St John the Baptist, Stone, Buckinghamshire

Download as PDF

Feature Sets (4)


Stone is a good-sized village in central Buckinghamshire, 2 miles SW of the centre of Aylesbury.  The village stands on a ridge on the S side of the Thame valley, and extends for a mile along the A418, the main road between Thame and Aylesbury.  The church is at the centre of the village. St John’s is a cruciform church with a nave with N aisle and S porch, N and S transepts, a chancel with a 19thc N chapel and a W tower.  The S nave doorway is 12thc, although it was moved six feet to the west in the late 19th.  The N nave arcade is of four bays of which the first three date from the late 12thc, which the west bay was added in the 13thc, reusing the W respond and inserting a new pier 3.  Above the arcade may be seen traces of 12thc clerestorey windows that were blocked in a late-19th restoration.  The N aisle windows and the N doorway are 15-16thc, as are the S nave windows, except for one plain pointed lancet.  The transepts are 13thc, with a triple lancet composition on the S facade and a double lancet with an oculus above on the N, indicating a date after the middle of the century.  The N transept is in use as a chapel, while the S has been converted into a vestry.  The chancel is 13thc too, but was rebuilt in 1843-45, and its roof has been heightened by six courses.  The W tower is of c.1300 with Y-tracery bell-openings and W window, and a square bell-stair on the SE angle, but its saddleback roof is 19thc.  The highlight of the church is its font; one of the finest, and certainly the most enigmatic, in the county today, but it does not belong here.  It was originally from the church of Hampstead Norreys in Berkshire, whence it was brought in 1845.  This, the N arcade and the S doorway are recorded below.


In 1086 Stone contained two manors, each of 7 hides.  The first, later known as Bracey’s Manor, was held by Gilbert from Robert de Tosny, lord of Belvoir (Leics) and had been held before 1066 by Ulf, a housecarl of King Edward.  The overlordship remained in the Honour of Belvoir throughout the Middle Ages.  By the reign of Henry I the tenancy was held by William de Bracey, who granted thechurchofStoneto Oseney Abbey.  The Braceys held the manor until the mid-14thc.  The second, later called St Clere’s manor, was given to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux at the Conquest, and was held from him by Helto, probably his steward.  Before the Conquest this manor had been jointly held by two brothers; one a man of Ulf, the other a man of Eddeva.  When Odo was deprived of his lands they passed to the Munchesney family, while the tenancy was in the hands of the St Cleres by the early 12thc and remained with that family at least until the beginning of the 15thc.  Further details of the history of the two manors is given in VCH.  The parish is now part of the Wychert Vale benefice.


Exterior Features


S nave doorway

Round headed, 3 orders. The doorway has been moved 6ft W of its original position and heavily restored.

Height of opening 2.17m
Width of opening 1.35m
1st order

Plain jambs and arch with a quadrant moulding on the inner angle of both, and quirked hollow-chamfered imposts.  The order is almost entirely modern; the lowest stones on each jamb may be original, along with one other stone on either jamb.  The new work is in a warm, orange stone, and this has been used for the W impost, whereas the E impost and the stone below it, alongside the 2nd order capital, is of clunch.

2nd order

Cylindrical en-delit nook-shafts on replacement double roll bases standing on square plinths.  The W capital is waterleaf, with palmette-shaped multi-futed leaves superimposed on the main flat leaves.  The roll necking is a replacement; the quirked hollow-chamfered impost original.  The E capital is badly worn and chipped, but appears to have flat leaves at the angles with similar leaves behind them on the faces, all rising from the replaced roll necking.  Low down on the bell are traces of fluted leaves between the main ones.  The impost, of clunch, is continuous with the 1st order impost on this side.  The arch is carved with a keeled angle roll and a single row of lateral chevron on the face, point-to-point with a similar one on the soffit. Each long voussoir contains several units of chevron.

