A MEDIEVAL MASS DIAL IN PIDDLETRENTHIDE, DORSET


Medieval Mass Sundial, Piddletrenthide Church, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

The village of Piddletrenthide in Dorset lies by the upper reaches of the River Piddle, Dorset’s most amusingly named river. Like its close neighbour, the larger River Frome, the Piddle flows roughly ESE to Poole Harbour. Piddletrenthide is an interesting village for many reasons, but I am heading straight to the northern end, to All Saint’s Church which dates from C12. And I’m zeroing in on the porch.

As you can see, centrally above the porch entrance is, firstly, a badly degraded tablet (only the letter A is clearly visible). Above it is a fine, well-defined sundial. Probably, the experts would not call it a mass dial at all, since it is not actually cut into the church’s stonework, but is on its own block stapled (now anyway) to the church wall. As British History Online (a great resource) puts it, Sundial: Above entry to S. porch, rectangular stone slab with enriched border, Roman numerals, wrought-iron gnomon and date 1602

There’s no doubt about the date. ‘1602’ is completely clear, though the preceding inscription is harder to decipher. By sight, I could only clearly make out the words TO BE, as mentioned by the British Sundial Society (see below). Photographs taken on a sunny day reveal more, and I have done a bit of work on one of them – making it black and white for a start. I believe the legible part of the inscription reads OCTOBER  ? ? 23 (possibly 1523).  A ladder might make the task of completing the inscription easier! 

The design is rather more sophisticated than earlier dials. For a start, marking the canonical hours is by now a thing of the past; this dial is on the 24-hour clock that arrived with the early timepieces. The dial marks from 6am to 6 pm, but it is old enough for IV to be rendered as IIII. Also, this is a ‘scientific dial’.  With very early dials, the distance between the markers was equal, an inherently unreliable system throughout the year. Gradually, dials acquired graduated markers that narrowed towards the lowest mark, and widened after it. This provided greater accuracy. Among the earliest – if not THE earliest example – is at LITLINGTON CHURCH in East Sussex.

The above photograph shows the stubby gnomon. I assume it is not the original one. I must have taken this photograph around midday. The face is decorated with a lattice design on both sides, the right side being rather more worn. In addition there are two attractive roundels with a design I can’t make out. A Maltese cross, perhaps? The British Sundial Society describes the dial thus: Shows 6am to 6pm in half hours. Two circular motifs cut into either side of gnomon, decoration cut into dial sides. IIII for 4pm. Triangular sheet gnomon with lead fixings – possibly not original. A possible inscription at bottom “.. ..To Be.. ..” .

All Saints is a fascinating Church, both outside and inside. There are many inventive gargoyles and other carvings; and the interior is very rewarding. Another post about this church will follow in due course.  Meanwhile, as a side note, the Piddletrenthide Parish Records detail a most interesting fact that will have me revisiting the church for sure: The first known use of Arabic numerals can be seen in an inscription on the west door of the church tower ‘Est pydeltrenth villa in dorsedie comitatu Nascitur in illa quam rexit Vicariatu 1487’. The use of Roman numerals continued in Europe for at least another century so it is quite something to find Arabic numerals inscribed over a doorway in a small village in Dorset.

 

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A FISHING HUT ON THE TEST: THE PRETTIEST EVER?


Fishing Hut, River Test Hampshire (Keith Salvesen)I quite see that fishing huts are a bit of a specialist subject. However, this may be one of the prettiest anywhere, with its little garden and benignly low-key comfort. A good place to spend a day, even for those that don’t enjoy the fishing…

Fishing Hut, River Test Hampshire (Keith Salvesen) Fishing Hut, River Test Hampshire (Keith Salvesen) Fishing Hut, River Test, Hampshire (Keith Salvesen)Fishing Hut, River Test, Hampshire (Keith Salvesen) Fishing Hut, River Test, Hampshire (Keith Salvesen)

THE SUNDIALS AT LITLINGTON CHURCH, EAST SUSSEX (2)


Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

The remarkable, sophisticated and possibly unique scratch dial on the face of the church porch that I recently featured HERE is not the only dial on this attractive Sussex Church. Almost unremarked are what are passingly mentioned in the only two references I have found online as ‘two further sundials on a north buttress’ (a nod here to the Eastbourne Church Recording Group). These dials do not even appear in the British Sundial Societys list of mass / scratch dials (though they do feature the main dial on the porch). 

