PRIMITIVE SUNDIALS ON WEST SUSSEX CHURCHES
By H. MICHELL WHITLEY
On many of the old parish churches
of Sussex, as in other Counties, are to be found primitive sundials cut
generally on the quoins and jambs of windows and doors.
These primitive dials are known as
scratch dials from being in many cases lightly incised, and their origin and use
has given rise to many theories which it is not necessary to discuss here as it
is now generally accepted they were used to tell the hours for the services as
well as indicating time.
These dials differ from the more
modern true sundial, firstly, in being cut on the stones of the church itself
instead of on a plate set to face due south to allow for the variation of the
church from due east and west, and secondly the style or gnomon is inserted at a
right angle and not sloping at an angle which varies according to the latitude
of the place.
These dials also never have figures
to denote the time until the XVIth and XVIIth centuries.
There has thus been in historic
times a mode of marking time and services. First, the Saxon dials, which went
out of use at the time of the Norman Conquest, then the scratch dial, which
continued until the XVIth century, when the sloping style came into use, being
succeeded by the modern scientific dial, two good examples of which can be seen
on Chichester Cathedral.
The introduction of clocks in large
churches and monasteries took place in the XIIIth century, and they were fairly
general in such buildings in the early part of the next, and for many years they
have become general in our churches. Reverting now to the Saxon dials, the most
noteworthy is a superb example on the south porch of Kirkdale Church, Yorkshire,
the inscription on which fixes the date between 1063 and 1065 ; the day being
divided into tides. The inscription reads as follows : " Orm, the son of Gamel,
bought St. Gregory's Minster, when it was all broken and fallen down, and he
caused it to be made new from the ground to Christ and Saint Gregory in the days
of Edward the King, and Tosti the Earl.
This is the days' sun mark
At every tide,
And Hawarth wrought me
And Brand, the Priest."
In Sussex we have a fine example of
a Saxon dial on the south porch of Bishopstone Church. The stone on which it is
cut has a rounded top, with a Greek fret border. The dial is loin. in diameter.
There are five main rays, which divide the day into four parts, these have a
cross bar on the circle and project 1in. beyond, ending in a dot ; each part is
sub-divided into three by plain lines, thus having the octave as well as the
twelve hour system combined. Above the dial is the name Eadric, possibly that of
It shows prominently five of the
seven great canonical divisions of the day : Matins, Nones, Sext, Tierce and
Vespers ; each of the intervening spaces being again sub-divided into three
hours, making up the twelve hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. This dial dates from the
The normal position for a dial to
serve any useful purpose will, of course, be facing the sun on the south wall of
the building, and although some dials are to be found on the north, they are
generally cut on stones which have been removed from their original positions,
and rebuilt during an enlargement of the church.
If there is a priest's door or low
side window in the chancel the most likely spot to find a dial will be on one of
these, sometimes on both ; next one of the jambs of the south door of the church
is the most favourite spot, and in some churches the southern quoin stones of
the nave or chancel bear these markings.
On many churches there are several
dials ; some of these may be accounted for by alterations in the building, and
others are copies which served no useful purpose. The gnomon or style that cast
the shadow was a peg fixed at right angles to the face of the dial, none of
these styles are now intact, but several of the shanks are still in their holes.
These styles were usually of latten or wood, and a fragment of one of the former
is still in its hole at Botolphs Church ; the oak style pegs have mainly
decayed away, but portions have been extracted in several instances. These
ecclesiastical dials would serve roughly to indicate the hours for the church
In the earlier dials it will be
seen that the rays do not indicate the whole of the hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,
only a few being cut.
The noon line is marked on
practically every dial, and between 6 a.m. and noon is another line
corresponding with about 9 a.m. This was the usual hour for mass on Sundays and
Holidays in English parish churches in pre-reformation days. Another line is
found between two and three o'clock, the usual time for vespers, no doubt,
however, earlier in winter than in summer. The dials at
Coombes are a good
example of this system of marking. The only useful lines on a dial are those
below the horizontal line through the stylehole, some dials, however, consist of
a complete circle with radial lines above the style as well as below, forming a
wheel dial. This form is often met with ; possibly the superfluous lines were
added to make a symmetrical pattern.
