainly not see any error
from the ground. There is a plate mounted at ground level to explain the differences
between ‘clock’ and ‘dial’ time.
The carving, painting and gilding of the dial took about six weeks. The white background
and chequered border showing quarter hours are painted in masonry paint, the numerals
in signwriter’s enamel. The hour lines and noon cross are gilded.
If one climbs the tower of St. Mary’s Church in the High Street there is a fine view of
three dials in a row - this new dial and the vertical south dials at All Souls College and
Brazenose College. My thanks to all BSS members who gave me advice and support for
Dr. J. Davis: ‘A lightweight laser trigon for lay-out of sundial lines’ Bull.BSS 99.3 144-
John Buxton: ‘New College, Oxford. A Note on the Garden’ Oxonian Rewley Press,
David Sturdy: ‘Twelve Oxford Gardens’ Ark Press, London (date not known).
Published in the Bulletin of the British Sundial Society Volume 14(ii), June 2002 and in the Wadham College Gazette, January 2003
This article appeared in the Bulletin of the British Sundial Society vol.14(ii),
June 2002 and in the Wadham College Gazette, January 2003
The Sundials at Wadham College, Oxford
The authorities at Wadham College are are considering whether to restore the two
sundials on the south-west wall of the chapel. This article is the result of my search, as a
sundial restorer, for evidence of the original date and appearance of the dials. My
investigations have revealed a wealth of dialling activity at Wadham College in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
For pictorial evidence I looked at David Loggan’s Oxonia Illustrata (1675). Several of
his plates of Oxford colleges show sundials. The detail of the Wadham plate is very fine
and one can imagine that the chapel gnomons are shown in miniature. R. T. Gunther in
his Early Science in Oxford ii (1923) has no doubts: ‘Loggan is celebrated for the
accuracy of his plates and for his remarkable powers of observation. In the case of one of
these dials he has surpassed himself, for though the dial would not be visible from the
point of view from which his drawing was made, yet he has indicated its position by
showing the gnomon by the faintest possible scratch that might pass for a slip of the
graver was it not more likely to escape observation altogether; as indeed it has been by
the College historian and architect, Mr. T.G. Jackson, in his history of the College.’
One cannot detect the gnomons in the engraving of the college by William Williams of
1732, but it is possible that a small mark in the view by Vertue for the University
Almanack of 1738 does show a gnomon.
Gnomon possibly visible on the chapel buttress from Vertue’s University Almanack, 1738
A search of the Wadham archives produced a sketch by Edwin Glasgow of 1900 which
shows the lower gnomon in position. There is no sign of the upper gnomon or of any
markings on the stone of the chapel.
Part of Edwin Glasgow’s sketch of the Chapel from Sketches of Wadham College (1900)
Early pictorial evidence of the gnomons may be scarce because the part of the college
grounds where they are was originally a graveyard. It was converted into a garden for the
Warden and Fellows in 1777 (T.G.Jackson History of Wadham College (1893)). There
was an entrance to the college through the nearby garden wall shown in the seventeenth
and eighteenth century prints mentioned above, but it seems to have been very much the
back door of the college. Views of the college were usually drawn from the front.
Written evidence for the sundials is also scarce. Mrs Gatty in her Book of Sundials (Ed.
Eden & Lloyd) (1900)) writes “When Loggan took his views of Oxford, published 1688,
there were several dials on the colleges, but most of these are gone. He shows them at
Exeter, St. John’s, Trinity, Wadham, Brasenose, Christchurch, All Souls, Magdalen, and
St. Mary Hall, besides pedestal dials at Queen’s, Balliol, and Pembroke, and a tall pillar
in New College gardens. Of these there remains the great dial at All Souls, and one in
Brasenose quadrangle: a [sic] gnomon on the south-east buttress of Wadham Chapel,
possibly placed there by Dr. Wilkins….’
R.T.Gunther also thinks that the dials were put there by Wilkins : ‘The gnomons of the
two south dials are in situ on the south side of the south-eastern buttress of the Chapel,
but the faces of the dials have perished. The lower and probably older one may be
contemporaneous with the Chapel (1612): the other, possibly a more accurate timeindicator, may have been added in the scientific days of Warden Wilkins (1648-59).’
Dr. Wilkins became Warden of Wadham after the Civil War. A shrewd politician, he
married Cromwell’s sister, yet became a bishop in later life. During his time at Wadham
the college became a focus of scientific experiment.
