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Sundial and circular basin to northwest of Kelburn Castle, Kelburn Castle Estate, Fairlie

A Category B Listed Building in Largs, North Ayrshire

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Latitude: 55.7718 / 55°46'18"N

Longitude: -4.8446 / 4°50'40"W

OS Eastings: 221666

OS Northings: 656823

OS Grid: NS216568

Mapcode National: GBR 31.9HPZ

Mapcode Global: WH2N7.K683

Entry Name: Sundial and circular basin to northwest of Kelburn Castle, Kelburn Castle Estate, Fairlie

Listing Date: 14 April 1971

Last Amended: 17 November 2016

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 406537

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB7299

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Largs

County: North Ayrshire

Electoral Ward: North Coast and Cumbraes

Parish: Largs

Traditional County: Ayrshire

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Probably circa 1700-10. An elaborately carved, early 18th century obelisk sundial of polished ashlar sandstone set, unusually set within a circular stone basin. The square-columned shaft of the sundial is set diagonally on square plinth, with a bulging tetrahedron capital, metal gnomons and recessed and incised motifs including sun, moon and heart. The shaft is inscribed with the initials 'EDG' and 'CIC'. Above the shaft, the sundial is currently (2016) in five pieces which are sited beside the stone basin.

Statement of Interest

This early 18th century sundial is an important surviving element of the Kelburn estate and an unusual example of the obelisk type, unique to Scotland, with elaborately patterned and carved facets. It is, unusually, set within a circular stone basin adding to its interest. The sundial is one of only 25 obelisk sundials known to survive, all of which are listed. It has been altered and relocated but much of its 18th century material survives, adding to our understanding of decorative structures as part of historic garden design, and of the 17th and 18th century Scottish interest in mathematics and timekeeping.

Age and Rarity

Though undated, this sundial bears the same initials as the larger obelisk sundial, dated 1707, to the west of Kelburn Castle (LB7298). It is likely to be contemporary with the additions made to the tower house during the early 18th century. Formerly located at the centre of the kitchen garden at Kelburn, it was relocated to its present location just south of the former kitchen garden, around 1980. Circular ponds or basins, often supplied with running water, formed the centre piece of numerous 18th and 19th century walled kitchen gardens. The setting of the sundial at the centre of a round pool may have been intended to represent in plan form, the astrological symbol for the sun (a point at the centre of a circle) which was first introduced to Europe during the Renaissance period.

Variations in the size of the carved facets on the shaft may indicate that it has been altered at some point. This sundial was likely to have been topped with a tapering finial in the 18th century, similar to those found at many of the remaining 24 obelisk sundials across the country. A curved-neck ball finial was added to sundial, probably during the later half of the 19th century, when many works were carried out across the Kelburn estate.

Sundials became fashionable in country house gardens in Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries, both as decorative structures and as time keeping devices, as the science of gnomics (or art of dialling as it was more commonly known) became increasingly popular. Horizontal dials with a single gnomon, an engraved dial and perhaps the sun s movement in the zodiac, were common and structures with multiple dials are found throughout Britain, but the tall, narrow obelisk sundial type is unique to Scotland. The emergence of a particularly elaborate sundial type in Scotland during the Enlightenment era, is illustrative of a changing world of increasing prosperity and the spread of rational, scientific and mathematical thought (Daniel, 2008). The similarity of form and detail shared by many of the surviving Scottish examples, which are widely spread geographically, is significant.

The obelisk is an archaic architectural form, likely to have been used as a method of keeping time in ancient Egypt. The Scottish obelisk sundial traditionally has 3 parts: the square shaft with an octagonal-shaped capital and then a tapering finial above. The shaft is commonly divided into 5 horizontal sections, with a face on each side, and many of the compartments are hollowed out with various geometric shapes, some of which have metal fins, or gnomons, inserted into them to cast a shadow, or etched lines which mark out the hours as the edge of the shape casts a shadow over the lines. The bulging octagonal capital at the centre usually has square and triangular faces, and the tapering finial also had further gnomons, sun motifs and other shapes inscribed or carved into it.

There are 25 obelisk sundials known to still be in existence in Scotland, many of which are also affiliated with important ancestral seats, including examples at Craigiehall in Edinburgh (LB5559), Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute (LB12054) and Tongue House in Sutherland (LB18459). The example at Drummond Castle in Perthshire, dated 1630, is thought to be earliest known example (LB19883).

The castle is the focal point within the Kelburn estate policies. The principal phases of addition are distinctly identifiable and the successive additions dating from the early Scottish Renaissance to the present day represent changing political and cultural values as well demonstrating a significant transition in Scottish domestic architecture at this time. Associated ancillary estate buildings and structures, including sundials, monuments, stable offices, lodges, bridges and worker s cottages (some of which are listed separately) contribute to our understanding of this historically significant ancestral seat.

Architectural or Historic Interest



Plan form

The setting of the dial at the centre of a round pool or basin is unusual and may have been intended to represent the astrological symbol for the sun (a point at the centre of a circle) which was first introduced to Europe during the Renaissance period.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

This sundial has well-defined hollowed out faces to the shaft and capital and is, unusually, set within circular stone basin. It has been altered and relocated but much of its 18th century material survives and it remains a distinctive example of the rare obelisk type sundial which is unique to Scotland, adding to our understanding of the 17th and 18th century Scottish interest in mathematics and timekeeping.


This sundial has been relocated a short distance to the south of its former location within the former kitchen garden at Kelburn Castle. In its new setting it remains part of the group of associated contemporary estate buildings at the core of the Kelburn estate, reflecting 18th century design and theory in the Scottish garden landscape.

Regional variations

There are no known regional variations.

Close Historical Associations

None known at present. Kelburn is among the oldest country seats in Scotland to have been continuously inhabited by successive generations of one family, the Boyles. The family crest and initials of various family members are represented in the stonework at Kelburn Castle.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2016. Previously listed as Kelburn Sundial In Kitchen Garden .

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