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St Peter, Rendcomb, Gloucestershire

(51°47′9″N, 1°58′31″W)
SP 018 097
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Gloucestershire
now Gloucestershire
medieval Worcester
now Gloucester
medieval St Peter
now St Peter
  • Jon Turnock
6 June 2014

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Feature Sets

Rendcomb is a small estate village located in the Churn Valley of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, around 6 miles north of Cirencester. The earliest standing fabric of St Peter’s church comprises three 13thc arcade piers, now bonded into the north wall. Most of the church is the product of a 16thc rebuilding campaign (Herbert, 1981: 227).

The church holds only one Romanesque artefact, a sculpted stone font. This was originally located within the old chapel at Elmore Court, located a few miles south-west of Gloucester. There is still a small chapel at Elmore Court but this is of a later construction. The font was used as a garden ornament in Rendcomb Park before being brought inside St Peter’s church in the mid-19thc (Herbert, 1981: 227).


The history of Rendcomb manor is irrelevant in terms of understanding the history of the font as it did not originally belong to the parish church. On the basis of the available evidence, it must be assumed that the font was made for the chapel at Elmore Court, although the possibility that it was moved to Elmore from elsewhere cannot be ruled out.

Before and after the Norman Conquest, the manor of Elmore seems to have been held by a royal thane called Edward (Moore, 1982: fn. 78, 6). By 1095, it had been acquired by Walter of Gloucester who granted the tithes of the manor to St Owen’s church, Gloucester (Walker, 1964: no. 60, p. 38). The manor subsequently passed to Walter’s son, Miles of Gloucester, earl of Hereford (d. 1143), and then Miles’ son, Roger earl of Hereford (d. 1155). Elmore chapel is first recorded in a confirmation charter of Simon bishop of Worcester issued between 1144 and 1148. From this, it can be inferred that the chapel was part of the endowment of Llanthony Secunda Priory, Gloucester, which was founded in 1137 by Miles.






The eleven figures have been identified as eleven apostles with the disgraced twelfth, Judas, denoted by the disembodied feet under arch no. 7 (Fryer, 1910: 303; Drake, 2002: 15 and fn.). There is a projecting area of stone in the space identified with Judas as if the sculptor intended to carve a full figure, hence the carved feet below. The decision to leave the stone untouched could be symbolic, in line with the Judas identification; economically pragmatic, if the font was meant to be placed against a wall leaving this face hidden; or the product of some other enigmatic factor. It is impossible to identify each apostle independently owing to the lack of any distinctive symbols. The richly decorated arches and foliage may represent the Kingdom of Heaven or New Jerusalem (Revelation, 3:12 and 21:2–21).

Relationship to other regional sculpture

The Rendcomb font is part of a group of four closely-related fonts that were evidently carved by the same sculptor or workshop (Gethyn-Jones, 1979: 39; Drake, 2002: 15; Baxter). The others can be found at Hereford Cathedral, Mitcheldean and Newnham-on-Severn (Gloucestershire). All are cylindrical/cup-shaped stone fonts that depict apostle figures beneath arcades. The Hereford font has similar splayed foliage between the spandrels and key (meander) ornament. At Mitcheldean, the upper part of the font has been recut but the lower section preserves the bare feet of the apostles and the same tied and intersecting palmette decoration as on the Rendcomb font. Identical palmettes also appears on the Newnham font. Mitcheldean and Newnham appear to have been held by Miles and Roger and thus the fonts can be attributed to their patronage (Currie and Herbert, 1996: 173-95; Elrington et al., 1972: 36). Evidently they monopolised a particular sculptor or workshop. These fonts have also been compared to the base of the font at Burghill, Herefordshire (Gethyn-Jones, 1979: 39; Baxter). There are other iconographically related, though stylistically different, fonts at Orleton (Herefordshire), Frampton-on-Severn, Oxenhall, Tidenham, Sandhurst, Siston and Gloucester Cathedral (Gloucestershire). The latter six are a group of related lead fonts.

The egg-shaped heads, ‘cap-like’ hair, ribbed draperies and plasticity of the apostle figures suggest influence from the Herefordshire School. Members of the workshop appear to have been trained at Hereford Cathedral where, besides the related font, there are tied palmette carvings in the N nave arcade like those on the Rendcomb font (Thurlby, 2013: 59, fig. 13).

The stylised piers of the font are incised with various geometric decoration. A similar practice can be seen on full-scale examples at several regional churches, including Windrush, Wotton (Gloucestershire) and Begbroke (Oxfordshire). These manors were all held by Miles and/or Roger (Turnock, 2014: 58-9). This type of architectural decoration can be traced to Lanfranc’s cathedral at Canterbury and subsequently spread across the Britain, with renowned late 11th to early 12thc examples at Durham Cathedral. The stylised recessed scallop capitals on the Rendcomb font can be compared to full-size examples on the reset chancel arch at English Bicknor, another church that has been attributed to Miles (Turnock, 2014: 61-4; idem, CRSBI).

The faces of the Rendcomb apostles are comparable to male heads found at other churches that can be identified with the patronage of Miles and/or Roger. Stylistically related bearded men can be found on a corbel on the north chancel (exterior) of Barnsley and voussoirs of the South Cerney south nave doorway, Gloucestershire (Turnock, 2014: 52, figs. 15d and 16d)

Dating and patronage

Gethyn-Jones (1979: 40) accepted a date of c. 1140-45 for the Hereford and Newnham fonts, and presumably situated the Rendcomb font within a similar time bracket. This accords with the documentary evidence. Elmore chapel seems to have been constructed around the time that it was granted to Llanthony Secunda c. 1137. The chapel was not necessarily completed by 1137 since grants sometimes anticipated rebuilding campaigns. Although the chapel belonged to the Augustinian canons of Llanthony Secunda after this date, Miles and Roger presumably retained an interest in the foundation and could have funded subsequent commissions. The presence of closely related fonts at other earldom of Hereford manors seems to confirm that Miles and/or Roger were responsible for the Rendcomb font. They do emerge as major patrons of ecclesiastical architecture and sculpture in this period, and the quality of the font is consistent with it being created under the patronage of an eminent secular lord (Turnock, 2014: 48-93).


C. R. J. Currie and N. M. Herbert (eds.), A History of the County of Gloucester: Vol. 5, Victoria County History, London, 1996.

C. S. Drake, The Romanesque Fonts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia, Woodbridge, 2002.

C. R. Elrington, N. M. Herbert and R. B. Pugh (eds.), A History of the County of Gloucester: Vol. 10, Victoria County History, London 1972.

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

E. Gethyn-Jones, The Dymock School of Sculpture, Chichester 1979.

N. M. Herbert (ed.), The History of the County of Gloucestershire: Vol. 7, Victoria County History, Oxford 1981.

J. S. Moore (ed.), Domesday Book: Gloucestershire, Chichester 1982.

M. Thurlby, with B. Copplestone-Crow, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture, Logaston 2013.

J. Turnock, ‘Reconsidering the reign of King Stephen: a contextual study of sculpture created in Gloucestershire between 1135 and 1154’ (unpublished MA thesis, Durham University 2014).

D. Walker (ed.), ‘Charters of the Earldom of Hereford, 1095–1201’, Camden Miscellany 22 (1964).