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Seven Dials monument

Restoration of the sundials

Seven Dials was the creation of Thomas Neale (1641-1699), an extraordinary but relatively unchronicled figure of late Stuart England. He was a MP for 30 years, Master of the Mint and of the Transfer Office, Groom Porter, gambler and entrepreneur. His projects ranged from the development of Seven Dials, brewing and Navy victualling in Shadwell, developing East Smithfield and Tunbridge Wells, land drainage, steel and papermaking, mining in Maryland and Virginia and raising shipwrecks.

Neale’s idea in developing Covent Garden was a star-shaped plan with six radiating streets (subsequently seven), dramatically increasing the number of houses which could be built. In 1694, an 8 foot tall plinth was erected at its centre, of top of which was a 20 foot tall Doric column with sundial and orb, designed by Edward Pierce (1630–1695). The monument was removed during 1773 as the area descended into slums. A replica was built in 1987, supported by HOLT – the first project of its kind in London since the erection of Nelson's Column in the 1840s. The dials were designed, carved and gilded by Caroline Webb and the astronomer Gordon Taylor verified the mathematics. Each of the faces is accurate to within ten seconds. The dials give local apparent solar time, so a correction must be made using the conversion graph displayed on the plinth to work out clock time. The project brought back to life a lost neighbourhood whose name had disappeared from the memories of Londoners.

The six sundial faces and orb were in a poor state of disrepair. The existing blue paint was flaking, powdery and areas had worn off completely leaving the stone vulnerable to the elements. The gilding was blistered and delaminating due to an unstable substrate. The orb had very little gilding left on the top half exposing the surface to the elements and bird faeces which exacerbates its deterioration.

During summer 2023, the conservators removed the existing paint and gilding back to the surface, sanding, priming and regilding in 23.5ct gold leaf, followed by burnishing. Completed in October 2023 by HOLT and The Seven Dials Trust, generously supported by Firmdale Hotels.

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