Matching Sundials?

David and I were recently on an underground shoot at Salomons, and in a brief period of downtime I was making idle conversation with Clive, one of the groundsmen, when out of the blue, he said "did you know that the sundial on King Charles the Martyr was one of a matching pair?"


The Sundial on the side of King Charles the Martyr Church.

An odd thing to suddenly blurt out I think you’ll agree. You can probably guess my reaction, it was halfway between intrigue and gibbering wreck. I had to know more. Like a mad fan asking for a star’s autograph I scrabbled around for some paper for Clive to draw me a map of where this mysterious sundial was.

As soon as I got back home I changed out of my dirty clothes (a long story) then grabbed the map from my pocket and headed off at top speed in the direction of Claremont School.

I hunted around trying to find it, looking everywhere - up and down the road, in and out of alleyways, nosing over garden gates, even resorting to Google Street View to help me. I’m sure I looked very suspicious, like a burglar scouting for open windows or something. It looked as if Clive's doodle would only get me so far and I’d be going home sundialless, and then I saw it. Well I saw part of it - the gnomon was poking out from the side of a house. The problem was I was on the wrong side of the fence in the wrong road. Drat. I sprinted around the other side into Cambridge Gardens.


The Cambridge Gardens Sundial.

Breathlessly I knocked on the door. Blast, nobody home. I grabbed a pen from my bag and scribbled a quick note on the back of a card and posted it through the letterbox, really not expecting to get any reply.

Well what do you know, that very evening my faith in the wonderful friendly people of Tunbridge Wells was proven as a new email arrived from the owners, Tony and Peggy.

"Thanks for your note. Unfortunately we know nothing about it! The house was built in 1901 by Edmund Burke Harris whose initials are engraved in a brick on the front of the house. At that time the Claremont school playing field was just a field so why put up a sundial? (Assuming it is that old). When decorating we have found traces of a heavy 'Tudor' style so maybe Mr Harris just liked old things. He must have been confident that nothing was going to be built on the field."


A drawing of the King Charles the Martyr Church Sundial taken from The Book of Sundials by Mrs. Alfred Gatty, published 1872.

Alas my history hunt ends almost as soon as it had begun as I couldn't find any more information about this sundial, could it have been a copy made by someone who really loved the one on the church? Could it be made by the same manufacturer? You have to admit, it is very similar, especially when comparing it with the drawing above, in fact the drawing looks more like the Cambridge Gardens sundial than the church one.

So, do you think it's a pair for the one on King Charles the Martyr Church? Whatever it is it's a lovely little snippet of Tunbridge Wells architectural history.

A huge thank you to Tony and Peggy, and the team and Tunbridge Wells Museum for their help in making this post.

10 Comments so far. Why not leave yours?

Oooh how intriguing. I love the fact that there is still plenty of "mystery" things to find in the town, even today!

Fabulous discovery. Alan Savidge's book 'The Story of King Charles the Martyr (1969) says that the sundial was installed in 1771, made by Ray or (Rae).

The sundial has recently been carefully restored, and the gnomon (the metal arm) has been re-gilded, as per the original.

Thanks for the comment, Michael. I was hesitant to post that the sundial was made by Rae as, and I asked a lot of people, we think that the quote was made by Rae and not the actual dial.

The motto "You may waste but cannot stop me" comes from the 4th to last line of a poem entitled The Voice of the Sundial. It was not written by Alex Rae. He made the sundial not the poem thats why it says Alex Rae fecit with "fecit" of course being latin for "made by" not written by.Perhaps some poetry expert can find out the name of the author of this poem. You can read the whole poem online-just do a google search of the motto and look for a blog by the Brigham Young University(BYU). The whole poem appears on page 46 of the BYU yearbook for 1916.The same motto is found in the 1907 book by Humphreys entitled " The House,the garden and the steeple" which gives a list of old sundial mottos. The Sun newspaper dated Nov 28,1909 has an article about sundial mottos and the same motto appears there as one of several famous mottos. A book entitled Gardens by Viscountess Frances Wolseley dated 1919 has on page 192 in the chapter on sundials the same motto. So its clear that this is a common motto and its clear where it comes from and its clear that Alex (Alexander)Rae was the maker of the sundial and not the motto.
I checked with the British Sundial Society (BSS)and was told that the sundial on the church "dates from 1759 and that it was made by Alexander Rae and that according to the Church Guide was purchased by the church in 1771 in order to regulate the clock". This information comes from John at the BSS.It would be interesting to find the Church Guide or other church records that might give more details about the purchase of the sundial. The BSS also says that "It is common for the designer of a sundial to have been a vicar, or a local schoolmaster, or surveyor". Perhaps this can be checked out. It would be interesting to find out that if in fact the church sundial was made in 1759 where was it until installed at the church in 1771.I will look deeper into these questions and try and see what I come up with but Im in Canada and I think someone in Tunbridge Wells might have better access to records than me. Anyway Im glad to contribute something to this intersting subject.I look forward to reading what else comes to light.

