Our Top 10 London Sundials
If your familiar with the London weather you’ll realize that a sundial is perhaps not the most obvious way of telling the time here. That hasn’t stopped sundials being built though, and you can find them all over London. There’s something really nice about measuring the passing of time by measuring the sun moving across the sky, its a nice reminder that we are on this rotating ball of rock going around the sun and however busy our day that is never going to change. So the Footprints guides have chosen ten of their favourite London sundials.
1 St Katherine’s Dock Sundial
Neil Sinclair chose the superbly located sundial outside St Katherine’s docks. It was designed by 1973 by Wendy Taylor and consists of a stainless steel ring supported by three rigid chain cables.
Look out for Neil’s walk based around the story of London’s bridges soon.
2 Seven Dials
Sue Bingham and Jenni Bowley chose Seven Dials “Standing at the junction of seven streets in London’s West End is a pillar topped with six – yes, six – sundials, so why is it called “Seven Dials”? It’s possible that the pillar itself is intended to be the seventh! The layout of the area was originally designed by Thomas Neale, an MP and entrepreneur, in the early 1690s – it was part of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 – and initially only six streets met at this point. Neale hoped the area would attract the well-off, but by the 19th century the area had become one of the city’s most notorious slums, considered part of the infamous rookery of St Giles. This pillar is a replica, unveiled by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands to commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II in June, 1989. The original column was first acquired by an architect, James Paine, who kept it at his house in Surrey. In 1820 was re-erected in Weybridge as a memorial to Princess Frederica, Duchess of York (who had lived there). The dial-stone was used as a mounting block before eventually being placed outside the Weybridge Library.”
Jenni’s next walk for Footprints is on August 24th its called City Safari – Here be Dragons
3 The Burdett Coutts sundial
Rob Smith nominated the Burdett Coutts sundial in Old St Pancras churchyard. “This sundial was funded by the Victorian super philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts, one of hundreds of causes she supported with money inherited from Coutts bank. The sundial acts as a memorial to those whose grave was damaged or moved by the Midland railway during the construction of St Pancras. The railway could either go through a gas works or a graveyard, and the latter was substantially cheaper. However when news broke that gravestones were being smashed and bodies unceremonially removed during construction, an outcry ensued. Angela Burdett Coutts sought to help by funding the memorial sundial, which records the names of those that lost their gravestone. If you look closely you can see a lot of the names are French – the St Pancras area was home to refugees from the French Revolution.
You can see this sundial on Rob’s walk All Change at Kings Cross on August 7th
4 St Dunstan in the East
Jenny Bowley nominates St Dunstan in the East – “One of my favourite places in the City – the Wren church with a beautiful spire was badly damaged by wartime bombing, but in 1971 the tower and the nave walls were incorporated into a peaceful garden. In the lower garden and next to a fig tree (which was planted on St Patrick’s Day 1937, the coronation day of George VI) there’s a slate sundial, with the inscription “In memory of Hugh Gyle-Thompson Citizen and gardener 1913-1972″.”
5 Lauderdale House sundial
Jen Pedler likes this sundial from Waterlow Park near Archway. This huge wrought-iron sundial forms the centrepiece of the gardens of Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park and is a surviving feature of the formal garden of Sir Sydney Waterlow who donated the park to the public in 1889. There’s a plaque set into the surround of the sundial with a quotation from
Andrew Marvell’s ‘The Garden’.
“How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new,
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!”
Marvell lived in a cottage nearby on Highgate Hill. The cottage was part of
Sir Sydney’s estate and was demolished in the 1860s. A plaque on the hill
commemorates its site.
This one of two C19 sundials in the garden. The other has an inscription on
its dial plate noting that it is on a level with the top of the dome of St
You can see this sundial on Jen’s Archway My Way walk, look out for the next one soon
6 Sundial House
Stephen Benton chose this little gem from a house in Hampstead “This is at the orginally named Sundial House, Holly Hill, NW3 which comes out just opposite Hampstead tube station. I have been unable to track down any info about this particular sundial but it is quite sweet”
Stephen has a new walk looking at the history of Merton Park on August 16th
7 Chartehouse Great Hall
Jenny Bowley managed to find the oldest sundial out of the ones we picked – the sundial on the wall of the Great Hall dates back to 1628. It carries the arms of Thomas Sutton – a fabulously wealthy coal dealer who funded the creation of a school and almshouse at Charterhouse to house “either decrepit or old Captaynes either at Sea or Land”
8 Old Palace Yard Sundial
Jenny Rossiter acts as the gnomon in this picture of the sundial at Old Palace Yard, Westminster. The gnomon is the part of the sundial that casts the shadow allowing you to tell the time. The sundial designed by Quentin Newark was Parliament’s gift to H.M Queen Elizabeth II to mark her Golden Jubilee in 2002. Around the outside is a quotation from Shakespeare’s King Henry V. It reads “To carve out dials quaintly, point by point, thereby to see the minutes how they run: how many makes the hour full complete, how many hours brings about the day, how many days will finish up the year, how many years a mortal man may live.”
Jenny will be raising money for Amnesty with her walk looking at radicals of Camden Town on September 3rd
9 Horniman Museum Sundial Trail
Peter Henderson pointed out that the Horniman Museum has a fabulous collection of sundials in its gardens. The one in the picture uses two gnomons shaped like the H from the Horniman logo to create a reading on a linear scale – this type of sundial is called a double polar.
Peter is looking at life in London during World War One in his next walk on July 30th
10 Fournier Street Mosque
Sean Gay picked this beautiful stone and iron sundial placed on this Spitalfields building in 1743. At that time the building was a chapel for the Huguenot community. In 1809 it became a Methodist chapel, in 1897 it became a synagogue, in 1970 it became a mosque. Despite the constant changes the sundial has remained the same. Its motto Umbra Sumus “We are but shadows” seems somewhat poignant.
Sean will be raising money for Amnesty on October 11th with a walk looking at wealth and poverty in Soho and Covent Garden
As ever our top 10 is something of a personal selection – there were many more we could have included – let us know your favourite – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org of twitter @footprintsldn