Neither Mrs Gatty nor Gunther says what evidence they have for thinking the dials may
have been erected by Wilkins. As Mrs Gatty and Glasgow record only a single gnomon in
1900, whereas Gunther records two in 1923, it is possible that the upper gnomon fell off
before 1900 and was replaced between 1900 and 1923. Oxford Stone Restored: The Work
of the Oxford Historic Buildings Fund 1957-1974 (Ed. W. Oakeshott) says of Wadham
‘Very few alterations had been made in the buildings which were substantially in
Headington stone, nearly 350 years old….Between 1920 and 1930 a programme of
piecemeal repairs had been undertaken’. In 1935 ‘the stone work of the east and south
faces of the chapel was repaired’, in the 1950’s the buttresses of the chapel were restored.
In the 1980’s the gnomons were removed, the rustier parts replaced with stainless steel,
repainted and reset. So it seems that the gnomons and surrounding stonework have been
disturbed several times in the twentieth century.
Although there is no direct evidence, it is likely that at least one of the dials dates from
the heyday of sundialling or gnomonics in the 17th century. The early members of the
Royal Society met at Wadham and certainly had an interest in dialling and clocks. When
one of them, the young Christopher Wren, went to Wadham in 1650, he was already
interested in gnomonics. At the age of fifteen he wrote a treatise on dialling entitled
Sciotercion Catholicum and a year later translated William Oughtred’s Latin treatise The
Art of Dialling (Parentalia (1741)). As a boy he made ‘curious dialls’ at Bletchingdon
where his sister and her husband lived, and when he arrived at Wadham he made a
reflecting dial on the ceiling of his room. I know of two dials still in existence which have
been attributed to Wren: the vertical decliner at All Souls, Oxford and a horizontal dial at
Amen Court, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.
William Oughtred’s son-in-law, Christopher Brooke, was appointed Manciple of
Wadham in Wilkins’s time. He was an instrument maker and is known to have made
double horizontal sundials, an invention of Oughtred’s. His position as Manciple (an
officer responsible for profiding the provisions of a college) would have given him an
income to subsidise his scientific activities, so it is possible he had some connection with
the sundials on the chapel.
In 1654 Evelyn visited Warden Wilkins’s lodgings and recorded in his diary: ’Wilkins
showed me transparent aparies…these were adorned with a variety of dials, little statues,
vanes…. (Diary, i. p.271)
Wilkins was responsible for setting up a statue of Atlas at Wadham which was also a
sundial. This is shown in the Loggan and Williams engravings of 1675 and 1732
respectively. Pointer describes the statue in his History of Oxford ((1749), p.106): ‘In the
Gardens, is a Mount, with a Summer-House under it, and the statue of Atlas upon it,
upholding the World curiously gilded. A Poetical Emblem, to express the vast
Comprehension he [Dr Wilkins] had in inventing Astronomy. The Globe is an entire Dial
without a Gnomon.”
The statue of Atlas shown in Loggan’s Oxonia Illustrata of 1675
Gunther says that Williams’ Oxonia depicta engraving of 1733 shows a horizontal dial on
a column near the north wall of the Fellows’ Garden but ‘as it is not shown by Loggan we
conclude that it was erected after 1688 – perhaps just before 1730 when “causeless and
expensive alteracons in ye Garden” were made (Wadham College, Convention Book
Gunther’s copy of a detail from Loggan’s plate showing a horizontal dial at Wadham in the late
Vertue’s 1738 engraving of the college shows Seth Ward holding a horizontal sundial.
Left to right: Sprat, Ward and Wren from Vertue’s engraving of 1738
Of course, Wadham was not the only college in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
with sundials - as Williams’ and Loggan’s engravings show. One senses a rivalry
between colleges. Certainly the question of accuracy in time-keeping had become much
more critical with the advances in clock- and watch-making. Challenges such as the
search for an accurate method of measuring longitude at sea interested Wren and others
from the early days of the Royal Society.
After Wren had left Wadham for All Souls in 1653, he designed a grand sundial for the
All Souls chapel. He contrived it ‘so that one may see to a minute what it is a clock, the
minutes being depicted on the sides of the rays, viz., 15 on each side, and divided into
fives by a different character from the rest’ (R. Plot Natural History of Oxfordshire
Wren also presented Wadham with a pendulum clock c. 1670. This clock had an early
‘seconds’ pendulum. The clock face is still in its original position over the west door of
the chapel at Wadham. The original mechanism is now kept in the Museum of the
History of Science in Oxford. It may be that one or both of the sundials on Wadham’s
chapel were used to regulate Wren’s clock. The clock mechanism was inside the chapel,
through two doors and round a corner from the sundials. Some sort of signal may have
been used to let the keeper of the clock know the time. Alternatively it is possible that the
dials were used to set a watch which was then taken to the clock. Thomas Sprat’s History
of the Royal Society (1667) mentions Fellows’ experiments with ‘several new kinds of
Pendulum watches for the Pocket, wherein the motion is regulated, by Springs, or
Weights, or Loadstones, or Flies moving very exactly regular.’
