The King's Sundial at Whitehall –Vandalized by the Earl of Rochester

Leybourn, William (1626-1716)

Dialling: plain, concave, convex, projective, reflective, refractive. Shewing, how to make all such dials, and to adorn them with all useful furniture, relating to the course of the sun, performed arithmetically, geometrically, instrumentally and mechanically: and illustrated by sculptures, engraven in copper.

London: Awnsham Churchill, 1682


Folio: 30 x 19.5 cm. [12], 76, 89-187, [13], 189-192, 12, 181-226, 273-330, [2] p. Collation: portrait, π1 (title), a-b2, B-V2, Aa-Qq2, Rr4-Vv4, Xx2, Yy6, Zz2, [a]-[c]2, Aaa-Lll2, Mmm1, Aaaa-Pppp2 (with final blank leaf.)


A very fine copy. Complete with the engraved portrait frontispiece and 23 engraved plates (10 folding). There are also a few engraved illustrations in the text. Bound in contemporary mottled calf, rubbed, some wear. The text is crisp and bright throughout. Leaf Hh2 with small, clean tear (no loss), Qq1 and 4H2 with small, insignificant spots. Provenance: James Simeons, signature on title; Thomas Weld, [1750-1810], Britwell, Oxon, engraved armorial bookplate; John Ashworth Crabtree, bookplate; The Gemmary Inc., Redondo Beach, CA, 1990.

"William Leybourn was one of the most influential London mathematicians/ surveyors of his day. He first worked with his brother Robert as a printer but eventually gave up that trade to devote himself to the practice and teaching of mathematics. William was involved with the printing and publishing of many different mathematical treatises, both as an author and editor. He wrote works on astronomy, dialing, surveying, arithmetic, logarithms, Gunter’s line of numbers, Napier’s rods and recreational mathematics… He was such a well-regarded practitioner that after the Great Fire of London in 1666, he was among the select group appointed to survey the city before the reconstruction was begun. 

"Leybourn's "Dialling"(1682)is very likely one of the most comprehensive works ever published on designing sundials. It is composed of twelve sections (many authorities say eleven, but that is because only eleven are indicated on the title page and included in the numbered list in the preface—the twelfth item is a description of the king’s dial). The first few sections were authored by Leybourn while the later ones were written by others (often these have been translated, abridged, or edited by Leybourn). Included is not only the elementary knowledge necessary for dialing but also how to create dials on the most unlikely surfaces, including by reflecting sunlight from a windowsill onto a ceiling. The last section describes the tour de force of sundials set up by Leybourn in the king’s private garden in Whitehall in 1669. This device, which had well over one hundred individual dials of every conceivable form, most with gnomons in the shape of paws or horns taken from the King’s coat of arms, was demolished shortly before this book was published to make way for other amusements."(Tomash and Williams)

The King's Dial

Leybourn includes a chapter on the extraordinary sundial erected by Francis Line (Linus of Liège), was a Jesuit priest and scientist, known for inventing a magnetic clock and for his disputes with Newton and Boyle.

"When the future Charles II visited Liège he was shown in the college garden a great pyramidal structure bearing several dials, which so impressed him that twenty years later he invited Line to construct a similar one at Whitehall… The sundial which had been erected in the privy gardens of Whitehall Palace by the prince of Wales, later Charles I, having been defaced, Charles II decided to replace it and invited Line to design the new dial, a task he undertook 'at my lodging in the country'… 

"Unveiled on 24 July 1669, Line's 'Grande pyramidical multiform diall' was a large and elaborate structure rising tree-like from its stone pedestal. Comprising altogether more than 250 units, there were six main pieces of the dial in the form of stacked circular tables and large globes supported by iron branches, decreasing in size as they approached the pinnacle, an orb surmounted by a cross. Round the tables were dials showing time according to various historical and foreign forms of reckoning, above them glass plates bearing portraits of the royal family. Three dials consisted of water-filled globes which focused the sun's rays in various ways. One of these was Line's sundial for blind people, an example of which had been installed at Liège in 1635, and was seen there by an English visitor in 1699. It consisted of a 3 inch glass globe filled with water inside a 6 inch sphere consisting of several iron rings representing the hour circles. The sun's rays were brought to a focus on the rings, where it could be felt by hand. 

"Unfortunately no one thought to protect Line's grandiose structure from winter's frost, and it suffered considerable damage… The structure was still standing in 1674 when the earl of Rochester and his friends passed through the garden in a mood of drunken exuberance and smashed its glass spheres. By 1681 it seems to have been dismantled and taken out of the garden."(ODNB)

Tomash & Williams L98; ESTC R18006; Wing L1912