DIAL ONE – NORTHEAST FACE

Having been told about the three – three! – dials, I was fairly confident when I set out to search for them. The first one – on the porch – was easy, not least because it was on the most obvious, south-facing, location possible. Then the trouble started. Without the Church Warden’s aid, I’d never ever have found the other 2. Who would guess that the dials would be (a) on the north side, (b) a couple of feet off the ground and (c) set at a 90º angle to each other on the same stone block in a buttress. 

Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

Northeast Face (1)Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

In the absence of any other information, dating these dials is very hard. The church dates from c1150. These dials, almost identical in construction as far as one can tell, are clearly simpler and far cruder than the main dial on the porch that is dated to the c15 and is transitional in scratch dial design between showing canonical hours and the ‘modern’ 24 hour clock. Yet both dials are full circles, and have 24 ‘dots’ surrounding the central hole for the pointer – notwithstanding that only the ‘daytime’ area on each dial is functional in practice. As far as I can make out, this is not an unusual arrangement.

Northeast Face (2)Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

DIAL TWO – NORTHWEST FACE

Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

It’s hard to find any significant difference between this dial and its adjacent counterpart, other than the direction faced. I didn’t make any measurements, but this 24 dot dial seems smaller, not least because the available space on this face is less. The assumption must be that both dials were made at around the same time, presumably to catch the early morning and late afternoon sun. I’ve no idea why they were located so low on the building, since there are higher cornerstones on this buttress that would have done as well – and perhaps have been more readable at eye-level.

Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

Sundials are an interest but very far from a speciality for me. If anyone can shed any light on dials of this sort – date, construction / design, location on the building – please comment on this post, or email me at rollingharbour.delphi [at] gmail.com. And if you know of a similar dial, please get in touch.

Litlington Church, East Sussex: the sundials (Keith Salvesen)

RELATED POST

LITLINGTON SUNDIAL 1

All photos Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

THE SUNDIALS AT LITLINGTON CHURCH, EAST SUSSEX (1)


St Michael's Church, Litlington East Sussex (Keith Salvesen)The majority of churches have no integral sundial. Those that do are usually content with one; some may supplement that with a standing sundial in the churchyard. Very few have three sundials that are integral to the building itself and to its history. The small church of Litlington East Sussex is one such. It also has a large benchmark on the porch, and three superb bells dating from the early c15. The main sundial is easy to spot; the other two are far less visible. I spent sometime looking for them in vain, until the church warden took pity on me. But (*spoiler alert*) whoever would expect to find sundials low down on a north wall? They deserve a post in their own right, which will form part 2. They are so far undocumented as far as I can see, except locally.

St Michael's Church - the porch. Litlington East Sussex (Keith Salvesen)The church dates from c1150, and was restored in the mid-c19. The porch is where the quest for the main sundial ends – the benchmark, too. 

St Michael's Church - sundial & benchmark. Litlington East Sussex (Keith Salvesen)
A close inspection shows just how unusual this scratch dial is – quite possibly unique. The only full account of it that I have found appears in an article by W. Oliver published in SCM* Volume 12 1938  Page 529The link is given below.
St Michael's Church, Litlington East Sussex (Keith Salvesen)

There are 3 features that immediately stand out: the deep ‘furrow’ at 12 noon; the confusing style / pointer holes; and in particular the carefully graduated hour markings. 

