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Sundial Story

David Standing with Gilbert's Sundial

Head Gardener, David Standing, with the repaired sundial in the background

Gilbert White’s Sundial stands, iconically in the centre of the stone Haha at his house, the Wakes. It was purchased, second hand, from Sarson house, Amport, near Andover, in 1761, for £2 and 7shillings. (£2.35p)  the brass dial plate cost an additional 16s 6d (82½p). The post was said to be ‘very old’ 250 years ago and the decoration on the post is certainly very worn, indicating great age. The dial, which is covered with attractive verdigris, was aligned ‘by meridian line’, and is inscribed with the words ‘Andover’.

The Sundial is made of Chilmark stone, a cream coloured limestone still highly regarded in the building industry and similar to Malmstone, which matches the local stone with which Gilbert White’s house is made. Gilbert says that the slab on which it’s mounted is of Portland stone. From later evidence we can conclude that it was erected in the middle of the Bastion or Angle of his ‘Terrass’, the walk next to his stone HaHa. It remains there today.

In February 1781 there was a hurricane (a terrible storm of wind [causing] ..vast mischief … in the S. & W. of England) in which the sundial was blown over.  We don’t know how badly it was damaged but it was over 7 years before he was to re-erect it, in October 1788.

In January 2014, during work to overhaul the security system, the dial post cracked and broke through a vein of quartz running through the base, and was removed for safe keeping to nearby storage. On 7 November the post was repaired using a threaded rod and special stone glue and we are very glad to have it back in its rightful position.

D Standing November 2014

With thanks to The Friends of Gilbert White’s House who generously funded the conservation repair.

Thanks also go to our expert conservator Will Spankie, not only for his marvelous work, but also being the star of our movie. A big thank you to those members of the Gilbert White & The Oates Collections team who helped with, and/or starred in, the movie.

 

Sources

A large Portland dial post, & slab from Andover.  £02. 07.0

A brass dial plate  00.16.6

(account book Nov 24 1761)

Had the duration of this storm being equal to it’s strength, nothing could have withstood its fury.  As it was it did prodigious damage. The tiles were blown from the roof of Newton Church with such violence, that shivers of them broke the windows of the great farm-house at near 30 yards distance. This storm blew the alcove back into the hedge, & threw down the stone dial post

(GW’s Journals, Feb 27 1781)

On 27 of Feb., Tuesday, the day I left Seleburne, we had such a terrible storm of wind that vast mischief was done in the S and W. of England. I expected to hear of great damage, especially in Sussex; but was thankful to hear that I had escaped with the overturning of my alcove into the hedge, the overthrow of my stone dial, and, what grieved me most, because it cannot be repaired, the ravage of my great wall-nutt tree, which they write word, is almost torn to pieces!

(Letter from Gil White to Samuel Barker Mar 26 1781)

Set up again my stone dial, blown down many years ago, on a thick Portland slab in the angle of the terass. The column is very old, came from Sarson house near Amport, & was hewn from the quarries of Chilmarke. The dial was regulated by meridian line.

(GW’s Journals, Oct 27, 1788)