Another possibility is that Wren’s clock at Wadham was set to sidereal time using direct
star observations. An observatory was set up at Wadham over the entrance tower by Seth
Ward. This observatory was regularly used by Wren during the mid-1650s, and was
equipped with telescopes of 6, 12 and 22 feet. (A. Tinniswood His Invention so Fertile
The upper gnomon on the chapel has an ellipsoid mounted on a stalk which holds it
above the style. This means that the ellipsoid sits on a second, virtual gnomon parallel to
the style. The shadow of the ellipsoid would not have related to the hour lines which
would have been read with the shadow of the style. Sometimes part of the ellipsoid’s
shadow is obscured by the shadow of the style suggesting that the ellipsoid, as a
mathematical conceit, might have been designed to show a circular shadow when the sun
is in a particular point in the sky, or it may have been used to determine the date with a
set of declination lines.
It is easier for the eye to determine the centre of an elliptical shadow than to gauge the
edge of a shadow made by a straight style. The early members of the Royal Society were
well aware of the problems of a shadow’s fuzzy penumbra. Thomas Sprat says that the
Fellows invented ‘An Instrument for finding a second of Time by the Sun: - A new kind
of Back-staff for taking the Sun’s altitude by the Shadow, and Horizon which is so
contrived, that though the shadow be at three foot distance, or as much as is desired, yet
there shall not be the least Penumbra: and the shadow may be easily distinguished to the
fourth part of a minute.’
It is also possible that the shadow of the ellipsoid was used to track an analemma – a
‘figure-of-eight’ shaped plot of the Equation of Time on one axis and the sun’s
declination on the other, though I have not been able to determine when this device first
appeared on sundials. Flamsteed published his Equation of Time tables in 1675, and
Christian Huygens published his in the Netherlands a few years earlier; so from then on
the difference between mean time and solar time became more significant. Before
Flamsteed’s publication of the tables, clocks would have been set to local solar time with
errors of as much as fifteen minutes creeping in.
In their present position the gnomons are set at different angles. This may be because
they have been disturbed, or it may be that one was meant to correct the other. The latter
seems to be the case for two old vertical dials at the church of St. Mary the Virgin at
Broughton Gifford Church, Wiltshire. Set one above the other, the upper dial’s motto
reads ‘Hodie Vive’ [Live this day] and the lower one’s reads ‘Umbra Nuget Umbram’
[This shadow makes the other foolish].
There was no fixed Prime Meridian until 1884. The Greenwich Meridian was not
established at its current position until 1850 and before that it was sited further west. The
angles of the Wadham gnomons should have been been the same whether the dials were
designed to tell local solar or the time of the Prime Meridian, but the hour lines would
have been differently spaced.
In April this year a close examination of the gnomons from a scaffolding showed that the
stone on the buttress around the gnomons has been replaced leaving no trace of the
original dials. The roots of both gnomons have been repaired with stainless steel bar and
reset at angles incorrect for the declination of the buttress. The lower gnomon seems to be
older, made of thin and pitted iron bar. The upper gnomon is sturdier and wedge-shaped
in section, 10mm wide on the upper edge of the bar, tapering to 7mm. The axes of the
ellipsoid nodus measure 27.2 x 21.5mm, its centre lying 27.5 mm above the top edge of
the style. The tips of both gnomons end in an ornamental ‘finger’ shape.
If one or both the dials were made in the seventeenth century, it is possible they were
executed by a mason called William Byrd (sometimes spelled ‘Bird’) who became
Wadham’s mason in or before 1656. The dials may have been painted onto the stone, or
carved into it. Byrd was a letter-cutter and was also skilled at paint effects such as
marbling. He had his yard between Wadham and All Souls. His name appears in the All
Souls Acta in Capitulis recording a payment of £32.11.6d on 23rd November 1658 to be
made to ‘Mr Bird for the diall in the Quadrangle lately erected’ (J.S.G.Simmons Wren’s
dial remov’d (2000)), ‘ the ‘diall’ being Wren’s vertical dial mentioned above, moved
from its original position in 1877 and mounted on the Codrington library. Byrd’s name
appears in the Wadham accounts in 1656, 1657, 1661-4 and 1669-75 but there is no
specific reference to a dial. He appears again in the New College accounts in the Bursar’s
long book of 1676 ‘Sol. to Mr Bird for mending ye diall ut per billam £1/2/0.’