Another type of dial is that on
which small pits are used, either in conjunction with radial lines as at
Climping, or without, as at
It is thought by some
archaeologists that wooden pegs were inserted in these holes as on the primitive
shepherds' dials which were in use on the Southdowns, before cheap watches
became general ; this might have been so in some cases, but the pits on the
Sussex dials are not deep enough to hold pegs, whilst the hole itself is a
For this paper the majority of the
churches between the Southdowns and the sea have been examined, and a large
number of them measured and drawn, but the majority do not now possess any
primitive dials, those comprised in the following list being all that were
The addition in later times of
aisles to nave and chancel and other alterations caused the removal of the
earlier work ; some of these incised stones were again used sometimes reversed
in the new work.
The drastic restorations of the
last century, and retooling face masonry are another cause of the loss of these
primitive dials, large numbers having been destroyed throughout the country, and
those left are worth saving and protecting as memorials of village life in
England in past centuries.
RAPE OF BRAMBER.
1. There is dial mark on the lowest of the stones of the western jamb of the low
side window in the north wall of the chancel ; it is 6ins. in diameter, and the
rays when in its original position are in the lower quadrant between 6 a.m. and
noon ; it has been removed from a south wall of the church.
2. There are two dials on the middle stone of the eastern jamb of the
1. The uppermost. This dial is imperfect—the stylehole being wanting. There are
four lines only, the noon line is 4in. in length, the mass line (9 a.m.) is
marked, and one intermediate line ; there is only one line on the east of the
noon line, marking the hour for vespers.
2. This is a reduced copy of No. 1.
The stylehole is kin. diameter, the length of the noon line is 2in.
There are no circles around either
of these dials, and they are of a very early type.
There is a hole resembling a
stylehole on the same stone to the east of the stylehole of No. 2, with no
markings around ; it has been suggested that possibly a painted, instead of an
incised, dial might have been used but natural holes closely resembling
styleholes are often found on the stones used in these buildings.
3. There is a dial on the eastern jamb of the low side window in the south
wall of the chancel level with the sill. The stylehole is 5ft. above ground
level and 3/8 ins. in diameter ;, the noon line is 2 ½ ins. long. There is a
medial line 5in. in length, and four lines corresponding to those at Bombes ;
one of these marks the hour for mass, the other for vespers. There are small
pits at the end of the radial lines. The style-hole is inclined, sloping
south-west, a very rare example, and there is a portion of the style in it which
appears to be of laten, an amalgam of zinc and copper much used in the middle
ages. There is no circle.
RAPE OF ARUNDEL
4. There is a hole on one of the jambs of the priest's door in the south
wall of the chancel, but no lines or circles are now visible ; lines might,
however, have been so lightly incised as to have been obliterated in the
restoration of the church. It is in a likely position for a dial, but only
The centre line of the church is 5° north of true east and west.
5. There is a dial in the east jamb of the priest's door in the south wall
of the chancel ; the stylehole is 4ft. above the ground level, the noon line is
There is only a small horizontal medial line on the eastern side of the
stylehole, which is diameter. There are four lines between 6 a.m. and the noon
line, one of them being the mass line ; there is one full line and a, short one
between noon and 6 p.m., indicating the hour for vespers. The dial is enclosed
in a circle.
The centre line of the church is 5° north of true east and west.
6. There is a dial on the east jamb of the Early English south door of the
The stylehole is tin. diameter, the noon line is , 2in. long. There are six
radiating rays below the medial line, one being the mass line, another that for
vespers ; there is no semi-circle.
On the same jamb is a small maltese cross with pits at the ends of the arms.
The centre line of the church is 17° north of true east and west.
SOUTH STOKE CHURCH.
7. There is a dial in the centre of a quoin 15in. square at the south-west
corner of the nave. The height of the stylehole is 5ft. above ground level it is
fin. in diameter, and lin. deep, a portion of the style being in it. The noon
line is 3in. in length. There is a semi-medial line from the stylehole westward,
and there are two intermediate lines in the left-hand lower quadrant, one being
the mass line. There are two shorter rays in the adjoining quadrant, one
indicating the hour for vespers. There are faint. traces of an enclosing
There is a hole in a quoin stone at the south-east corner of the nave, but this
is probably natural, as the stone of which the church is built pits easily, and
such holes are common in it.