An improvised biro ‘style’ indicates the correct timeSt Michael's Church, Litlington East Sussex (Keith Salvesen)

A REMARKABLE DIAL

W. Oliver makes several points in his article, which distilled come to this:

  • This is a scratch dial typical of Saxon times and the middle ages, incised on the building stones
  • The design (for the period) is “most exceptional, if not unique” among the 1400 recorded church scratch dials
  • Other dials have equally spaced hour-lines that cannot measure time accurately, and certainly not year-long (though pointer adjustments could be made to compensate) 
  • These were primarily intended to indicate the 5 Canonical hours for prayer, not time
  • Extra lines were sometimes added, as time measurement became more sophisticated
  • At Litlington, exceptionally, the hour-line spacing is ‘scientific’ to enable accuracy
  • The lines are carefully graduated down to and up from 12 noon
  • This scientific approach is very much as seen on modern vertical sundials
  • The usual hole for a style / pointer is supplemented by the deeper groove at noon
  • This suggests there was at some stage a slanting gnomon, as found on modern wall dials
  • This could have been set to the latitude of Litlington to ensure year-round accuracy
  • The Litlington scratch dial may in fact be the only one able to tell the time properly

Church Sundial at Litlington By W. Oliver  http://www.massdials.org.uk/texts/scm12.htm

Do the 3 holes support the theory of an added gnomon fixed below the original style hole?St Michael's Church, Litlington East Sussex (Keith Salvesen)

DATING THE DIAL

W. Oliver does not give a date for the dial, other than ‘Middle Ages’ (it’s clearly not as old as Saxon). In a website called https://www.bestofengland.com the entry for this church states “Outside there is still a 13th century sundial on the porch”. This dating seems to have caught on and appears in e.g. Tripadvisor descriptions.

The local website http://www.litlington.info/st-michael-the-archangel-church-litlington says “Outside, on the porch, is a 15th century scientific sundial…” Given the sophistication of the Litlington dial, the first date seems clearly wrong and the second must be the preferred date. It also fits in with date of the installation of the earliest bell – perhaps a time of general improvements to the church. Even so, in the light of W. Oliver’s analysis, the dial shows an extraordinary understanding of the principles of recording time accurately that is apparently absent in the 1399 other instances of scratch dials in the country. The British Sundial Society has a short entry (see below) for this dial (and none for the other two at the ‘back’ of this church, mentioned earlier), including a reference to a polar gnomon. No mention of a possible date, but I take ‘transitional’ to mean between the era of marking the Canonical Hours and the gradual move to a 12 / 24 hour clock as the standard for time-telling.

BRITISH SUNDIAL SOCIETY

The brief entry states “The dial can be seen to the right of the porch. All hour lines 6am – 6pm, but no numbers or any trace that there ever were any. Lines correctly delineated for a polar gnomon. No trace of old lines, so possibly not a re-cut mass dial. 310 diam. semicircle. Transitional dial? Ref. C Daniel, Sundials, Shire Album 176,1986, p5 Location 50°47’50″N, 0°9’34″E;  National Grid: TQ 523 020″

The illustration to W. Oliver’s article

Any comments about this remarkable dial would be welcome.

Research as specified / linked. * = Sussex County Magazine. The Litlington website entry is as recorded by the Eastbourne Church Recording Group between 2007/2009. All photos Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour except as indicated

MARIAKIRKEN, BERGEN: A FINE DOORWAY


Mariakirken is an historic parish church in the central Bryggen area of Bergen, Norway. The church dates from the c12, and is said to be the oldest in Bergen. It is certainly the last remaining church from that early period. However, over the centuries the church has had to be repaired or reconstructed a number of times, not least due to fires – a problem arising in part from the close-built wooden houses and warehouses (as with the great fire of London). The last restoration was completed 4 years ago.

Marienkirken Bergen (Nina Aldin Thune / Wiki)

There was a service in progress when we walked up to the church from the harbour on a rather grey day. We had noticed people in Bunad (traditional costume) earlier, perhaps on their way to this church. So we headed for the splendid romanesque doorway, reminiscent of Norman architecture elsewhere in Europe.

