12 September 2011
History of St. Peter's, Boxted
1000 Years of Church History
For those who are interested in the lovely church of St. Peter's in Boxted this history of the last thousand years has been written so that all can read how the church was founded and of the fascinating events which have taken place whilst Boxted has grown from a modest hamlet to a sizeable village on the Essex/Suffolk border.
The building of the parish church of St. Peter, which stands on the ridge to the south of the river Stour, was started by the then Christian Saxons just before the Norman Conquest. It is thought that the Saxon building was constructed about 1008 A. D. (during the time of Ethelred the Unready) by Edwin, father of Aluric (or Alvic), who was Saxon lord at Boxted Hall at the time of the Domesday survey.
The early church was a single storey building, built of rubble and Roman brick with a straw (thatched) roof. It is believed part of this building is incorporated in the present church. Legend has it that the site of the church was that of Boxted's Roman villa destroyed by the Iceni Queen Boudicca in A. D. 61. It is thought that in 1008 A. D. Boxted's Christian Saxons, confronted by a large mound, that they found contained a plentiful supply of brick and rubble, built their church nearby. Some early reports on the church state that some Septaria stones were found, the sort used to construct Colchester's Roman walls and castle. This tends to confirm the theory that the early church was built on the villa site, although the opinion of local historians still favours the area of Boxted Hall to the west of the church and the new graveyard.
The church of St. Peter with its magnificent Norman arch was completed some time between 1090 and 1130. The tower and nave, built chiefly of rubble, puddingstone and Roman brick are Norman; the tower was given brick buttresses and the upper part repaired in brick in the early 16th. Century. The tall nave has a king-post roof and its small clerestory windows have been supplemented by dormer windows, perhaps in the 18th. Century. The perpendicular windows of the chancel suggest a rebuilding after 1500, the most probable date is one following the dissolution of Little Horkesley Priory when the "town of Boxstead" complained to the Crown that the chancel was in such bad repair that the incumbent refused to hold services there. Above the chancel arch are two 14th. or 15th. Century windows and a recess for an altar image in the southern respond of the church. The two aisles were created by cutting through the nave walls in the 14th. Century. The north aisle has an original crown-post roof. The south porch may be of 16th. Century origin. Before the 18th. Century the nave roof was thatched; the chancel roof was tiled.
In 1633 the church needed re-roofing, the chancel tiling, glazing and ceiling had to be repaired. Also a pulpit and new surplice was required for the priest, and a new communion table and carpet for the chancel. In 1705 a crack in the east and south windows of the chancel needed repair, and the walls needed plastering and whitening.
In 1836 St. Peter's Church received a grant from the "Incorporated Society for the Enlargement of Churches and Chapels". With this money 125 additional seats were provided in the church, the west gallery which accommodates the organ was also built. The church was restored in 1870 by A. W. Bloomfield, who extended the north aisle to form a vestry; re-seated and re-floored the chancel and tower basement, re-seated the nave and removed some wall tablets.
The exterior also was re-pointed in the 19th. Century. Partial restoration has taken place on several occasions in the 20th. Century, including the chancel in the 1930s. When the nave walls were prepared for distempering in 1933, colour wall paintings were uncovered. Unfortunately they were again covered with distemper.
Col. Guy Blewitt and his wife Audrey, of Pond House, paid for the restoration of the tower in 1951 in memory of their son and other relatives who lost their lives in the 1939/45 war. Other work carried out in recent years included replacing tiles on the aisle roof, quoin stones to the buttresses, and a trench around the church to control damp.
In mediaeval times it was recorded that St. Peter's tower contained four bells, but in 1684 and 1845 three bells were recorded. In 1909 there were only two bells, one by Thomas Gardiner of Sudbury 1714, and the other by Thomas Mears of London 1812. Today only the 1714 bell is rung as a bidding bell.
Before 1500 Boxted church was dedicated to St. Mary. It became St. Peter some time after this date, probably following the dissolution of Little Horkesley Priory.Although Robert de Horkesley and his wife Beatrice were instrumental in building Boxted church and linking it to Little Horkesley Priory, it seems that by 1185 the church was split into moieties held by the lords of Boxted Hall and Rivers Hall. It is not known how the cure was originally supplied, but Hugh of Rivers Hall gave his share to St. John's Abbey, Colchester. A vicarage was endowed before 1237, as in that year St. John's Abbey gave its share of the advowson to the Bishop of London. After 1242 Little Horkesley Priory gave its half to the same bishop in exchange for Asheldam church, and the bishop was recorded as patron for the whole in 1254.The Crown occasionally presented during Episcopal vacancies as in 1361, 1405 and 1596. Lady Alice de Nerford also presented in 1361, suggesting that the Crown allowed the manorial overlord to have a turn in recommending the clergyman.