The centre line of the church is 4° north of true east and west.
NORTH STOKE CHURCH.
8. There is a dial on the south-east quoin of the south transept of this
church. The stylehole is 4ft. 6in. above ground level and diameter, the noon
line is 4½in. long.
The dial is a semi-circle, divided by radial lines into 12 hours.
The centre line of the church is 34° north of true east and west.
9. There is a very doubtful dial on one of the quoins at the north-west
corner of the nave facing north. It is a circle 5in. in diameter 5ft. above
ground level, with a small hole in the centre, and an equilateral triangle
inscribed within. The markings are very faint, and there is a rain-water pipe
across it which prevents a close examination of the stone.
This quoin has been rebuilt.
10. There are four dial markings at this church.
1. This dial is on a stone at the south-east corner of the nave. The stylehole
is 3ft. 6in. above ground level and 3/8in. in diameter, the noon line is 3in. in
This dial consists of a circle of pits or small holes at the end of radiating
lines ; there is no circle line connecting them ; each of the two lower
quadrants having five dots dividing it into six equal spaces, giving the 12
hours, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The upper left-hand quadrant has five divisions
irregularly spaced, the right-hand one only one hole ; these were, of course,
useless for the measurement of time. The stones here bear traces of fire.
2. This dial adjoins No. 1. The height of the stylehole is 3ft. 6in. above
ground level ; there is no noon or medial line. It is 5 in. in diameter ; there
is no circle or radiating lines, the divisions being marked by holes, with the
exception of the mass hour, which is shewn by a line also. There are five holes
between 6 a.m. and noon, and one between noon and 6 p.m.
3. This dial is on the east face of the quoin stone below No. 2. The stylehole
is 2ft. 6in. above ground level ; there is no noon line, but a horizontal line
through the stylehole. The dial is 4in. diameter, and the divisions are marked
by holes. The quadrant, from 6 a.m. to noon, has four divisions, as also that
from noon to 6 p.m.
The dial has been continued above the medial line possibly at a later period,
the left-hand quadrant being divided into four irregular divisions, and the
right-hand into two.
4. This dial is on a quoin stone on the south-east corner of the nave, two
stones below dial No. 2.
Its centre is 2ft. 6in. above the ground line,. the stylehole is tin. diameter
and very shallow ; the holes are also very small and of little depth.. The noon
line is marked by two pits, as well as the horizontal medial line. There are
three radial lines in the lower left-hand quadrant, the centre marking the mass
hour, and one in the right-hand quadrant for 3 o'clock. There are no divisions
in the quadrants above the medial line.
The markings are very faint, and it is doubtful. if this dial was ever in use.
The centre line of the church is 7° north of true east and west.
11. There are three dials on the fine Norman tower this church.
1. This dial is on the south-west buttress. The. stylehole is 3ft. above ground
level, ¾in. diameter,. and 1in. deep. The noon line is 2½in. long, the dial
being 5in. diameter ; there are 13 holes arranged in a circle, with connecting
lines to the stylehole,. but no incised circle. The lower left-hand quadrant is
divided into five spaces, the right-hand one into four, the upper right-hand one
into three, and the left to two, both, of course, useless for the measurement
of time. There is a small circle around the stylehole.
2. This dial is on a quoin stone above No. 1. The stylehole is 4ft. 3in. above
ground level, 3/8in. diameter, and lin. deep. There is no medial line or noon
line, but only two pits to mark the mass hour.
3. A rudely scratched dial. The stylehole is 4in. diameter and very shallow ;
the dial is 6in. diameter, the mass line only being deeply cut in duplicate
The south-east quoin of the chancel and the west jamb of the priest's door are
covered with ivy and could not be examined.
This is actually YAPTON
12. There are two dials on the east jamb of the priest's door in the south
wall of the chancel.
1. The stylehole is 4ft. 6in. above ground level, ¼in. diameter and ½in. deep,
the style being broken off in it. The noon line is 3in. long, the circle being
6in. diameter. The rays are five in number in the lower left-hand quadrant,
marking ,the. hours from 6 a.m. to noon. In the adjoining quadrant are three
rays corresponding to the hours 1, 2 and 4 ; there is a pit at the end of the
noon line and those for 2 and 4 p.m.
