From the Thorley Archives

Our Font at St. James the Great, Thorley

Our font is one of the two oldest architectural features in the church. Together with the south 'dogtooth' doorway it dates from the Norman times in the 12th century. As with so many other churches, the font is positioned opposite the main door symbolising the entry into the church by the ceremony of baptism.

• The bowl of the font is carved from a single block of limestone from Purbeck in Dorset and is lined with lead to prevent leakage of the water through the porous stone.

• A circular mark on the top of the font indicates where a hinge for a font cover was located and on the opposite side is an indication where once a hasp to lock the cover was fixed.

• In the 1200s a law was passed requiring all fonts to have secure covers to prevent the theft of sacred water for medicinal and witchcraft purposes.

• It was the practice in medieval times to fill the font and sanctify the water at Easter to symbolise new life. This water was not then renewed until the next Easter. Better then to be baptised in May / June than January / February!

• It was also the custom that the infant child was baptised by total immersion in the holy water emphasising the entry into the Christian life and the purging of sins.

• During the renovation of our font in 1988 the stonemason noted five circular marks underneath the font. These were clues that at one time the font stood on five pillars, probably four thin corner pillars and a thicker central pillar of polished black Purbeck marble.

• In the 1855 restoration of the church the font bowl was located on a new base and plinth designed by Sir Gilbert Scott. He also designed the present font cover which was paid for by a collection taken up at the opening service of the restored church on January 17th 1856.

• Previous to this date the font bowl had been used as a horse trough in the adjacent Thorley Hall farmyard. It was probably thrown out of the church during Cromwell's time when churches were purged of such ornaments

This article is dedicated to Compton Whitworth who died 24th August this year, aged 92. Compton was the Churchwarden who, in 1983, inaugurated the Friends of St James the Great, with the mandate to raise funds to maintain the fabric of the church and churchyard. As Chairman of the Friends, it was Compton who commissioned the thorough restoration of our font and its base.

Bill Hardy
October 2006

From the Archives