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All Saints, Bisley, Gloucestershire

(51°45′6″N, 2°8′30″W)
SO 903 059
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Gloucestershire
now Gloucestershire
medieval Worcester
now Gloucester
  • Rita Wood
  • Rita Wood
6 August 2019

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The compact village of Bisley lies at the top of one of the steep-sided valleys cut into the Cotswold escarpment. It is about four miles east of Stroud.

The church, which may have been enlarged in the 14thc. so as to obliterate an earlier building, was largely rebuilt on that plan by the Rev. W. H. Lowder, curate here during the early 1860s; he had trained as an architect. Because of medieval and Victorian rebuilding of the church, there is very little left of the earlier stages except for (uncertain) parts of the plan and two or three Anglo-Saxon stones. At present the church has a chancel, nave with aisles, N vestry and S porch, and a W tower.

The font and a series of incised coffin lids reset in the walls of the N aisle are the only remains relevant to this Corpus.


There is good evidence that the preconquest church of Bisley was a minster church of status and wealth (Hare 1990, 46--49). Firstly, the parish was very extensive, and incorporated the manor of Stroud; the church in Stroud was a chapel of Bisley into the 18thc. Secondly, there are several items of carved Anglo-Saxon stonework at the church, noticeably part of a large coffin cover, but also lengths of string-course. This would suggest that the minster church had been constructed of stone (Bryant 2012, 141--143).

At the date of Domesday, two priests were recorded at Bisley in 1086, and it has been suggested that one of these may have served an estate church (or chapel), possibly at Stroud or Paganhill (Baggs, Jurica, & Shiels 1976). By circa 1230, and very likely throughout the 12thc., the church was dedicated to All Saints (Baggs, Jurica, & Shiels 1976). By the early 13thc., the profits of the church were divided into two portions. This was very likely the result of the division of the lordship of the estate at the end of the twelfth century or in the early 13thc.


Interior Features

Interior Decoration





The rebuilding of the medieval church in the 1860s

Rudd (1937, 115) says ‘a Romanesque capital … was sent up to the British Museum, with the two Roman altars’. Following the necessity of the church’s total demolition, ‘many of the ancient treasures [i.e. the carved woodwork][are] now met with in the houses of the parish’ (Rudd 1937, 175).

The font

The bowl and the stem of the present font have distinct histories, as a church guide current in 2019 says: ‘The bowl of the font, which was found inverted on the top of the Well Head… in the churchyard, was restored to the Church in 1862 … The stem of the font is modern.’

A ‘baluster font’ seen by Verey and Brook is probably the font installed in 1771 (Rudd 1937, 178, n.1), and this may have displaced the old tub which is said to have been outside in the churchyard on the ‘Well Head’ (a hexagonal Gothic structure on the S side of the church, now thought to be a ‘poor souls' light’ and not covering a well). The tub had been brought back into the church c.1850 according to Rudd (1937, 178; also Lowder 1880-81), that is, shortly before the restoration.

The stem was described by the Rev. Mr. Lowder, the restorer of this church and others, as ‘work of an amateur carver whose happy ignorance of the art of modern stone carving has produced a spirited specimen of rude Anglo-Norman of the nineteenth century’ (Lowder 1880-1, 38).

Alfred Fryer discussed the font at length as part of his survey of Gloucestershire fonts (1910, 293-5, 301) believing it all to be Norman: however, the font was not mentioned by Francis Bond in his Fonts and Font Covers of 1908.

The fieldworker considers the carvings on both bowl and stem are 19thc. fictions, and that probably the bowl is a recarved medieval tub font. One reason for suspicion was that the stone used for the tub-fonts seen at Owlpen, Lasborough, Harescombe and Tarlton was similarly coarse-grained, and none of those fonts had more than minimal carving; other tub-shaped fonts seen were turned and smooth (Brockworth, Coates), but they also had no ornamental carving, while any mouldings on tub or stem were simple rolls or even square. The font at Tarlton has motifs cut in the side: those are 14thc. quatrefoils. A second, clinching, reason for doubts was that, on the W face of the Bisley font, the upper narrow horizontal cable moulding follows the jagged edge of the rim where a medieval fastening may have been broken away (views from NW and NNE).

