Date 1190 Ish
Font dated 1190


A medieval font believed to be more than 800 years old has been discovered during ongoing work to redevelop St Thomas’ Church in Ryde into a youth centre.

The original font from the 1829 church survives and will be carefully conserved and put on display in the future.

But hidden in a corner of the church, the team found another stone font. Recognising that this could be older than the original St Thomas’s chapel built in 1719, they called for advice from archaeologists of the Vectis Archaeological Trust.

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The result was quite a surprise. This font is more than 800 years old.

An examination by the archaeologists compares this font with some of the products of Purbeck craftsmen who were once mining high-quality limestone in the Kimmeridge/Swanage area of south Dorset. Here, they were skilfully sculpting and exporting fonts and other church components at the close of Norman times.

Date 1829 Ish
1829 font

Fonts of this early period were sometimes sculpted to show shallow relief images of an arcade of Norman arches. These were much akin to those depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. Hexagonal in form, this Ryde font displays 2 arches on each of its 8 faces.

A clue to its date comes from a closer look at these lightly carved arches. Each is slightly pointed, a concession to the adoption of the Gothic arch, a design embraced by ‘Early English’ church-builders after introduction from France, in the year 1185.

Early Norman fonts were largely square or round, and it appears that the hexagonal form may have gained favour a little later in Norman times. On the Isle of Wight, fonts of this period are certainly rare.

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The desire to update is evident at Calbourne, where villagers once remodelled their square font by sawing off each of its corners. At Arreton, the square Norman font is now no more than a few broken pieces, recovered from a scatter in the churchyard.

It seems that the Island’s earliest font is the simple bucket-like example that still survives at Niton.

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Photo: Jane Grewcock

Carved in a hard and compact shelly limestone, the Ryde font certainly resembles the style and some of the stone of the Dorset quarries; however, on close inspection, Vectis Archaeological Trust archaeologists consider the font is the work of local stonemasons, whose skills at Quadraria (Quarr) were well recognised in early medieval times.

The stone possibly came from some of the bands of Quarr limestone, formerly exploited in the medieval quarry pits at Binstead. Perhaps Binstead’s ancient parish church had been its true home before a Victorian font was installed there around 1844.

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In a dark dusty corner in Ryde, this unloved font still offers its traditional capabilities, in a basin that is now more than 8 centuries old.

As members of the Network Ryde Team proceed with their challenging task, we can hope to see this truly ancient font displayed along with the many fine historic features inside this most unusual church. Here, the team has devised an ingenious new community role for the town’s central historic landmark.

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alan rowe
alan rowe
7 months ago

Fascinating, and glad the font has been found and recognised.

7 months ago

We need to preserve our history for future generations.

Ken Bloomfield
Ken Bloomfield
7 months ago

Great to see local history being uncovered and retained for future generations to enjoy.
Look forward to seeing more on this project as it progresses!

7 months ago

I don’t understand why it is thought that the font may have come from Binstead.
Why move it to Ryde (presumably around 1844) when there was already a font at the “new” 1829 St Thomas’ Church, rather than dump it, or keep it at Binstead?
What was on the site before the original St Thomas’s chapel built in 1719?
Another church/chapel?

I don’t know if there are any illustrations of the interior of Binstead Parish Church showing the original font done before the Victorian font was installed – that may provide the answer.

So fascinating.


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