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The 5-year South West Peak Landscape Partnership, 2017-2022, was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Solving the Mystery of Butterton Sundial’s Hidden Inscription

11 August 2022

The mystery of a centuries old inscription, found underneath Butterton sundial during restoration work this summer, has been solved.

Peak District National Park cultural heritage officer Catherine Parker Heath explained: “Craftsman Alastair Hunter, of Macmillan Hunter Sundials, discovered the inscription when he removed the 18th century metal sundial from its medieval stone base in the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s Church, Butterton.

“Having seen better days and missing its gnomon (the sticky-up bit), the sundial was in need of repair. As Alastair examined the metal sundial’s condition he discovered words inscribed on its underside.

“The inscription was incomplete, indicating it was originally part of a larger metal plaque repurposed for use as the sundial base.”

Following a public appeal in the local press and on social media to help decipher the old script, local historians set out to crack the code.

Catherine added: “Thanks to the appeal being shared far and wide online, retired county archivist and president of the Ashbourne Heritage Society, Adrian Henstock, who now lives near Newark, was able to see the inscription and enlarge the image on his computer screen.

“Adrian recognised it was written in archaic Gothic script and was able to read the words and make some sense of it, although there was no continuity from line to line. He realised it was part of a memorial to an important churchman – an archdeacon linked to Yorkshire.

“However, the main clue was a reference to a place: ‘…deswall town’. Adrian remembered visiting Tideswell church some 25 years prior and recalled a memorial brass to Robert Pursglove (1504-1579) – Bishop of Hull and Archdeacon of Nottingham, and founder of Tideswell school which still bears his name.

“Adrian still had a church guidebook which showed the memorial brass and another brass containing a long epitaph. In a ‘Eureka’ moment, Adrian realised that the Butterton plaque contained the same words. The guidebook recorded that the original brass had been stolen and replaced by the present one in 1705. In addition, a fragment was discovered in 1901 in a cupboard in a churchwarden's house, but this too had since disappeared!

“At the same time, other people, including Alastair Hunter and John Bayliss, were researching the inscription and arriving at the same conclusion.”

The code had been cracked, the mystery solved!

A photograph provided by John Bayliss, shows how the Butterton piece would have fitted with the rest of the plaque.

The sundial restoration work was part of the South West Peak Landscape Partnership’s Small Heritage Adoption project, which provided the funding thanks to National Lottery players through a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Below is a transliteration of the complete text provided by Alastair Hunter (the ## indicates the parts that are included on the sundial plaque):

Under this stone as here doth ly a corps sumtime of fame

in tiddeswall bred and born truely ROBERT PURGSLOVE by name

and there brought up by parents care at Schoole and learning trad

afterwards by UNCLE dear to London he was had

who WILLIAM BRADSHAW hight by name in pauls wch did him place

and yr at Schoole did him maintain full thrice 3 whole years space

and then into the Abberye was placed as I wish

in Southwarke call'd where it doth ly Saint MARY OVERIS

to OXFORD then who did him Send into that Colledge right

And there 14 years did him find ##wh Corpus Chris##ti hight

From thence at length away he went ##A Clerke of learning## great

to GISBURN ABBEY Streig##ht was sent, and placed in## PRIORS seat



two GRAMER Schooles he did or##dain with LAND for to end##ure

one HOSPITAL for to maintain tw##elve impotent and poor##

O GISBURNE thou with TID##DESWALL TOWN lement and## mourn you may

for this Said CLERK of great ren##oun, lyeth here comp##ast in clay

though cruell DEATH hath now down brought this BODY we here doth ly

yet trump of FAME Stay can he nought to Sound his praise on high

Fragments of the plaques from Butterton and Tideswell