Font (1639)

The first fixed font in the cathedral was donated and consecrated by Bishop Warner in 1639. Three years later it was seen by the Puritans as one of the offensive traditional symbols of the cathedral church, probably because of its religious statuary and use of ornate marbles, and was consequently badly damaged during the Civil War. William Somner, the Canterbury antiquarian, collected a number of the broken pieces of the font and kept them hidden in his home in Castle Street. In The Antiquities of Canterbury Somner has described the font as “a curious and beautiful piece of Work”. Somner later returned the pieces of the font to  the cathedral and the Dean and Chapter paid him for their return and paid John Christmas for the surviving fragments to be reconstructed and completed with various newly carved elements. The font was reinstated in 1663 and it is said that the first baptism was Somner’s own daughter.


An illustration in pen and watercolour of the original sixteenth century font, designed by the mason and sculptor John Christmas, was recently (2002) discovered on a barrow in the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill.


The 1663 'Articles for Agreement' for the reconstructed font contract still survive and from the detail is thought to be based on the original contract for the original font. It states that the four columns, and other decorative red motifs, were to be completed in a red marble, referred to as ‘Rance’. This will be the red Devonian limestone from Belgium, more commonly referred to as Rouge Rance. The Articles also identify the black marble as "touchstone", a name frequently associated with another Belgian marble more often called Tournai Marble or Belgian Black.   As much black marble still remains in the font this identification for the black stone in situ is more secure.


The watercolour shows the facing side of the font to possess a black marble niche housing one of the statues of the four Evangelists , with a backing panel of yellow marble. The corner columns are shown in a red marble with alternative steps and further detailing also in red marble. It is unclear what the yellow marble may have been. Indeed it is not even certain that John Christmas executed the design in full for the original font and provided a yellow and a red marble.


An image of the original design that can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum (accessed 16th May 2019)


Today we can see the font is constructed from shaped and polished interlocking black and white marbles. The white marble is likely to be from one of the Carrara, Massa or Seravezza marble quarries. Near the base of the font, at the cardinal points, are four insets of a black marble with white and gold veining. This is an Italian marble of Triassic age called Nero Portoro, or simply Portoro, from Porto d’Oro (the French for Golden Door) an ancient name for the site of the quarries in Liguria, Italy. It became popular in the 17th century and the high cost of extraction meant that most stone was used for export, especially to France and England. The stone is a fine-grained limestone, coloured black because of finely disseminated grains of organic carbon. The stone is heavily fractured (brecciated) and these "veins" are typically coloured to golden-yellow through dolomite-infill (magnesium carbonate) and the presence of iron-rich (limonite) clay. Portoro was often used sparingly in conjunction with other marbles with which it often produced a rich visual contrast. The four protruding corner stones near the base are of a different marble. This may be one of the veined marbles from Belgium (Belge Bleu?). Sadly the stone in the font, and in the steps (or plinth) leading to the font, is cracked and broken in some places and badly weathered in others and no longer looks at its best when viewed from close to. For further details and pictures, click here


Pulpit (1898)

The wooden pulpit stands upon a slender central stem, a design that is sometimes referred to as wine-glass style. The foot of the ‘glass’, or the plinth, is constructed from a very attractive block of Purbeck Marble.  The high polish on the stone acts as a reminder of the visual impact that newly installed Purbeck Marble would once have had on the cathedral interior. For further details click here


Edward White Benson (1829-1896)

Archbishop of Canterbury (1883-1896) – beneath the NW tower (technically Chapel of St Augustine).

Designed by Thomas Jackson RA; Effigy by Thomas Brock RA.


The revised design in an Early English architecture, was prepared by Mr Jackson. It had a general resemblance to Archbishop Peckam’s tomb in the Martyrdom.  It was erected over the resting place of the archbishop.  The recumbent effigy showing Benson in an attitude of prayer is carved from Carrara Marble. and was described at the time of execution as "a triumph of the sculptor’s art". The black stone slab upon which the monument rests is a black marble from Ireland, possibly Kilkenny Marble, a carbon-rich, fine-grained limestone.  See here for further details on the Benson family.


Charles Thomas Longley (1794-1868)

Archbishop of Canterbury 1862-1868. A modest wall tablet in the nave commemorates Archbishop Longley invoking the viewer to "Remember" him. The inscription and cross are inscribed on alabaster while the decorative marble moulding is carved from Pavonazzo. Pavonazzo derives from the Italian word for peacock (pavone); the stone is variegated and has an assorted range of colours. A short description of the stone appears in the description of Archbishop Tait’s cenotaph in the North-East Transept. However, in Longley’s wall tablet we see in the marble veining a broader colour palette, including greens and violets.



