It is always a
pleasure to come back to Boxford. It's always been one of
my favourite Suffolk villages. Many of the buildings on
its high street are contemporary with those not far off
at Lavenham, and the place really deserves to be better
known. The church is full of interest, and is one of a
number in Suffolk that were unaccountably missed out of
the Simon Jenkins book England's Thousand Best
Churches, although I dare say that not a day goes by
when someone doesn't point out the omission one somewhere
in England to him, poor man. Boxford was one of the
wealthy 15th century cloth-producing villages, and it is
as if a vestige of its former significance survives in
church and village, as if they still busy themselves
independently of the modern world.
St Mary is on a rise, near the centre of the village.
Like nearby Kersey, it presents its north face to the
village, but its grandest aspect is to the south. The
north porch, the usual entrance, is perhaps Suffolk's
finest 14th century wooden porch, and the oldest part of
the external structure. The south porch, however, is one
of the county's grandest 15th century affairs, in bright
stone. Six elegant niches line the top, flanking a larger
seventh. In the spandrels are an angel and the Blessed
Virgin, depicting the Annunciation. It is still possible
to pick out the words of the Hail Mary inscribed on the
angel's banner. Again, as at Kersey, the donors paid for
a porch on the less-used side of the building, perhaps
because there was already a fine porch to the north, a
reminder that these buildings were raised as parish
churches, not village ones.
Above these porches, the 14th century tower rises, a
century older now than the church against it. Perhaps it
would have been rebuilt if the Reformation had not
intervened. Elegant and beautiful, decorated with
grotesques, it is topped by a little wood and lead spire.
This repays another look, since it is bedecked with
Perpendicular flying buttresses. The slate sundial below
is also attractive.
St Mary is open every day to visitors. Whether you enter
from the north or the south you step into a bright, clean
interior, the light from the clerestory filling the nave
and aisles. This is a great barn of light, the only
colour coming from the glass of the east window. This is
by Rosemary Rutherford, and depicts the Transfiguration
in flowing chunks of colour, which lends the chancel an
air of mystery, giving it a feeling of devotion and
prayer. Her work can be found at a number of churches in
East Anglia and the East Midlands, most notably perhaps
at Hinderclay in Suffolk.
Turning back to the west, perhaps the most memorable
feature of the nave is the striking 17th century font
cover, which opens out like the one at Bramford. Inside
are painted ribbons with quotes from St John's Gospel.
Two are taken from Nicodemus' question and Christ's
answer: How can a man be borne which is olde?
and Except a man be borne of water and of the spirit,
he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. The other
is from the Last Supper: Christ's answer, when Peter
baulks at Christ washing his feet: If I wash the(e)
not thou hast no part with me.
The late 15th Century
south aisle chapel has a feeling of its former importance
and an indication of the wealth of the village at that
time, with tall, elaborate niches either side of the east
window, retaining remains of their former paint. St
Edmund stands to the north of the altar. This village was
so busy and prosperous, Mortlock notes that there were no
less than four Chantry guilds here, at least one of which
must have had its altar here. Although nothing remains of
the rood screen, it is clear that the rood loft must have
extended over the parclose screens of the chantry
chapels, as at Dennington.
Boxford has more than its fair share of intriguing
post-Reformation memorials, some in brass, some in stone.
Two of particular note are here in the south aisle
chapel. One is for Elizabeth Hyam, for the fourth
time widow, who by a fall that brought on a mortification
was at last hastened to her end on the 4th May 1748 in
her 113th year. We have no way of knowing how much
this is an exaggeration, but she may well have been born
in the reign of Charles I, and was perhaps the last
person in Suffolk to remember the English Civil War.
People born around the time she died could conceivably,
in their old age, have seen the Oxford Movement rise to
The other memorial is rather more pathetic. It is a tiny
brass, set in the floor. It is to David Birde, a Rector's
son, who died at the age of a few months in 1606. He lies
in his bed, with two little shoes under it. Another
little brass shield, once part of a larger composition,
depicts the Blessed Virgin as the Queen of Heaven, and is
probably early 16th century. Another, later, brass
remembers William Doggett, Merchant Adventurer.
Not far off from this splendid church is another. After a
pint at the Fleece or the White Hart, you could do worse
than climb the hill to the outskirts of the village,
where you will find another fascinating medieval church
at Groton. This parish was the home church of the
Winthrop family, who established the State of
Massachusetts and have been linked with Groton's fortunes