the largest in the world?
dials, or scratch dials, are primitive types of sun dials used to
show the approximate time of day. They date from the mediaeval
(1100-1600) period, and are found on the south walls of churches.
They were usually near the main door or the priest door at about four
to five feet above the ground. Due to rebuilding, mass dials can end up
almost anywhere on a church, even the north wall. They are frequently
found inside a later added porch over the south door. St James’ Church,
Badsey, has one of the largest dials discovered.
following article, entitled, East of Evesham, by Tony Wood, appeared
in the British Sundial Society Bulletin, Volume 17 (ii), June 2005.
We are grateful to Tony Jerram for making us aware of the mass dial’s
existence and to Chris Smith for drawing our attention to the article.
In particular, we would like to thank the author of the article, Tony
Wood, for granting permission for an extract from the article to be reproduced
here. Further information about mass dials may be viewed at www.sundialsoc.org.uk.
market garden region lies the village of Badsey. It might be that the
church of St James there has the largest mass dial "in the world";
"yet discovered" if we are being cautious. Its size can be
gauged from the photograph where on tiptoe and outstretched arms just
span its diameter. Mass dials do vary in size and a few large ones occur
in Gloucestershire at Leckhampton, Kemble and Westbury-on-Severn (800
mm, 620 mm and 305 mm respectively) with another large one not too far
away in Oxfordshire at Shirburn (600 mm). (Shirburn is probably a Saxon
observation that such dials were carved at chest height no longer applies
to Badsey’s 1100 mm version on the south wall of the tower. It is now
rather faint, so much so that some members of the Church Council were
unaware of its existence and must have walked past it weekly. As far
as its position within the canon of mass dials is concerned, it is almost
unique in size. A date of "later", say 16th century,
might be guessed at owing to the presence of the numbers within the
two circles outlining the dial. The Roman numerals are evenly spaced
at 15 degree intervals; together with the circular layout, we are firmly
in the mass dial tradition. There is a suspicion that some attempt may
have been made to install a sloping gnomon but the original gnomon was
of the dial is such that it is shadowed after around 4.30 pm in summer
by the tower south-west buttress and the morning sunlight is also obstructed.
Even with the sun round to the west as far as it would go to give decent
shadow contrast the numerals are by no means obvious... " (see
writing the article, Tony Wood adds, "The only thing further to note
is the realisation that larger mass dials seem to be confined to this
part of the world. As mass dials occur countrywide and we now have around
4000 examples recorded this local variation is of interest but as usual
the reasons remain a mystery."
The extent of the
mass dial at St James, Badsey
Few people notice
the mass dial at Badsey until it is pointed out to them. The faint markings
make it difficult to photograph. The picture here gives some idea of what
The hole once held
the horizontal gnomon which was probably no more than a stick that cast
the shadow. Two complete circles have been scratched into the stone with
this hole at the centre. Between these circles are roman numbers for the
hours. XII (twelve o'clock) is at the bottom.
Some mass dials have
extra markings to show the time of the church services but these are not
visible at Badsey.
A horizontal gnomon
makes a sundial very inaccurate with the length of the hours changing
throughout the year. An accurate sundial must have a gnomon that points
towards the North Star, making it parallel with the axis of the earth.
It is not certain
how a mass dial like this was used. It would have given a crude local
time that perhaps was all that was needed. It was most accurate around
midday. If the service was about this time, a bell ringer might have used
the dial to know when to summon the congregation.
See also photographs
of the church and churchyard.