The font in situ today is strikingly similar to the one in St Mary’s at Sulhamstead Abbotts though that has simple rounded arches and the one at Englefield has rudimentary trefoil arches that perhaps hint at a later stage in the transition from the Romanesque style to Early English Gothic, making it contemporary with the original building. It has only recently displaced a Victorian font, the base of which matches that of the pulpit, both said to have been designed by Gilbert Scott. The original font was found in 1906 (“lying about in a shed on the estate”, according to Keyser) and when the new choir vestry was built a year later it formed the central pillar of a table in it, having a solid oak top and base. Keyser photographed it in this location in 1911 (left) but without the top.
The Lysons’ Magna Britannia, published in 1813 before the Victorian restoration of the church, describes this font and includes a drawing of it so it appears that the original one was not removed earlier following parliament’s order in 1645 compelling the destruction of such “popish ornaments”. The assumption is that the later font (right) and pulpit were part of the 1855 restoration, as we know the woodwork of the pulpit certainly was. However, the Reverend Granville Gore Skipwith writing about the installation of the old font in the new choir vestry in 1907 says that it was “…removed some thirteen years ago to make place for the present font”. If true that would make the substitution of the font about 1893, some 45 years after the major restoration finished and during the incumbency of Arthur Heigham. Heigham never mentions such an event in his parish magazine, though, and he was such an assiduous chronicler that we cannot believe he would have failed to record it if it did indeed happen during his time.
The reinstatement of the old font was first proposed in 1952 and it stood for a time, on its wooden base, in the aisle near the Victorian one but it was not until 60 years later that permission was obtained to make the substitution on the grounds that the plinth was a hazard for the priest when baptising a child. The new stone plinth presents no such hazard. The Victorian font, which originally had a wooden cover (seen in one of Keyser's pictures), remains in the background.
© 2019 Richard J Smith