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My favourite sundials in Suffolk, England

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This list was compiled by John Davis, who lives in Suffolk and was for a long time editor of the BSS Bulletin. It gives the National Grid references. The positions of all these sundials is also noted on the comprehensive map on the website of the British Sundial Society. All the pictures on this site are Copyright © 2012 British Sundial Society.

Aldeburgh TM 466567
The first in the alphabetic list, Aldeburgh is an absolute must for all sundial lovers, featuring four fine dials within a few minutes walk. Indeed, even a local road and a residential home feature sundials in their names. The most noted dial is on the ancient Moot Hall, which now stands virtually on the pebble beach. Despite everything that the elements can throw at it, the wood-and-plaster dial is maintained in excellent condition. It is virtually south facing, as are two of the other dials, on private houses but easily visible from the narrow streets. One is in Oakley Square, and the other in Dial Lane. On a small side road off the sea front is another vertical dial which is significant in that it faces approximately west, with the result that the shadow-casting gnomen has its origin just off the bottom right hand corner of the dial face, rather than the centre top as is standard for the common south facing dials. The house which bears this dial was up for sale when the photograph was taken, so we must hope the new owners give the dial the care that it warrants. Aldburgh is a delightful place for a walk along the beach, especially when the sun is shining and the fishing boats are being dragged up the shingle. Don't forget to buy a fresh lobster, or visit a local restaurant!
Ashby, near Lowestoft TM 466567
This modern sundial dates from 1997. The church is Saxon, and originally had a round tower, which fell down many centuries ago, and was replaced with an octagonal tower on the base of the original. The octagonal tower has a slight twist on it, which meant that the declination could not be estimated from the ground. The sundial is on the southernmost face and shows the hours from 6am to 5pm. The hour lines are formed from golden arrows with heads and flights pointing towards the gnomon root. The half hours are marked by the meeting points of the arrows, and the quarter hours by the edges of the flights. The sundial is set on two stone corbels in flint wall. The gnomon designed to throw a similar arrow shadow with a supporter that derives from the initials of the donor, P Nicholson. The motto reads: “Aim higher than the mark.”
Badingham TM305682
The fine 15th century church in Badingham stands on a hillside.It is not exactly south-facing, so the sundial standing over the gable of the flint and stone porch is set at a slight angle. This allows it to be completely symmetrical, showing all the hours between 6 am and 6 pm, with local noon being on the central vertical.

 

 

 

 

Brandon TL 777862 Brandon is in the north of the county, near to Thetford and the famous "Grimes Graves", which are prehistoric flint mines. The presence of flint is seen in St.Peter's church on the south of the town, where there is a rare example of a direct west facing dial on the tower. Although it is slightly cracked and weathered - not surprising since it dates from 1725 - it carries the names of the churchwardens, as well as the hours along the top. The hour lines, together with those for the half- and quarter- hours, are parallel with each other and run diagonally across the face, which must have made it particularly easy to read in its original state. Definitely one for an afternoon visit, if you want to see it "in action"

 

 

 

Boxford TL 963405 A very clear slate dial made by Elliott Brothers of London is to be found on the church in Boxford, near to Monks Eleigh and Hadleigh. Although not quite south-facing, it is marked with the hours from 6 am to 6 pm, and shows clearly the traditional use of the Roman IIII instead of IV. The large 15th century church also has a mass dial.

Bury St Edmunds TL 855640
The walls of the old Abbey in Bury St Edmunds are well preserved and the surrounding gardens are a very pleasant place to wander and sit on the grass after a mornings shopping. Amongst the flowers is a fine pillar dial with the column dating from 1870, although the dial is probably significantly older. Nearby, on the side of the cathedral, is a dial with a simple but elegant support for the gnomen, and the common Suffolk motto of "Go about your business"


Clare TL 769455 The well preserved and much-photographed 18th century dial on church in Clare is another with the motto "Go about your business", on this occasion in old English script. It is variously ascribed to either an old Archbishop of St Edmundsbury, or to his gardener.

