Click the image thumbs for a quick preview of the boards. The links below the images in each section contain larger images should you wish to download and view. To browse all boards sequentially, see the exhibition gallery.
This exhibition 'Architecture, History, Horology' is available on loan, so do get in touch if you are interested. We apologise for the quality of some of the scans but these 36” square display boards were very difficult to get through a scanner so thanks to trustee Mark Read.
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of founder trustee the late Sir John Summerson CH CBE.
Seven Dials was created by Thomas Neale MP, known as 'The Great Projector' and is his only surviving London project. Neale chose Edward Pierce to build the Sundial Pillar which, for a time, was one of London's great public ornaments.
Thomas Neale planned Seven Dials as a fairly up-market development, probably for City Guildsmen and traders. However, he sub-divided his development out to individual builders, who in turn further sub-divided the houses. This sub-division and the form of leases granted led to the area's decline and, by the middle of the eighteenth century, the area had declined to the extent that 39 night-watchmen were needed to keep the peace. By the early nineteenth century the area had become infamous, together with St. Giles to the north, as the most notorious rookery (slum) in London.
This section of the exhibition has black and white images of Seven Dials over the centuries with quotations from many sources, including Charles Dickens.
A brief explanation of how sundials came about and where some of them stood and still stand. They were not uncommon, and, locally, as well as the Seven Dials sundial, there was one in the Piazza Covent Garden. They were a development of the medieval market cross but with sundials substituted in place of religious symbols. These sundials were often erected in public places to regulate the growing number of clocks which, though popular, were unreliable and inaccurate.
This piece from The Athenian Mercury of 1692/3 (iv, No 4), the year before the erection of the Seven Dials Sundial Pillar, provides a graphic illustration of the need for sundials:
"I was walking in Covent Garden where the clock struck two, when I cam to Somerset-house by that it wanted a quarter of two, when I came to St Clements it was half past two, when I came to St Dunstans it wanted a quarter of two, by Mr Knib's Dyal in Fleet-street is was just two, when I cam to Ludgate it was half an hour past one, when I came to Bow Church it wanted a quarter of two, by the Dyal near Stocks Market it was a quarter part two, and when I came to the Royal Exchange it wanted a quarter of two: This I averr for a Truth, and desire to know how long I was walking from Covent Garden to the Royal Exchange?"
Architect A.D. Mason of Whitfield Partners was confronted with an unusual problem in designing the new Pillar. Pierce's original 1693 drawing held in the British Museum conflicted with the remains at Weybridge and the drawing itself is contradicted by the measurements on it in Pierce's own handwriting.
The art of gnomonics (the construction of sundials). There is a symmetrical relationship between the position of the base and the dialstone. This exhibition board shows how we established the exact position of the South face, essential for the dials to work accurately.
The work of the designer/letter carver Caroline Webb on creating the faces at her studio in Wiltshire is illustrated through the various stages of design: tracing, initial cutting, painting and gilding. Caroline had to be 100% accurate in carving the dial faces so each would tell the correct time.
The greatest problem we faced was the question of foundations for the 28-tonne Pillar. Underneath The Dials there are water mains, sewers, gas mains, and telephone and electricity cables criss-crossing each other. How could foundations be designed and built to accommodate all these services and their various requirements? The answer is set out in The Evening Standard article and illustrations in this section.
An added problem was the main sewer and what should happen if it ruptured. The ingenious solution was to sit the Pillar on top of a giant concrete stool, so that The Dials could be dug up and the Pillar remain intact.
SECTION 8 - THE TRAINEE MASONS : MASONRY & ERECTION
The Pillar is made from many sections, work largely carried out by youth trainees at Vauxhall College of Building and at Ashby & Horner Stonemasonry Ltd (the main contractors).
The process of erection required a complicated scaffold and the one-tonne dialstone had to be lowered and manoeuvred by hand, into a position where the South face was exactly due South. This process took three days, with our astronomer and architect in attendance. In the end, each dial face read time accurate to within 30 seconds.
The Sundial Pillar was unveiled on 29th June 1989. Photographs show the events of the day, attended by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and her husband Prince Claus as the finalé of the year-long William & Mary Tercentenary celebrations.
Finally, we set out our proposals for completing the Renaissance which would see the completion of the model street improvements carried out in Short's Gardens and Earlham Street (East), so as to restore this magical space in Central London.
The exhibition can be borrowed for a small fee to cover insurance.