The Thames sundial trail in London

The tour starts in Parliament Square (tube station: Westminster). Parliament Square has Big Ben near its north-east corner, and the Houses of Parliament (including the very ancient Westminster Hall) along the east side. On the south side is the great bulk of Westminster Abbey, and in front of it, the small church of St. Margaret's Westminster.

St Margaret's has four sundials , designed by C. St.J. Daniel, on its tower, and is a very good illustration of how the appearance of a vertical sundial depends on the direction in which the wall is facing. . The sundial on the south face has the gnomon (which casts the shadow) slanting out from sundial at the angle of the 

Walk back to Parliament Square, turn right towards Westminster Bridge and turn left along Victoria Embankment. Walk along a very pleasant 200m pathway to Embankment Gardens at the
 

Predating the Norman Conquest (1066), and rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire, this church was damaged again during the Blitz of World War 2, when the walls and the elegant tower by James Gibbs survived.

High up on the south face of the tower there is a large 1 metre, vertical declining sundial which has been recently restored. This church is famous for its peal of bells, and the nursery rhyme “ Oranges and Lemons, Say the bells of St Clements”. This attribution has been disputed. The clock of St Clements was designed to strike the hours twice, once on the big bell and once on the small bell. Just in case this was not enough there were originally sundials on the south and the west faces of the tower. The story goes that a payment of £1 15s 0d was made to Mr Wyn, Mathematician, for “designing two sunndyals on the Church wall”.

Return to the south side of the Strand, walk east to the second turning and turn right into Essex Street. Turn left at the Edgar Wallace pub into Devereux Court and through the big gates into the Middle Temple and New Court. Turn right towards the fountain ahead and left into FOUNTAIN COURT.

MIDDLE TEMPLE GARDENS DIAL

Middle Temple Gardens are open to the public on weekdays 12-3 in May, June July September.  If they are closed, you can get a view of this sundial through the elegant gates.

This is a horizontal dial around 1830 in excellent condition around 380 mm diameter.

Return to Fountain Court and turn left up Middle Temple Lane. Turn right into arch signed towards Pump Court.

CROWN OFFICE WALK HORIZONTAL DIAL

This horizontal sundial is made of metal on a stone plinth, and is in very good condition. It has an ornate gnomon, with Pegasus and the initials TRP on it. It is dated on the gnomon 1707.

Return to the Embankment, and cross it to the river side. Turn left along the river, taking the pedestrian underpass beneath Blackfriars Bridge, and continue for another 300 yards till you are nearly at the Millennium Footbridge

Click here for a streetmap of this section of this trail

Outside the City of London Boys School is a polar sundial designed by Piers Nicholson, and mounted on a plinth of exactly 2000 blue engineering bricks. The sundial was built by the Royal Engineers and presented to the Corporation of London by the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers in December 1999. The badges of the three organisations are engraved with an inscription on the stainless steel gnomon, which has a matt dialplate marked in Roman numerals for winter time and in Arabic numerals for summer time. There is more information about this sundial here

 

To reach the Queens Walk sundial, walk over the Millennium Footbridge and turn left along the riverside walkway, passing Southwark and London bridges, HMS Belfast, and City Hall.

The sundial is halfway between City Hall and Tower Bridge

You can go down the service road on your right to visit the sundial if you wish.  The plaque reads

"The sundial is one of man's oldest astronomical instruments. In this particular form, known as an Equinoctial Sundial, the dial is in the same plane as the earth's equator and the gnomon, or rod, is parallel to the axis of the earth pointing true north. The shadow of the gnomon moving across the dial indicates the time. In summer the shadow falls on the face of the dial, in winter on the inner edge.

Due to a combination of the tilt of the earth's axis and the varying speed of the earth's progress on its elliptical path around the sun the time indicated differs by several minutes from the time shown by a clock which measures mean time - an average of these variations.

This sundial was designed by Wendy Taylor and commissioned by Strand Hotels Limited in March 1973."

co-latitude (so that the gnomon points at the Celestial Pole, and is thus parallel with the axis of the earth), and the hour lines fanning out from the base of the gnomon. You can see that the hour lines are symmetrical about the vertical 12 o'clock line. This shows that this sundial is pointing due south.

The gnomons on the east and west faces also have to point directly at the Celestial Pole, and thus be parallel to the gnomon on the south-facing dial. The only way this can be done is by having the gnomon standing out from the surface of the dial. The hour lines are parallel lines marked on the dialplate. The east-facing dial records the morning hours, up to solar noon, and the west-facing dial records the afternoon hours.

There is also a north-facing dial. Its gnomon points in the same direction as the others, towards the Celestial Pole, which means that it projects upwards from the dialplate. This dial records only the hours between 6 pm and 6 am, so that it is only operational in the summer months.