Copdock TM 121416 Now that the original A12 from London to Ipswich has been bypassed, the old Copdock is rather off the beaten track, and its church is a hidden oasis. This very sharply incised dial appears at first sight to have been produced after the death of "GR" in 1935. However, the lettering giving these dates has been cut through the hour lines, suggesting that they are a later addition. It could be that this is a replacement dial, because there are reference from before the war to "an ancient sundial".


East Bergholt TM 083343 East Bergholt is only just in Suffolk, being a central part of the wonderful Constable countryside, and sometimes being thought of as Essex. Nearby Flatford Mill is now submerged with tourists, and East Bergholt has grown considerable, but the old town is still pleasant. Constable met his wife in this church, and would have seen the dial when he painted the porch. The very clear wooden dial has now not been painted for a number of years but its traditional shape and motto make it a classic example.


Flowton TM 085469 Flowton is just outside Ipswich, and is home to a sundial enthusiast who has used a painted wooden dial on the south-east side of his house as a nameplate. If you walk round towards the church and look back towards the house across the fields, a second dial can be seen, this time echoing the village sign. The church itself, with sheep sometimes in the churchyard, has at least two ancient mass dials engraved in its walls, looking out towards Hadleigh. Look out, too, for the old vicarage with its magnificent brick chimneys, now braced against the roof.

 

 

 

 

Frostenden TM 479818 The dial on the church in Frostenden, which is some way from the main road, is an example of what happens to poorly maintained wooden dials. This one is still quite fine, but others which were known fifty years ago have been sadly lost. If you know of one near you, please make contact and try to save it.

 

 

 

 

 

Great Barton 890660 Like many old dials, the one at Great Barton has a rather severe Latin motto, this one reading "They perish and are reckoned". The tomb of Sir Henry Bunbury is here, in the town where he broke the news to Napolean that he was to spend the remainder of his life on St. Helena. If you look carefully at the oldest part of the church (dating from the 13th century), a mass dial can be seen in the surround of an ancient blocked-off doorway.


Great BricettTM 223511
In the charming quiet hamlet of Great Bricett, halfway between Stowmarket and Hadleigh and not far from Wattisham airfield, is a quaint 600 year old church with a house built onto it. In the wall of church is a round stone with a central hole which could be as early as Saxon. It could well have come from the remains a nearby abbey - certainly, this place is of considerable antiquity and the local houses have some very early woodwork both internally and externally. Note that in this and other mass dials, the original gnomen would have projected horizontally from the central hole, and the hour lines are arranged to tell the times of the masses. At this period, there was no standard clock and the hours of daylight would have been divided into twelve equal "hours", with the result that an hour was longer in summer than in winter.

Grundisburgh TM 223511 Grundisbugh (pronounced "Grunsbrr") lies on the river Finn, which passes through the pleasant village green. The original church is 14th century but it is the 18th century brick tower which holds a most interesting dial. It declines significantly towards the east, so it is best to visit it in the morning. It is most noticeable for the extra lines and scales on its face, known as dial furniture to aficionados. The circular scales around the base of the gnomen can be used to tell the time at places with different longitudes, although the particular locations are not given. The curved diagonal lines labelled 8 through to J6 are a puzzle, though. They are read by the shadow of the small spherical nodus about a third of the way along the gnomen. Usually, lines like these indicate the month of the year or the sun's declination, with the lines showing the winter solstice at the top, the summer solstice at the bottom, and both the spring and autumn equinoxes in the middle. In this case there are too many lines, and the equinox line is not straight as it should be. Altogether an intriguing, if suspicious, dial!

Ipswich TM 171447 It has to be admitted that the armillary sphere in the garden of Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich's Christchurch Park is not a particularly fine example. It is rusty and not even properly aligned with the sun's path. Nevertheless, it does form a good reason to visit an excellent local museum with much of interest, and to stroll in a beautiful rolling park. Although armillary spheres make very striking garden decorations, they are actually rather poor as timepieces as the shadow of the rings tends to obscure that of the central polar gnomen on its equinoctial scale. The park is not far from St.Helen's church, which has a fine circular dial. Sadly it has lost most of its gnomen and is rather shadowed by trees which were probably not even planted when it was erected, but it is still a good, simple example. Elsewhere in Ipswich, St. Nicholas' church has another fine stone dial, this time with an iron gnomen which is still just hanging on.

