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BOXFORD, St. Mary  (TL 963 405),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Palaeocene, Thanet Sand Formation.)

 

A large and complicated village church with many interesting and disparate features.

This is a large church, standing in the centre of the village.  With the obvious exception of its wooden N. porch, it is predominantly Perpendicular in style and consists of a W. tower now with a surmounting timber lantern, a four-bay aisled nave with a large, stone-built S. porch, and a three-bay chancel with a two-bay chapel on either side.  It is constructed of flint and pebble rubble with the additional use of a considerable amount of a white, calcareous stone that appears at first to be clunch, but which is actually Caen sandstone, demonstrating just how hard it can sometimes be to identify building stones by visual examination alone.

 

The logical place to begin a detailed description of the church, therefore, is with the wooden N. porch (shown left), for this is late Decorated work, probably constructed during the second quarter of the fourteenth century and possibly also the oldest timber porch in Suffolk.  Presumably it was for this reason that Nikolaus Pevsner and James Bettley have proclaimed it to be the most interesting feature of the building (The Buildings of England: Suffolk West, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 100), but in truth, it is really rather rustic, notwithstanding its wooden ribs rising from clusters of shafts at the angles and mid-points of the sides to form the skeleton of a sexpartite vault above each of its two bays.  Whether the areas between were ever filled in, is difficult to tell.

 

The S. porch (below right), described by Pevsner as 'exceedingly swagger', is actually much more impressive and dated by money left for its construction and continuing aggrandizement, over the  four decades 1441-80.  Two bays deep like the N. porch, it has four-light, unglazed windows on either side, with supermullioned tracery and hood-moulds rising from head label stops, but it is the window splays that are most striking,  decorated outside and in as they are with two tiers of canopied niches in casement mouldings.  The battlements to east and west have carved blank arches beneath the merlons and openwork motifs beneath the embrasures, and there are blank arches too on the leading edges of the buttresses and on the internal walls, both below and beside the windows and outer doorway (as shown in the photograph of the southwest angle, below left).   Externally the outer doorway boasts two orders of bowtells and two tiers of nicely cut canopied niches beyond those, yet the spandrels above the arch are decorated with carved figures so poorly proportioned, as to suggest they must surely be by another hand.  The gable above features a row of seven canopied niches, replete with delicate little tierceron vaults, which add to, what is overall, a very rich display, which is actually a little incongruous attached to a large but otherwise unornamented church built predominantly of field-stones.  The tower rises in four stages to battlements, supported by angle buttresses, and has a protruding stair turret at the southeast angle, extending halfway up, a simple W. doorway without capitals, a renewed W. window with three blank arches in flint flushwork on either side, and tall, two-light transomed bell-openings above.  The aisle and chapel windows are mostly restored or renewed, but the five-light chancel E. window (left) may be largely original and is, in any case, an excellent model for illustrating some of the terminology Dr. John Harvey introduced for describing Perpendicular windows in general (The Perpendicular Style, London, Batsford, 1978, p. 71).  If the lights are numbered 1 to 5 from left to right, then notice that all the lights are cinquefoil-cusped and ogee-pointed, that lights 1 & 5 are individually subarcuated above two mouchettes and a dagger, and that further subarcuation of lights 1-3 in one group, and 3-5 in another, such that the middle light is in both groups, produce what is termed 'intersecting subarcuation with through reticulation' as not only do the subarcuations necessarily intersect above the central light, but in addition,  the mullions either side of this light cut through the subarcuations in rising to the window head.  As to this specific window, the subarcuations over two mouchettes and a dagger seen in lights 1 & 5 and the central light, forms a design very similar to that at Great Shelford in Cambridgeshire, which Dr. Harvey dated to c. 1396 - 1411 (The Perpendicular Style, pp. 125 & 157).  That may suggest an early Perpendicular date here too, which would probably be in keeping with the form of the aisle arcades (illustrated below right).

 

These are constructed in four bays, formed of arches of two orders decorated by a hollow on the outer order and a double wave moulding on the inner order, springing from piers formed of semicircular shafts separated by hollows.  Whatever their date may be, it seems clear the tower arch is older and very possibly of the first half of the fourteenth century rather than the second (and thus from Decorated times), for  here the arch carries a flat and a hollow chamfer, of which the former springing from semi-quatrefoil responds and the latter continues down the jambs without intervening capitals.  The chancel arch is similar in except that here, the inner order carries a roll moulding.  The arch from the S. aisle to the S. chapel - which is probably dated by money Birkin Haward found had been left towards the chapel in 1468-69 (Suffolk Medieval Church Arcades, Hitcham, The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993, p. 175) - consists of a double-flat-chamfered arch supported on semi-quatrefoil responds, yet the two-bay arcade between this chapel and the chancel, is similar in style to the nave arcades.

 

That is not the case with the N. chapel arcade, however, where the work is more accomplished and apparently dated by various bequest from the years 1487/8, 1495 and 1498 (The Buildings of England).  The arch from the N. aisle carries a double wave moulding on the inner order and a casement moulding on the outer order, above jambs with an order of narrow semicircular attached shafts, and the two-bay arcade from the N. chapel to the chancel (shown left) has similar arches springing from a central rhomboidal pier with attached semicircular shafts to north and south, separated by casement mouldings from groups of three bowtells towards the openings.  The lozenge-shaped pier was designed to combine the necessary width across the thickness of the wall, with 'the least visual bulk and the greatest clear span between piers'  (see Suffolk Medieval Church Arcades, p. 136), and of the particular design found here, with clusters of three bowtells to the east and the west, Haward considered five of the eight examples to be found in Suffolk, to be the work of one man, John Melford of Sudbury (also known as John Mason of Sudbury) (fl. 1460 - 1509), the one-time apprentice of Reginald Ely, who probably worked with Ely at Burwell in Cambridgeshire and who appears subsequently to have adopted (and adapted) many of Ely's designs.  He is considered in more detail on this web-site on the page for Cavendish.    

 

However, remaining with the present building, the church contains few furnishings of note but one important exception is the ogee-domed font cover (illustrated right), which is a seventeenth century piece with folding doors, panelled outside and painted within.  The font itself now consists of a wooden bowl set on the original Perpendicular stone stem, which has blank tracery on the sides.   The church contains no monuments of sculptural significance but a wall tablet in the S. chapel that will appeal to lovers of curiosities, commemorates one Elizabeth Hyam 'Fourth time Widow', who was 'hastened to her End [by a] Fall... on the 4th May 1748 in her 113th year'.