The previous church was a plain red-brick Georgian chapel of 1766, which may have been built on the site of the medieval church, itself replaced by a massive Neo-Romanesque building to its N built 1869-71 by Lancaster firm Paley and Austin. The two buildings were photographed together but the older building was soon demolished, and its site and small plan is still visible in the graveyard, marked by a monumental cross. The new building is a powerful and essay in Romanesque and Early Gothic, both sympathetic to period motifs and highly inventive. At the W end of the nave is the Romanesque font, which appears to be from the original building.
Kirkby appears in the Domesday Book, where its taxable value was identified as 12 carucates. It does not appear in the 1291 Taxatio, and the site does not appear to have been a parish in the Middle Ages, instead it likely operated as a chapelry of Walton on the Hill. By tradition, the church was founded 870, but there is no evidence for this except that its name of Kirkby (Cherchebi) indicates that there was a church established well before the Conquest. The dedication to St Chad may be an indication of a Mercian origin, but also could be a modern appellation inspired by tradition, however Larkin found a reference to "Chad croft on the north side of the churchyard" from 1733. It should be acknowledged there is practically no record of the church before the Reformation.
The font was probably turned out from the church when the medieval church was demolished and its red-brick replacement was built in 1766. For some time it was used as a water butt at the school and subsequently as a storage container in the bier house in the early 19thc. In 1850 it was brought back into the church, along with the base from the vicarage garden, and a plain cylindrical stem between the two pieces. A new stem was made by Paley and Austin with the same cable moulding motif as the base when it was installed on a platform at the W end of the new church in 1870.
The font is decorated with an arcade of 11 round-headed arches with figures within. Now facing E are Adam and Eve, with the serpent coiled on the column between them turning it into the Tree of Knowledge. Much of the architectural detail of the arcade is worn, but the columns have multi-stepped bases and capitals which may have volutes. The spandrels of the arcade are filled with looped foliate ornament. Round the base of the bowl is a cable moulding which cleverly has serpent heads at some places, weaving the decoration in with the icongraphic programme.
Following Larkin's numbering, the figures are numbered from right to left, beginning with Adam and Eve.
|Depth of bowl (approx.)||30 cm|
|Diameter of bowl||64 cm|
|Height of base||23 cm|
|Height of bowl||60 cm|
Adam has a slight moustache and long, pointed beard, like an Old Testament prophet. Eve has very long coil of hair which almost reaches her feet down he left side. She is handing an apple to Adam. Both of them place their free hands over their genitals. The serpent is coiled around the column dividing the niches and has a split tail wolfish head, and a necklace "characteristic of 12th century pearls". The tree has criss-crossing branches in the arcade spandrel, covered with fruit,
This figure is raised above Adam brandishing a large sword in his hand. He wears an ungirdled tunic. He is the Cherub who God sends to expell Adam and Eve from the Garden.
This figure's feet go through the bottom plinth of the arcade, and he thrusts a spear down into the mouth of a serpent who is imagined as part of the cable moulding of the rim. He has an indistinct tunic. The R part of his face is concave with the eye set back. This eye might be either the carver dealing with a fault in the stone or restoration of part of the face that was lost.
This is the first of seven figures who dressed similarly, and seem to form a second half of the programme. He stand on an elevated plinth, and, according to Larkin, bears a tonsure. Although the sandstone has shaled lightly at its point, he can be seen to have a vescia-shaped chasubule over his tunic. He holds a book in his right hand.
This figure is similar to one, but placed lower in the niche, and his pointed chasubule is almost as long as his tunic (alb). He holds a wide-open book against his chest with his left hand, and with his right hand he holds a long staff. He appears to be bald.
The figure's hand is raised in Benediction with first and second fingers extended. His alb has long sleeves and his chasuble also reaches to the skirt. He appears to wear a small mitre atop his head. There is a raised section down the centre of the chasubule which may be an orphery but could also be an object he is holding. Larkin tortuously argues that it is a beam of light from a miracle of St Chad where he hung his vestments on a sunbeam, and that this is the diocesan saint.
Again this figure is gowned in alb and chasuble, with the point a little above the skirt. In his left hand, this figure holds a book open against his chest, and in his right a long object ending in a curl. If this is a crozier it is exceptional that it is being held upside down. Larkin argues that it is a key due to the two protusions from the right side at the top, and that this figure represents St Peter. Again the figure seems to wear a mitre.
Below this figure and the previous are two further serpent heads in the cable moulding. The R one looks up and the L down.
This figure is the most difficult to interpret. He has the usual alb and chasbule, and a staff in his right hand, but his left appears to be placed flat down on his chest. In front of his left arm appears to be an oblong object he is wearing looped around his neck. It has a few holes in it but this appears to be a fault in the stone, which has also caused loss to his face.
Although distinct to Priest 2, this figure seems identical in his elements: he holds a book open against his chest and has the usual garb of alb and chasulble.
This figure is placed to the right of Eve and her coif of hair. He is the widest of the figures but this might due to the sculptor's spacing than any symbolism of prominence. It is worst degraded of the figures, and the point of his chasuble is only just visible. He appears to clasp his hands in front of his body, and appears to be holding something to his chest. Larkin argues, after tracing the sculpture, that it is an infant.
F. C. Larkin, "The Kirkby Font", Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 73 (1919), 44-99.
F. J. Roberts, "Description of the ancient font at Kirkby, in the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill, Lancashire", Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 6 (1853-1854), 85-88.
W. Farrer and J. Brownbill eds, A History of the County of Lancaster: Vol. 3, Victoria County History, London 1907, 52-56.