Sundials in 17th-century Oxford

Sundials in 17th-century Oxford

Corpus Christi College did not possess the only impressive sundial in early modern Oxford. Due to their combination of historical resonance, technical virtuosity, and practical utility, these objects proliferated throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Evidence of many dials now vanished is preserved in the college engravings in Loggan's Oxonia illustrata

Image 1. Trinity College hosted three dials in 1675. In a small garden in the southwest corner of the College land (bottom left) stood a pillar composed of geometrical solids, the faces of the largest and uppermost of which were adorned with multiple dials. In the President's Garden to the east of the Library Quadrangle (upper right) stood an even larger pillar surmounted by a globe with multiple gnomons. In addition, a more conventional sundial adorned the south-facing range of the main college quadrangle.

Images 2-3. Even more impressive were the two large garden dials depicted by Loggan. Pembroke cultivated one in the garden at the very back of the college (Image 2, upper right). The one in New College was located at the foot of the Mound which still looms large in the college garden (Image 3). Over half a century later, this garden dial is also depicted in William Willams’s Oxonia Depicta of 1732.

Image 4. The prominent sundial currently on the muniments tower of New College was installed in September 1999 to mark the beginning of the third millennium AD. It replicates a dial, dated 1696, which hung in the same location as late as 1850. An account of its manufacture can be found here, and instructions on how to read it herePhoto: Robin Stevens, 20 Feb. 2010, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; available here.

Credits: Howard Hotson (December 2016 / February 2018)