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A Church Sundial

This circular mark is sited high up on a house on the Old Sarum side of the Stratford Road in Stratford sub Castle.

It is a church sundial, also known as a Mass Dial.

Mass dial (1).jpg

A stick or gnomon was inserted in the centre and its shadow in the sun indicated the time for the Terce (9am), Sext (12pm) and None (3pm) masses. This tells us the stone has been reused. It belongs on the south outside of a church. This is an 19thC wall but the stone must be from when masses were regularly held ie before the break from Rome in the 16thC. The carved marks are at least 500 years old, (the stone itself is 100,000 times older). They may be a century or two older as they mean the church didn’t have a clock and bell. Some cathedrals had (water) clocks in the 13th C. The oldest workimg clock in the world is 14thC (in Salisbury Cathedral). Church clocks were common by the 16thC. Clocks like that at St Lawrence were common by the 17thC, that at St Lawrence and the tower that houses it are from the first half of the 18thC.


The stone wouldn’t have been placed so inaccessibly high up originally. Carting masonry long distances was difficult so this probably came from a local church. It could have been from St Lawrence, St Peter, St John, St Nicholas, St Ethelreda or Holy Cross or even either of the (Old) Sarum Cathedrals, most of these had disappeaed by the time this wall was built, all were within 4/5 mile.

Mass dials date from the 7th C when Pope Sabinian decreed their use. They were for use by the priests and congregation of that one church. Even two hundred years ago time was still local time for local use, without any more widespread meaning, time wasn’t standardised until railways made it essential (1840).


Treasure, D. 2020 Mass Dials – a discovery of medieval graffiti in Stratford-sub-Castle.

Rumley, PTJ. 2019. Medieval Mass Dials Decoded.

Chechner, S. 2001. The Time of Day. In The Discovery of Time, editor Mccready, S. Chap 6 pg 126

The British Sundial Society keep a register of mass dials

Kerry O'Connor

May 2021

Further reading on this website:

The St Lawrence Church clock

The article above supplies the answer to Question No. 23 in the website's

Local History Photo Quiz.

Click here to see all the questions.

Note: All the other possible answers suggested in the Local History Quiz Question no. 23 can indeed give marks on masonry except the Sun Fire logo, if the owner stopped paying the premium how could a masonry mark be removed? Feather and wedge or plug marks weren’t circular. Cup and ring marks can have gutters as grooves radiating out from them but are much older (Neolithic to Bronze age) and would be far more worn.

Inches away and around the corner from the mass dial is another stone that also clearly did not begin life in this wall. Its origin is unknown but it possibly refers to the Pewde family.


The Prebendal Estate in 1651 “was sold to John Pewde, of Stratford, for £359. It was then called the 'prebend, manor, or lordship' of Stratford and comprised 'the prebend house', two small closes, a 'place' of river called Blackwell, and strips of arable.  In 1656 Pewde devised it to his mother Elizabeth Pewde.”

Pewde stone (1).jpg

These carved quoin stones are now incorporated in the south western corner of the earliest part of the White House on the Stratford Road and this article is by kind permission of the owners.


'Stratford-sub-Castle', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6, ed. Elizabeth Crittall (London, 1962), pp. 199-213. British History Online [accessed 27 April 2021].

Kerry O'Connor

May 2021

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