Sundials (3)

Don’t recognise this? No, nor did I. That’s because this one, despite being one of the oldest (perhaps the oldest) locally, is in the courtyard of Morden College and most of us never get to see it. It was sent to me some time ago (thank you, Anon) and I’m afraid it’s taken me this long to get round to it…

I know virtually nothing about the architecture of Morden College. The frankly tedious volume The History of Morden College, which I thought would end all my woes when I found it but is actually most useful as a cure for insomnia, says very little indeed about the building – more about the trust itself. Sadly it’s almost all I have on the subject and, although the far more readable Neil Rhind touches on it a bit, he refers readers back to The History.., which looks as though it was being written at the same time as his own Blackheath Village & Environs (2). I daresay he was being polite, leaving it to their own historian, but I wish he hadn’t been.

Admittedly the early political history of the college is fascinating (and if wagging tongues are correct, later political history too…) though perhaps not for a day dedicated to sundials.

And here is today’s Sundial in context – on the South side of the quadrangle- sensibly set up to get the most hours of sun, though it doesn’t look as though it was part of the original plan. Apparently, although it says 1695, it was actually erected 30 years later in 1725 “for keeping the clock which often goes wrong.”
It seems generally agreed today that Sir Christopher Wren didn’t build the place (as some tried to claim over the years…) – it was more likely his master mason for St Paul’s Cathedral, Edward Strong, but I can guarantee he didn’t create the sundial as he died a year before it was made. Whoever did make it had an eye for cute.
It’s a pretty little thing – all curly and Dutch-looking (a very popular style then) and handily set up on a chimney, though looking at the damage on the face, it could do with a spruce-up. The little golden sun looks particularly battered.
And here is, presumably, the clock that was always going wrong. It looks like it would have been part of the original building, but I can’t be sure.

1725 makes it five years before John Harrison would have created his first marine clock, so accuracy was a real problem – and a red-hot issue across the heath at Greenwich. All kinds of people were coming up with timekeeping inventions, hoping theirs was the most accurate to win the prize offered by the King.

The local dogs must have been delighted that the guys at Morden College decided to go with a sundial when they were getting a timepiece rather than that nutty idea some bright spark had of poking one dog at a certain time to see if the other one yelped.

Sundials have their drawbacks – not least the whole cloudy-day bit, but given what was on offer at the time, it seems a good choice. And even when it isn’t usable, it looks good.

Has anyone noticed if they ever open Morden College to the public, like Trinity Hospital does? Open House Day? Charity fetes? Guided Walks?

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