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Church is celebrating 500 years since font first used

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: April 25, 2014

  • Clockwise from right, the Rev Ray Owen beside the 500-year-old font at St John the Baptist Church. There is a wooden lid which was to prevent holy water being taken for use in witchcraft and magic potions. The interior of the church and the pulpit. A silver chalice believed to be a gift from the Greaves family, who came to Mayfield in 1663. The chalice has been dated to 1665. The three-sided communion rail, installed in the mid-17th century.

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A VILLAGE church is planning to hold a big celebration later this year in recognition of 500 years of continuous use of its font.

The event is being hosted by the vicar of St John the Baptist Church, in Mayfield, the Rev Ray Owen.

He said: "It's hard to imagine that our font was first used just five years after King Henry VIII came to the throne and has christened babies, children and adults in Mayfield ever since.

"To celebrate, we are planning a special baptism thanksgiving service, led by the Bishop of Stafford, on June 8, complete with a local child being baptised."

The vicar is hoping as many people as possible who were christened in the church will attend the event.

The font has a wooden cover which was originally put on it to prevent the theft of holy water, as laid down in a 12th century law. This was to stop the water being used in charms and magic potions.

The church's history can be traced back to the Domesday Book of 1086, which recorded a priest in Mayfield (or Medevelde, to give it its old name). He was one of just 25 priests in the whole of Staffordshire.

The old Saxon church was replaced with a Norman stone building during the reign of Henry I. It was a simple rectangular construction with no aisles, built under the direction of the Prior of Tutbury and would have probably been paid for by rents and manorial rights.

During the early part of the 14th century, the church had fallen into disrepair, and the Bishop, Roger de Norburgh (Norbury), ordered that urgent repairs be carried out.

These were supervised by John Rollestone, a wealthy landowner at the time, and a friend of the Earl de Ferrers, who had overall responsibility for the church.

Several generations of the Rollestone family trebled the size of the knave, added the chancel and finally, in 1515, added the church tower.

In the mid-17th century, the unique three-sided communion rail was commissioned, which is still used today.

Mr Owen said: "It's a lovely piece of handicraft, but it isn't the ideal shape for communion. It does cause a bit of a traffic jam as those who have taken communion can't leave the side bars until the whole line has finished."

In 1663, the Greaves family came to Mayfield and were to become patrons of the church for 200 years.

The church has a silver chalice dating back to 1665, which is believed to be a gift from the family.

On December 7, 1745, a section of Bonnie Prince Charlie's army, retreating from Derby, passed through the churchyard, terrorising the villagers, who took refuge inside the church.

The Young Pretender's men did not enter the church but fired several shots at the west door, the results of which can still be seen.

The last extension to the church was in 1854, and was masterminded by the Rev Talbot Aden Ley Greaves to provide extra seating for the congregation.

The church bells were re-hung in 1902, with three new bells added to make the total six, and the tower clock was installed in 1947.

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