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St Augustine, Locking, Somerset

(51°19′54″N, 2°54′51″W)
ST 364 596
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
medieval Wells
now Bath & Wells
  • Robin Downes
  • Robin Downes

22 October 2008

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Feature Sets

Lcoking is 3.5 mi SE of Weston-super-Mare. The original settlement lies on the W tip of a small outlier of Blue Lias (stretching 2.5 mi E to Banwell village) between the limestone of Bleadon Hill 2 mi to the S and Milton Hill 2.5 mi to the N (both forming parts of the extreme westerly reach of the Mendip Hills). The S side of the village ends abruptly at a scarp above Locking Rhyne; the church, at about 18m above sea-level, is near the edge of that scarp and enjoys a relatively rural aspect to the S. Locking is named after its original inhabitants ‘Loccingas’ (i.e., ‘Locc’s People’). From 1974 to 1996 Locking was in the County of Avon. The church dates from late 14thc/early 15thc, and was restored in 1814/16 and in 1833. It has a noteworthy Romanesque font.


Locking was part of the parochia of Banwell. It is also supposed to have been a dependency of Woodspring Priory (Aston and Costen, Wilson).






As noted by Pevsner, the complex ornamentation singles it out among Somerset fonts; one is reminded of distant analogues such as those at Sculthorpe and Shernborne in faraway northern Norfolk.

Clearly, the exuberant and expert execution of the strapwork decoration commands its own justification as high art, but much of the prettiness ends in snake-heads; if these are symbols of the evil threatening the newly-born, then the figures forming the containing corners, with their touching hands, do not only hold together the whole intricate structure: they symbolise the protection of Christ through baptism. The sculptor was clearly a master and thoroughly enjoyed his mastery of material and design, able to incorporate a considerable fund of imagination, despite some obvious crudity of execution, particularly in the corner figures. These are usually all interpreted as warriors: Bond writes that 'the knights wear the flat-topped helmet that was in fashion in the last half of the twelfth century' but indeed no helmets are visible, the SW corner-figure is undoubtedly female, and that diagonally opposite is in all probability female as well. Precisely why the female figures are bare-breasted is not immediately apparent; perhaps they were symbolic of Eve in the Garden of Eden, or the sustenance of Mother nature.

There is an effective contrast between the lively sinuosities and the calming representation of human arms and hands, however simplified and grotesque - and, indeed, a close look at the detail shows that the arms have their own life, in fact not convincingly coming out from the figures’ shoulders at all. Perhaps the distortion arises because if the arms had really been linked naturally to the shoulders, then the arms would have had to be much higher up the sides, thus spoiling the way they approximately bisect the faces of the bowl? There is a clumsiness (perhaps some sense of humour) in the maladroit linking of arms and torsi; the hands touch rather than interlock: undoubtedly the symbolism (of corporate protection of the bowl contents, i.e., the newly christened, from the jungle-world inhabited by serpents descended from the original Tempter) would otherwise have been more convincing.

Given the relatively simple decoration on the S face of the font, it is possible that the original position of the font was such as to place its S face away from the main congregation. The little drilled beads look almost lost and irrelevant: specks of the jungle world caught at the sharp end of the advancing double-arrow. The movement of the chevron is of course all the stronger by its being identically orientated in each field.

Bond mentions a suggestion that the locked hands is a pun on the village’s name, though points out that other examples of the same motif exist elsewhere. However, there may a distant link between the 'lok' in the name and a Scandinavian devil which took the form of Loki's serpent, which perhaps explains why serpents feature so prominently in the design (Bond, p. 185, 189). The figures therefore could be seen to protect the newly-baptised infant not only from original sin, but also from the pagan forces of Norse mythology.

  1. F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications (London, 1899), III, 186.

M. Aston, and M. Costen, 'An Early Medieval and Secular Ecclesiastical Estate: the Origins of the Parish of Winscombe in North Somerset', Proceedings of the Somerset Natural History and Archaeological Society 151 (2007), 139-157.

F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers (London, 1908), 185-9.

Historic England listing 1135810.

  1. N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol (Harmondsworth, 1958), 218.

D.Wilson, Locking Church (Locking, 1971).