Opening the door, one is faced by the massive marble font. This is set in the middle of the first square of the church’s plan, the baptistery. New pews have been arranged around it which emphasise its character. But the blocking of the south door and the presence of the organ pipes above and the organ console below has reduced the spacious atmosphere that there once must have been.
The font itself is large enough for total infant immersion, which was the practice at the time. It is made of marble from Tournai in Flanders, as were about eight or ten other contemporary such fonts in England. They were all made at the quarry, and brought over in cogs, small tub – like boats with a single square sail. This font seems to have had a turbulent history. It is very cracked, and one of the pillars supporting it has been broken and replaced with a thirteenth century substitute. A possible explanation for this might be that the holy water that was left in it from one week to the next, seeped into the stone and cracked it in cold weather. The lead lining to the font may have been put there later as a remedy for this. The holy water was not poured away after a baptism, because it was very valuable and was held to have miraculous powers; but as such it was liable to be stolen, and used for irregular purposes. It therefore had to be covered and locked. There are signs on the south side of the rim which show where the lock has been broken off.
As part of a wider refurbishment of the Baptistery area, the previous Victorian oak cover was replaced by a modern cover in pewter and fused glass, designed by Nicholas Mynheer, creator of the new aumbry, and Roger Wagner, the creator of the nearby window, “The Flowering Tree”. The re-dedication took place on 28th September 2014.
Music in the Church
In 1738 a minstrels’ gallery was built attached to the west wall, from which singers and fiddlers could lead the music. Later a small organ was installed there. In 1874, however, the gallery was removed. Stalls had already been set up in the chancel for a choir. These singers were more sedate leaders of music than the ‘motley performers’ who had made ‘vociferous and discordant’ sounds from the gallery.
A new organ was built by Hill and Son, which was unfortunately out of proportion to the size of the church. In order to accommodate it the south door had to be blocked, and the console set up in the baptistery. In addition the pipe work was built in such a way that it looms over this part of the church. If the organ were not in that position the church would be transformed visually, and its Romanesque character more clearly revealed. It seems that earlier generations had the right idea! On a more positive note the organ itself is valued as a good example of increasingly rare tracker organs, the choir is conveniently accommodated in the new pews in the baptistery, and the church, with its uncluttered chancel, is proving an ideal venue for chamber music.