Sussex Mass & Scratch Dials





Scratch Dials  are medieval time indicators found scratched onto surviving medieval churches.

They usually occur on vertical wall faces on the Chancel or around the south door.
Some have been moved over the years to strange (useless) positions, inverted on a non-south facing wall or covered by a later porch.
Some churches have several dials sometimes in a variety of positions.

Also referred to as Mass Dials (Mass Clocks), it being thought that their main purpose was indicating the time for celebrating the daily Mass.

These dials were gradually replaced by scientific sundials and mechanical clocks beginning in the 16th century.
The great cost of this 'progress' meant that many churches would have continued using their dials for some time.

As with other heritage features, there is almost no contemporary written evidence as to their purpose and use.
See the bibliography for books with ideas and discussions of dials.
The links page has a range of related sites.

This site seeks to identify surviving examples and track their condition to encourage their protection from loss or further deterioration.

Organisation of locations is by the medieval local government areas - Rapes.
Originally there were five, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey, Hastings. Later Arundel was split into Chichester and a reduced Arundel Rape.
The study of Rapes and their subdivisions - Hundreds is an interesting topic in itself.

It is thought that all medieval churches would have had a version of a Scratch Dial, but 500+ years of change, restoration and 'improvements'? has reduced the number across Sussex today, to some 90 which are reviewed here - not all are visible today, but have appeared in some way in texts over the last 150 years.

Detailed statistical analysis of type, survival, grouping or whatever is avoided as so much is artificial and seemingly pointless academic posturing.

Enjoy their individuality and think of the countless people who have used or attended services prompted by their indications. 


If you think you have located one not listed, please advise me. (It is not impossible, I have identified several that had not previously appeared in the published texts and re-discovered others, thought lost)

Do not
be confused by Ordnance Survey 'Bench Marks' see here


From a file at West Sussex Record Office (MP5725), two sites added, Westhampnett and West Wittering 11-10-2009



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Last modified: 14-Oct-2009