Leaden Fonts in Sussex
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ALTHOUGH stone or marble were the materials commonly employed in the construction of fonts, they were occasionally formed of metal, lead being that most frequently so used. Many foreign examples remain, and a list I have compiled gives a total of twenty-nine (either wholly or partially so composed), as existing in our own country. Of this number three are in Sussex, the rest being distributed over eleven other counties. The examples in our own district are in no way inferior to the other specimens, but replete with interest to the antiquary, the architect, and the artist ; Edburton, Parham, and Piecombe—parishes situated in the southern part of " Southsex," and the first and last almost adjoining one another ; possess examples of leaden fonts, each of much quaint beauty.

Those at Edburton and Piecombe are of late Norman date, that at Parham is, I believe, unique as belonging to the purest of the Pointed styles, the Decorated ; all other specimens remaining in England appear to be either Norman or Post-Reformational as regards the period of their execution.

Leaden fonts were, from the flexible nature of their material, most easily and readily fashioned into a circular or tub-shaped form, and many of them are therefore of this outline, being, in fact, short cylinders, whilst others are curved inwards at the base, as in the Norman one at Avebury, Wilts. In each example I have seen in situ, or know of by means of descriptions or drawings, the bowl alone is of metal, placed upon a stem or base of stone or brick. The majority of those of the Norman era have foliage work twining about the surface, or small figures under a continuous range of arches. The finest specimen appears to be one at Brookland, Kent, which has two rows of arcading encircling the bowl, the lower with the labours of the months, the upper having the signs of the zodiac, twenty figures in each circlet. Arcaded bowls exist at Dorchester, Oxon, and Walton-on-the-Hill, Surrey, both have figures within the arches. At Ashover, Derbyshire, the statuettes only are of lead, whilst the rest is of stone. Woolhampton font has the metal cut away at the back of each image, showing a stone foundation round which the lead has been pressed. Another Berkshire example at Childrey has twelve effigies of mitred bishops in as many recesses. Llancourt and Tidenham, in Gloucestershire, have fonts with patterns on them, evidently cast in the same mould, as is probably the case with portions of those at Edburton and Piecombe.

The method employed in making these vessels was apparently first to cast them flat, afterwards bend them into the required circular form, and then solder them up, the edges which have been so joined are clearly seen on the bowls at Edburton and Piecombe, where the patterns are " botched " or mutilated by it. On some examples the figures and ornaments are fac similies, many times repeated on the same work, and it is most likely in these cases that a single one was first carved out of wood, and then impressed on sand as often as required to complete the entire design. All the Sussex specimens would appear to be thus formed, and the practice was a common one in the cast-iron works of the South of England, many Sussex firebacks being composed of a shield or monagram, repeated at intervals over the surface, a good instance of which may be seen on a casting belonging to Miss Alman, East Street, Horsham.

Mr. Burges, who made metal work one of his chief studies, noted a leaden font at Amiens, in which all the traceries, buttresses, arches, and figures were fastened on with rivets in the same manner as if the material used were iron.

As mentioned above two of the specimens of metal fonts in Sussex are evidently in great part moulded from the same pattern, the whole of the upper portions of the bowls at Edburton and Piecombe being precisely similar in design ; the latter, I am inclined to think, the oldest of the two. It is now placed on a modern circular stem, and measures 23½ inches across the outside of the cornice 22 inches inside diameter, the depth of the outer face is 15 inches, and inside the bowl 13¾ inches ; the design is divided into four horizontal bands of ornament surrounding the cylindrical basin, the lowest is composed of fifteen circular-headed arches on moulded caps and thin flat pilasters, within each compartment so formed is a pattern of peculiar character, but by no means inelegant, it has a central ring through which foliage scroll-work is interlaced, over this is a band of continuous floriated ornament, with leaves above and below an undulating scroll, all the upper foliage being alike, but the lower, formed of two alternate patterns ; above this is an arcade of nineteen trefoil arches of a purely Early English motif, the whole composition being finished with a cornice formed of a series of members similar to those of a cushion capital of Norman date. The upper range of arches at Piecombe has on the alternate bays small circular bosses which are wanting at Edburton.

Besides the interesting font there remain several other features worthy of note in the lowly temple at Piecombe, such as the triple chancel arch of Norman date, and a piscina of Decorated work, with two basins under an ogee cinque foliated arch, a late example of this, as after the Early English period a single basin was the almost universal use ; there is also a pretty tile on the sanctuary floor with two birds seated on a branch of foliage.