The church is also known locally as ‘the German Church’. In the middle ages Bergen had a significant German population consisting mainly of the traders and merchants. Their wealth helped the Church to prosper. The strong connection continued until the late c19.

The details of the porch are most enjoyable, with the toothed arch, twist columns and arch, and its depth seeming to invite one inside. The carvings on the capitals are interesting, especially the creatures on either side – I have seen very similar early medieval ones in southwest France.  Next time we go to Bergen, we must investigate the interior…

General Church photo, Nina Aldin Thune / Wiki (my own was hopeless, as it turned out); rest © Keith Salvesen 

A STAINED GLASS SUNDIAL AT TOLLER PORCORUM, DORSET


Toller Porcorum is an archetypal Dorset village, right down to a latinate name redolent of medieval swine-herding (cf Ryme Intrinseca, Kington Magna etc). The fine Church of St Peter and St Andrew lies at the heart of the village, and is also very ‘Dorset’. 

Toller Porcorum Church, Dorset (Nigel Walden / Geograph)

While I was fishing on the nearby River Frome a couple of weeks ago, Mrs RH visited some churches in the area, including this one. Inside, she noticed an unusual modern ‘glass sundial’ set in a stained glass window, a marker of the hours and the millennium.  

Toller Porcorum Church, Dorset - Stained Glass Sundial

Knowing that sundials are one of the features on this blog, she took a few photographs with her phone. They have come out very well. 

Toller Porcorum Church, Dorset - Stained Glass Sundial

In the close-up above, you can just make out the shadow of the gnomon at approx 12.40 (midday being at the bottom). On the outside the gnomon, in the right-hand window (below), is elegantly simple and  unobtrusive. The close-up shows it more clearly. But of course the effect is meant to be seen from the inside, if only to time the length of the sermon.

Toller Porcorum Church, Dorset - Stained Glass Sundial

Toller Porcorum Church, Dorset - Stained Glass Sundial

Lordy, but I am negligent of this site. Thanks you, kind people who still come to look at stuff  here even though (I am ashamed to note) my last post was in November 2017. I’m going to try to get back on track with this side-project… there’s quite a backlog of material!

MILTON ABBEY, DORSET


Milton Abbey, Dorset

Milton Abbey, more properly called ‘The Abbey Church of St Mary, St Sansom and St Bradwalader*’, is a former Benedictine monastery founded in c10. The present building dates from the c14 and c15. The Abbey, with a post-reformation country house attached where the monastic buildings used to be, is now a school. 

Milton Abbey, Dorset - Abbey Church of St Mary, St Sansom and St BradwaladerThe Church building consists of the tower, transepts and choir. The nave is entirely absent, not as the result of the reformation’s destructive zeal (though that may account for the absence of statues in the empty interior niches). In fact, the nave was never built. The blank arch on the ‘front’ side (below) indictes how huge the nave – and the completed edifice –  would have been.

Milton Abbey, Dorset

The country house / school buildings are to the left side of the Abbey. This isn’t the place to detail the comings and goings of the various families who lived there, but it’s all on Wiki and also in an exhaustive entry in the Dorset ‘Pevsner’ – or in more technical detail HERE

We enjoyed a c15 pun high on a wall inside the Church. The date shown on the device looks at first sight to be 1618, but is in fact 1514. Medieval numbering was not formed in quite the way we are familiar with now. The W stands for Abbot William of Middleton (the original town name, shortened to Milton), with his rebus, a mill on top of a tun. Milton Abbey, Dorset (detail)Close to the Church, there is a small stone circle about which I became quite excited. Sadly, a complete lack of mention of this circle in any historical context suggests that it is a modern imposter, perhaps related to a school project. But it’s pretty convincing!

Stone Circle at Milton Abbey, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

*Me neither. And online research doesn’t disclose much about St Bradwalader. Or indeed anything at all.

All photos: Keith Salvesen