St Chad, Kirkby, Lancashire

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Feature Sets (2)


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.

The base is a larger version of this cable moulding. It may have not originally had a stem and instead the font may have just rested straigh upon it, giving it the appearance of a tub font.

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
1. Adam and Eve

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,

2. The Expelling Cherub

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.

3. St Michael

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.

4. Priest 1

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.

5. Priest 2

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.

6. Priest 3

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.

7. Priest 4

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.

8. Priest 5

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.

Priest 6.

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.

Priest 7.

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.


The imagery of the font can be divided into two sections. The iconography of one half is straightforward. It shows the Fall of Man with Adam and Eve, with the cherub with the sword who will expell them from Eden and St Michael killing the serpent L of them.

The other half, of seven priestly figures, is more problematic. Roberts in 1853, working off the assumption that the font was Saxon, said they were the seven orders of the Saxon clergy according to the canons of Aelfric (late 10thc). He claims that Priest 4, with the gesture of benediction, is a "presbyter or bishop", and that Priest 5, with the long staff, is a deacon. He then says the Lector and Exorcist are represented by the remaining priests with open books, and the remaining two the Acolyte and Ostiary attending their duties "with folding hands". The main basis of his argument seems to be the numerical relationship to the text, rather than visual, and not much credence should be placed in what is essentially a brief note accompanying some excellent drawings of the font.

Larkin, trying to argue an iconography more suitable for the 12thc date, argued for a meaning to do with the clergy for infant baptism with special reference to the career of St Chad, the titular saint of the church and its original cathedral at Lichfield. He places Priest 7, with the infant as central to the programme, dividing the font between a sequence of Adam, Eve, the serpent and the two angels and the symmetrical sequence of two outer priests, then two figures with staffs, and centrally two mitred saints with serpents below them. However the identification of Priest 7 as holding an infant is not well argued by Larkin. His connections to St Chad - who as he admits cannot be proven as the medieval dedication of the old church - are also somewhat spurious.

Larkin's dating of the font from both the shape of the chasubles and facial hair is very convincing, placing it as possibly late 11thc or more probably early 12th. The use of volute capitals and rather clumsy-stepped bases also point to an earlier Norman date, falling out of fashion by the mid 12thc. There are certainly earlier influences though: the rather weightless placing of the feet and draperies feel rather Anglo-Saxon, and the use of serpents rather Norse-inflected, as in the famous scheme at Kilpeck of the 1130s. The Saxons also used cable moulding, and while its use as a trim to the bottom of the bowl is Romanesque, its gigantic use as the base is much less so.


Church from SW
Site of old church from SW
Site of old church from SW
The old church
Site of old church, from SW
Site of old church, from SE
Site of old church, from SE
Site of old church from SE
Crossing vault
Old images of church including the old church
Interior, N arcade
S doorway of nave
Interior, S arcade
Church from SE
Crossing tower interior
View W down nave


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SJ 408 990 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Lancashire
now: Merseyside
medieval: Coventry and Lichfield
now: Liverpool
medieval: not confirmed
now: St Chad
Type of building/monument
Parish church, formerly chapelry  
Report authors
James Cameron 
Visit Date
31 Mar 2018