A SUNDIAL AT CHASTLETON HOUSE,


Chastleton House, Oxfordshire: the Sundial

Chastleton House is a fine Jacobean house in Oxfordshire dating from the early c17. In 1991 it was acquired by the National Trust, having been owned by the same family for some 400 years. Its most recent claim to fame is to have featured as ‘Wolf Hall’ in the recent BBC series.

Chastleton House, Oxfordshire: the Sundial

There are fine gardens at Chastleton, kept pleasantly unmanicured. And there is a sundial. I can’t find a date for it – the NT does not give one – but I like the unusually tall slender column that supports the dial.

Chastleton House, Oxfordshire: the Sundial

I was hoping to find some more information online, with little luck. I found a photograph that showed the dial unfixed from the base, and clearly some restoration has been done to remedy that. I’m not sure the rusting bolts were ideal. If I find any other information I will add it in due course.

Chastleton House, Oxfordshire: the Sundial

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DANEBURY TRIG POINT S1695, HAMPSHIRE


Danebury (or ‘Danebury Rings’) is an Iron Age hill fort in Hampshire. The hill is 143 m (469 ft) in height, not spectacular in itself but its prominence in the landscape gives clear, distant views in all directions over the county and beyond. The fort itself covers around 12 acres, and was extensively excavated in the 1970s. The evidence suggests it was built in the c6 BC, and was used for some 500 years. 

Danebury Trig Point S1695

We hadn’t walked on Danebury for many years, though we drive past it frequently. When we set off for a walk there, I didn’t even know about the trig point – though the location makes perfect sense for one. I had no camera with me, just an iPhone. On a chilly, cloudy May day, these photos will at least give some idea of the extensive views from the Trig Point across the patchwork of fields. Next time, we’ll choose a clear sunny day for a walk there…

Danebury Trig Point S1695Danebury Trig Point S1695Danebury Trig Point S1695Danebury Trig Point S1695Danebury Trig Point S1695Danebury Trig Point S1695 - the plate

CLOSWORTH CHURCH, SOMERSET: A TOMB & A SUNDIAL


Closworth, a small village on the Somerset / Dorset border, has a fine church with c13 origins. The village itself is best known for its historical importance as a bell-foundry between the c16 and c18, originating with the Purdue family. Few traces of the foundry remain, but some notable bells survive from its earliest days, for example in Wells Cathedral.

A quick visit to the church revealed two items of interest for this blog: a fine early c17 tomb; and an agreeable but gnomon-less sundial of uncertain date.

TOMB OF WILLIAM COLLINS, 1609

HERE . LYETH . THE . BODIE .
OF . WILLIAM . COLLINS . THE .
SONNE . OF . ELLIS . COLLINS . WHO
DIED . THE . XXIX . OF . IAN
ANO . DOMI . 1609

The inscription on this lichened hamstone tomb is in leaded letters set into the stone and fixed. Not all have survived the intervening centuries. I have no idea how this was achieved, but presumably the lettering was first cut into the stone; and with the stone on a horizontal surface the lead was then added to fit the incisions, and pinned in place. The result is pleasingly rustic, with some ornamentation of the As and Hs. This type of inscription-work may not be particularly unusual, but seeing this ancient tomb dappled by sunlight on a spring day made it seem special. And I always enjoy ornamental dates.

Tomb 1609. All Saints Church Closworth, Somerset Tomb 1609. All Saints Church Closworth, Somerset Tomb 1609. All Saints Church Closworth, Somerset

 

SUNDIAL: ALL SANTS CHURCH, CLOSWORTH

We didn’t notice the sundial on the way into the churchyard. Our attention had been drawn to a tall memorial to the other side of the path. On the way out, it was of course obvious – as was the lack of a gnomon. Like the tomb and the gateposts, the pillar appears to be made from the local hamstone. There isn’t much information to be gleaned from the dial itself. There’s no maker’s mark (though sometimes those are hidden on the underside of the plate). At a guess, it is c19, but any comments would be welcome.

Sundial, All Saints Church Closworth, Somerset Sundial, All Saints Church Closworth, Somerset Sundial, All Saints Church Closworth, Somerset Sundial, All Saints Church Closworth, Somerset

‘UNEXPECTED TIMES’: A SUNDIAL ON THE PONTE VECCHIO


sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-4

Florence in January.  -8°C at night, zero during the day – but sunny enough in the middle of the day to be able to have coffee or even lunch outside. Apart from the Uffizi, no queues for anywhere. Most significant places on the tourist trail almost to oneself. Despite the cold, there is no frost: the air is so dry that the pavements, piazzas and even the cars are quite clear of frozen white crystals. By the river I caught the electric flash of a male kingfisher flying up from the water to an overhanging bush, his hunting perch. I watched him as he scanned the water below, occasionally diving down and returning to the same branch. Twice, I could see the glint of a tiny fish in his beak. 

