Sorry for the absence from blogging, I’ve had a rather nasty case of the Shingles and haven’t been able to do anything much. It has well and truly sapped my energy and my mental powers. I’m just about getting back to my old self and blogging will return, I promise.
Anyway less of that and more of the subject in hand, early sundials. Mr Alan Marshall, the churchwarden of Stow Minster, sent me this rather tantalising image of a fragment of a late Saxon or early Norman sundial from Stow. With it an accompanying article on the piece, published in 1985 by Professor Elisabeth Okasha of University College, Cork in the Journal of Saxon and Medieval Archaeology. This fragmentary dial was found within a pile of rubble outside the west door of Stow Minster in 1972 by Caspar Fleming and on his death passed into the hands of an antiquities dealer called Richard Falkiner who worked for Bonhams. I won’t comment further on how the Minster could have possibly lost this important and priceless piece of its early history!
The dial has an Old English inscription on it STTOLOVE7S, which Professor Okasha interprets as possibly forming part of the text ‘CRIST TO LOVE 7 SCS’, i.e. ‘to the Glory of Christ and St …’ So the dial seemingly formed part of a dedicatory panel. Professor Okasha argues that it was part of a larger stone. She dates it to the late eleventh century, so perhaps it recorded the reconstruction of the church by bishop Remigius of Fecamp in the 1070s, when for a short time, Stow was an Benedictine priory. The great crossing arches of Stow date from that time.
The image looked remarkably familiar to me, then I realised that about eight years I photographed two similar dials, both of which are mentioned in Professor Okasha’s article, one at Kirkdale and the other at Great Edstone, both in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Here are my photos, which give some indication of how the Stow dial might originally have appeared.
Firstly Edstone. The dial forms part of a rectangular panel of stone, which incorporates the inscription, ‘OTHAN ME PROHTEA’ (Othan has wrought me). The blank space suggests that the panel was never completed.
Then Kirkdale, a much more interesting piece and is dated. It is inscribed: ORM GAMAL SUNA BOHTE SCE GREGORIUS MINSTER THONNE HIT WES AEL TO BROCAN 7 TOFALAN 7 HE HIT LET MACAN NEWAN FROM GRUNDE XRC 7 SCS GREGORIUS IN EADWARD DAGUM C[YNI]NG 7 [I]N TOSTI DAGUM EORL, in modern English: ‘Orm, the son of Gamal, bought St Gregory’s Minster when it was all broken and fallen and he has let it make new from the ground … in Edward’s day the King, and Tostig’s day the Earl’. So it can be close dated to between 1055 and 1066. The dial itself has the inscription ‘HAWARTH ME WROHTE AND BRAND PRS’ (Hawarth and Brand, priests, wrought me).
Sundials, by necessity, have to be on a south wall and both panels at Edstone and Kirkdale are prominently placed above the south doors, the main entrance to the building. The south door at Stow is the main entrance to the church and presumably the Stow dial was similarly placed. I do wonder if it was incorporated into the ramshackle south porch that sheltered the south door at Stow until removed by Pearson’s work of the 1860s.