St Mary the Virgin, Carlton, Bedfordshire

Download as PDF

Feature Sets (2)


The church has chancel, nave with clerestory, N and S aisles, W tower and S porch. The chancel is the earliest part of the church and is probably Anglo-Saxon. There is a blocked, round-headed, possibly double-splayed window in the N wall of the chancel with rubble jambs and head, which support an early date (Hare, 33). The tower is probably late 11thc. or early 12thc. There are two round-headed windows with arcuated lintels and rubble jambs, one on the N and one on the S wall of the ground stage of the tower. The S aisle was added in 1275 and the N aisle in 1310. The chancel was lengthened in 1330. The upper stages of the tower are 15thc. A 14thc. S chapel, now demolished, was attached to the chancel. The clerestorey is 15thc. 12thc. sculpture is found only on the font.


The Domesday Survey does not mention a church at Carlton, but records that the Bishop of Bayeux (half-brother to William I; Osbern Fisher; the King's Reeves, Beadles and Almsmen; and Nigel de Aubigny had land there. Nigel de Aubigny's land was initially held by Ketel (Chetel) and in the 12thc. went to the La Leigh family (VCH, 51) In 1206 Gerinus de Leigh, Lord of Carlton Manor, held the advowson.




Tub-shaped orginally, but altered in the 13thc. (Pevsner) or 14thc. (VCH) to create a sexfoil at the base of the bowl, which now has clustered pillars beneath. The lead lined font is carved in shallow relief with a range of motifs.

From S: a ring-knot, the L side missing, with beading between two small rolls along the ring and an incised line along the interlacing strap, is followed on the R by two bays of simple arcading. The piers have no capitals, only imposts. The remainder of the carving consists of alternating masks and lilies. There are four masks, three human and one feline. Each is simply delineated, with staring eyes and long drooping moustaches. Each mask issues a beaded band with a leaf terminal from either side of its mouth, and these bands curve up to meet their counterparts. The first beaded band (from S) grows from the impost of the arcading, the last band is missing. Lilies are formed by the conjunction of the two leaf terminals, which face outwards, and a large pineapple-like fruit which lies between them. A clasp lies below the fruit joining the two stems. Below each mask is a three-stepped plinth from which two semicircular straps spring. Each extends to the adjacent plinth, (the southernmost extends to the base of the arcading). These straps intersect the beaded straps which are issued by the masks.

The font has been damaged just after the fourth mask (from S) and a large piece is missing which has been clumsily repaired with cement. Half of the ring-knot is missing.

The rim is rope-moulded, above a plain fillet. The masks and the fruits project into the fillet.

circ. 2.20 m
diam. 0.68 m
h. of bowl 0.42 m
total h. 0.59 m


VCH suggests a date of c.1130 for the font. The Carlton Church guide notes that the font was damaged 'during Cromwell's time'.


  • Domesday Book: Bedfordshire, ed. J. Morris, Chichester, 1977, 2, 7; 24, 20; 46, 2; 57, 6.
  • St Mary's Church, Carlton. Church guide, n.d., n.p.
  • The Victoria County History: A History of the County of Bedford, London, 1912, 3: 49-54.
  • M. Hare, 'Anglo Saxon Work at Carlton and other Bedfordshire Churches', Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal, 6, 1971, 33-35.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon and Peterborough, London, 1968, 65.
General view.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SP 952 549 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Bedfordshire
now: Bedfordshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: St Albans
medieval: not confirmed
now: St Mary the Virgin
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Hazel Gardiner