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Mass Dials

Mass dials (scratch dials) are medieval (1100 - 1600) dials found on the south walls of churches.

They were usually near the main door or the priest door at about four to five feet above the ground.

About 8 or 9 inches across and rather roughly cut, they come in a wide variety of designs, from semi-circles of dots to complete circles with associated radii. Their chronology is difficult to determine but simple versions with only four or five lines are early whilst those with numbers round the edge (rare) are late.

Frequently, several appear on one church but no regional variation in design has been established. Their boundaries of occurrence are slowly appearing. Some counties (e.g. Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire) have few dials whereas others (e.g. Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and Kent) have many.

The gnomon, invariably missing, pointed straight out horizontally and so the dial would not record the same hours at all times of the year. The mass dial is in any case usually regarded as an event marker for the church services rather than a time piece.

Due to rebuilding, mass dials can end up almost anywhere on a church, even the north wall. They are frequently found inside a later added porch over the south door.

The British Sundial Society has a separate Mass Dial Group who are compiling a Register of the 3000 or so dials so far recorded. For further details, contact: Tony Wood, 5 Leacey Court, Churchdown, Gloucester, GL3 1LA Tel: 01452 712953 e-mail:

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