At the Dissolution the advowson apparently passed with the rectory manor to the Crown, who granted it to the Dean and Chapter of St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in 1532. Later Thomas Wolsey held it, and after his attainder it was granted to Henry Audley and John Maynard and thereafter descended with the rectory manor. Nevertheless the Bishop of London continued to present between the mid-16th. and the mid 19th. Centuries, and thus it seems that the right of presentment remained with the Bishop despite the claims of the impropriators. In 1852 the patronage was transferred to the Bishop Rochester. The Bishop of St. Albans was patron between 1878 and 1912. Essex fell into these Dioceses at the time. The Bishop of Chelmsford was patron by 1926 and remained so in 1998 when the new benefice was formed with St. Mary's Langham whose patron is the Duchy of Lancaster (the Queen). The right of presentation is now alternate.
The church, presumably the rectory, was worth 5 marks and the vicarage 4 marks in 1254, when the tithes were apparently divided between the Abbot of St. John's, Colchester (from Rivers Hall manor) and Little Horkesley Priory (from Boxted Hall manor). In 1291 Boxted paid £7 6s 8d spiritualities, a portion of which belonged to St. Botolph's priory, Colchester. The temporalities were divided between St. John's Abbey, Colchester (1.0s) and the Prioress of Wix (3s 1d). In 1324-5 the church, presumably half the rectory, was let at farm by Little Horkesley Priory for £6 13s 4d. In 1428 both St. John's Abbey and St. Botolph's priory were said to have portions in the church. In 1535 the vicarage was valued at £7 13s 8d and the tithes, presumably vicarial, at 15s 41/2d.
In 1536 those tithes that had belonged to the prior of St. Botolph were granted to Thomas Audley. In 1542 Audley exchanged them, together with other assets, with the Crown in return for Tilty Abbey. The Crown granted them to Henry Scrope, Lord Scope of Bolton, in 1571.
In 1610 there was only one acre of vicarial glebe, the impropriate rectory being said to have stripped the vicar "stark naked" without glebe, wood, hay or corn. Nonetheless, by 1650, the vicarage glebe was worth £4 0s 0d and the tithes £41 0s 0d. In 1657 the living was augmented by £10 0s 0d by the Trustees, for the maintenance of ministers, and in 1661 the living was said to be worth £60.In 1720 the vicarage was augmented with £200 by the Bishop of London. About 1723 there were three or four small farms that claimed to be tithe-free, but it was not known on what grounds they claimed exemption. They might represent the portion originally held by St. Botolph's priory and subsequently lost, or a tithe-free part of Kingswood near Runkyns Corner. The same year the small tithes (vicarial) were worth £92.
In 1810, with the assistance of £200 from Queen Anne's Bounty, an estate was purchased at Pebmarsh. It comprised a house, outbuildings and 27 acres of land and was subsequently let for £31 per annum. By 1831 the vicarage was valued at £190 per annum. The vicarial tithes were commuted for £225 and the rectorial tithes for £533, whilst there were 4 acres of vicarial glebe - including the vicarage site - and 61 acres of rectorial glebe. The vicarage was valued at £260 per annum in 1863. In 1887 there was 1 acre of vicarial glebe opposite the vicarage, 2 acres in Queen's Head Road let as allotments, and 29 acres at Valiants farm, Pebmarsh. The Pebmarsh land was sold in 1920 and the proceeds invested. From 1927 the vicarage received £40 per annum from the vicar of Lamarsh. The vicarage received a further £60 from Queen Anne's Bounty. Following the 1914-1918 war the living at Boxted declined from £467 to about £300 due to the agricultural depression between 1926 and 1933, but by 1949 had risen to £434. After the ending of tithes in 1952, stipends were set at national level. In 1953 a £40 charge on Lamarsh and Alphamstone parish was converted to a capital sum under section 4 of Queen Anne's Bounty (Powers) Measure 1939.
There was a vicarage house in 1610, with 1.5 acres of garden and orchard. The building was described as "rough cast" and tiled. In 1836 the glebe was mortgaged to rebuild the house. Frederic Chancellor supervised further building work there in 1875 and in 1887 the house had 12 rooms. Further improvements were made in 1937. The house, built of gault brick, was probably constructed about 1820 and remained Boxted's vicarage until 1980.
The first priest of St. Peter's was Roberto(1140) probably a monk from Little Horkesley priory. At first the priest lodged at Pond House, the home of Robert de Horkesley and Beatrice his wife, but later a hut was built for him near the church. Henry, vicar in 1332, may have been the same as Henry Ray who resigned in 1357. The names of all the vicars from that date onward are recorded.
In 1524-5 there was a parish guild whose stock was in the hands of the churchwarden, Robert Seker. The former guild lands may be recorded in 1598 when a Boxted Hall tenant paid 11d. rent for a customary holding comprising a guild and a tenement called Eastlayes, but the location is unknown.
