Salisbury, Wiltshire

Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles


The nave of Salisbury Cathedral contains the works of what is believed to be the oldest working clock in the world, mentioned in records of 1386 [1]; [2].
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Cuthbert Tunstall (1474-1559) was Dean of Salisbury Cathedral in the early sixteenth century.

In Salisbury Cathedral, the tomb of Sir Thomas Gorges, d. 1610, and his wife, d. 1635, is topped with handsome framework sculptures of the dodecahedron, icosahedron and cubo-octahedron [3], apparently based on Leonardo's drawings for Pacioli (i.e. Luca Pacioli, Divina Proportione, Paganini, Venice, 1509). The tomb is at the east end of the church, just north of the Lady Chapel. It was erected after the death of the wife, who had previously been married to William Parr, Marquis of Northampton, for six years before his death, in 1565-1571. Parr had studied under Cuthbert Tunstall at Cambridge, Tunstall being a friend of his father. The Gorges family has no known mathematical connections, but had strong naval connections - Sir William Gorges was a vice admiral, his son Sir Arthur (d. 1625) was a captain under his cousin Raleigh. [4] refers to Sir Thomas Gorges of Longford Castle, early 17th century. The cathedral guide book says the tomb is topped with a sphere and an astrolabe, but it is topped with a sphere surmounted by a framework dodecahedron and there is no astrolabe in sight, so the author seems to think the dodecahedron is an astrolabe. See Wimborne St Giles for a similar tomb and discussion.
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John Evelyn records visiting Salisbury and seeing 'the great mural dial', but the only possible candidate for this is a meridian line on the north boundary wall of the graveyard, where the spire's shadow crosses at noon. This has been nearly obscured by time, but Peter Ransom found the line marked by a deep groove in the upper ashlar coping stones of the wall, though he could not find the inscription 'meridies', which is probably obscured by lichen. [5] In [6], Ransom reports that Lennox Napier located the true line about 12 ft to the left of where he looked and the word 'Meridies' is still visible.

In the north choir aisle is the remarkable tomb of Thomas Lambert "who was borne May ye 13 An. Do. 1683 & dyed Feb. 19 the same year." Local doggerel commemorates this: "Thomas Lambert all should mourn for he died three months before he was born!" [7]
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Seth Ward (1617-1689) was Bishop of Salisbury after the Restoration and being Bishop of Exeter.

In the middle of the floor is a brass plate inscribed "AD 1737 THE CENTER OF THE TOWER". [8] says it was put there by Wren who had found the tower 2½ ft out of line and had straightened it. When the tower was renovated in 1951, its centre was directly over Wren's mark. [9] says Wren was asked to examine the spire by Ward - if so, it was some time before the work was completed.

There is a handsome 1749 sundial on Malmesbury House, which shows both time and date [10].
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References (show)

  1. Spring, Roy. Salisbury Cathedral. Unwin Hyman, London, 1987, pp.66-67, with photo on p.67
  2. Howgrave-Graham, R. P., ed. by L. S. Colchester. The Wells Clock. The Friends of Wells Cathedral, 5th ed., 1987.
  3. Spring, Roy. Salisbury Cathedral. Unwin Hyman, London, 1987, pp.125-127, with photo on p.126
  4. Child, Mark. Wiltshire. Shire County Guide 5. Shire, (1984), 3rd ed., 1995. p.188
  5. Ransom, Peter. Sundial corner No. 8: Meridian lines, BSHM Newsletter 30 (Autumn 1995) 38-40.
  6. Ransom, Peter. BSHM Newsletter 33 (Spring 1997) 31
  7. Spring, Roy. Salisbury Cathedral. Unwin Hyman, London, 1987, pp.75-76, with photo on p.75. I have a photo of it.
  8. Timpson, John. Timpson's Towns of England and Wales. Oddities & Curiosities. Jarrold, Norwich, (1989), PB ed, (1994), 2nd ptg, 1995. p.75
  9. Child, Mark. Wiltshire. Shire County Guide 5. Shire, (1984), 3rd ed., 1995. pp.94 & 149
  10. a postcard of this from Peter Ransom. 19 May 2000

The Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles was created by David Singmaster.
The original site is at THIS LINK.