Returning to the subject of this paper we find a second example of a leaden font at Edburton, a romantically situated village on the north side of the Southdowns. Here the bowl is also on a new base, of a more elaborate character than the one at Piecombe ; it differs from the latter in the composition of the lowest range of the four circles of ornamentation; here instead of an arcade is a series of square panels enclosing scroll and foliage work of an almost Early English type, and on the cornice are small projections or brackets opposite each other, which may have held the staples of the flat font-cover such as was then usually employed, canopied covers originating in the Perpendicular Period of Gothic art. The size of the basin is rather less than that of the first example, being 21½ inches extreme outside diameter and 19 inches that of the inside of the bowl, the height is 13¾ inches and the inside depth 13 inches.

The church at Parham has been so altered and mutilated that very little of interest has been left either in the structure or fittings, except the leaden font. This is still smaller than the two preceding ones, and has the disadvantage of being sunk into a modern octagonal stem, so that its full size and complete design are not visible, the outside diameter is 18 inches, whilst the external height of the bowl is only 9 inches above the stone pedestal, the cornice has been made by rolling over the upper edge of the surface ; this latter is divided into compartments by upright and horizontal panels of oblong shape, enclosing in each the legend + IHC NAZAR in beautiful Lombardic lettering of pure Decorated character. In the spaces between these bands are small shields with gironny within a bordure, charged with roundels, a coat which Mr. Lower ascribes to " Andrew Peverell,' Knight of the Shire, in 1351." (Lower's "Sussex" Vol. II., p. 77) . This is probably correct, and if so, no doubt he was the donor of this unique font. Heraldic devices were rare on these vessels in the fourteenth century, but were more abundant at the Perpendicular Period —that succeeding the date of the Parham example.

There are no Post-Reformational leaden fonts existing in Sussex, although the Piecombe one is assigned to that age in the handbook of English Ecclesiology (p. 130). One remains at Clunbridge, Gloucestershire, c. 1630, and at Eythorne, Kent, is another dated 1628, this latter being a very fair attempt in imitation of a Norman bowl.

Black lead or whitewash have been in recent times freely applied to these interesting works of art; and a new coat of the former made a Sussex font shine resplendently on a late visit of the Bishop of the Diocese.

A bronze font formerly existed at S. Alban's Abbey, but perished at the time of the Commonwealth. A very fine foreign example remains at Munster Cathedral. Fonts of the precious metals were not unknown in England, one at Canterbury Cathedral was of silver, and was carried backwards and forwards to Westminster for use at Royal christenings. Queen Elizabeth gave two presents of golden fonts, one to Mary Queen of Scotland, the second to Charles IX. of France, each of these golden vessels cost one thousand pounds.

The following is, the writer believes, the fullest list hitherto compiled :
Berkshire —Childrey, Late Norman; Clewer, Norman; Long Wittenham, Late Norman ; Woolhampton, Norman ; Woolstone, Norman (?).
Derbyshire —Ashover, Norman.
Dorsetshire —Wareham, Norman. Gloucestershire—Clunbridge, ca. 1640 ; Frampton-on-Severn ; Llancourt, Norman ; Siston ; Tidenham, Norman.
Kent —Brookland, Norman ; Chilham, Post-Reformational ; Eythorne, 1628. Lincolnshire —Barnetby-le-Wolde, Norman.
Norfolk Brundal, Hasingham, Plumstead Gt., Norman.
Oxfordshire —Clifton ; Dorchester, Norman ; Warborough, Norman.
Somersetshire —Piecombe.
Surrey —Walton-on-the-hill, Norman.
Sussex --Edburton, Late Norman ; Parham, De-corated ; Piecombe, Late Norman.
Wiltshire —Avebury, Norman. Chirton.

1 Andrew Peverell married Katherine, widow of Henry Herssey, ten,. Edward I. The Peverells held land in Boscham, Sompting, Ewhnrst, Blatchington. A manor in Sompting is still called Sompting Peverell. Andrew was Knight of the Shire in 1351-53-56-61-66 and 73. His name occurs as witness to a gift of land in Sompting made by William Bernehus to the Knights Templar,

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Last updated 11 October, 2009 - E&OE