3rd order

Plain chamfered jambs with chamfer stops at the top; the top stones and imposts of each jamb being replaced in clunch while the remainder are replaced in the orange stone.  The arch is carved with a fat angle roll, again in the orange stone and probably not original.  The label has a quadrant roll to the extrados and a quadrant hollow to the intrados, the two forming a sharp arris where they meet.  The label stops are keeled roll corbels resting on continuations of the impost.

Interior Features



N arcade

The arcade is of 4 bays. Bays 1-3 are 12thc, while bay 4 was added in the 13thc.  At this time the original W respond was moved to the new W end of the arcade and a new pier 3 was added.  The 12thc arches in bays 1-3 are of round-headed and two orders plain orders; the 13thc arch of bay 4 is pointed with two chamfered orders.  All piers are cylindrical; the 13thc pier 3 has a waterholding base and a round moulded capital with a round impost, while the 12thc bases are generally chamfered and spurred and the capitals are of stiff-leaf or multi-scallop form, as described below, and rise to square imposts.

E respond

The respond is an engaged half-column on a spurred double-roll base, and the capital is of multi-scallop form, but with projecting volutes at the angles.  The shields of the scallops are recessed, and there are wedges between the cones.  The necking is plain and square-sectioned, while the impost is quirked hollow chamfered.

Pier 1

Cylindrical pier on a chamfered base with spurs.  The capital is a multi-volute type, with volutes at each angle and four on each face, each springing from its own leaf carved on the bell, which produces the effect of regular fluting.  The necking is a plain roll, and the impost is a replacement of the same form as pier 2.

Pier 2

Pier and base are as pier 1.  The capital is carved in two halves.  The nave face and the half-faces alongside it have a multi-volute design as on pier 1, but the volutes project more boldly, like crockets.  The necking here is a plain roll.  The aisle face (with the half faces alongside) has angle volutes but is otherwise multi-fluted; the top edge of the fluting being scalloped, with the tips of secondary flutes visible between the scallops, and each flute carrying a narrow vertical wedge.  The necking here is square-sectioned.  The impost of this pier has a thin hollow between overhanging rolls, and a thin vertical face above.

Pier 3

13thc moulded capital as described.

W respond

As E respond but with a replaced base.  The capital is multi-scalloped with angle volutes.  The shields of the scallops are defined by grooves around their lower edges, and the cones are sheathed.  Necking is plain and chamfered and the impost is as the E respond.




The font bowl was removed from St Mary’s, Hampstead Norreys (Berks) in 1767 and was used as a water trough for a time.  It was obtained by J. Y. Akeman FRS and given to the church at Stone in 1845, when the composition and limewash with which it had been coated was removed and the bowl restored.  It now stands at the W end of the nave, towards the N, and consists of a drum-shaped, oolitic limestone bowl on a modern support consisting of a stem carved with interlace designs in relief (to match those on the bowl) with heavy rolls at top and bottom, on a drum plinthand a large octagonal step. 

The carving on the font is in excellent condition, but there is a circumferential break that runs all around the bowl.  An annular steel clamp encircles the bowl near the top rim to hold it together.  This is removable and is not attached to the bowl itself.  There are careful rim repairs at the NW and SE, and the bowl is lined with lead.

The bowl is carved with a band of three-strand guilloche with beaded strands immediately below the rim.  The rest of the bowl’s surface is carved with five large knotwork designs, and one figural relief towards the N. 


The carving is described clockwise, starting at the N.

