Heavy rain despite the forecast otherwise, slanting, driven rain. Two fonts are the objective, one at Fowey and another at Lanreath. We drive to Fowey first of all. Fowey is built into the steep sides of a river valley and is deserted today, midweek, late November. Inside the church a handful of lights pierce the gloom.
The font here is part of a small group in south Cornwall which share similar motifs and designs, and, for the most part, are carved out of the same dark blue-green Catacleuse stone from Trevose Head near Padstow (the exception is Lanreath). Recently I’ve visited the examples at Ladock and Feock and discovered that the latter is a post-medieval, probably Victorian carving (see recent post). The example at Ladock features vibrant palmette designs, each carved with pointed leaves and tightly-scrolled volutes. In some respects they couldn’t differ further: one, with perfect geometry and standardised motifs, the other asymmetrical and full of life. The fonts at Fowey and Lanreath continue this trend of diversity within this loose grouping of sculptures.
The beautifully lit photograph of the font at Fowey in the recently updated edition of Pevsner’s Cornwall (P. Beacham and N. Pevsner, 2014. The Buildings of England: Cornwall, London: Yale, pl. 24) obscures the fact that this is a sculpture that has, at some point in its history, been severely damaged, enough to warrant the replacement of at least a third of the bowl (the damaged part faces west, away from the main body of the church). Unusually, the section of new stone appears to have been worked in situ, the carving proceeding clockwise from the south face to the north, where the work has been abandoned. A blank section of stone remains here, missing its star ornament and palmette motif. This may have been a fault in the setting out, the carver realising that there was not enough room to continue the design at the same scale and make it match the original medieval work. (As an alternative the church guidebook states the the unfinished pattern is ‘a sign that the carver died before completing the series’!)
The star motif around the rim of the bowl also shifts from one style to another as we move from the medieval work of the east face and around to the south and the start of the section of repair. Two bands of four limbed stars, joined by a fifth vertical line, work their way around the medieval ‘front’ of the font (the east face) but this then changes to two bands of V’s, the points of each meeting and forming, with the central dividing line, a squashed seven-limbed star. The flexibility of this motif is something we’ll find later at Lanreath, but handled in a much more dynamic way. The palmettes have broad leaves and tiny bean-like shapes that stand in for volutes.
(Photos by Marcus Williamson).
Lanreath is another matter entirely. More on that one in the next post.