John E. Vigar MA, FSA Scot., FRSA

Lead Fonts of England

DSCN1350 Font detail

 

As we travel around England, we occasionally come across fonts made of metal. In own time an amazing stainless-steel font has been placed in Salisbury Cathedral and many churches use a metal bowl at the front of the church. However, metal fonts have been used for centuries and over 30 medieval examples survive in our parish churches, dating from the 11th to the 17th centuries.

There must have been many more, but lead is easily damaged and can be reused for other purposes.

There are a group of 6 identical fonts in Gloucestershire that must have been cast from the same mould.

A characteristic of the early fonts is the arcading around the bowl, which can be plain or contain figures. One at Walton on the Hill in Surrey has both arcading, figures and foliage decoration.

Slightly later the arcading disappears as at Brundall in Norfolk where we have the Crucified Christ repeated between decorative bands.

And then decoration goes altogether as at Childrey in Oxfordshire where a series of bishops encircle the bowl.

Two later fonts, both in Kent, are at Wychling and Eythorne. Here figurative designs have given way to decorative schemes – unsurprising as the Eythorne font date sorm as late as 1628.

The finest lead font in the country is at Brookland on the Romney marshes. Surely made on the continent as its text is partly in Norman French, it is unlike any other. Its sides are covered with two narrative schemes. On top we find the signs of the zodiac whilst beneath are the Labours of the Months corresponding to the Zodiac Calendar.

During the Civil War the font as Pyecombe is East Sussex was covered in plaster to disguise it. The parishioners were worried that it would be melted down for shot.

Similarly at Lower Halstow in Kent, the font was plastred to make it square. Only after shell damage in WWI was it realised that there was a lead font inside and it was subsequently uncovered!

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