14 November 2023

Wendy Taylor’s
‘Equatorial Sundial’
was almost lost to
time and to Bletchley

‘Equatorial Sundial’ by Wendy Taylor on Chandos Square in Bletchley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

‘Equatorial Sundial’ is a striking and eye-catching sculpture by Wendy Taylor on Chandos Square in Bletchley. Today, it is a familiar sight to commuters and visitors as they walk from the railway station into the centre of Bletchley. But this is not its original location, and there was a time when it was lost to Milton Keynes. It took tough negotiations to bring this work of art back to Bletchley.

Wendy Taylor was commissioned by Telephone Rentals PLC to create ‘Equatorial Sundial’ for the Cable & Wireless Offices in Water Eaton Road, Bletchley, in 1982. This a large stainless steel equatorial dial, 3650 mm high. There are no numerals, but half and quarter hour marks for 6 am, noon and 6 pm.

The distinguishing characteristic of an equatorial dial (also called the equinoctial dial) is the planar surface that receives the shadow, which is exactly perpendicular to the gnomon’s style. This plane is called equatorial, because it is parallel to the equator of the Earth and of the celestial sphere.

If the gnomon is fixed and aligned with the Earth's rotational axis, the sun’s apparent rotation about the Earth casts a uniformly rotating sheet of shadow from the gnomon; this produces a uniformly rotating line of shadow on the equatorial plane. As the Earth rotates 360 degrees in 24 hours, the hour-lines on an equatorial dial are all spaced 15 degrees apart (360/24).

Wendy Taylor designed the ‘Equatorial Sundial’ for the Cable & Wireless Offices in Water Eaton Road, Bletchley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The sculptor and artist Wendy Taylor designed the ‘Equatorial Sundial’ in Bletchley and a second, better-known sundial in London, the ‘Timepiece’. Similar ideas inspired her ‘Compass Bowl’ in Basildon and her ‘Opus’ in Milton Keynes.

Wendy Taylor specialises in permanent, site-specific commissions. She is known for her sculptures in the public realm, especially in London, and she says she is one of the first artists of her generation to take art out of the galleries and onto the streets.

Her work typically consists of large sculptures that appear the be carefully balanced. Her abstract sculptures explore themes of equilibrium, materiality and fabrication. She views her artworks as communicative devices.

Wendy Taylor was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, in 1945, and was an award winning student at Saint Martin’s School of Art (1961-1966). Her first solo show was in 1966 at Axiom Gallery, and she later exhibited in many group shows and solo at Angela Flowers Gallery, the Oliver Dowling Gallery, Dublin, and the Hayward Annual at Hayward Gallery. She won a gold medal in the Listowel Graphics Exhibition in Co Kerry 1977.

She has taught at Ealing School of Art (1967-1975) and the Royal College of Art (1972-1973), and she was a design consultant for the Commission for New Towns (1986-1988).

Three of her works are Grade II listed structures: her ‘Virginia Quay Settlers Monument’, her ‘Timepiece’ in Saint Katharine Docks, by Tower Bridge in London, and her ‘Octo’ sculpture and reflecting pool in Milton Keynes.

The chair of the Milton Keynes Public Arts Trust, lan Michie, was involved in long and intense negotiations in 2016 to secure the return of Wendy Taylor’s ‘Equatorial Sundial’ to Milton Keynes.

Vodafone executives had uprooted the sculpture and moved it from Bletchley to the Telegraph Museum in Porthcurno, Cornwall. The negotiations involved executives from many organisations and the MP for South Milton Keynes, lan Stewart.

Finally, the sculpture was returned to Milton Keynes, and after refurbishment it was installed in its present prominent position in Chandos Square in Bletchley. There commuters see it every day as they walk between the town centre and the railway station.

Wendy Taylor has two other public sculptures in Milton Keynes. ‘Octo’ (1979-1980) on Silbury Boulevard is a stainless steel sculpture mounted on a reflecting pool. ‘Octo’ is an early example of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation’s public art programme. It is a ‘continuous strip of stainless steel, 12 ft high, forms a sinuous foil to the Miesian purism of Stuart Mosscrop’s town office buildings.’

‘Essence’ (1982) is on Avebury Boulevard. The artist describes this work in bronze as being ‘surrounded by a wide selection of shrubs which give a secret air to the area, providing a complete contrast to the bold outlines of Milton Keynes’ avenues. The soft enfolding lines of the sculpture are a response to the intimacy of the enclosed environment.’

Long and intense negotiations secured the return of Wendy Taylor’s ‘Equatorial Sundial’ to Bletchley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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