Ext. diameter of bowl at rim 0.80m
Height of bowl 0.53m
Int. diameter of bowl at rim 0.65m
1. N face

The scene is centred on a man wearing only a loincloth, shown frontally with arms outstretched and legs apart.  His ribs are clearly indicated, and he has a mop of curly hair.  He stands on a serpent, while a small quadruped is shown alongside his R leg.  This man is flanked by two large beasts carved vertically and confronting both the man and each other.  To the L is a slim quadruped with long legs, three claws on each foot, a hairy body and a mouth open wide to reveal rows of teeth and a projecting twisted tongue. It has oval eyes and cat-like ears.  The man holds a long object, perhaps a club, above the head of this beast. Behind this beast is carved a fish swimming up the font.  This fish is anatomically correct, with two dorsal fins, a pectoral fin and a pelvic fin and its body covered with fishscale ornament.  To the R of the man is the second beast; a dragon with a doglike head, scaly body, four legs and a curled tail. Its back is to the man, but it turns its head and neck to confront him.  The man has his L hand in the dragon’s mouth. Between the man and the dragon stands a second man, also shown frontally and similarly clad, who stabs the neck of the dragon with a blade.  This man is bald-headed and stands on a leafy branch that is either the end of the dragon’s tail, or the tail of a second snake lying below the first.  Behind the dragon (i.e. to the R), a bird pecks at its neck, but the dragon’s rear claws attack its prey; a screaming man with his arms stretched up, his tongue protruding and his long hair standing on end. 

2. NE face

A rectangular design of 8-strand interlace consisting of a single, closed, beaded strand, rather irregularly laid out.  Above it to the right is a row of three tiny daisy-like flowers, and to the left, descending from the guilloche, the rat-like head of a small animal in profile with oval eye and ear laid back.

3. E face

A rectangular knotwork design of beaded straps, consisting of rectangle with external loops at the angles, interlaced with a diamond, also with external loops at the angles.  Two further beaded straps form a cross within the rectangle.  This arrangement creates 8 triangular fields within the original rectangle, and each has a tiny relief head or other ornament carved in it.  In the outer triangles, two wolfs’ heads at the top and two daisies at the bottom; in the inner triangles, four human or grotesque heads.  Above the design are two more small motifs; a sheep-like head to the L and an indeterminate form to the R.

4. SE face

A knotwork design of a compass-drawn, four-petalled flower, consisting of four intersecting half-circles, drawn to define four petals and to leave a square central field.  A large ring interlaces through the petals, and all strands are beaded.  In the central, square field is a lion mask.  In the internal fields at top and bottom are human, green man masks.  In the internal field to the L is a skull-like human mask with a Jewish skull cap and a chin beard, while in that to the R is a screaming man, his arms raised, tongue protruding and hair standing on end, as on the N face.  Outside the design, to the R, are two more motifs: at the top a long-necked quadruped kneeling on its front legs and below it a frontal human head shown sideways with long hair, and closed eyes and mouth.

5. S face

A square knotwork design of beaded straps as on the E face, but the beaded straps forming a cross in the centre are shorter, so that the arms of the cross do not reach the frame.  Again the basic design is augmented by small relief motifs: 4 human heads in the outer triangular fields; and two square quatrefoils with drilled ornament, a saltire in a square and a square with four raised squares at the corners place at the ends of the central strapwork cross, which has a drilled square quatrefoil at its centre.  Outside the knotwork design is a serpent with a knotted tail at top right, perhaps a flaming torch high on the left, a small human mask low on the left, a larger human mask with a fantastical headdress low on the right, and a fish at the top towards the left.  Interestingly all three of the loops at the lower corners overlap the face of the bowl and are treated as the shields of scallops with cones below the bowl’s surface.

6. W face

A knotwork design of beaded strapwork similar to that on the SE face, but the strapwork forming the tips of the petals has a more complex treatment. At the top left this is a simple loop, and at top right and bottom right a Staffordshire knot.  At bottom left there is a loose double-loop, and again both loops at the lower corners overlap the face of the bowl and are treated as scallops with cones below the bowl’s surface.  Within the four large fields of the knot are single masks; a sheep, a beast with sawlike antlers and two men with wild hair, one at the left with a sunken face and sharp teeth, the other at the bottom more placid looking.  Within the encircling ring, in the petal fields to the right are two more small heads, and there is another within the Staffordshire knot at bottom right.  Again the knot is surrounded by smaller motifs.  At the top is a four-legged reptile with a long, knotted tail and a scaly body, to the right a cross on a stepped plinth, and in the top right corner a hump-backed, scaly fish.  To the right of the lower left knot is a small lion mask, and above the same knot a daisy.


