A beautiful Saxon font cover made by furniture maker Victoria Walpole for the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Coleshill, Birmingham has been awarded our Bespoke Guild Mark.

Victoria, a Northumberland artist who paints pictures with scalpel and wood veneers, was commissioned in 2015 to make and install a new cover ‘Living Water’ for the church’s 12th century font carved in Caen stone.

Living Water takes the form of a shallow bowl with fenestrations which reveal the inside of the font. The cover includes fish swimming by a waterfall in the baptismal stream, hand-carved leaves at the side of the stream or floating with the current, and pebbles. All the hardwoods included in the font were sustainably salvaged from scrap.

The Bespoke Guild Mark recognises excellence in design, materials, craftsmanship and function for exquisite pieces of furniture and fitted furniture made as single items or a limited run. It is awarded to beautifully crafted pieces of bespoke furniture and, since its launch in 1958, has been the apex of distinctions for UK designer-makers.

Explaining the project, Victoria said: “Living Water was a true labour of love, taking countless hours to make. The marquetry has been cut by hand, with shading achieved by burning the veneers in hot sand. The carvings, and every single pebble, have been patiently fine sanded between layers of polyurethane varnish. The resulting finish produces irresistibly tactile surfaces and brings out the stunning vibrant natural colours and contrasts between the profusion of hardwoods. 

“The design is inspired by the river baptism of Jesus. The complexity of forms, based on local nature, aims to encourage contemplation. Every element relates to scripture but Living Water can be equally enjoyed by anyone with little or no knowledge of the bible. Children especially love to look ‘into the pond’ and I am told that visitors to the church are often seen attempting to brush away the finely carved dead leaves! These represent sins being washed away by baptism.”

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Living Water was awarded a Bespoke Guild Mark in 2023 and is the 484th design to be recognised in the prize’s long history.

Commenting on the award, Victoria said: “I am really delighted to have received a Bespoke Guild Mark. Becoming a Bespoke Guild Mark holder is especially meaningful to me as it has lifted my spirits at a time when I was feeling most disheartened in my career. Since lock down, and the closure of the gallery, I have supported my wonderful daughter and myself by working as a handy woman. The Bespoke Guild Mark has renewed my confidence of returning to the work I love and has reignited my dream of a cathedral scale commission. Very many thanks to The Furniture Makers’ Company.”

Daniel Hopwood, Bespoke Guild Mark chairman, said: The church font, Living Water by Victoria Walpole would enchant any christening with its detailed interpretation of running water in its natural form.”

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