On an Ancient Hour Glass and Stand in Bloxworth Church, Dorset

By the Rev. O. P. CAMBRIDGE, M.A.

[From: Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, Vol. III, (1879), pp. 34-35]

WHEN, after the Reformation, preaching became obligatory upon the clergy, it is said that Hour-glasses were very generally placed in the parish churches to regulate the length of the sermon. If this be so it is remarkable how, almost completely, all traces of this Regulator have disappeared! The length of the sermon was intended to be limited to one hour! but we are all, probably, familiar with the old story of the Divine who used to treat his congregation to "one turn more" of the glass. In fact two, three, and even four hours are said to have been not an unusual length, entailing "turn" upon "turn," on the principle we may suppose that "one good turn deserves another." Under such an infliction it would not be unintelligible that congregations (like the old lady's servants roused from sleep at an unseasonable hour by the crowing of the cock) should, in some way, have connected the infliction with the so easily turned Hour-glass, and thus have almost universally compassed its destruction.

I have heard of no more than four or five churches in which the Stand alone remains - Curland Church, near Buckland St. Mary, (in which I have myself seen it), and Holwell Church, near Sherborne, are two - but no information has reached me of any church, excepting my own at Bloxworth, in which both Stand and Hour-glass are still in existence. It is a rough drawing of these that I now place before you. The Stand is of [p. 35] wrought iron, ornamented with fleur-de-lys, and fixed upon a single iron upright, or stem; the workmanship is rather rude, but bold and effective. The frame of the Glass is of wood rather roughly cut, and the Glass is of a greenish hue. The whole height of Stem, Stand, and Glass is near about two feet, that of the Glass and its frame about 10 inches. Traces of colour, still remaining, show that it was originally decorated; but this has mostly worn off.

About eight or nine years ago, while the chancel of the church was under restoration, the old Parish Clerk, concerned for the safety of the Hour-Glass, placed it in a chest in which the Church Bible and Prayer Book were kept. Afterwards, forgetting that the Glass was there, he one evening replaced the Bible (weighing about 22lbs.) rather heavily upon it, and with an unfortunate result; the Glass being broken in two at the narrow part. A glass-blower was called in and re-united the parts, but in so doing obliterated the passage for the sand, which has now consequently ceased to run.

A duplicate of the Glass, handed down from Parish Clerk to Parish Clerk from time immemorial is now in my possession.

In Hook's Church Dictionary, 7th ed., p. 375, it is mentioned that "in some churches the Stand for the Hour-glass, if not the instrument itself, still remains."

Believing, therefore, that the Stand and Glass now under consideration are unique, I have thought it might be not wholly without interest to some of the members of our Society, to bring it to their notice.

Since the report of the above was published in the local journals, I have received communications from several persons informing me of the existence either of the Hour-Glass, or the Stand in the following Churches, viz., Inkpen, Co. Berks; the Stand alone. Cockerham, near Lancaster; "the Glass without the Stand, now used to time the Ringers in the Belfry." [Revd. T. Archer Turner]. St. John Baptist's Church, Bristol; St. Alban's, Wood-street, London; and Brooke Church, Norfolk, "contain Hour-Glasses." [R. B. Prosser, 31, St. Paul's Road, London, on authority of "A Handbook of English Ecclesiology " Cambridge Camden Society (Masters, 1847), where many places are mentioned as still preserving the Stand alone. At Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey, "a very curious Stand." [R. B. Prosser]. Hurst Church, Co. Berks, " the Stand alone, circular, and elaborately painted." [T. Archer Turner]. Ellingham Church, near Ringwood, also retains the Stand. [Frederic Fane.]


Octavius Pickard-Cambridge (1828-1917) was born in Bloxworth rectory and eventually succeeded his father as Rector of that parish in 1868. He was a famous entomologist and a world authority on arachnids (spiders). For accounts of his life, see:

[Paper transcribed from the copy of the volume digitised by the Internet Archive, produced from an original in the University of Toronto Library]