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English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

BOXTED, Holy Trinity (TL 825 505)     (October 2001)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

 

Externally, on visual inspection alone, it is difficult to know quite what to make of this little building:  so much is odd, including the three small windows low down in the tower W. wall, the tiny but tall nave with S. clerestory even though there is no S. aisle, the large N. chapel in English bonded brick, and the pretty half-timbered S. porch reminiscent of Eden Nesfield (see left).  In fact the clue is to be found by walking to the northeastern corner of the churchyard and looking across the fields, for nestling in the valley is Boxted Hall, one of Suffolk's manor houses and the seat of the Poley family for more than six centuries.  Holy Trinity church, although probably erected as a chapel-of-ease to All Saints', Hartest, was for much of that time almost the Poley's private chapel, and its present form is largely a result of their ministrations.  Thus although on an external circuit of the church one may recognize that the nave, N. aisle and tower are essentially Perpendicular, that the N. chapel and present chancel are additions of the seventeenth century, and the porch, of the nineteenth, it is also evident that the fabric has been so much altered and renewed as to render its precise history almost irrecoverable, and so it is one soon finds oneself stepping inside - through the priest's doorway in the chancel S. wall, which is now the usual entrance - to see what one can discover there.

 

In fact the interior comes as rather a shock, for immediately opposite, in the N. wall of the chancel, is a wide arch leading down into the N. chapel, and straight ahead again are life-size standing effigies set in arched niches, in a space almost as large and as open as a museum sculpture gallery. The effigies depict Sir John Poley (shown right), who died in 1638, and his wife, Dame Abigail (shown left), who died in 1652, and yet they were not erected until c. 1690 and 1725 respectively.  The artist, or probably artists, are not known, and so the monuments were not included in Gunnis's Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660-1851 (pub. The Abbey Library, 1951). This is a great pity, but Pevsner drew attention to the fact that the costumes portrayed are those of the first half of the seventeenth century rather than the time when the monuments were carved, and he also pointed out the distinction between the more lively, ostentatious carving of Sir John and the restrained, less self-assured treatment of Dame Abigail. However, why this couple should have been especially singled out for such grand monuments more than half a century after their deaths, is less clear.  Other members of the Poley family have had to make do with more modest memorials, as witnessed by the profusion of floor stones and hatchments in the chancel, and also the tomb chest with recumbent effigies carved in oak and painted black, commemorating William Poley (d. 1587) and his wife, Alice (d. 1577).

 

The church contains some attractive Jacobean and Carolean woodwork.  The pulpit is especially fine and has a tester dated 1618 with turned pendants.  The hammerbeam chancel roof dates from c. 1658 and is likely to be contemporary with the communion rails, which were part of the same phase of reconstruction and refurbishment. Finally the Poley pew occupies the eastern bay of the N. aisle and has a Jacobean screen between it and the nave, with balusters supporting arches.