Byrd later worked with Wren at Winchester. Mrs J.C. Cole reported that his lettering can
be seen on the Fettiplace monument at Swinbrook Church, Oxfordshire, and in the
churches at Lydiard Tregoze, and Pewsey in Wiltshire amongst others. (Mrs. J.C Cole
‘William Byrd, stone-cutter and mason’, Oxoniensia xiv. (1949)). The monuments at
Pewsey and Lydiard Tregoze are still there. I have not checked the others.
I have now produced to sets of designs for a pair of replacement sundials. The sundials
would be carved in stone and painted and gilded. I have used the lettering style and
colour schemes from other existing 17th century sundials. Signs of the zodiac are
included, as well as declination curves which indicate the height of the sun and therefore
the time of year – a common device on 17th century sundials (e.g. on the sundials at
Merton College, Oxford and Queens’ College, Cambridge). Declination curves for the
saint’s days of St. Nicholas (6th December) and St. Dorothy (6th Febraury) could be
included as the college was founded by Dorothy Wadham and her husband Nicholas. The
chapel is dedicated to St. Nicholas.
Decorative features on the new designs include symbols taken from the arms of the
college and ornamental scrolls from Wren’s clock in the quad. I have suggested mottos
which could be divided between the upper and lower sundials; ‘Sic transit gloria mundi’
and ‘Omnibus do lucem calorem motum’, the latter being taken from the title page of
Wilkins’s Discourse concerning a new world (1640).
Design proposals for new sundials at Wadham College
© Harriet James
Upper dial Lower dial
Alternative for lower dial
Design proposals for sundials at Wadham College
Upper sundial Lower sundial
My thanks to Dr. A. Chapman of Wadham College, Dr. J. Davis and other fellow
members of the British Sundial Society, Dr. J.S.G. Simmons of All Souls College,
Professor L. Jardine of Queen Mary and Westfield College for discussion and advice and
to Professor G. L. Huxley for Latin translation. I am grateful for the help of the librarians
and archivists of the Museum of the History of Science, the Bodleian, the Royal Society,
the Samuel Hey Library at St. Mary the Virgin, Steeple Ashton, Wiltshire, Wadham and
All Souls Colleges in Oxford.
Published in the Bulletin of the British Sundial Society Volume 18(iv) December 2006
BSS Bulletin Volume 18(iv) December 2006 149
The vertical sundial at All Souls College, Oxford, has recently received some unusual attention.1
In June 2006 the
college refused a bequest from one of its Fellows, Dr John
Simmons, a Slavonic scholar and Librarian, who died last
year, aged 90. Simmons had been a leading voice in a longrunning campaign to have the sundial moved from its present position on the Codrington Library building to its
original position on the college Chapel.
Under the terms of Simmons’ will the college would have
received part of his £888,000 estate if the sundial was
moved. There seem to have been other conditions attached
to the bequest, such as paving over gravel paths in one of
the quads. The Daily Telegraph of 13 June 2006 reported a
spokesman for the college as saying, “The college has decided to decline the bequest,” adding that the conditions
were “too onerous”.
The sundial was made in about 1658 and is said to have
been designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) who
became a Fellow of the college in 1653 at the age of 21,
having been an undergraduate at nearby Wadham College.2
DESCRIPTION OF THE DIAL
The dial can be seen in Fig. 1 and in colour in Fig. 2 on
page 155. The circular dial face is splendidly painted and
gilded. With surrounding carved stonework of ornate garlands topped with a cherub, it was originally designed to fit
between two pinnacles high up on the centre of the southeasterly façade of the chapel.
A circular blue chapter ring encloses black hour lines and
an oval coat of arms of the college. Slanted Roman numerals in the chapter ring run from 6am to 5pm with intermediate half-hour spots. The chapter ring is enclosed by a band
of black and red quarter-hour divisions. Surrounding that is
a ‘sunburst’ of gilded rays, one for each hour and half-hour,
the half-hour rays being shorter. The edge of each ray is
outlined with thirty black minute marks “so that one may
see to a minute what it is a clock, the minutes being depicted on the sides of the rays, viz., 15 on each side, and
divided into fives by a different character from the rest.”3
The marks for 5, 10, 20, 25, 35, 40, 50 and 55 minutes past
the hour are short black lines, perpendicular to the outline
of each ray and the intermediate minutes are black dots.
