LocationEngland
LB Greenwich
Greenwich (SE10)
Boating Pond, Greenwich Park
Distance (N) from Greenwich
OS map detailsOS Explorer: 161 or 162
OS grid refTQ 38869.77713
(538869,177713)
WGS84 lat/long51.481332, -0.001550
TypeSundial
Marking date2000
AccessRestricted (park opening hours)
Greenwich Meridian Marker; England; LB Greenwich; Greenwich (SE10)
North
North

All
South
South

Currently viewing images from 23 Sep 2015
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Set in a 10 m wide stone circle on the edge of the boating lake in Greenwich Park, this so called ‘work of art’ was ‘the pinnacle of three years' research and design by the Greenwich Millennium Sundial consortium’. The project was supported by English Heritage, the Royal Parks and the Stone Federation of Great Britain and funded by a donation from an anonymous benefactor. Like the Millennium Dome nearby, it turned out to be something of a white elephant.

The project was originally supposed to have two phases. Only phase one (the present sundial) was built. It was designed by Chris Daniel, chairman of the British Sundial Society, former employee of the National Maritime Museum (1964-86) and designer of many sundials of note. The dial is what is known as a double horizontal dial – a dial that shows not only the time, but also the direction of the Sun. The circular dial plate is in the form of a compass rose. The gnomon made from bronze in the shape of a right-angled triangle has its vertical edge rising from the centre of the compass rose. The shadow of the gnomon’s vertical edge shows the sun’s direction, whilst the shadow of the sloping edge indicates the time.

The base of the gnomon was supposed to stand on the Prime (Airy) Meridian, but due to errors made during its construction, it is closer to the Bradley. More embarrassingly, it is about 3½º skew to the Meridian in an anticlockwise direction. As a result, the dial indicates local noon anywhere between seven and fifteen minutes early, depending on the time of year. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the hour marks are incorrectly positioned too. Perhaps a blessing in disguise is the fact that the shadow is often too short to reach the scale! None of the compass points are labelled and the polished stone used for the compass rose was soon deemed a slip hazard. It was therefore coated with a non-slip film which deteriorated over the next few years and rubbed off. It was never replaced. No wonder the second phase was never built!

Interestingly, there was no information displayed with the dial until late 2005/early 2006, when an inscription was engraved on the bronze strip marking the meridian to the south of the gnomon. It gives the date as 2000 along with the following rather telling information: Origin, William Hall: Design, Christopher Daniel: Survey, TPS Consult: Construction, Brookbrae Ltd. The cost of phase one was around £90,000

In the second phase, the present sundial was to have been surrounded by twelve smaller analemmatic dials. In an analemmatic dial, the gnomon is vertical, and the hours are marked on the circumference of an ellipse. The gnomon has to be moved through the year, so that the shadow falls at the correct point. Analemmatic dials are sometimes built in parks and school playgrounds where, because a person acts as the gnomon, they are relatively vandal proof. The position where the person should stand at any given month of the year is marked out along the north-south axis across the centre. The twelve dials would have shown the time in twelve cities in twelve different time zones around the world. To be known as the ‘Stepping Stones of Time’, each was to consist of a stone circle of 12-foot diameter. They were to be made from rare stones quarried from areas near the chosen cities, and the instructions were to be in the language of that country. Beijing was the first city to pledge money for the ‘human’ sundials, offering £30,000 for the circle to be made from the same stone as the Great Wall of China.

The boating pond forms part of the Cross Country Course for the Olympic Equestrian Events in 2012. Images of the 2011 trial event can be seen in the July 2011 image set. The July 2012 images show emergency repairs being carried out immediately prior to the Olympics following damage caused by a vehicle driving over it during the erection of the security fence. The October 2012 images show the temporary repairs and extent of the damage done to 5 of the 32 stone slabs on the dial’s circumference. The 2015 images show the dial after the damaged slabs had been replaced.


Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project
Chris Daniel
Greenwich Park