The S arcade includes ball volute capitals as well as scalloped and fluted ones, pointing to a date around 1170-90.  Ball volutes may also be seen in the S arcade atNorth Crawley, but the similarities are not so striking as to imply a workshop connection.  The S doorway must be similar in date to judge from the waterleaf capital and keeled angle roll.

The main attraction here, however, is the imported font, and it should be said from the outset that no parallels for its curious decoration are known inBerkshire, the county of its origin.  It is carved with interlace and knotwork patterns, Anglo-Saxon in origin, but here treated with great looseness and boldness.  Especially notable are the departures from the basic geometry on the W face, where a variety of terminals including Staffordshire knots appear, and the treatment of the terminal loops as scallops, with cones to carry them, where the design overlaps the edge of the bowl.  Extra interest is added by the addition of masks and beasts around the interlace patterns and within their loops.  In some cases, as with the fish to the R of the basketweave design on the NW face, there is evidence of accurate anatomical observation.  Similarly the human figures on the N side of the font are shown with prominent ribs and kneecaps.  Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the carving is found in the tiny human heads within the loops of the knotwork.  The relief is deep, showing the fleshiness of cheeks and chins, and hairstyles are at once fantastical and classicizing.  The latter tendency is also well seen on the two figures in the scene on the N face.

Pevsner (1960) attempted no dating closer than Norman, and no interpretation of the scene on the N face.  According to the VCH the font dates from c.1140, but “the smaller details of carving, heads of beasts, &c., worked into the knotwork patterns, are so unlike ordinary 12th-century work that it must be concluded that much of the carving has been re-worked.”  Close examination of the font, however, makes this argument difficult to sustain, and however stylistically inconvenient this might be it must be accepted that the carving is all of a piece, which makes the 1140 date improbable in the extreme, and a date in the last quarter of the 12thc more likely. 

As for the scene on the N face, the two naked men beset by fierce beasts are Christian souls engaged in the battle against the forces of the devil, represented by the dragon to the R and perhaps a wolf to the L.  Both souls appear to be succeeding in their struggles, but one who has not is shown in the despairing figure behind the dragon.  The references to Christ in the central figure are unavoidable; the pose with outstretched arms recalls the Crucifixion, while the asp on which he tramples recalls Psalm XC, 13 in the Vulgate (XCI, 13 AV), invariably interpreted as prophetic of Christ.  In this interpretation it is worth noting that the lost soul behind the dragon is on the negative side where Hell is normally shown.  The relevance of this to the protection offered by the sacrament of baptism is obvious enough, and it may be significant that the dragon here is attacked by a bird, perhaps to be equated with the dove of the Holy Spirit associated with the sacrament in scenes of the Baptism of Christ.

An interpretation of the iconography in terms of Gregory's Moralia in Job by Mary Curtiis Webb is well worth seeking out (see bibliography).

Parallels for this extraordinary font are difficult to find, but one worth exploring is at All Saints, Braybrooke (Northants), which also includes guilloche borders, beaded interlace, knotwork, a figural scene of a siren with a fish, and a cross on a stepped pedestal.  The Braybrooke font is square (with angles chamfered later), but the similarities are numerous enough to suggest a connection at the workshop level.


  • N. Pevsner, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire. London 1960, 248-49.

  • N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire. London 1960, 2nd ed. 1994.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Buckingham. Volume 1 (south).London 1912, 290-93.

  • Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. II (1908), 307-11.

  • M. C. Webb, Ideas and Images in Twelfth Century Sculpture, Revised ed. 2012, 84-122. Only available online, via https://lib.ugent.be

Exterior from SE
Interior to E


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SP 705 142 
now: Buckinghamshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Buckinghamshire
now: Oxford
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
medieval: not confirmed
now: St John the Baptist
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
14 March 2008