The Cambridgeshire sundial trail

This is one of a series of sundial lists designed to help visitors to find good and interesting sundials to see in areas unfamiliar to them. Follow the links for a list of our pages for other places in Britain, or for a complete list of all these pages, divided by country.

This list was originally compiled by the Margaret Stanier, who is the author of Cambridge Sundials which gives colour photographs and descriptions of 19 dials in the City of Cambridge, and 4 others nearby. Some useful additions have been kindly suggested by others.

Cambridge is rich in sundials, some ancient, some very modern. Sundials have been much used in recent years as commemorative gifts, recording an event, a person or an occasion. So although sundials are being lost through neglect or weathering, new ones are appearing. The selection for this review has been made by thought for historic interest, beauty of style or ingenuity of design; and also by consideration of accessibility and visibility by members of the public.

Peterborough

Those who succeed in penetrating the seemingly endless outer suburbs, complicated road network and swirling traffic round the edge of Peterborough will be happy to find themselves at the still centre, the heart of the city, in Cathedral Square, a calm pedestrian precinct with much of interest. As you stand looking north you see to your right (eastwards) the arches through which you enter the Cathedral Close. To your left is the noble church of St. John's, and near its east end stands a curious building, rows of pillars forming an arcade, supporting an upper room. This building dating from 1671 is called the Guildhall, or sometimes the Buttermarket since the local farmers' wives brought their produce for sale here, among the pillars. The upper room has been used as a magistrates' court, a schoolroom, and the town clerk's office.

On the south wall of the Guildhall is a delightful sundial, with clear lines and numerals easy to read and in good condition. The rising sun above the dial face and the appropriate motto 'Resurgam' (I shall rise again) form a well-constructed design. The dial dates from 1707. (TL 191994)

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The main towns of the county - Cambridge, Ely, Peterborough and Wisbech - have contributed many notable dials to the Sundial Society's Register. But smaller towns and villages, even roadsides, have also provided treasures for my list.

If you wish to visit all the sundials on the list, you could start at the NW corner of the county at Peterborough, where you can visit the Cathedral as well as the Guildhall. The head westward to Wisbech, and look at North Brink and Peckover House, a lovely dwelling in the care of the National Trust. Then drive south to Ely (Cathedral) and on towards Cambridge. The University Observatory is on the northern edge of the city. In the City Centre are the Colleges - Magdalene, Kings, Gonville & Caius, and also St. Botolph's Church. If you take the Barton Road A603 out to the west, you can turn NW in Barton village, through Comberton and Toft, viewing the Meridian Line at the Roadside. Then head westwards through St. Neot's to Staughton Highway.

The National Grid references are given to help you find them.

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Wisbech is a small market town in the north of the county, at the edge of the fens. Its parish church, the Church of SS Peter & Paul, is built in a curious hotchpotch of architectural styles, having been erected and destroyed, altered and extended, many times over the years. Over the south door of the porch there is a fine dial inscribed on Ketton limestone, dating from 1993. The motto 'Pereunt et Imputantur' is a favourite of classical diallists. It is a tag from Martial, a Roman poet of the first century A.D. '(The days) pass away and are set down to (our) charge'.

This dial was made as a replacement for an older one of marble, contemporary with the pediment and side pillars of the dial face, probably eighteenth century. The marble dial shattered during an attempted repair. At the time of replacement the opportunity was taken of recalculating the hour lines with greater accuracy. (TF 463096)

 

Ely: The Cathedral

Visitors to Ely Cathedral should find their way to the outer side of the south wall. High on the wall to the east of the south door is a sundial. The dial face declines slightly west, so more afternoon hours than morning hours are marked. The half-hours are marked by crosses.

The motto in Greek above the dial face means "Know the (appropriate) time" or "Choose the timely moment". The date of the sundial is unknown. There are records of its restoration but not of its original setting-up. (TL 541801)

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