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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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

ST GEORGE, PORTLAND, DORSET: UNUSED BUT NOT UNLOVED


St George Portland Dorset 1

St George, Portland stands high up on Portland, Dorset. Built from the famed local Portland stone in an unusual mish-mash of styles, it is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, which will at least ensure its survival even if services are no longer regularly  held there. Pevsner calls it “the most impressive c17 church in Dorset”.

St George Portland Dorset 3St George Portland Dorset 2

The church and churchyard contain plenty of reminders of Portland’s past both as a significant stone quarrying area, and as a place of major nautical importance. There can’t be many churches with a memorial for those killed by a press gang.

St George Portland Dorset 4St George Portland Dorset 5St George Portland Dorset 6

The churchyard is rather wild in places and contains some large commemorative statues. We were intrigued by one quite tidy grave (below) and were left wondering about the design – the little roofed gateway, the raised apart in the top right corner. What does that indicate?

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The thick grey walls of St George are typical of the local stone.St George Portland Dorset 10 St George Portland Dorset 11 St George Portland Dorset 12

The unkempt churchyard is a good place for wildlife, with plenty of hunting perches for kestrelsSt George Portland Dorset 8