Well. not from England almost everybody seems to agree. There are thirty lead fonts in England, with a cluster of them in the Gloucester area, so Brookland is far from unique. What it does have, though, is names of months written in “Old French” so this is taken, understandably, to point to French origins.
Lead mining was a flourishing industry in England. Surprisingly England, indeed, replaced Spain as the principal source of lead for the Roman Empire. It was all found, however, in the western side of the country. Therefore, we can readily understand, for example, the lead fonts in Gloucestershire because it is close to the Forest of Dean where lead was mined. There was none in the eastern half of England so why would a church in Kent go to the trouble to acquire a lead font from elsewhere in England or, for that matter, the raw metal to make one?
So there are compelling reasons to think that this font was from France (being careful here to understand that France was not the single political entity that it is today). One theory is that it was brought by a monk who was travelling from Normandy to St Augustine’s in Canterbury and that somehow it found a use in Brookland. Hmmm. Another, is that it was stolen by English pirates in a raid on the coast of Normandy. This idea seems to be surprisingly popular, perhaps because of its somewhat romantic connotations? I have to say that I find it preposterous. Were English pirates marauding the Norman coast when almost all of the English nobles were still firmly Norman in origin. Well, maybe they were, but would a bunch of pirates then regard the theft of a font as a viable form of plunder?
And what was the penalty for desecration of or theft of a church? Flaying alive! So you have to believe that our “pirates” raided the Norman coast (populated by some of the most beastly soldier-knights the world has ever seen) and took the time and trouble to manhandle it to their ship and then manhandle it again in England. Apart from what would happen to them if they were caught in France, they would then have to hope that any local Norman who spotted its mysterious appearance would not wonder where it came from or why the months were spelt in Old French! This is all apart from the fact that the churchmen in England might take a rather dim view of theft from another church.
Flaying alive is a thing we talk about colloquially. In mediaeval England, however, it was reality. John Timpson in his book “Timpson’s Country Churches” reports that it is tradition that in the early c11 at St Botolph’s Church, Hadstock near Saffron Walden a Danish raider was flayed for sacrilege. It was the practice that the skin of the flayed man was nailed to the church door. When the door of that church was repaired fragments of skin - now in Saffron Walden Museum - were found under one of the hinges. If you have ever wondered what flaying alive entailed, you couldn’t do better than read the fictional account given in Ken Follett’s epic and marvellous “World without End” (the sequel to “Pillars of the Earth”). A prolific reader and not exactly squeamish, I found it almost unreadable. Read it and then decide whether “pirates” would go to France to nick a lead font! I don’t know whether they flayed church thieves in France, but I don’t suppose they gave them Community Service!
Returning to reality again, in the splendid “Guide to Norman Sites in Britain” by Nigel and Mary Kerr (out of print except for the Kindle version, I understand) two more reasons are added for a likely French provenance. Firstly that the calendar sequence is more in keeping with France than with England. Secondly, that there is a nearly identical font at Saint-Evroult-de-Montfort in Normandy. Due to the wonders of the internet, I am able to reproduce a picture of it below from the French Ministry of Culture website. We can dispute the word “identical”, but I think that there is no question that this font and that of Brookland are by the same “artist” (and in fact the St Evroult one is even more impressive). QED, eh? The Kerrs also point to the fact that Henri de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, was importing Tournai marble fonts in the 1160s. So we know that importing fonts (as opposed to stealing them!) was an established practice.
Still prefer the pirate theory? Well, St Evroult is 50 miles from the nearest point on the Normandy coastline. It is perfectly possible, of course, that the Brookland font was somewhat nearer to the coast than this. Without a shred of evidence to support the theory, though, I hope you will agree with me that it is total hogwash!