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Piers Nicholson

I have been interested in sundials for 25 years or more, ever since I attempted to make a sundial from a vertical post stuck in the ground and found it didn't work. Later, when I found out why it didn't work from a book in the library, I started making painted wooden sundials.

A few years later, a friend suggested I should join the British Sundial Society, and at the following Annual General Meeting, I made a suggestion for organising a periodic Awards Scheme. At the end of that meeting, I was invited to join the Council with responsibility for setting up the scheme.

In 1996, I had become very interested in the Internet, and suggested that the British Sundial Society should set up an information site about sundials. At that stage in the development of the Internet, it was not at all clear how much money a website would cost and what benefits it would bring, so the idea fell on stony ground. So I decided to set up www.sundials.co.uk on my own account, and it has subsequently become the leading world internet site on sundials.

For many years, I and others in the world of sundials, have been concerned with one major problem - "Why are garden sundials so awful, and what on earth can be done to improve them?" Why they are so awful is fairly easy to answer - it is very easy to make something which looks like a sundial and to sell it as a garden ornament to people who are not really interested in whether it works as a sundial. (Such sundials can now be imported by the container load from the Far East at a price of £3 (about $5 or E5) each. These objects should not really be dignified with the name of sundials, because they are not capable of telling the time from the sun. (In addition, many of them are badly made, and very few come with any instructions on how to set them up).

In the year 2000, my wife very kindly took me on a bus tour of Guatemala, and, in between seeing the extensive Maya ruins and enjoying the spectacular scenery and friendly people, we had a certain amount of time waiting around for buses. Deprived of both computer and workshop, I started thinking about the garden sundial problem, and came up with an idea - a split gnomon would remove the difficulties in setting up a horizontal sundial, and, if it was well made and had good instructions with it, it could also be very accurate. Also, I thought, it would provide a good opportunity to branch away from the traditional designs, which are usually feeble echoes of seventeenth or eighteenth century dials, and to produce a clean modern design appropriate to the century we live in.

Thinking these ideas is the easy bit! The difficult part is putting them into practice. I very nearly gave up, because it seemed that they were going to be impossibly expensive to make, and would thus never get any orders. And then I had a stroke of luck - I met somebody who imported goods from India, and had an agent there, and he put me in touch with a company near Delhi who, after three prototypes, produced a high-quality product at a price which would make it possible to sell in European markets.

The rest is history - we have sold hundreds of Spot-On brass sundials, and the new stainless steel Spot-On sundials have proved popular for the larger private gardens and for commemorations for schools, courtyards of plublic buildings, and landscaped open spaces.

 
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"So long, and thanks for all the fish"

After very many years of craft&design we've decided that we'd like to retire and so in 127 days we will close the craft&design website, including craft&design Online and the craft&design Selected Makers and Craft and Design Month websites. We've had a brilliant 35 years and would like to thank all our readers, advertisers, writers, contributors and website visitors for their support throughout that time. Our very best wishes to you all for the future - Angie and Paul.