About Piers Nicholson, Sundial Designer

Piers Nicholson is one of a small handful of sundial designers who have revived this ancient art of dialling in Britain.  A British Sundial Society was founded in 1890, followed a few years later by the North American Sundial Society.

In 1995 I joined the British Sundial Society, and was appointed to devise and run a BSS Awards scheme to identify every 3 years the best modern sundial produced in the UK.  .

This picture shows the very first sundial, a vertical dial of painted wood, which I made for a cottage in Suffolk.  The willow-leaf pattern reflects the large willow tree in the garden

To celebrate my election to the Council, I made an "Apprentices Test Piece” of 4 painted wooden sundials pointing North, South, East and West.  I have always liked painted vertical dials because of the great freedom of colour and design, but they are inherently very expensive, and they require periodic repainting, so they are not very popular in the UK.

 

In 1997, Sustrans, a UK cycling charity, opened the first section of a new cycling route between Lincoln and Boston, in Lincolnshire.  They commissioned me to design and build a sundial with volunteer labour.  The sundial stands on the banks of the River Witham

In 1998, a livery company of the city of London, the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers, decided it wished to present a work of art to the City of London Corporation to mark the Millennium.  I was given a free rein over the design, and initially tried to incorporate both bricks and tiles in the design.  But the tiles would not have been robust enough for the planned 1,000 year life.  The final design had a plinth of exactly 2,000 bricks, one for each year of the two millennia, surmounted by a polar sundial. 

Polar sundials are very uncommon; this is the only public polar sundial in London   The picture shows the sundial being opened by the Lord Mayor of London in November 1999

In 1999 I visited Guatemala and was much impressed with the Maya temples accurately aligned with the equinoxes.  At the time, the Council of BSS was much concerned about the low quality of many of the sundials on sale in garden centres and similar outlets, and wanted to find some way of promoting scientific sundials as scientific instruments rather than meaningless garden ornaments.  At that time, the basic design of the horizontal sundial had been static for five centuries or more, ever since unknown makers discovered the principle that, if the gnomon is set at the angle of the latitude, the shadow will fall in the same place at the same (solar) time each day.         

My innovation was to make the gnomon from a pair of plates with a narrow air gap, so that the sun would cast a line of light between them every day at solar noon.  This enables the sundial to be set with great accuracy to true north.

Initially, I had these sundials made in brass, and many thousands of these ~"Spot-On Sundials" have now been sold around the world

Later, I designed a similar sundial in stainless steel, particularly for public spaces where the sundial needs to be very robust and vandal-proof.  These too have been sold

In 2016, a special version of this sundial was commissioned for the Jubilee Walkway on the south bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge.  

This commemorates the London Silver Jubilee Walkway, the first urban walkway in England laid out in 1977.

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I have also designed the Fleet Street Heritage Sundial, an 11 metre square east-facing sundial in London.   Fleet Street used to be the centre of the British newspaper industry, but changes in technology have caused all of them to move elsewhere.  This sundial is planned to commemorate both the heritage of Fleet Street and the long struggle to defend the freedom of the press.