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-5

Since I was 17 I have been lucky enough to visit Florence quite often, not least because Mrs RH regularly goes there on business, and I am a keen ‘trailing spouse’. Over the years I don’t know how often I have crossed the Ponte Vecchio – or even simply walked to the mid-point to admire the views up and down river from the open areas between the pricey shops. This time I was walking the length of the Vasari corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. A section runs straight over the bridge and then passes across the facade of Santa Felicita, into which the Medici family could sneak from the corridor to a large private balcony for spiritual refreshment. Passing the middle of the west side of the bridge, in the ‘tourist photo opp’ gap where Cellini’s bust adds to the photogenic view, I have never before looked upwards.

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-2

Here, on the roof of a shop, is an ancient sundial, supported by a white marble pillar. An eroded and almost illegible engraving below the pillar records that in 1333, floods caused the bridge to collapse and that “twelve years later, as pleased the Commune, it was rebuilt with this ornamentation”. The sundial itself, with its columnar divisions reminiscent of a rose window, marks the CANONICAL HOURS. The gnomon’s shadow indicates the hour of the day. If the sundial is the ‘ornamentation’ to which the inscription refers, then it is around 650 years old.

If you look closely at the pillar, you’ll see, halfway up the south face of the hexagonal column, a lizardsundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-1

Seeing the sundial for the first time ever, yet in such a familiar place was a reminder that Florence is a city that demands great attention as one walks through the streets. Many buildings, even unassuming ones, have fine adornments high up that will catch the eye… but only if you are looking out for them. 

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-7

A PUZZLING SUNDIAL IN THE PYRÉNÉES-ORIENTALES


VILLEFRANCHE-DE-CONFLENT is a small medieval walled town in Catalan country. It is watched over by Fort Liberia, one of VAUBAN‘s massive defensive constructions in this historically strategic area. The town is charming, and additionally famous for being the start of the ‘Train Jaune’, a picturesque narrow-gauge railway that climbs high into the Pyrénées. The amazing altitude rise is from 1250 ft at Villefranche to 5000 ft at the track’s summit just above the village of Mont Louis (which has its own Vauban fort) 

Double sundial, Villefranche-de-Conflent, Pyrénées-Orientales

The sundial above is high up on a house in the church square. It doesn’t exactly draw the eye, and would be very easy to miss. It’s on the house next to the Mairie (right, with the Catalan flag), below the small top windows.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

TWO DIALS IN ONE

The main dial is etched and painted on cement, with roman numerals and showing hours, halves and quarters. The long gnomon is attached beneath a small sculpted head from which sun rays radiate – a simple representation of a solar deity. Above the head can be seen numbers, of which only 11 and 8 at the start, and 3 at the end can be made out with any certainty. Possibly, it is a date: the dial (which is not ancient) is otherwise undated and it is very hard to guess its age. I can find no explanation for the initials DS (top left, Gothic font) and ER (top right, normal font). 

The small dial-within-a-dial shows the hours only, with arabic numerals. The gnomon points straight down. I am unsure of its purpose as a supplementary dial on the same plane, but I hope to find out.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

INSCRIPTION

The words “COM MES SOL FA MES BE ESCRIC” are Catalan and mean roughly “When it is sunny, I write (show the time) well”. This rather charming inscription was apparently added around 2000 by the village pastor.

Credit: for information, Michel Lalos, who has compiled a comprehensive illustrated record of the sundials of the Pyrénées-Orientales.

A HANDSOME & COMPLEX SUNDIAL IN NORMANDY


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This sundial is something rather special. This decorative dial is both elegant and very complex. It must have taken a long time to devise and lay out accurately. It stands in the extensive grounds of the elegant Abbey Church of St Georges de Boscherville in Normandy. I managed to get hold of a small pamphlet in the Abbey bookshop – it wasn’t on display, and I had to go back to collect it once they found one. Even then I failed to understand the sundial properly, and not simply because of my rusty but workable French. I’m not even going to attempt to describe it, but it photographs well in its picturesque setting, and I have included a shot of the explanatory plaque at the end for the science-minded.

