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.