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Sundial to west of Kelburn Castle, Kelburn Castle Estate, Fairlie

A Category A Listed Building in Largs, North Ayrshire

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Latitude: 55.7707 / 55°46'14"N

Longitude: -4.844 / 4°50'38"W

OS Eastings: 221697

OS Northings: 656706

OS Grid: NS216567

Mapcode National: GBR 31.9HVR

Mapcode Global: WH2N7.K6KX

Entry Name: Sundial to west of Kelburn Castle, Kelburn Castle Estate, Fairlie

Listing Date: 14 April 1971

Last Amended: 17 November 2016

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 406538

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB7298

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Largs

County: North Ayrshire

Electoral Ward: North Coast and Cumbraes

Parish: Largs

Traditional County: Ayrshire

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Dated 1707. An early 18th century obelisk sundial of polished ashlar sandstone elaborately carved with incised cup and heart-shaped hollows, intricate geometric symbols and dials on every face, some with metal gnomons. The sundial is 2.6 metres tall including the base and is located at the centre of a square parterre garden area to the immediate west of Kelburn Castle (Grid Ref: NS 21695, 56706). It consists of a stepped plinth, a 5-stage shaft surmounted by a tetrahedral sphere, and a tapering finial capped by a wrought-iron vane with a banner, bearing the monogram of the Earl of Glasgow and his wife, and thistle. The shaft is inscribed with the initials 'EDG' and 'CIC'.

Statement of Interest

This early 18th century obelisk type sundial, which is a design unique to Scotland, is an important surviving element of the Kelburn estate and one of the best preserved examples of its type in the country. Located in its early 18th century location, it is one of 25 surviving 17th and early 18th century sundials of this particularly distinctive type. Its elaborately patterned and carved facetted form makes an important contribution to our understanding of decorative garden structures as part of historic garden design, and also the interest in mathematics and timekeeping to 17th and 18th century landowners.

Age and Rarity

The first Edition Ordnance Survey map, published in 1856 shows the position of two sundials at Kelburn Castle. Dated 1707, this sundial is contemporary with the additions made to the tower house during the early 18th century.

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 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, tapering obelisk sundial type is unique to Scotland. The emergence of a type of particularly elaborate sundial in Scotland during the Age of Enlightenment, 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 tapering obelisk is a long-established architectural form, likely to have been used as a method of time keeping in ancient Egypt. The 17th century 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 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 sun motifs and other shapes inscribed or carved into it and further gnomons.

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 earliest one is thought to be the example at Drummond Castle in Perthshire, dated 1630 (LB19883). Another, smaller obelisk sundial at Kelburn (LB7299) stands at the centre of a circular stone basin at Grid Ref: NS 21666, 56823. Though undated, this dial bears the same initials as the former, and is probably of about the same age.

Kelburn is among the oldest ancestral country seats in Scotland to have been continuously inhabited by successive generations of one family, having been in possession of the Boyle family (formerly de Boyville ) since the 12th century. Kelburn has a prominent coastal setting to the south of the town of Largs, with views from the castle across the Firth of Clyde to the Isles of Cumbrae and Bute and southwest to the Isle of Arran. The Kel Burn runs through the estate, passing through a wooded ravine and over a 15 metre high waterfall into a naturally carved pool to the southwest of the castle.

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


Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

This sundial at Kelburn has well-defined hollowed out faces to the shaft and capital, many surviving metal gnomons and a fine metal cap. It is among the finest examples of the important obelisk type sundial in Scotland, adding to our understanding of the 17th and 18th century Scottish interest in mathematics and timekeeping.


This sundial, located in its early 18th century position to the west of the circa 1700 additions to Kelburn House, is part of a group of associated contemporary estate buildings which reflect 17th and 18th century garden design and theory.

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.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2016. Previously listed as Kelburn Sundial To West Of House .

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