Hidden Suffolk . . . signs of the times
- Credit: Archant
Lindsay Want’s monthly indulgence in tucked away stuff that’s simply oh-so-Suffolk
Newmarket’s smart four-sided clock tower at the end of the High Street commemorates Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887.
On Southwold Pier, modern messages about water recycling filter subconsciously through to all who stop to smile at Tim Hunkin’s comical water clock.
On the wall of Great Bricett church near Needham Market, Saxons carved an aide-memoire to help them know when to say their prayers.
Each and every one of Suffolk’s clocks has its time – its own purpose and history, its own tale to tell.
Scratching the surface
Full circle, half circle, or even just a few faint lines – Suffolk’s earliest timepieces, which pre-date mechanical devices by centuries, can often be mistaken for bits of geometric graffiti. From Flowton and Witnesham in the east to Kedington in the west, 126 of our churches still bear traces of ancient Mass-dials. Usually sited on the south wall by a doorway, the often crude carvings have a central hole where a horizontal needle or ‘gnomen’ would cast a shadow over lines, indicating the time for masses to be said. The Mass-dial at Great Bricett is probably the county’s oldest as well as its largest. Theberton’s medieval dial includes Roman numerals, whereas the one at Ufford has a complex pattern of lines more akin to our regular perception of a sundial.
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Look on the bright side
Suffolk sundials might find themselves by definition in sunny spots, but at times they can be all doom and gloom.
“The night cometh” warns the timepiece on the walls of Worlingworth St Mary’s. “They perish and are reckoned” proclaims the one at Great Barton Holy Innocents. Admittedly, these ominous edicts are often delivered in Latin, but “Time passeth away like a shadow” whispers the dial above St Mary’s porch in East Bergholt in plain English, a sentiment shared about life itself at Grundisburgh church.
In Clare, the way parishioners are strangely instructed to “Go about your Business” perhaps refers to the commercial transactions and paying out of legacies, which once took place in and around Suffolk church porches.
More secular places deliver more serene messages. Clock House in Woodbridge says “Home is where the heart is” without any words at all. Dial House in Aldeburgh is ‘ever faithful’, and maybe nicest of all, the nearby Moot Hall’s replica sundial states the obvious with sheer optimism: Horas non numero nisi serenas – I only count the sunny hours!
Isn’t it about time you visited one of the Ipswich and Colchester museums? Nip south of the border to visit the Bernard Mason Clock Gallery in Hollytrees Museum by Colchester’s Castle Park. Featuring longcase, bracket and lantern clocks as well as pocket watches, it’s just a small part of one of the largest collection of clocks in Britain. Alternatively, there are hugely interesting horological finds at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich.
Admission is free and the museums are open throughout the year. Visit www.cimuseums.co.uk, or call Hollytrees Museum 01206 282940 / Christchurch Mansion 01473 433554 for exact times and admission prices.