The font at Bisley is not unique in having fish carved inside the bowl: there is another at Ramsbury, Wiltshire, 32 miles away (Webb, pl. 85; Randle-Buck, pl. XII.60). The stone used for the bowl of the font there is thought to have originated as a pineapple ornament on a gateway of Ramsbury Manor replaced c.1775, and brought away from there c. 1842. The stem of the Ramsbury font has scriptural scenes: Jesus blessing children; Israel crossing the Red Sea; Noah releasing the dove, and Jonah cast up by the whale.

The stem of the Ramsbury font is known to have been carved by Thomas Meyrick, a member of the Meyrick family who were clergy and gentlemen in that area throughout the 19thc. (VCH Wiltshire vol. 12, 44-5; Randle-Buck 203-4). Meyrick has not been traced as an active member of the clergy in Crockford’s Directory and presumably lived on private means. Mary Rudd (1937, 137), states that the pedestal of the Bisley font “was carved by the Rev. T. Meyrick of Corpus Christi College, Oxford”. It seems likely that, since he is publicly acknowledged in Ramsbury sources, and the cited dates conform, that the Ramsbury font was made first, and that the Bisley font was came later. A connection, probably through the clergy, is likely.

Fonts generally in this area

Counting the recarved font at Bisley, tub-shaped fonts were seen at 7 out of the 16 sites visited in this area (at Bisley, Brockworth, Coates, Harescombe, Lasborough, Owlpen and Tarlton). This seems a high proportion for a form not numerous nationally. A comparison might be made with the form of the pre-Conquest font at Potterne, Wiltshire. A few plain tub fonts have been recorded for CRSBI in Wiltshire though the stone being better, there are some patterned ones as well. Perhaps the form continued to be made in the new era.


Thirteen slabs were ‘removed from high up on the outside wall, where they had been set to support the gutters, at the last restoration of the church (1862); ten are in the N wall, three in the W wall of the N aisle, where they are slowly disintegrating’ (Butler and Jones 1972, 153, 157). They may no longer be deteriorating, though the incised patterns are very shallow, and heating pipes may cause efflorescence.

The quality of stone enabled large long slabs to be made, and they were strong enough to survive. It is an interesting collection, so many from the one site, with likenesses and change over time. If Gloucestershire fashions approximated to those recorded in Yorkshire by Peter Ryder, we might suppose that the earlier stones are those with incised, geometric designs (nos. 4, 5, 8, 9, 11 and 13), while those with more regular, confident, outlines, some foliage and slight relief carving would be later: nos. 1, 2, 3, 10 and 12 perhaps 13thc. in date (Ryder 1991, 50-55). Stone 4 has an earlier form of cross-head (compare no. 9) but a later base (more steps than no.8, for example), so perhaps could be of the 13thc.

Stone 9

This stone is included in CASSS, Vol. X, Appendix A, Overlap or Uncertain Period, as Bisley 5 (pp. 254-5, illus 450). It is dated to the ‘eleventh century (or possibly later)’. The two pairs of curved shapes are suggested to be ‘coffin handles’, but as a single pair only is carved at the foot of slab 9, they cannot be that. A spokeshave or draw-knife (wood-working tools) are the nearest implements that come to mind, or a fleshing knife (leather-working).


A. P. Baggs, A. R. J. Jurica and W. J. Sheils, 'Bisley: Churches', in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds, ed. N. M. Herbert and R. B. Pugh (London, 1976), 32--36.

R. Bryant, The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture X The Western Midlands, London 2012, 141--43.

R. F. Butler, and L. J. Jones, ‘The Cross-Slabs of Gloucestershire’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 91 (1972), 150--158.

A. C. Fryer ‘Gloucestershire Fonts. Part III’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 33 (1910), 287--303.

M. Hare, 'The minster status of Bisley church', in Bryant, 'The Lypiatt Cross', Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Society 108 (1990), 33-52, at 46--49.

  1. W. H. Lowder in ‘Proceedings at Stroud’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 5 (1880--1881), 1--66.
  1. A. G. Randle-Buck, ‘Some Wiltshire fonts III', Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 54 (1951--2), 192--209.
  1. M. A. Rudd, Historical Records of Bisley with Lypiatt (1937), facsimile reprint, Amberley 2008.
  1. P. F. Ryder, Medieval Cross Slab Grave Covers in West Yorkshire, Bradford 1991.
  1. D. Verey and A. Brooks Gloucestershire 1: the Cotswolds. 3rd edn. (New Haven, CT, 2002).

M. C. Webb, Ideas and Images in Twelfth-century Sculpture, 2012.