Little Saxham TL 799638 Little Saxham, just outside Bury St. Edmunds, has a small church with a one of the most curious round towers in England. The dial on the south facing porch has a broken gnomen and is of a plain but pleasant design. What most people miss, however, is that on an east facing buttress there is the gnomen of a much rarer direct-east dial. It looks like a simple iron strap sticking out a few inches from the wall, but it is exactly positioned and dimensioned to give an accurate reading of the early morning hours before the porch dial would register. Unfortunately, the dial face itself is now obliterated.

Ringsfield TM 402885 This is an example of well meaning but ignorant restoration. Ringsfield near Beccles has a well preserved thatched church. On the old Tudor brick porch is a modern stone dial which clearly replaces a much earlier one. The lettering is beautifully done, and the lines look as though they have been correctly placed. However, the crude metal gnomen is totally mispositioned. Not only is its tip far too high (it should be in the centre of the circle), but it has been placed vertically down the noon line which is only appropriate for a dial facing directly south; the slightly asymmetric hour lines show that this dial is twisted slightly to the west. One wonders that no-one noticed that it is hopelessly inaccurate, and probably just confirms the general misconception the sundials can never tell the proper time.

Thwaite TM 114682 Hidden away just off the A140, Thwaite is a pleasant little Suffolk village. Underneath the oak vaulted roof of the church is this ancient stone sundial which has suffered at the hands its restorers. The replacement gnomen sticks out like bird's perch from quite the wrong place (and wrong angle), whilst its correct location just above has been filled with cement. The extra circular makings above the 6 am to 6 pm line can never have caught the sun, and must be related to the original design and layout of the dial.

Quidenham TM 029876 It is really cheating to include this dial, as Quidenham is just over the border into Norfolk. However, it is such a little gem with its figures of bishops and quaint hooded men that it is worth stretching a point. The coat of arms seen on this cast dial is repeated as a large woodcarving inside the church, where it is described as the "Royal coat of arms of the Stuarts".

 

 

 

Witnesham TM 180509 The embattled tower on Witnesham church, just north of Ipswich, neatly demonstrates three ages of timekeeping. Just to the left of the door is a medieval mass dial, carefully left exposed when the tower was later rendered. Next there is the 18th century sundial, set at an angle to the buttress to allow it to face directly south. Finally, the octagonal clock with a single hand, alas no longer working, covers an old window. Prior to the war, it was reported that "from time immemorial bees have hived behind the sundial" and, in the summer of 1996 their descendants could still be seen flying in a steady stream into the gap at the top of the dial. On this occasion, there was no sign of the honey which sometimes overflows the combs into the tower.

Woodbridge TM 276491
Elmshurst Park in Woodbridge is not far from the Deben estuary, the famous working Tide Mill, and all the yacht building and repairing activity around the harbour. The town, with its crowded old streets and buildings, is one of the most pleasant in Suffolk in which to walk. The park was presented to the town by Lord Woodbridge, and amongst the flowers of the park is this excellent modern equatorial dial made from stainless steel in 1988 by the local maker R S Simon. Most sundials have only one moving part (the sun!) but this one can be rotated bodily about its axis by the observer. A date scale cleverly built into the stem thus allows the dial to correct for the Equation of Time, so that the shadow may be read directly in either British Summer Time or Greenwich Mean Time. A plate at the base of the dial gives its latitude and also shows south.

Worlingworth TM 233687 The dial on St. Mary's Church Worlingworth is set high over the porch, which is a pity as it is rather small and well worth studying. It is in excellent condition, especially as it is dated 1663, and has a curious combination of both Arabic and Roman numerals. The terse Latin motto, much favoured at that time, warns us the "The night cometh".

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