“They don’t exhume fonts, do they?”

The dilemma of discovering an “unwanted font”

In our post, They bury fonts, don’t they? we examined the origins of the practice of burying fonts, and the occasions on which this disposal route has been sought. Subsequently, Michael Ainsworth and I reviewed further judgments in our joint post “Burial and destruction of unwanted fonts – further clarification”. However, it is inevitable that, if in the past fonts have been buried, there is a possibility when building works are undertaken in a churchyard, such as at St Andrew’s Church, Chippenham, an unexpected buried font may be discovered.

The BBC reports that a medieval baptismal font has been found buried outside the main door of a church in Wiltshire. The 16th Century font was unearthed at St Andrew’s Church, Chippenham, during construction work in the churchyard. The font was replaced by the Victorians, when they reordered the church “a couple of hundred years ago.”


Whilst authority for the font’s original disposal may be difficult to source, now that it has been exhumed, a faculty will be required to approve any further action, as this option is unlikely to have been considered when the building works were first authorized. Although the incumbent is quoted as saying “[I]t will be up to the church authorities to decide what is done”, in fact it will be for those who commissioned the recent building works in the churchyard to seek a faculty for future action, following the advice of the DAC, CBC, and others.

The problem is now what is the best option for the disposal, in the broader sense of the word, with the sixteenth century, octagonal font and pedestal weighing one tonne.  We would not presume to second guess the deliberations of the consistory court; however, we note that it is generally the bowl that is of concern rather than the plinth since this is the part addressed in Canon F 1 Of the font, a strict reading of which would preclude burial. As a consequence, it is often the bowl that is buried and not the entire font. The disposal of unwanted fonts is often problematic on account of their physical size and the lack of alternative options.

We await the consideration of the consistory court with interest.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "“They don’t exhume fonts, do they?”" in Law & Religion UK, 10 March 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/03/10/they-dont-exhume-fonts-do-they/

6 thoughts on ““They don’t exhume fonts, do they?”

  1. Our church font had been used as a cattle trough at its last parish and rediscovered in the Nineteenth Century before being brought to this parish. I expect it had been discarded because of the pagan imagery on it.

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  4. I am a churchwarden of St James church, Wield, Hampshire. Our village history relates that our Norman font was dug up in the garden of a canon in the close of Winchester cathedral in about 1895. I found an report in the Hampshire Chronicle archives of that date that said that a font had been dug up in the garden of a certain canon in the cathedral close and it had been installed in the cathedral itself. I realised that this seemed a remarkable coincidence so I enquired at the cathedral and the archivist there told me that there was no record of such a font as they had the famous Tournai font. Unfortunately I have lost my copy of the HC report and cannot find it again at the county record office. Can you help please?

  5. Even more intriguing, I think, would be to know where the font originally came from. Numerous mediaeval churches in Winchester from Saxon times to Henry VIII have been lost and religious houses suppressed. It may be significant that the font was buried within the Cathedral precinct, so possibly from a church or house dependant on St Swithun’s Priory.
    Unless things have changed since ‘my’ time, the Hampshire Chronicle record in Hampshire Record Offce is complete for that period, but on microfiche, which can indeed be a very laborious search.
    If you have not already searched it, the Record Office card index is very comprehensive, and staff are very helpful. I don’t know whether the index has been computerised.

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