I just read a report dated Nov 10,2011(sent to me by Vicar Robert Avery) by The Wall Paintings Workshop who recently completley redid the sundial on St Charles the Martyr Church.Its a fascinating report that goes on for several pages outlinging their detailed findings.Here's my summary of the main points;
1) The inspection was made Oct 11,2011 in the presence of Dr Richard Morris and Mile Eliades
2)The sundial had deteriorated in recent years and the paint scheme was flaking badly
3) The sundial measures approx 55" x45"
4)Presently painted in black gloss paint on a white background
6)The gnomon of wrought iron is securely fixed into the brickwork behing the plaster face.
7)Over the years there have been numerous repaints and that each time repainted the image on the sundial has creeped into different position than when originally made
8)The different layes of paint were analysed."The plaster dial has been repainted at least 9 times since made in the 18th century..It is not possible to know for certain if the earliest scheme found was the original decoration,but is likely to be an early one".The types of paint found allowed them to deterine about what years each repainting was done.The report indicates two schemes for 18th C; four schemes 19th C and at least three more in the 20thC.
9) It was found that the gnomen was originally gilded and so they removed the old paint and regilded it
10)Their findings "help to confirm the 1771 dating"
11) The estimated cost of the restoration was 1,730 pounds for labour,travel,materials and scaffold hire

In my opinion based on these findings the appearance of the face of this sundial has not remained the same since it was first made.In the absence of records pertaining to its manufacture it would be virtually impossible to determine its exact date of manufacture. A sundial at Moot Hall, Aldeburk,Suffolk dated 1650 for example is also bears similarities to the sundials at the church and at Cambridge Gardens so it appears to have been a popular design in at least the 17th and 18th centuries and since the Cambridge Gardens house was not built until 1901 (as given by others)must also have been used in the 20th century for the one at Cambridge Gardens had to be made in the year the house was built (plaster on brick). It is interesting to note that the gnomon on both sundials appear to be identical(or at least very similar) which I find both interesting and somewhat puzzling given the span of some 130 years between the two.It would be interesting to find out if the Cambridge Gardens sundial has been repainted.Logic tells me it must have been, given its current condition, and whether it looks today as it did when made.

According to the present owners of the Cambridge Gardens house, it was "built" by Edmund Burke Harris in 1901. No doubt they came to this conclusion because his initials are engraved in brick on the front wall of the house(as stated by Chris)Edmund Burke Harris was a solicitor, not a house builder, and must have had a builder put the house up for him. Edmund was born in Tonbridge 1860, the son of solicitor Samuel Harris.Edmund lived in the town of Tonbridge until 1900 but in 1899 he had premises at 97a High St, Tonbridge as well as in T. Wells.A 1903 directory has him at Eckington House,Camden Park.Probate records give Edmund Burke Harris of 123 High Street,Tonbridge and of Eckington House Camden Park T. Wells died July 1,1915 at Eckington House.He left an estate valued at almost 20,000 pounds to his wife Elizabeth.He certainly could well afford the cost of having a sundial made.

Just to correct one of my earlier postings. The British Sundial Society actually said that it is the clock of the church that dates from 1759 NOT the sundial. Sorry about that!

Some additional information about the sundial on the church. I contacted Tim Organ the author of the 2011 Paint Analysis report to determine if the sundial had been faithfully resored to its 1771 design. He said " The dial now is a faithful restoration of the colouring found on the earliest surviving layer including the re-gilding of the previously gilded gnomon.All the lines,lettering,sun rays and red discs(now on the restored dial) follow the lines of the original painting where this has survived as a ghost image but also the original incisions in the plaster.These were mentioned as being present in my report and the removal of the later paints revealed them more clearly-especially around the sun". So if you look at the restored sundial you will see it looks not only considerably different then it did before resoration but now looks more like the sundial found at Cambridge Gardens. My conclusion is that since the house at Cambridge Gardens was not built until 1901 the sundial on it is a copy of the way the church sundial looked in 1901.

Here's an interesting item as it pertains to the Cambridge Gardens sundial. The motto on it "TEMPUS FUGIT" means 'TIME FLIES".The British Sundial Society says that of the 885 sundials in their records that 84 of them have this same motto making it the most commonly used motto of all of them. My how time flies when you are researching this topic! As time has gone by from one century to the next the popularity of this motto has increased. Today, because the term "time flies "is so commonly used, its use on sundials as a motto has increased accordingly.

Here's some interesting information about the church sundial I came across yesterday after looking through some old documents passed down to my by my father who had them passed down to him by his father. One item is a booklet entitled " Tunbridge Wells 1951" which was prepared to mark the year of the Festival of Britain and written by Peter Lord from original 'Advertiser' articles.This booklet is full of interesting historical information about the town and a great map of 1839 and has a brief section about King Charles the Martyr Church which states in part "Records show that the church was equipped with a new clock in 1759-there is no evidence to show that it was the same clock as exists in the tower at the present,but it was undoubtedly the towns first pubic clock.Apparently, however, it was not thoroughly relaible, since in 1771 we find the church authorizing expenditure on a sundial "for the purpose of regulating the chapel clock". This was not provided immediately, but in 1777 a sundial was erected on the south wall at a cost of 8 pounds and it is still there". So three pieces of new information are given in this source. Firstly 1771 was the year that authorization was give for the purchase of the sundial. Secondly the sundial was installed in 1777, not 1771 as previously thought.Thirdly the sundial cost 8 pounds. I will see if a copy of the advertiser for 1777 still exists and if so I will post what it says about the sundial.

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