St James the Great, Thorley
RENOVATION OF THE NORMAN FONT, JULY 1988
Our font was thoroughly restored in 1988 by Mr Harrison. This restoration revealed details of which many of us had previously been unaware. Compton Whitworth, then Chairman of the Friends, wrote the following note shortly after the font was returned to the Church on 18th August 1988.
The font comprises four parts, three above ground and one below as follows:
The bowl of the font is carved from a single block of limestone from Purbeck in Dorset, probably of the 12th century and this is lined with lead of a later date. On the top, at the north-west corner can be seen a round circular mark where there was originally a hinge to which the font cover would have been fixed, and at the south-east corner was a hasp so that the cover could be locked to safeguard the Holy water. It is probable that this practice fell into disuse at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century.
Immediately beneath the bowl the restoration has revealed another piece of Purbeck limestone which originally rested on the floor of the church, but was entirely concealed under a layer of cement when placed in its present position at the time of the font's rescue from the farmyard in Victorian times. When the top of this piece of stone was revealed it was found to have four small circular marks at each corner and a larger one in the centre. From his knowledge of other fonts of this period, Mr. Harrison was able to say that they marked the bottoms of five short pillars, almost certainly of polished black Purbeck marble, on which the bowl would have originally rested, to bring it to the right height for baptisms, but which had, no doubt, been lost before the font was rediscovered.
To overcome the problem of the missing pillars, the Victorian restorers designed the plinth on which the old base of the font now rests, with the bowl directly on top of it. The plinth is made from blocks of a stone known as clunch which blends with the other stonework of the church inside.
The plinth surrounds quite a large hole in the church floor beneath which is a large cavity, about 4 feet square, bricked in all round, but with the ground left exposed at the bottom, thus giving ample space for the water used in the font to drain away. Mr. Harrison remarked that, unlike in many churches, this space was entirely free from any smell or other trace of damp, and that we were most fortunate to have such an evidently efficient soakaway.
My own comment is that the font should now be good for another century and that the feature needing most care is possibly the lead liner which should not have things dropped on it or heavy objects placed on its side or bottom. I hope both our own congregations and visitors will feel that one of our treasures has now received the attention it deserves and will be pleased with how it now looks. May it also bring some feeling of the mystery of the long Christian tradition whereby parents with God-parents bring their babies to baptism.
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