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English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

BOTESDALE, Chapel of St. Botolph (TM 049 759)     (July 2007)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

This little building (shown above from the north) is of greater interest historically than it is architecturally.  Surprisingly, since the village street today is a continuation of the mile long high street of Rickinghall Inferior, Botesdale hamlet (if such a relatively large settlement may be so termed) lies within the ecclesiastical parish of Redgrave, the church of which stands surrounded by fields, a mile and a half to the northwest.  This chapel was thus built as a chapel-of-ease for the parishioners of Redgrave, most probably in the early fourteenth century, since the earliest known reference to it appears in a Court Roll of 1338. (For this and much of the other historical information in this note, I have drawn on the church guide, written in 2005 by Jean Sheehan and Bill Cordeaux.)  However, its function changed about a hundred and thirty years later, when a certain John Sherife, left land and property to pay for its conversion to a chantry.  It is to this time (that is, c. 1470) that the building owes much of its present appearance, including especially its three-light windows (or four-light in the case of the E. window) with stepped  lights and supermullioned tracery, and also the Latin inscription in flushwork above the N. doorway (see the photograph below right), which reads on translation,“Pray for the souls of John Sherife and Juliana his wife.  Pray for the soul of Margaret Wykys” [possibly John Sherife’s mother-in-law].  However, it seems that the chapel may also have been given a bell tower at this time, for the outline of a blocked arch is visible internally, in the present the W. wall.  Presumably the tower was swept away after the building passed to the crown following the dissolution of all chantries in 1547 by order of Edward VI.   By 1561 the building had been acquired by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Seal to Queen Elizabeth I, and it was he who founded a grammar school here by converting the chapel into a schoolroom and adding the adjoining house to the west under the same long roof, divided into two dwellings to house the schoolmaster and his assistant.  Astonishingly, this school survived until 1878 - a period of over three centuries,  during much of which time it was one of the most prestigious of its day.  Five years after this, the building was divided into three lots and the residential property sold off, while the chapel was handed over to trustees for use as a chapel-of-ease for Redgrave parish once again, which remains its official status today.  It is still used regularly for services but is only normally open to the public on the first Saturday of the month in summer, and then not reliably!  In truth, though, there is not much to see here, either outside or in.  The windows, already mentioned, are its  principal feature, while the building as a whole forms a single cell, four bays in length, comprising a nave and a chancel covered by a continuous braced collar-beamed roof.  A gallery at the W. end jetties out from on an older, heavy screen below, which Pevsner perceptively likened to a hall (or passage) screen in a mediaeval house.  The church cannot be viewed externally from the south (or, obviously, the west) as this is now private property.