[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 1 No 2 pp38/41]



(Read 3rd January, 1889)

AT the beginning of the present century, the Island went nearly crazy on the subject of Sun Dials, any amount of people setting to work to make them, or to procure them; the result being, that I am able to trace about 48, which, considering the size of the Island, is certainly a large number ; very few of them, however, are really interesting, the majority being plain, with numerals only; though several have the latitude of the Island cut upon them, or the name of the maker.

It is said that a clear atmosphere was favourable for dialling, which may partly account for the number here; but the greater probability is that at, and before that time, clocks were very scarce, and watches even more so; as we know that until recent years it was the custom here in all houses with farms attached, to ring a bell, or blow a horn (made generally in a very primitive way from a cow’s horn), at 12 o’clock noon, to summon the labourers to dinner : therefore a sun dial, no matter of how simple a construction, would be an enormous boon.

Of course this method of telling the hour has been more or less common to all nations, and from very early times -- we hear of the dial of Ahaz, 2 Kings, xx. ii, and Isaiah xxxviii. 8—and the Romans had them in, and, before the time of Trajan, for in his reign the art of dialling was well understood.

In China at the present time they are very common; and more or less through Europe they are still found ; but I believe the most beautiful in architectural design are those in Scotland, dating from 260 years back.

The art of dialling, under the head of "gnomonics," was taught in England, especially during the 17th century; and in 1682 William Leyhurn published a learned work on the subject— Leadbetter and others have since then written about it; and Miss Gatty has now a most interesting work in the press, containing a brief description of all, and illustrations of many, of the most noteworthy dials in Great Britain, including also those in the Isle of Mann.

There is little doubt that at one time all our old parish Churches had each its own dial; unfortunately in many cases these have not of late years been cared for, as, after the more general introduction of clocks, they would he of very little practical use, and no one would have charge of them, so that many of them are now broken or lost altogether; this is much to he regretted.

Not only the Churches, but also every house of any size, sometimes too, even the smallest cottage, had its dial, these latter being generally what we may describe as "home made," the numerals being traced upon a bit of roughly cut stone or wood; but even to do this, considerable skill must have been required.

Perhaps the oldest, and certainly the rudest attempt at a dial, is that at Peel Castle, by the side of a flight of steps leading to the entrance, this is what is generally known as "the white line," a perpendicular stroke of white paint, some 6' long and 6in. wide, quite roughly done; at 12 o’clock at noon, the shadow from the corner of the wall on the south side falls on this line, and it can be seen across the harbour, far away up the quay; this being the ordinary dinner hour, the importance of it is apparent, as until more recently there was no public clock in the town; alongside this white line, a little distance away, is another and shorter stroke, only it is black, this denotes English time, which is 18min. earlier than Manx—this would appear to have been added, with perhaps not a very good grace, when the English time was introduced generally into the Island, not many years ago.

The only other public dial is the very fine and imposing one which stands in the Market-place, Castletown, under the celebrated one-fingered clock on the Castle, which was given by Queen Elizabeth in 1597

About this dial very little is known; it is on the top of a massive column of masonry, some 5ft. high, and 18ft. circumference, and generally known by the name of "The Babby House" —the Dial has twelve faces, three of these, upon which the Sun cannot shine, would appear to he dummies, put up for the sake of symmetry, as they have no numerals: one other face has lost its gnomon which should be a narrow strip at one edge; a small patch of white paint is substituted for it. The date cut on the principal face is 1720, so that Train, in his History of the Isle of Man, page 341, vol. II., is clearly in error when he says it probably stood there before the Clock was given; there is no reason for supposing the date not to be genuine. It is said that somewhere in Denmark there is another dial similar to this. It is certainly strange that nothing is known of by whom, or why, this Dial was erected; its great height makes it almost useless; rumour says that its tells the time by moonlight, as well as sunlight; but this surely would be difficult, though not impossible ;—the lunar hour being two minutes and a few seconds longer than the solar, and the lunar day being about 50 minutes longer than a solar day, by a process of calculation the hour iudicated in lunar time can be converted into solar; and of course there are many other methods. But a better way of telling the time by night would be by a system of star clocks, which are much more manageable.

Miss Maria Christian, of Lewaigue, has a very fine brass dial which formerly stood on Lewaigue House, the date cut upon it is 1666;—this dial is square. It has the words "Ewan Christian," and underneath is "Edm. Culpeper, fecit 1666. Lat. 54 deg, 24 min."

In the reign of Queen Anne there was a celebrated diallist of that name living at the Cross Swords, Moorefields. Mr Hartshome, editor of the Archaeological Journal, has two Viatorium, which Culpepper made in 1700 and 1701, for John Postlethwayt, chief warden of S. Paul’s School, one in the handle of a walking stick, the other in a small ivory box 2¼ inches in diameter, each with a folding gnomon, and having the inscription "Edmund Culpepper fecit." Culpepper being spelled on these with three ps, and in the Lewaigue dial with only two; but they all were probably made by the same man, or by father and son.

Corkill, a tailor in Ramsey, has a good bronze dial, which his son found in a heap of rubbish near the Albert Brewery. It has the inscription "Ut hora sic Vita," and from the quaintness of the letters it would appear to be at least 100 years old. It is not known where it came from. He told me that he had offered it to the Ramsey Town Commissioners to put up in the town, but they had not cared to accept the offer.