These marks, otherwise known as ‘stepped’ or ‘interrupted’
transversals, are potentially more accurate than the normal
‘diagonals’ seen on horizontal dials, e.g. those by Tompion,
Rowley and Thomas Wright.4 They were unusual on large
vertical sundials of the 17th century5
and because of them
the All Souls dial seems to have had a reputation for accuracy. The clock-makers of Oxford are said to have called at
the college to regulate their time-pieces by it well into the
reign of Queen Victoria.2
The actual delineated timescale
on the transversals runs from 5:15 am to 5:15 pm which
suggests that the declination of the chapel wall for which
the dial was made, is about 14° east of south.
Wren designed the proportions of the All Souls sundial very
cleverly. The origin of the hour lines is offset to the east of
centre to give a more even spread of hour lines around the
circular face. The chapter ring is not centred on the dial
face but is slightly above the centre so that the bottom of
the elliptical coat of arms touches the centre of the dial
stone and the rays at the bottom of the dial are longer than
the others. Although the dial face is circular it appears to
be elliptical from below. Wren was perhaps experimenting
with the effects of distortion when placing an ellipse within
concentric and non-concentric circles.
WREN’S DIAL REMOV’D
Fig. 1. Wren’s sundial on the Codrington Library at All
150 BSS Bulletin Volume 18(iv) December 2006
The functional detail of the dial itself is
shallowly-carved whereas the coat of
arms, floral decorations and ribbon
motto are more sculptural. The circular
dial face is made of sections of a finer
and whiter stone than the surrounding
pinnacles, perhaps because it carved
better for finer detail and because it
shows a better shadow.
The gnomon is a simple rod with a ball
finial and a forked support. The feet of
the support are set into the stone below
the dial face between it and the ribbon
motto below. The style is made of a
rod with a circular cross section suggesting that Wren intended the time to
be read from the centre of its shadow rather than from its
leading edge. The gnomon shadow seems thin but it is
necessarily so if one is to read the finer divisions on the
The Latin motto ‘Pereunt et imputantur’ (‘Our days/hours
perish and are scored to our account’) is taken from Martial’s Epigrammata Vxx.6 The relevant passage reads,
“Bonosque soles effugere atque abire sentit
Qui nobis pereunt et imputantur”
Which can be translated as “And he feels good days are
flitting and passing away, Our days/hours perish and are
scored to our account.”7 Another translation of the motto
used in Oxford and mentioned by Gunter, is said to refer to
the Fellows of All Souls: “They perish and are not thought
of”!8 The same motto appears on seventeen recorded dials
in the BSS register, the earliest dating from 1635.9
Fig. 4. An engraving of All Souls by William Williams (1733) with (right) an
enlargement of the Wren dial.
Fig. 3. Loggan’s 1675 etching
of All Souls showing the
sundial in its original position.
The enlarged sections show
(right) the Wren dial and
(above) another gnomon on a
BSS Bulletin Volume 18(iv) December 2006 151
On top of the All Souls sundial is a gilded weather vane in
the shape of a beast-like Grim Reaper with a very large
scythe, mounted on a stone ball. This weather vane appears
to be as old as the sundial as it is shown in early etchings10
(see Figs. 3 & 4). Perhaps the Grim Reaper is an allegorical
reference to the full name of the college which is The College of All Souls of the Faithful Departed.
It is not known if the present colour scheme of the sundial
is copied from the original. It is now in need of repainting.
HISTORY OF THE DIAL
In the year when Christopher Wren held the position of
Bursar of Laws at All Souls, the accounts books record that
a payment of £32.11.6d was authorized on 23 November
1658 to a “Mr Bird for the diall in the Quadrangle lately
erected”.4 William Bird (or Byrd) was an Oxford stonemason.11 Further payments to Mr Bird, Mr Wells “the Joyner”
and Mr Hawkins for painting add up to a total outlay of £57
on the sundial, a sizeable sum in the mid-17th century.
