TAKE A LOOK AT... (in Derbyshire)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 14th May 2001 (p1 & p7), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.


Early Christian baptism centred on total immersion, but as baptism by affusion became customary, fonts were introduced as a receptacle for holy water and by the ninth century were in common use.

Medieval superstition claimed that holy water could serve the occult needs of sorcerers, therefore in 1236 the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered all baptismal fonts to be kept under lock and key. To prevent holy water soaking into the porous stone, fonts were generally lined with lead, easily available in the Peak District, where beautifully polished local stones were also used in later fonts as at Over Haddon, or Sheen and Edensor which feature the rare 'Duke's Red' marble.

The earliest, Saxon, fonts are rare. Sadly, that of Earl Stemdale was shattered when the old church was wrecked by a German incendiary bomb in 1941, although skilful repair work restored it to the rebuilt church.


Eyam's Saxon font, hewn of local gritstone, was rescued late last century after serving as a garden ornament, a fate shared by fonts from Hope, Ashford and Darley. Eyam also has a later Norman font, although all traces of original workmanship were removed when it was stripped of old paint stains. The ancient font of Tideswell was also used to mix paint when the church was 'beautyfied' in blue and mahogany 170 years ago. Other Norman fonts suffered worse damage; Beeley's was left unrecognisable by a 'barbaric' Victorian reshaping whilst at Kirk Ireton the font was split into pieces when a 'pagan minded plumber lighted a fire under it to melt some lead'.

Taddington reclaimed its huge old Norman font 50 years ago after many undignified years in a nearby coaching inn, where around 1875 it was discovered by eminent historian Dr. J.C. Cox. He found apparent traces of pea soup in the bowl, also regularly used for washing beer glasses. Dr. Cox related too that Baslow's font had formerly been used as a vessel for salting bacon in the vicarage cellar.

It has to be remembered that many fonts were discarded during the Commonwealth in favour of simple movable basins. At Parwich the shapely Norman font was engraved '1662' to commemorate its recovery on the Restoration, similarly '1663' is carved into that of Kniveton. Wirksworth erected a new font in thanksgiving; churchwarden's accounts for 1662 list relevant expenses, from 'pd. John Ashmore And ye Carrier and Ashmore's man for settinge up ye funt... £4.70' to 'Ale at the hanginge up of ye funt cover 6d'.

In the early nineteenth century, Elton discarded a remarkable and unique twelfth-century font, which was eventually taken in by Youlgreave church. Carved from a single block of stone, it has a smaller side stoup for holy water, or oil, with a salamander - a symbol of baptism shared by the font at Ashford - carved in relief on the larger vessel. Elton belatedly realised its loss but had to be content with the gift of an excellent facsimile.

Human figures, flowers and a baptism scene are sculpted around Winster's Norman font, of the same period as the vessel at Tissington with its foliage and strange animals. At nearby Thorpe, very similar detail was lost to frost and weather during the font's long use as a cattle trough. Unspoilt Norman fonts can be seen at Wirksworth, Brassington and Edensor. Another with ducal connections shares the chapel at Haddon Hall with a later octagonal holy water stoup almost one foot across.


By the fourteenth century, octagonal fonts had become the rule, the number eight symbolically associated with renewal. A fine example at Bakewell All Saint's church is carved on each face with a figure, each believed to represent a saint in keeping with the church's dedication. The octagonal font at Hartington, described in 1843 as 'whitewashed' and before cleaning in 1900 as 'garishly coloured', is carved with shields and tracery.

Shields with armorial bearings denote that the font was a gift, as seen in the arms of Eyre and Padley at Hathersage. The Bovill arms decorate Monyash font, sculpted too with beasts resembling a lion and tiger. Safe now in Tansley church is a font bowl carved with the Balguy arms and '1672 Henery Baveguy'[sic]. Originally given to the church of Derwent village - lost beneath the Derwent reservoir - the font spent time as a geranium pot in the gardens of Derwent Hall during the last century.

Lovingly set with flowers but now beneath the open sky is the old font of Edale, left undisturbed whilst its church was demolished and replaced long ago.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 14th May 2001.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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