A BIZARRELY ANACHRONISTIC SUNDIAL IN FRANCE


Take one majestically ruined Viollet-le-Duc castle in central France, and simply add a c21 slate sundial of rather unsatisfactory design, fix it to a medieval wall with badly-chosen B&Q screws, and you get this…  Viollet violated.

Actually, I’m being a bit harsh on it. Looking closely, including at the gnomon, the dial  seems to be home-made by someone who knew what he was doing. The carefully sketched light markings indicate that he (or she) has taken a lot of trouble over it. Had I made it myself, I’d be proud of it. But I might have located somewhere less blatantly out-of-place (and maybe with different screws…).

 

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BRITAIN’S OLDEST POST BOX: A GRADE II* CHANCE FIND


On a cold, sunny November day, we went to a local church that was slightly outside our usual territory. The purpose was to photograph the medieval mass dial on the porch – or, as it turned out, dials in the plural. Beneath a neat dial from roughly 1600, we found the traces of an apparently older and much more sketchy dial. Below that, the possibility of a  hint of a dial -possibly an original practice run. More of those another time.

As we drove home on a different road, we had a ‘stop the car’ moment. For there, outside a row of old cottages, was a small post or pillar box. Not only that, it was octagonal, Victorian, and worthy of immediate investigation. The location is at Holwell, Dorset – rather more of an area than a defined village. Its Church, St Laurences, is in its own hamlet known as The Borough, down a no-through-road. The box is actually at Barnes Cross near The Borough and Cornford Bridge, National Grid Ref: ST 69308 11775. 

The box turned out to be a wonderful find. Plainly, it was an early one. Research when we got home revealed that is is in fact the oldest box still in everyday use in Britain. According to HE, it is dated to 1853 and was made (as the box itself proclaims) by a Gloucester firm, John N. Butt & Co. Roadside boxes were only introduced in 1852, so this one is a very early example. There are apparently two other extant boxes made by them, one at the National Postal Museum in London and the other a private box at a hospital in Plymouth.  Standardisation of design was not brought in until 1859 – before that, designs varied from area to area.

  

The box is grade II* listed in 1987, designated thus for its ‘legacy record’. Despite the listing, the box became badly dilapidated, until in 2104 a restoration campaign by the local community succeeded. The Daily Mail carried an article with ‘before, during, and after’ images. The box had to be stripped before being fully refurbished to its former glory. 

             

This very early box has a number of interesting original features, most of all the vertical letter opening, the royal insignia, and the fact that the makers advertise their skills twice over. The most important modern feature is of course the collection notice in its inset – proof that it is business as usual 165 years after the box was installed.

I have referred to this box as a post box, with a nod to pillar box  (which is the name I grew up using). I realise some prefer postbox in one word. And clearly the correct description in the 1850s was letterbox, as shown printed on this example. But I imagine that in those early postal days houses did not have what we now usually call letterboxes, i.e. holes in the front door of a house, so there was no cause for confusion.

Credits: Historic England; Dorset OPC (Online Parish Clerks); BNPS Dorset Press Agency; Daily Mail. All photos apart from the 2 restoration ones are mine.  

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.

 

A COMPLEX SUNDIAL AT LLUC MONASTERY, MALLORCA


Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)

The secluded Monastery of Lluc is situated near Escorca in the Tramuntana mountains of Mallorca. It dates from the c13, and is famous for its Black Madonna, the discovery of which is said to have led to the monastery’s foundation . It is a place of pilgrimage. The location is remote and peaceful, though inevitably the monastery has become an essential stop on the tourist and coach party trail. We returned there recently, not having visited Mallorca for more than 20 years. The buildings were much as we remembered, but the parking and visitor arrangements were more regimented and complex. Before, one just drove down the narrow road from the main mountain road and parked in the forecourt area close to the buildings. Now, everything is (unsurprisingly) geared to a daily mass influx of people and their needs for sustenance and souvenirs. We were pleased to see that it is still possible to stay at Lluc in one of small rooms under a long covered walk where the monks once slept. You can reach the Monastery’s website – and even book a room – HERE.

Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)A short walk from the monastery, one can climb a path to a calvary and some great views. Along the way is a an amazing multiple vertical sundial. It was designed by Rafael Soler, and carved in 1991 and displays with some style the evolution of sundials. There are two historical dials, one central solar dial, and two modern dials.

CANONICAL HOURS – LATINATE

This dial simply records the 3-hourly canonical divisions of the liturgical day (as with the early medieval mass / scratch dials), starting with midnight (top) and working counterclockwise round a central gnomon. Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)

CANONICAL HOURS – BABYLONIAN / MALLORQUIN

A more complex dial, starting at noon (XXIV) through to 21.00, and including the months and the signs of the Zodiac.

Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)

TEMPS VERTADER – TRUE SOLAR TIME

The centre sundial shows true solar time. The polar gnomon (triangular) shows the hours, the pointer shows the date with the declination lines. The inscription MULIER AMICTER SOLE (Woman Clothed by the Sun) references an account in the Book of Revelations.

 Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)

MEAN TIME DIAL (SUMMER /AUTUMN)

The two right-hand sundials are complementary and each covers two seasons.  I think this must mean that for a particular month, one will be reliable as to time and the ‘off-season’ one will not.

Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)

MEAN TIME DIAL (SUMMER /AUTUMN)

Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)

The creation of these dials was obviously a labour of love and skill combined. There’s doubtless plenty more to be said about these sundials and the splendid ensemble but I have decided not to get too technical – indeed, I don’t understand enough to do so anyway. Apologies for the rather washed out appearance of the images. This was operator error – I had the camera on the wrong settings and didn’t realise until later…

Credits: Props to arby101ca and lumbricus, members of a geocaching & waymarking website called Groundspeak. They hiked to Lluc (respect!) and wrote informatively about these dials. I found relatively little elsewhere.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT… A HUT ON THE FROME


Fishing Hut on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

The River Frome in Dorset rises in Evershot and flows 30 miles eastwards before, like its neighbouring river the Piddle, entering Poole Harbour near Swanage. It is the most westerly of the classic English chalk streams and provides excellent fishing for trout and in the lower reaches, salmon and sea trout.

Fishing Hut on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

The upper river fishings, upstream of Dorchester, are wonderful for brown trout. The beat I fish (with variable success) is a couple of miles above this hut, where the fish are as wild as the unkempt banks, wily, and hard won. I have occasionally fished the beats lower downstream, above and below this wonderful hut, where the banks are well tended, though without pretention to the manicured perfection found elsewhere. 

Fishing Hut on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

The river level changes abruptly at the hut, with a water-level control and an overflow that goes directly under the hut through two entries. Inside the hut, is it slightly strange to watch and hear the water passing underneath. The hut is a simple structure, its historic beams and brickwork more or less original.

Fishing Hut Interior on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen) Fishing Hut Interior on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen) The pastoral setting makes this stretch of the Frome a most pleasant place to be for a day. And if it the weather becomes adverse, there’s a simple and most attractive shelter from the elements.

Fishing Hut on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)Fishing Hut on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)Fishing Hut on the River Frome, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

 

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