Dial on Bampton Church

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. VII, (1912-1913), Exeter: James G. Commin. 1913, illus. pp. 209-210.


H. Michell Whitley

Prepared by Michael Steer

From early Saxon times to the Renaissance, church services alone kept time in most towns and villages throughout Great Britain, and medieval sundials were once commonly found on the walls of churches throughout the country. Today, of the 1,956 surviving vertically-fixed sundials so far recorded in Britain by the British Sundial Society, 60% are to be found on ecclesiastical buildings. Surviving sundials are often delightfully ornamented, but many are worn almost beyond recognition, recording the passage of time in a manner never intended. Many more have been lost, some through theft, others as a result of their steady erosion by the elements and decay, making those that survive all the more precious. The oldest sundial on a Devon church is at Bampton, inscribed 1586 with the initials DT. It is set into the Rood Loft stair turret on the south side of the church and is a hybrid between a scratch- and a true sun-dial, but is incomplete (the gnomon is missing) and weather-beaten. It is a Grade I listed monument. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 148. Dial on Bampton Church. - On the southern side of many churches of England rude vertical dials are found incised on the jambs of doors and buttresses and quoin stones, which indicated the canonical hours. These were as follows: -

6 a.m. — Matins.
7.30 a.m. — Lauds.
9 a.m. — Nones.
Noon — Sext.
3 p.m. — Tierce.
4.30 p.m. — Compline.
6 p.m. — Vespers.

The earliest and best known of such dials are those on Kirkdale Church, Yorkshire and Bishopstone Church, Sussex. The former is a superb example of an early dial, dating between 1063 and 1065, the lines indicating Matins, Lauds, Nones, Sext, Tierce, Compline and Vespers. The inscription on it 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 day's sun mark,
At every time,
And Hayward wrought me
And Brand the priest."

The dial at Bishopstone 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 subdivided into three hours, making up the twelve hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., in accordance with the old Jewish division of time called "the old unequal planetary hours," which the early Christian Church universally adopted. This dial dates from the eleventh century.

Built into the turret containing the rood loft stairs of Bampton Church, I recently found a unique dial shown on the accompanying photograph, being dated. It is circular, the lower half only being divided to show each hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., their Roman numbers being inserted on the marginal rim, the upper half of which is marked "Anno Domi, 1586," and the initials "D. F." are cut on the stone on each side ; the gnomon is gone, but the deep hole it fitted into remains. It is possible that this dial is copied from a more ancient one, and the stone below, which is imperfect, has a hole which might have been made for a gnomon.

The other photograph shows a fourteenth century dial I found on the door of the ruined church of Flaunden, Herts, showing the canonical hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is a fair example of a medieval dial.

On the jambs of this door will be noticed several of the curious markings generally known as "pilgrim's marks." The Bampton dial is the only one I have as yet found in Devon- shire, but I have no doubt that there are several, especially on fourteenth and fifteenth century churches; and I would suggest a search by those interested in the subject that any found might be put on record.

                             H. MICHELL WHITLEY.