North Wall of Nave


General Sir Mark Walker VC KCB (1827-1902)

A splendid memorial wall plaque honouring a distinguished officer who served throughout the Crimean Campaign. The quality of the carving can be seen throughout and especially in the detail of the row of medals depicted, which are now held by the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The stone is Carrara Marble.


Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)

Sculptor: Nicholas Stone

This wall memorial of the Renaissance composer was assembled from a number of different stones by the sculptor and stonemason Nicholas Stone. The bust and several architectural components are carved from a white marble and are counterpointed by the use of black marble. Two small rectangular inset panels are located above the bust and these may be Portoro Marble, an Italian black marble with white veining, as used on the near contemporary cathedral font (see above). One local stone has been introduced into the largely black and white memorial in the form of Bethersden Marble located beneath the Latin inscription. This stone has weathered to a brown colour through the oxidation of small quantities of iron in the limestone, but when freshly polished and newly installed, would have complemented the monochrome theme.   Click here for more on Gibbons.


Edward Parry (1830-1890)

Bishop of Dover and Archdeacon and canon of Canterbury (1870-1889).

Sculptor: James Forsyth (1891)

This monument is still in excellent condition with Parry’s effigy recumbent upon a tomb chest. The effigy, weepers and side panels are all carved from alabaster. What, however, stands out on the monument is the generous use of a predominantly red-pink stone for the table top and plinth of the tomb chest and for the several decorative columns set into the side panels. This stone is one of the Devonshire Marbles, called Red Ogwell (there is also a Pink Ogwell) and was extracted from the Ogwell Marble Quarries, near Newton Abbot in Devon.


Rocks of the Ogwell beds were part of a marine carbonate mud-mound with inclined flanks. The sediments were laid down in a coral sea during the Upper Devonian, some 380 million years ago. The stone is strictly speaking a limestone and several fossils can be seen and identified including pieces of crinoid (a marine animal, sometimes called a sea lily), numerous brachiopods (see the top of the column nearest to the wall and facing west) and several tabulate colonial corals. There are several stylolites (irregular dissolution features producing rough jagged lines) cross-cutting the stone.


Products made of polished stone from the various quarries in South Devon were shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and led to their rise in popularity and, soon after, the area around Torquay became an important centre for stone working. The various marbles from these quarries can be seen as architectural features in many important Victorian buildings around the country and were used to manufacture a wide range of portable wares including tables and boxes. The quarries producing decorative stone gradually declined in production during the 20th century following rising costs of extraction and transportation and competition from less expensive European marbles.


Edgar Evelyn Ravenhill DSO (1859-1907) 

Sculptor Eric Gill

This wall memorial was erected in recognition of Edgar Ravenshill’s service during the operations in connection with the protection of the Aden Boundary Commission. He died in the Cape Colony at Wynberg. The tablet was carved and inscribed by the noted sculptor and typeface designer Eric Gill. Using a Roman style font in red lettering Gill has inscribed the inscription onto an attractive tablet of alabaster upon which rests an alabaster cornice. Gill’s full name was Arthur Eric Rowton Gill and he has ‘signed’ the work within the place name “Wynberg” by the addition of a small “A” before the “E” and a small “ILL” within the “G” together with the year of completion.


Sir John Boys (c.1535-1612)

Founder of Jesus Hospital almshouses, ecclesiastical lawyer, politician and judge

Described by John Newman in Pevsner’s Buildings of England series as “a bizarre narrative wall-monument.” Sir John wrote his will in 1611 and stated his preference to be laid to rest in the cathedral "not far from the place of my deceased wife’s burial" and for this monument to be built, "whereupon fifty pounds and no more to be bestowed". Sir John’s life-like effigy, the two weepers representing his mourning wives, and various architectural elements are all carved from alabaster.  The two columns, one to either side of the effigy, appear to be of a dark, well-polished crystalline stone, but are inaccessible for precise identification.  Click here for more on Sir John Boys.


Edward Youde (1924-1986)

Governor of Hong Kong 1982 to1986.

This memorial plaque is a limestone which contains a significant amount of fragmented fossil material, notably pieces of crinoid. Crinoids are organisms that bear a superficial resemblance to a stemmed plant and hence are sometimes called sea lilies. They are, however, marine animals that live on the sea floor. It is the disarticulated columnals that formed the stem of the creature that are most easily recognisable from their often circular shape. This stone resembles a variety of Hopton Wood Stone, a Carboniferous limestone from Derbyshire.







Memorial and Fittings stones in Nave (north side)



> STONES INDEX FEATURES STYLES BIBLIOGRAPHY gill-1 boys-sir-1 font-0 pulpit-1 benson-1 walker-1 gibbons-1 parry-1 ravenhill-1 youde-1 longley-1

©  Geoff Downer  2019


click to enlarge and read captions