This beautiful dial was deliberately mutilated in September, 1917, between the
two visits paid to this church, the initials F. E. and R. I. P. being cut upon
it. Such vandalism cannot be too severely repudiated.
2. On the third stone below. The stylehole is 2ft. 3in. above ground level and
¼in. diameter. There is a very faint circle 4in. in diameter ; the noon line is
2in. in length. There are two rays in the lower western quadrant ; there is no
mass line ; there are pits at the end of each ray.
On the stone above this dial is a hole, but nothing else.
(Yapton also one on SE corner of tower)
13. There is a very doubtful stylehole on the east jamb of the Early English
south door, with a faint line from it in the position of the hour for vespers.
'This is probably not a dial.
The centre line of the church is true east and west.
14. There are two dials in this church on the south wall.
1. The stylehole is 4ft. 3in. above ground level, ½in. diameter and ½in. deep.
The noon line 3¼in. long, the dial being 6½in. diameter. There is a semi-circle
of holes, but no circle line connecting them. There are five radial lines in the
lower and four in the right-hand quadrant ; there is no circle.
2. This dial is on a diagonal quoin. The stylehole is 3/8in. in diameter and
1in. deep ; the dial is surrounded by a circle with holes in it. The noon line
is 31in. long, the circle being 62in. in diameter.
The centre line of the church is 4° north of true east and west.
RAPE OF CHICHESTER.
15. There are two dials on the west jamb of the Norman south door.
1. This dial consists of a circle with radial lines. The stylehole is 4ft. above
ground level and 3/8in. in diameter. The noon line is 14in. in length, the
circle being 3½in. diameter. The quadrant, from 6 a.m. to noon, is divided into
four periods by three lines, the nearest to the noon line being the mass line.
The quadrant, from noon to 6 p.m., is similarly divided. The upper quadrants are
each marked out into three periods.
2. Below No. 1 on the same jamb. This dial consists of a semi-circle 3½in. in
diameter ; the noon line is 1¾in. long, the stylehole is 3/8in. diameter. The
left-hand quadrant is divided into three spaces of two hours each ; the right
hand is left blank.
On the nook shaft adjoining are three small crosses with pits at the ends of the
The centre line of the church is 5° south of true east and west.
16. There are two dials on the priest's door in the south wall of the Early
1. A beautiful little dial on the
west jamb. The stylehole is 4ft. 3in. above ground level ; it is surrounded by a
circle of two lines. The noon line is 2¾in. long, the circle, which is double,
being; 5½in. in diameter. The quadrant, from 6 a.m. to noon, is divided by
lines, with pits at their ends,. into five equal spaces. There is one imperfect
line only in the corresponding quadrant.
2. In the centre of a stone at the
opposite side of the door. This is a much ruder dial. The stylehole is 4ft. 3in.
above ground level and 3/8in. in diameter ; it is very shallow (probably blocked
by a portion of the style). The noon line is 2½in. long, the horizontal line is
very faint, the radial lines have a pit at their ends ; there is no circle. The
quadrant, from 6 a.m. to noon, has the 9 a.m. mass line and one other, and the
opposite quadrant is similarly divided.
The centre line of the church is
10° north of true east and west.
17. There are two dials on the second buttress of the south aisle from the
east end of the church.
1. A plain circle with the mass
line only shewn. The stylehole is 5ft. 6in. above ground level, ¼in. diameter
and 1in. deep ; the diameter of the circle is 7½in.
2. This dial is more elaborate than
the other. It is fully divided, enclosed in a double line circle,. and a very
good specimen of a later date.
The following churches in West
Sussex have been examined and no dials found on them :
Appledram * Houghton
Donnington North Mundham
The Author's sincere thanks are due
to our member, Mr. C. H. Goodman, who has kindly placed at his disposal the
photographs which illustrate this paper He has visited and photographed, or
drawn, several dials which are not described in this paper, not only in West but
East Sussex, and it is to be hoped that he will give our Society a paper on them
in a future volume of collections.
* = Dials now
found and on these sites
SAC LX 1919 Page 126