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Charles I 

Sundial, Dated 1634

Shown here is a wonderfully original and very rare Charles I clockmakers brass sundial which is dated 1634. Complete with its original knife-edge gnomon and unusual fancily shaped gnomon back support, the dial is anonymous and measures 7.85 inches square. The sundial, which has a gnomon angle of 53 degrees latitude has been made with brass rivets to hold the gnomon and back support in place.

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Above.  The Charles I brass clockmakers sundial which measures 7.85 inches square. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

The sundial is mobile enough to be used in different parts of the house or garden to reset the clock(s) of the house. However, having the very sturdy gnomon back support attached to the dial suggests to me that this sundial was also originally custom made for its first owner to able to use it whilst travelling either by foot or on horseback as the gnomon support is there to strengthen, protect and shield the gnomon from getting damaged or bent whilst travelling. 

Above The original thin-edge gnomon has an angle of 53 degrees latitude.  Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

Below. Showing a side view angle of the wonderfully original Charles I sundial. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.


The fact that there is no noon gap (and typical for early clockmaker sundials) tells me that this sundial has probably been made by an early provincial clockmaker (rather than a scientific Instrument maker) who would have made and supplied it along with a lantern clock he had sold to one of his customers.

Above The dial is complete with its original gnomon back support and is held in place with its original brass rivets to the gnomon itself and also to the underside of dial. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

Above Interestingly the hours are marked out using roman numerals and in between the fifteen minute intervals are also shown using engraved and non engraved areas just like some early clock dials were during the 1630s.  Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.


Below Interesting miniature lantern clock dated 1637. Note the very similar engraved 15 minute markings to that of the 1634 sundial shown above. Private collection, Photograph Lee Borrett.

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Below. Showing a closer view of the 1637 clocks 15 minute markings. Private collection, Photograph Lee Borrett.

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First Period lantern clocks were made with balance-wheel control and having a sundial indoors or outside in the garden to correct and regulate a clocks time would have been very useful in rural areas.  In the English provinces during the early 1630s, when time was governed by Sun Up and Sun Down, provincial domestic clockmaking had barely just begun and this sundial would have helped its first owners to plan and organise their days much better than before - with the added bonus of being able to take the sundial on long journeys if so desired. The dial would have been mounted on a small wooden plinth.

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Above. Showing evidence of the dial being secured to a mount (probably wooden).  Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

Below Showing a rear view of the 1634 sundial. Note the original gnomon and gnomon back support rivets still in place. Private collection, Photograph Lee Borrett.

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Historic Event

Being almost 400 years old, this exceptionally early provincial clockmakers sundial is an historically important survivor and is very interesting in its own right, but because of its known year of making being 1634 - it also has a fascinating historical link to The English Civil War which ultimately led to the death of the King Charles I in 1649

Ship Money of 1634

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Charles I, King of England, reigned 1625–1649. This portrait was painted in 1633 and just before the Ship Tax  that would turn out to be very unpopular with the people. Daniel Mytens I

When King Charles I from October 1634 onwards levied ship money during peacetime and then extended it to the inland counties of England without Parliamentary approval it provoked fierce resistance and was one of the grievances of the English propertied class in the lead-up to the English Civil War. 


Ship Money was first used as a tax in the reign of Elizabeth I at the time of invasion threat from the Spanish Armada. The crown levied the tax on the coastal towns of England where each town was required to supply ships and crews or to provide the equivalent in money to help the Queen pay for the defence of the country in an emergency. In this case it was successful and the response was prompt and generous. The City of London supplied thirty ships when only fifteen had been levied.


King Charles I was in a desperate state in the early 1630s when his extravagances had led to him needing to resort to new and ingenious sources of income. His counsel suggested that Ship Money could be re-imposed and would not infringe the "Petition of Right" that he had agreed to earlier.


War Ships on the time of Charles I was king of England. Image by

Ship Money was one of the financial measures implemented by Charles I in his attempt to rule without calling Parliament, and one of the factors that led to the outbreak of the Civil War. The first ship money writ of October 1634 simply requested the coastal towns to provide ships, following on from earlier acts of Elizabeth I. This could be justified at a time when pirates threatened coastal trade around the country, but that was not Charles's intention, and the following year ship money writs demanding money were sent to inland areas, provoking increasing resistance, especially after John Hampden refused to pay. The resulting court case found for Charles I but by a very small margin, and the judgement, which in effect gave Charles the power to do whatever he wished, alienated almost the entire nation, including many who fought for Charles in the Civil War. Ship money was made illegal by the Long Parliament in 1641.

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