It is well-known that an armillary sphere sundial once adorned the Rock Gardens in the Lower Arboretum in the early 1900s. It formed the centre-piece of the gardens on the north-west side of Christchurch Park's Wilderness Pond. The sundial was featured on many early Arboretum postcards of the period (picture 1).
The origin of the sundial is a fascinating mystery. It has been speculated that it originally belonged to the Fonnereau family of Christchurch Mansion. James Mann, former Head Gardener of the Arboretum, wrote on the back of two postcards of the Rock Gardens “This is the Lower Arboretum which I have reconstructed” and “This is another view of the Lower Arboretum garden that I laid out, with its very old sundial and rustic bridge.” Mann had probably designed the Rock Gardens in the early 1920s and even then was referring to the sundial as “very old”.
The sundial was removed from the Arboretum probably when the Rock Gardens were later redesigned and it was then displayed in the gardens at the back of Christchurch Mansion next to the Wolsey Art Gallery until it fell into disrepair (picture 2).
The Friends of Christchurch Park have led a project to restore the sundial and locate it back to the Lower Arboretum. The dedication is to the late Dr John Blatchly MBE, former Headmaster of Ipswich School who died in 2015. Suffolk Masonry Services are carrying out the restoration and relocation (picture 3).
This project has attracted considerable interest and support. We are very grateful to Ipswich Borough Council, Ipswich School, Suffolk County Council, The Friends of the Ipswich Museums, The Ipswich and Suffolk Club, The Ipswich Society, The Lord Belstead Charitable Trust and W. D. Coe Ltd and a number of individual patrons who have made generous donations. The Friends of Christchurch Park invite further contributions from Ipswichians as a mark of their esteem and regard.
A short booklet is in preparation explaining the full story of the restoration which will be ready to accompany the unveiling of the restored sundial.
Note: If you have any information about the history of this sundial or any old photographs we would love to hear from you. Please contact the Reg Driver Visitor Centre on 01473 433980.