There is a new analemmatic ("human gnomon") sundial in Palace Yard. From the porch of St Margaret's, turn eft alongside Westminster Abbey on your right, and turn right when you reach Millbank. The sundial is set in the middle of the paved yard some 40 metres down the street

This sundial was placed here in 2002 to mark Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee. The yard is paved in granite to remind you that it is part of the Palace of Westminster. You stand on the line closest to the date, and your shadow falls on the time indicated in the circle of hours. The motto comes from Shakespeare's King Henry V and reads " “To carve out dials quaintly, point by point, thereby to see the minutes how they run: how many makes the hour full complete, how many hours brings about the day, how many days will finish up the year, how many years a mortal man may live.”

back of the Savoy Hotel. You will pass six splendid memorials including those to the Imperial Camel Corps, Robert Burns, Rakes (Sunday schools) and Sullivan. In the gardens you will see the

SAVOY HOTEL EQUATORIAL DIAL

 

This superb modern stainless steel Equatorial Armillary Dial was designed and made by Christopher St Daniel and Brockbrae. It is set in a rounded rectangular flower container. On one side of this is the following inscription: “This garden was given to London by the Savoy Hotel in celebration of its centenary”

 

On the other sides are inscriptions commemorating various illustrious people connected with both the Savoy Hotel and the D’Oyley Carte company from 1889-1989. The Coat of Arms of the Savoy Hotel is also inscribed. On the metal work is engraved the wording “Savoy Centenary 1989- For Excellence we Strive, and Every Season has its cheer - Life is lovely all the year.

”Turn left onto Victoria Embankment, and bear left into Temple Place. Left again and walk up Arundel Street to St Clement Danes Church facing you on island in the Strand.

ESSEX COURT DIAL ( is in fact in Fountain Court )

 

Since this vertical declining dial was placed on the wall of Brick Court opposite the Middle Temple Hall in 1685, the plane trees have grown so tall as to almost obscure the sun. It is made of stone, beautifully maintained and has the motto 'Discite Justitium Moniti' or 'Learn justice you who are now being instructed'.

Return to the fountain and walk South down the flight of steps into Garden Court, towards Middle Temple Gardens. If these are closed you will still get a restricted view of a horizontal dial in the distance.


MIDDLE TEMPLE, PUMP COURT

This is a sister dial to the Essex Court Dial; another stone vertical declining dial (South 10 East) dated 1686, with the morbid motto -“Shadows we are and like Shadows we depart”.

These two sundials are probably the best vertical sundials in London, and it is good that they are kept in such good condition.

Walk across Pump Court through 3 Arches into a square with Temple Church on the left, and continue through an arch into Kings Bench Walk. Turn right down Kings Bench Walk and right again, past Paper Buildings to the gardens on the left hand [south] side in Crown Office Row.


Gardens open to the public 12.30 - 15.00 Mon-Fri.
Public not admitted unless accompanied by a member of the Inner Temple.

 

Maybe you will be as lucky as we were. We went into the Treasury Office sign posted in Crown Office row and asked permission to go into the gardens to see the sundials. Permission was readily given.

INNER TEMPLE Kings Bench Walk

You can see this dial clearly through the railings, although there is no general public access to these gardens. It is worth a look for its odd plinth. A crouching statue of a black boy holds a horizontal dial on his head. The gnomon is dated 1886, and the maker is Newton & Co 3 Fleet Street. The date on the gnomon base is 1731. The dial and the statue are not of the same date and have been assembled at some time unknown. Two similar statues exist in Manchester and Cheshire and are believed to be part of a set of five.

This sundial was also designed by Piers Nicholson.  It comme hamorates the Silver Jubillee walkway, originated by his father, Max Nicholson, and also the William Curtis Ecological Garden which occupied this site for many years.There is more information about this sundial at www.queenswalksundial.co.uk

Continue along the river, pass underneath Tower Bridge, and then walk up the steps onto it, and cross to the North bank. At

the far side of the bridge, you will see on your right the Timepiece Sundial desgined by Wendy Taylor. 

This sundial was also designed by Piers Nicholson.  It comme hamorates the Silver Jubillee walkway, originated by his father, Max Nicholson, and also the William Curtis Ecological Garden which occupied this site for many years.There is more information about this sundial at www.queenswalksundial.co.uk

Continue along the river, pass underneath Tower Bridge, and then walk up the steps onto it, and cross to the North bank. At

the far side of the bridge, you will see on your right the Timepiece Sundial desgined by Wendy Taylor. 

You can also see, high up on the White Tower of the Tower of London opposite, a small sundial, but you will need a pair of binoculars to see any detail.

The las sundial on this trail is the Tower Hill sundial.   This is a large and imposing horizontal dial over 6 metres in diameter. It was constructed of bronze and stone in 1990 by John Chitty

and Christopher St Daniel. It depicts London scenes. The outer ring shows the history of London Transport from 1066 (the conquest) to 1982 (Thames Barrier). Shows 5am to 9pm (LAT plus 1 hour) in 15 minute intervals

If you have more time, it is worth making a trip to Greenwich, which can be reached either by river or on the Jubilee Line. The river trip is far better scenically, but takes quite a bit longer. Greenwich has the new Millennium Dome as well as the superb National Maritime Museum and Queen's House. The Cutty Sark, one of the most famous of the tea clippers, is also moored here. There is another of polar sundials, similar to the Blackfriars one described above, near the Millennium Village on the Greenwich Peninsula. And, outside the Greenwich Observatory at the top of the hill is (in our opinion) the best modern sundial in England, the superb dolphin sundial designed by C St J Daniel.

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