A History of St Mary's Church Font
By David Newell
I have been involved with the conservation of St Mary’s Church Font for nearly three years now and by the time you read this I am hopeful that work will have started on the conservation project. (Phase 1 to start on August 23rd 2017.) We believe that the font was installed in the church sometime between 1350 and 1450, so it is about 600 years old. We have baptism records going back a long way but not all the way back to when it was new although we know who the Rectors were during this period. The list of Rectors is on the wall in the south aisle of the church.
Which of these Rectors was the first to use this brand new font? Was it John Rauf (1373-1381) or, later in our time slot, John Dalden (1443-1471), or one of the five Rectors in between, and who was the first child to be baptised in the font?
We can only speculate who the first child was – so I will! Was the baby boy or girl the child of one of the two landed families in the village – the Goldings or the Mondes – or the child of a local tradesman, the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker? Maybe the child was the son or daughter of an agricultural labourer who grew up, married and died here in Glemsford and is buried in the churchyard, but this is not very exciting. What if…!!! I am now letting my imagination run away with me.
If our child was a boy born at the end of the 1300s he could have found himself as one of the archers at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. All communities were required to provide part-time soldiers in the event of war. “Indentured retinue” or “household retainers”.
King Edward III declared in 1363: “if he be able bodied, shall, upon holidays make use, in his games, of bows and arrows… and so learn to practise archery.”
Our child, from an early age, would have been required to practise archery every Sunday.
At the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V’s army consisted of about 6,000 men, 5,000 of which were archers, against 30,000-40,000 French, mainly knights on horseback and men-at-arms (foot soldiers). Some 10,000 French died that day, with less than 400 English losses, so it is almost certain then that our child would have returned to Glemsford and lived out his life in peace; brought up a family who, in turn, would have been baptised in our font – and so on for many generations.
A fantasy maybe but there is an historic family saga here waiting to be written, not by me. Where is the novelist in the village?