An interesting dial lately stood at Ballakilley in Rushen, and belongs to Mrs Clucas, Thornhill. It is square and made of black slate, not much more than kin. in thickness. At the top are the words "Richd. Watterson’s Dial, Kentraigh Mill, in the Isle of Man. Lat. 54 deg. 20 mm., Long. 4 deg. 36 mm. W., 1830." The following inscription runs round the circle of hours:

" Secula sic fugient, sic lux, sic umbra theatrum
Donec stelligerim claus erit una dies
Sic petit Oceanum Phcebus, sic vita sepulchrum
Dum tacita volvitur hora rota."

Which may he construed :—

"So fly the ages, so light, so shade, till
One day shall close the starry theatre of Heaven;
So sinks Phoebus to the ocean, so life to the tomb,
While with noiseless wheel the hour rolls by."

At the S.E. corner is a Greek inscription, "..."

—also, "Life is the spectater of a shadow."

At the S.W. corner, "Veni, Vidi, Vale" (I came, I saw, Farewell), which is rather a good variation of the well-known Veni, Vidi, Vici.

At the N.E. corner, "Learn to value your time."

At the N.W., "Every day brings life nearer."

Watterson probably got the four lines of the stanza out of the Gentleman’s Magazine of Sept., 1802, where they are given as the inscription on "a Sun Dial in a circle," though the order in which the lines occur is not the same, the first line being " Sic petit," etc., and so straight through; also the word "sensim" occurs before "tacita," which Watterson has left out —he also writes "clause erit" as two words, instead of one. His Greek inscription is also curious, being three nominatives, perhaps in apposition; thus "Life a vapour, a shadow"—but he evidently wished to translate by what comes just underneath—" Life is the spectater (sic) (he must have meant spectre) of a shadow." Altogether his Greek is rather odd. But the dial, as a whole, is certainly interesting, and it is to be regretted that so far nothing is known of who, or what, this Richard Watterson was. There is a fine stone Dial now standing at Ballafreer, in Braddan [sic Marown ?], made by John Kewley, of that farm, in 1768. It is on a stone pedestal, ascended by steps. On the north side is the inscription "Ars longa, vita brevis." On the south side is, "Qualis vita, finis ita." The east side has no inscription; only the numerals from IV to IX cross it diagonally from the right top corner. On the west side is the following inscription in Manx, "Baase jiu hioys mairagh," which may he translated, "Death to-day, Life to-morrow." I am sorry to have only a very rough sketch of this dial to show; not having yet been able to get a better, or to take rubbings of it. Undoubtedly the finest Manx Dial is the one now in the possession of Mr Lewis Evans, Belswains, Hemel Hempstead. He bought it a few years ago at the sale of the Mayer collection in Liverpool. It is believed to have been made originally for Sir George Moore, of Ballamooar, Patrick, by the same John Kewley who made the one at Ballafreer. By some means it came into the hands of a Mr Quilliam who kept the old Inn in Peel, and he had it in a yard at the back of his house for many years. The late High-Bailiff of Peel made several attempts to get it from him, but without success. When Quilliam went to Canada a few years ago, it appears that he took it to Liverpool, and there sold it to Mr Mayer. It is made of Pooilvaish marble, and is about 2ft. high by 1ft. wide, and weighs several hundredweight, the upper end is pointed, there are inscriptions and numerals on the four sides, but the gnonions are all broken off; these, however, Mr Evans hopes to be able to restore by the help of the Ballafreer Dial. Three sides of the Dial are in very good condition, and the inscriptions easy to read; the other side is, unfortunately, much defaced, so that it is almost impossible to decipher some of the words.

On either of the four sides it tells the hour in the Isle of Mann, Pekin, Port Royal, Jerusalem, and at Boston. Tradition says that John Kewley, being a sailor, took this Dial about with him, and cut the hour accordingly; but Mr Evans thinks this unlikely; he considers it much more probable that it was entirely done on the Island by mathematical calculation.

On the lower end of one side are the name and date "John Kewley, Ballafreer Farm, 1774." Above is the inscription "Nemo sine crimine vivit," this latter word being almost defaced; in fact this side is altogether much obliterated.

On another side, at the upper end, are the words "Tempus obit mors venit," and below, in Manx, the following: "Moyll y laa mie Fastyr Baase jiu agh Bioys maragh," which may be translated, "Praise the good day in the evening; Death to-day, but Life to-morrow ;" this last line being almost the same as the one on the Ballafreer Dial.

The third side has, at the upper end, "Ut umbra sic vita," and below, ‘‘Whilst Phoebus on me shine," " Then view my shades and line,"

At the upper end of the fourth side is, "Quid celerius umbra," and below, in Manx—

"Cur geil da’n Tra
Shen myr ta’n sca."

Which may be translated, "Observe the mark of the shadow; in that manner time is represented."

Mr Jeffcott has made these transactions[sic translations] for me. It will be seen that John Kewley used considerable license in the spelling of the Manx words.

The etchings shown give a good idea of this Dial, they are reduced from rubbings taken in 1882, by Dr Haviland when it was in the Inn yard in Peel. It is much to he regretted that this Dial has gone from the Island, it seems to have slipped away unknown; and I fear that the hope of our ever getting it again is very remote, as Mr Lewis Evans is making a collection of Dials; he has kindly asked me to come and see it, and them, if ever in that neighbourhood; this I certainly hope some day to do.

I think it better to hold over the account of our remaining Manx Sun Dials, to a subsequent meeting; this paper being already, I fear, too long.


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