The sundial seems to have stayed undisturbed for the next
two hundred years despite major rebuilding of the college
in the early 18th century by Nicholas Hawksmoor who
added an extra quadrangle and the enormous 200-foot-long
Codrington Library. (See Fig. 5 for the college ground
plan.) Hawksmoor loved symmetry and because a new hall
extended the façade on which the sundial was mounted, he
balanced the sundial which was towards one end by adding
a new cartouche (Fig. 6) towards the other. Like the sundial, the cartouche is set between two pinnacles. It carries
the coats of arms of five major benefactors of the building
of the hall. Although the cartouche is still there today, the
sundial no longer balances it.
During repairs to the chapel in
1871 the sundial was found to
be in a bad state of repair and
was removed and stored until
1877. Then one of the Fellows
proposed that the sundial be
mounted on the Codrington
library building in Hawksmoor’s quad beyond the chapel
and although he met with some
opposition, his view prevailed.
Simmons’ objection to the repositioning of the sundial was one
of aesthetics: “Thereafter, a sundial designed to crown a
five-bay frontage but perched disproportionately over an
eleven-bay one it [sic] has ever since shamelessly punctuated the harmonious ‘compulsion of symmetry’ that informs Hawksmoor’s quadrangle.”2
The wall of the Codrington library declines approximately
1.3° further East than the chapel wall so the sundial could
be expected to be a few minutes slow. It is uncertain if the
difference in declination is enough to account for the inaccuracy of 7½ minutes slow to local apparent time observed
on 22 July 2006. The Victorian Fellows of All Souls may
not have adequately supervised the repositioning of the
sundial to account for the difference in declination. Subsequent repairs may have disturbed the setting of the gnomon.
Either way, it should be possible to determine how the error
arises and to realign either the dial, or the gnomon or both.
Fig. 6. The cartouche that used to balance the sundial.
Fig. 5. Ground plan of the
college showing the original and
current locations of Wren’s dial,
the cartouche added by
Hawksmoor, and the old gnomon
shown on the Loggan print.
Original location Current location
152 BSS Bulletin Volume 18(iv) December 2006
Although the amount of Simmons’ bequest is not known, it may not have been
adequate to cover the costs of a major
removal between buildings. However, it
seems a shame that the present day authorities at All Souls will not at least ensure that the sundial tells the correct time
even if they do not agree with Dr. Simmons’ aesthetic sensibilities on its position.
Simmons himself once remarked: “We
[the Fellows of All Souls] may elect
cranks but we don’t elect fools.” He was
well known in Oxford circles, not least for
the tie he devised and gave to friends who
shared his belief in the four Cs – conserve, consider, contribute, co-operate.12
He seems to have come up against some
opposition from amongst the Fellows and
from the authorities responsible for the college buildings.
In 2002 he wrote: “The battle for our sundial still rages, but
I gather that English Heritage is getting a new boss. I’ll
give him a couple of weeks and then return to the charge.
He can’t possibly be as bloody-minded as his new colleagues [in English Heritage] are.”13
He met some BSS members at All Souls during a very wet
afternoon sundial tour as part of the BSS Oxford Conference in 2004. Although then in his late 80s, he was vigorous in his determination to get something done about the
sundial and from a damp plastic bag handed out postcards
of a mock-up colour photograph showing Wren’s sundial
back on the chapel wall (Fig. 7 on p.155).
WREN’S DIALLING INTERESTS
Wren (Fig. 8) had a practical interest in dialling from a very
young age. As a child he had lessons from his brother-inlaw Dr William Holder who later published A Discourse
Concerning Time (1694). While he was a schoolboy Wren
designed an instrument for drawing lines on a sundial and
at thirteen made an instrument which he called a panorganum astronomicum which could have been a kind of orrery. The diarist John Aubrey says that as
a teenager Wren made “severall Curious
Dialls, with his owne handes” in the
grounds of William Holder’s parsonage at
Wren seems to have gone up to Wadham
College, Oxford in 1646 at the tender age
of 14.16,17 In about 1647 he had a serious
illness and was sent to recover in London
with Charles Scarburgh, a physician
friend of Holder’s. Scarburgh had taught
mathematics at Cambridge and had a fine
collection of mathematical and scientific
books. While staying with Scarburgh,
Wren wrote a treatise on spherical trigonometry and impressed Scarburgh with
his design for a weather-clock that recorded fluctuations in wind speed and
Scarburgh knew William Oughtred and encouraged Wren
to translate from English into Latin Oughtred’s treatise on
dialling written in 1598. Wren wrote, “The doctor promises, I may both gain an old man’s favour, and at the same
time win that of all those students of mathematics who acknowledge Oughtred as their father and teacher.”16
Oughtred was delighted with the translation and published
Horologiorum Sciotericorum in plano as a supplement to
the third and subsequent editions of Clavis Mathematicae.
