Picture This #15, Queens’ College sundial

8 February 2012
Queens' Sundial Credit: Cambridge University

Queens' Sundial Credit: Cambridge University

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What is it?

This beautiful sundial is one of the world’s most remarkable, particularly well known for its intricate design and detail.

The sundial tells not only the hour of the day, but also the month, the zodiac sign, the time of sunrise and the hours of daylight. The curved, green lines mark the summer solstice, and the equinoxes. A table underneath provides the moon’s hour-angle for each day of the lunar cycle, enabling the dial to be used as a moon-dial.

What’s the story?

The first sundial in Queens’ College’s Old Court was erected between May-July 1642, when entries in the College accounts include payments of five shillings for ’ye painter for diall, and 18 shillings for ’ye cock of ye diall’.

Although financial records exist, the College has no evidence as to who designed the sundial.

In The History of the University of Cambridge, 1753, Carter records:

The Sundial, on the North side of the principal Court, and under the Clock-Dial, is counted a Curiosity, being beautifully ornamented with a variety of useful Furniture, the whole being the work of the great Sir Isaac Newton.

However, Newton cannot have designed the 1642 dial, for he was then not yet born, and he cannot have designed the ca 1733 dial, for he was by then dead. It is known that Newton had a great interest in sundials, but we do not know whether he ever had any involvement in the Queens’ sundial.

The dial you see today has been repainted a number of times, and it is not known whether it duplicates the same design as an earlier dial on this wall dating from 1642.

Can we see it?

Please check the College opening hours by using the following website:

www.queens.cam.ac.uk­/general-information/tourist-information

Want to know more?

Reading the Queens’ College Dial:

www.queens.cam.ac.uk­/page-241


 
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