images and history

mass dial


by Gary Blinch

On the outside wall of the church, on the south side, on a corner of the chancel near to where it joins the nave and at about head height, there is a ‘mass dial’.

Also known as scratch dials, mass dials are an early type of sundial. They were used as a general event-marker so that services could be held rather than as a precise time-piece.

Dating from the Middle Ages – up to about the year 1600 – they are normally located close to the main door on the south wall of churches and at about 4 to 5 feet above ground level. Because many churches have been extensively rebuilt, however, they can now often be found almost anywhere, even on the inside. As our one is nowhere near the west door, perhaps it was moved to its present position during one of the phases of work on the church. At any rate, the stone block onto which it is has been carved is noticeably more worn than the blocks above and below it and so these must have been replaced at some point.

In size, mass dials are usually about 8 or 9 inches across and come in a variety of different regional designs. They also seem to be more abundant in some parts of the country than others and are especially common in Kent. The earliest ones, which may be Saxon in date, are normally fairly simple examples, whereas later ones were more complex and in rare cases, have numbers round the edge. At the centre there would have been a peg, called a gnomon, sticking out horizontally which casts a shadow on the face of the dial.

The oldest ones are described as having 4 or 5 lines radiating out from the centre with an outer circle which was probably added later. I have seen an example of this type ‘on-line’ from a church in Wootton in Kent which appears to be very similar to the one at All Saints except that ours has 6 lines. Looking at the depth of the grooves, however, it seems to me that the outer circle and also two of the lines are less weathered than the other four. So, maybe these were part of the original design which was then modified later on by the addition of two more lines and the outer circle.

I would encourage you all to go and have a look at our mass dial if you can – or, at least, view the photo of it which appears with this article on the All Saints web site. It is quite easy to find and won’t last for ever! The part which would be at 7 or 8 o’clock on a clock face shows clear signs of damage.




by Gary Blinch

At the end of the Service on Sunday 19th November we were all taken by complete surprise when, in an act of extraordinary generosity, a Mrs Jill Johnson presented the Church with an Icon which she had painted of St. Alphege.

Mrs Johnson had travelled especially from Canterbury with her two sons in order to make this presentation and explained that her husband William, who died in 1996, had come from this area and was buried in the churchyard. In addition, one of her sons, Paul, had been baptised here. As a result, she felt a special connection with All Saints and wanted to dedicate this item to the Church.

She went on to say that she had made the Icon at the St Peter Centre for Sacred Art under the instruction of Peter Murphy. In accordance with tradition, it was painted onto a single block of wood and the pigment had been applied using egg yolk, not water, as a diluting agent. The halo is apparently made of 22 carat gold leaf. She admitted to having had some art instruction in the past but described herself as not being very good!! (Those of you who have seen the Icon, or have had a chance to view the photo of it on the All Saints web page, will understand my use of a double exclamation mark).

When asked why she had chosen this Saxon saint as the subject, Mrs Johnson pointed out that during her childhood she had attended St. Alphege Church in Greenwich as a Girl Guide. This, by coincidence, is the church we ‘borrow’ two of our bell ringers, Jim and John, from on a Sunday morning. Moreover, she said that in April 2012 she taken part in a re-enactment of the capture of St Alphege in Whitstable to mark the 1000th anniversary of his death and martyrdom at the hands of the Vikings. This had left a deep impression on her.

There is a separate article about the life and death of St. Alphege.