Oughtred presented Wren with an inscribed copy of the
third edition (1652) and described him in the preface as
“Christopher Wren, gentleman commoner of Wadham College, a youth generally admired for his talents, who, when
not yet sixteen years old, enriched astronomy, gnomics,
statics and mechanics, with brilliant inventions, and from
that time has continued to enrich them, and in trust is one
from whom I can, not vainly, look for great things.” (Fig.9.)
Fig. 10 (right).
Wren’s clock at
Fig. 9 ( left). Part
of the preface of
Fig. 8. A modern bust of Sir
Christopher Wren at the Guildhall,
BSS Bulletin Volume 18(iv) December 2006 153
Back in Oxford at the lodgings of John Wilkins, Warden at
Wadham, Wren attended the early meetings of a group of
natural philosophers which was to become the Royal Society. His wide range of interests included experiments on the
circulation of the blood and intravenous injections using
live dogs. Among other subjects he explored ciphers, fortifications, and the grinding of lenses. His interest in astronomy seems to have developed during the 1650s when an
observatory was set up at Wadham. He found time to make
a reflective ceiling dial (now lost) in his room at Wadham,
with figures representing Astronomy and Geometry.8 An
inscription accompanying the ceiling dial read:
Angustis satagens his laquearibus
Ad cœli methodum tempora pingere,
A Phœbo obtinuit luminis ut sui
Idæam, speculo, linqueret æmulam
Quæ cœlum hoc peragret luce vicariâ,
Cursûsque effigiem fingeret annui;
Post annos epochæ —
VERE FACTVS HOMO EST EX VTERO DEVS
ETATISQVE SVÆ NVPERÆ.
This can be translated as
“Chr. Wren, busying himself on this narrow fretted ceiling, was enabled by Phoebus in accord with the movement of the heavens to represent the times so that with the
reflector he might leave an Idaean rival of his light to
travel over this heaven with borrowed brightness and
form a likeness of his annual course. 1648 years after the
time when God was truly made man from the Virgin’s
womb and in the 16th year of his own youthful age.”
The date 1648 and Wren’s age are obtained from the
chronogram in the last three lines of the Latin by adding up
the values of the bold Roman numerals. The word ‘Idaean’
seems to be a reference to Ida, the nymph who was identified with the constellation of Ursa Minor by the ancient
Greeks.19 ‘Idaean’ could also be a pun on the word
When designing the All Souls dial Wren may have been
inspired by the other sundials in Oxford at the time. The
Turnball dial of 1581 at Corpus and the dial on the chapel
at Merton of 1629 still survive. There were dials at Wadham College, too.20
In the 1654 John Evelyn visited Warden Wilkins’ lodgings at Wadham and saw many ‘artificial,
mathematical, Magical curiosities’ which included “…
Shadows, dyals, Perspectives…A Way-Wiser, A Thermometer; a monstrous Magnes, Conic & other Sections, a
Balance on a demie Circle, most of them his [Wilkins’]
own & that prodigious young Scholar, Mr. Chr: Wren.” 21
Oughtred’s son-in-law, Christopher Brookes, ran a successful instrument-making business from Wadham.
Engravings of the gardens at Wadham by Loggan and Williams, of 1675 and 1732 respectively, show Wilkins’s
statue of Atlas which held up a spherical sundial. Pointer
describes it in his History of Oxford (1749): “The Globe is
an entire Dial without a Gnomon.” 22 None of these
‘curiosities’ has survived at Wadham today.
At All Souls there was another sundial of the same orientation as Wren’s. It is shown in Loggan’s engraving of 1675
high up on a chimney stack (See Fig. 3) and is mentioned
It seems to consist of a plain east-decliner
gnomon without any visible hour lines. Perhaps it was already old and worn by the 1650s.