One fact I learnt is that until WWII, France was on Greenwich Meantime. During the occupation, the Germans changed the time zone to Central European time, a practice that has remained ever since.

St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1.1 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 2

St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 3St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1. 1 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 4 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 5 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 6 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 7

Does this help?St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 8

JUMIEGES ABBEY: AN ELABORATE EARLY SUNDIAL


Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 1

A picnic lunch at the Abbey of Jumièges, Normandy, has much to commend it – not least tranquility and a stunning view. As we sat enjoying the sunshine on our white bench, we both noticed something unusual on the nearest tower, something not mentioned in anything we had read about the Abbey. On the south wall below the 4 levels of arcaded towers you’ll see in the header image a small red item pointing down at 45º. A gnomon – and where there’s a gnomon, there’s a sundial (although the reverse is often not the case). So we went to investigate.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 3

The Abbaye de Jumièges was a Benedictine monastery founded in 654AD. In the c9, the original abbey was burned down by Vikings, then rebuilt. A new and larger Abbey was consecrated in 1067, and it was further enlarged in the c13. Restoration work was carried out in the late c16. Subsequently, a vast sundial dated 1660 was crudely carved in the south face of the tower.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 4

The primitive design and execution of the sundial is rather at odds with the architectural precision of the stonework and the daring of the conceit of  building a hexagonal tower on two square ones, and topping it off with a circular tower… just because they could. The rustic sundial has more in common with the medieval Mass or Scratch sundials on churches, primitive devices that originally evolved simply to indicate the time of the next Mass, with the Priest moving a stick into the appropriate hole on the wall to mark the forthcoming canonical hour. From being an ‘event marker’, the addition of a gnomon and roughly scratched numerals placed higher on a church wall would later provide a community with a way to mark the hours – at least when the sun shone.

A rough medieval scratch dial above a church door near Epernay (sans gnomon)France sundial

Longburton Church, Dorset: a more sophisticated scratch dial high on the Ham stone south wall – ?c16Longburton Church, Dorset: scratch sundial

Returning to Jumièges, here is a closer look at the sundial, with embellishments that seem to have been carved freehand and endearingly ineptly for such a splendid and august building. Yet the time markers have clearly been carved with precision. My only negative comment on this exuberant and enjoyable timepiece is the modern gnomon that looks completely out of place to me. Maybe it’s the colour that’s the problem. Or the flat utilitarian blade of metal. Anyway, without glimpsing it from our picnic spot we would never have seen that side of the tower, and we would have missed an unusual treat.

Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 5Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 2Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 7

All images: RH

 

ROCK FORMATIONS AT THURLESTONE, DEVON (1)


Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 04

A long weekend spent at Thurlestone, Devon for a family event – a cheerful one – meant time to explore an unfamiliar area. And the rocks on the beach were quite unlike any we had seen before; certainly unlike anything on our part of the Dorset coast, 100 miles or so to the west. So I took some photos. Having no geological knowledge, I can’t say if this is part of the real – or even the flexibly tourist office-defined – “Jurassic Coast”, but I suspect not. Here are some of the strange bumpy many-hued formations.

Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 03Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 02 Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 05Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 01Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 06Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 07Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 08Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 09Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 12Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 10Thurlestone Rocks, Devon (L) 11

CHINESE NEW YEAR AT CHISWICK HOUSE


Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 06

Chinese New Year was celebrated at Chiswick House with a spectacular display of large and colourful inflatable animals from around the world. The same display had previously been used at Longleat. We watched them being installed; and once the event had been opened, it was the perfect place to take children as night fell.

Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 10 Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 09 Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 08 Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 07 Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 05 Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 03 Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 02 Chinese New Year 2016 Chiswick House 01

RAMSGATE HARBOUR, KENT


These photographs of Ramsgate Harbour were taken on a bright September day as we went on a 3-generational family seal boat trip, and on our return. Ramsgate Harbour 1 Ramsgate Harbour 2 Ramsgate Harbour 3 Ramsgate Harbour 4 Ramsgate Harbour 5 Ramsgate Harbour 6 Ramsgate Harbour 7

The photo below shows Pugin’s home The Grange, now a Landmark Trust property where we were staying for a family occasion. To the right is St Augustine’s, the church designed by Pugin and completed after his death by his son Edward. It has a nice walled garden, but overlooks the now-defunct ferry terminal, which slightly mars the charm…Ramsgate Harbour 8 Ramsgate Harbour 9 Ramsgate Harbour 10 Ramsgate Harbour 11 Ramsgate Harbour 12