Time for Recreation & Re-creation
Part 1: A Sundial on a Chimney

David Brown

I have always considered my interest in letter-cutting and sundial-making as recreation – an opportunity to get lost in the creative activity and escape from the challenges, responsibilities and toils of everyday life. Never more has this been apparent to me than during the seemingly never-ending succession of world-wide problems aggravated to a huge degree by the pandemic.

It was therefore a pleasant interlude when I was able to respond to a call from British Sundial Society member Harriet James, who has recently decided to curtail her sundialling activities for personal reasons, to help a client with the re-creation of a sundial that had been known to exist until around 1900 but had become lost as the building it was on had become derelict.

Photo: Owner's archive.
Photo: Owner.

The building itself was a former thatched mill cottage in Wiltshire dating back to the 16th century and in the process of restoration over the last twenty years the present owner had discovered a photograph clearly showing a vertical sundial on one of the chimney stacks. In the rubble of the derelict building he also discovered remnants of the sundial.

With the full restoration of the whole building and the mill completed in early 2019, he wanted to add the finishing touch of the sundial on the chimney stack. I sent some sketches to the client with a number of options ranging from bare minimum (hour numerals only, as intimated by the client) to hour lines, hour numerals, seasonal date curves with a nodus on the style. The happy medium was chosen, with Roman numerals, hour lines, no framing, no date curves. The gnomon was to match as closely as possible the shape and size of the original.

Quarantine and social distancing requirements meant that an on-site measurement of the chimney wall's declination had to be interwoven with availability of scaffolding and fair weather, but this was determined in June 2020 as 6.2°W. I was then able to refine the design and to include an interesting space-saving concatenation of the Roman numerals VII and VIII that had been noticed from the original fragments. The right-hand arm of the V had been omitted in each case and the left-hand arm moved to the right. A quotation was accepted for the waterjet cutting of the gnomon in 6mm phosphor-bronze gnomon from Precision Waterjet (Lyme Regis).

Image: Courtesy of Museum in the Park, Stroud.

The client's ancestors were cloth merchants. Leaden seals were attached to textiles from the late 14th to the early 19th century in England as part of a system of industrial regulation and taxation. The client warmed to the suggestion that his family seal be incorporated in the sundial but with his initials and this year's date.

The client had previously enlisted the services of Wiltshire stone-mason Harry Jonas2 to do the incision work in the Chilmark stone of the chimney stack, so I provided him with a full-scale drawing of the sundial so that the layout on site would be straightforward.

Photo: Owner.

Photo: Owner.

Harry duly did the work and installed the gnomon.

There is a good comparison between the dial as seen in the 1900 photo and the new one, and the client was well pleased.

My suggestion that there should be an Equation of Time correction plate nearby was accepted. The restored mill is adjacent to and part of the cottage, so I incorporated a millstone image at the centre of a circular format of the Equation-of-Time corrected for longitude, and this slate disc is mounted on the wall below the sundial.


This article was originally published in the Bulletins of the British Sundial Society 32(iv), and we acknowledge permission to reprint it with thanks.

I am indebted to Tom Bell, a student in the Design School of Loughborough University who very willingly and at short notice coverted my line drawing of the gnomon into .dxf format for use by Precision Waterjet.


  1. Precision Waterjet Ltd, Lyme Regis, Dorset, DT7 3LS
  2. Harry Jonas Stonemasonry, Berwick St John, Shaftsbury, Dorset, SP7 0EX.