After Wren left All Souls in 1657 he became Professor of
Astronomy at Gresham College, London. Part of his inaugural lecture was devoted to the biblical miracle of the retrocession of the shadow upon the sundial of Ahaz (2 Kings
xx.11) when God is said to have caused the shadow on the
sundial to move back by 10 degrees. Wren speculated that
this effect might have been caused by the appearance of a
parhelion (a luminous spot in the sky caused by refraction
of sunlight through what he called “nitrous Vapours” but
which are in fact ice crystals). Wren suggested that the sundial of Ahaz had been one like those which, according to
, were introduced to Greece by Berosus the
Chaldaean. He said that although the parhelion might explain the miracle, the explanation did not diminish it, adding that our knowledge of refraction makes the rainbow no
Peter Drinkwater would not agree with
Wren’s interpretation of the miracle (BSS Bulletin. Feb
1992.1). He says that the original Hebrew was mistranslated and that the shadow of two walls passed up and down
the sundial which consisted of two back to back flights of
Wren’s interest in dialling may have persisted throughout
his life in spite of his eclectic interests and busy professional life in London. An engraving of 1700 by John
Oliver shows Tring Manor, Hertfordshire, which is said to
have been designed by Wren. There are two apparently
north-facing vertical sundials on the front of the house.25
In about 1671 Wren presented Wadham with a pendulum
clock. This clock had an early ‘seconds’ pendulum and the
mechanism is said to have been designed by Wren.26
clock face is still in position on the chapel wall in the front
quad at Wadham (Fig.10). The original mechanism is now
kept in the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford.
One of the spandrels in the top right corner of the clock
face contains three crosses and a chevron, part of Wren’s
coat of arms (Fig. 11 on p. 155).27
The decorative carvings which surround of the clock face
bear a remarkable resemblance to the carvings surrounding
154 BSS Bulletin Volume 18(iv) December 2006
the dial at All Souls – a cherub, floral garlands and spiral
volutes are common to both clock and dial.
The Codrington Library building, the cause of Simmons’
disputed bequest, was itself bequeathed to All Souls. In
1710 Conrad Von Uffenbach wrote:
“After lunch we saw the library in All Souls College,
Collegium Omnium Animarum. This is a small poor room
with an inconsiderable number of books. But as a Colonel
Codrington has bequeathed ten thousand pounds sterling
(an amazing sum of money, which could have been
turned to better purpose than making a palace for these
worthless Fellows, as they for the most part are) – as, I
say, he has left this sum for the rebuilding of the college
and added to it his fine collection of books worth three
thousand pounds, a new library is to be built.”28
Even if the present day Fellows feel they could not meet the
challenge of Simmons’ bequest, they should at least honour
his and Wren’s memory by trying to correct the error in the
dial’s time-keeping and by making sure this grandest of
sundials is properly maintained.
It is a pleasure to thank the following people for their help
in preparing this paper: A. Ashmore, A. Chapman, J. Davis,
G.L. Huxley, J. Lester, E. Mizzi, N. Aubertin-Potter.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
I undertake private and public commissions. I have made sundials for private gardens, public parks, schools, universities and churches. Please contact me for enquiries.
If distance allows, I am happy to visit you to discuss and advise you on the design, materials, size etc., or I can work from photographs and site maps. I will then provide design sketches and a quotation for your approval before starting work. When the sundial is installed I provide a full explanation of how it works and how to compare sundial time with clock time.
Prices depend on the cost of the materials, the time spent carving and the cost of installation, but as a general guide prices (including installation) start around £1500 for a vertical wall dial or a horizontal dial with stone plinth / column. Public Open Space / Playground Sundials are £675 for DIY installation and £995 for installation by Sunnydials. If you have any queries or want to discuss a possible project, please contact me .
Once you have approved the design of the sundial I ask for a deposit to cover the cost of the materials.
I will agree a delivery date with you. Speed depends on workload at the time of ordering, but generally it takes me at least a month to complete a sundial.
I can supply gift vouchers for a sundial to be made at a later date.
A presentation drawing of the design can be supplied with the voucher or the recipient can decide on the design later.
35 Bradley Road
Telephone (01985) 216311
(International) +44 1985 216311
For general information on sundials:
Les dates des prochaines éclipses solaires :
Sundials on the internet
British Sundial Society
North American Sundial Society
For fine historical replicas of brass sundials and scientific instruments,
I recommend Dr. John Davis of Flowton dials. Tel: 01473 658646
Mike Shaw’s fun website of favourite sundials
Sundials in Ireland
The Oxford Science Walk takes visitors on a walking tour of sites of scientific interest around Oxford, including sundials.
Not a sundial site, but a gallery of close up or ‘macro’ art photography of flowers, botanicals and garden art by Roger Smith.
A free educational pack for schools from Bowland Maths which introduces Key Stage 3 pupils to the idea of using the sun to tell the time.
www.bowlandmaths.org.uk. Click on ‘case studies’ and find sundials from the list.
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