In the early part of the 15th. Century some Boxted parishioners were Lollards. Two Boxted men, including the holy water clerk William Sweeting, were arrested. The clerk was condemned and burned at the stake at Smithfield. Two other Lollards were arrested in 1531, one being condemned. From 1528 heretics, probably Lollards, from Colchester and Steeple Bumpstead attended readings from the New Testament, and the "Wicket" at the Boxted house of Richard Collins alias Johnson. Johnson and his wife Alice were said to have moved to Boxted from Salisbury, Wiltshire, to avoid persecution, but in 1534 they were arrested, taken to Fulham and harshly imprisoned by the Bishop of London. Later they were sent to St. John's Abbey, Colchester, where they claimed to have received even worse treatment, before escaping to live in hiding. In 1535 another Boxted man was imprisoned as a heretic.
The vicar of Boxted was "deprived" in 1555 and in 1559 was ejected for non-subscription, presumably for Protestantism and Catholicism respectively. The Boxted minister J. Hubbert supported the Dedham Classis, which met in Boxted in 1582. Mr. Silgate, or Gillgate, vicar 1578-96, was reported as an unpreaching minister in 1584 and 1593. In 1589 the Ten Commandments were said to be lacking in the church, and in 1590 the churchwardens presented Silgate before the church courts for being a brawler and slanderer, not wearing a surplice or making the sign of the cross. He was also accused of procuring a parson from Langham to preach without licence.
George Phillips (died 1644) nonconformist divine and curate of Boxted 1615 emigrated to Massachusetts in 1630 and helped found Watretown on the Charles River. Nathaniel Kirkland is recorded as vicar or curate 1621-23 and in1643 both he and many parishioners made their Oaths of Allegiance to Parliament. The parish registers were very poorly kept in the early 17th. century, possibly because of the Puritanism of the parishioners and their opposition to the Bishop of London. John Hubbard, admitted 1644, signed the testimony in 1648 and the Watchword in 1649. He had probably moved by 1651. The succession is now unclear, but the vicar by 1655 was Nathaniel Carr who is possibly to be identified as "Mr. Lax" defrocked and ejected in 1662. Local legend identifies Carr as a "womaniser" and when a local woman bore him a son outside marriage, he said he was married to the lady and produced the church register to prove it. When the woman said she knew nothing of the marriage, Carr said her mind had gone! It is also said that Carr was thrown from the top of the church tower by men-at-arms when Edmund Hickeringill was inducted as vicar.
Carr's successor was the controversial pamphleteer Edmund Hickeringill whose incumbency was opposed by many parishioners, they were incited against him byJohn Maidstone, Snr., a puritan member of the 1654 Parliament and an elder of the parish under the Classis. In 1664 John Maidstone Jnr called Hickeringill a "bishops Brat" and "piscopal priest" after Hickeringill beat him for urinating over the congregation from the belfry. Later in the same year there was a near riot at burial at which Hickeringill officiated, when relatives attempted to bury the deceased without divine service. In the scuffle, Hickeringill and his sexton were threatened with being thrown into the grave, and the Book of Common Prayer and one child were actually kicked into it. The Parish registers were still very poorly kept during Hickeringill's incumbency, perhaps due to the strength of opposition to him. He resigned in 1664 but continued to live in the parish until his death in 1669.
Henry Goodrick, vicar 1723-47, was resident and held divine service twice on Sundays and communion three times a year. Robert Ingram (d. 1804) a noted Protestant divine, vicar of Wormingford from 1760, was also vicar of Boxted from 1768. In 1769 he did not reside in the vicarage as he had been given a larger and better house nearer the church. In 1770 there was a
Curate who lived in Dedham and services were held on alternate Sundays and communion six times a year. By 1790 the vicar lived in the vicarage house in Wormingford. About this time a large sum of money was given by a local benefactor to make the Boxted vicarage suitable for the incumbent. It was said that over 2/3rds of the families in Boxted belonged to the church in 1841, when the average number of communicants was 50. There was no curate.
Robert Robertson was vicar of Boxted from 1813 until 1835. Unlike his predecessors, Robertson was an early Anglo-Catholic and was not popular in the parish. There was a long running feud between him and John Joscelyn of Boxted Hall. Added to his unpopularity in the village, Robert Robertson experienced a tragic family life. He had already lost one son, Thomas, aged 13, in 1810 before he came to Boxted. In 1829 he lost William, aged 23, followed the next year by the death of another son, Rev. Charles, aged 28. Two years later, in 1832, he buried two sons, Septimus and Francis, 12 and 22 respectively, and his daughter, Sarah, aged 22. Both Robert and his wife Mary died in 1835. The last survivor of the seven children, another Thomas, died in 1843 aged 43.
In 1835 one of Boxted's most celebrated vicars was inducted, theRev. Charles Norman. During his incumbency many improvements were made to the church, including the provision of an organ and the building of the church school in 1837. In 1851, the church attendance was 164 at the morning service and 210 in the afternoon, although the minister claimed it was below average due to influenza! Since 1901 the church has seen many changes, with the introduction of the shortened Book of Common Prayer in 1929 and the Alternative Service Book in 1980. Changes have also been made to the liturgy. The decline in finances of the Church of England in recent years has led to the amalgamation of Boxted and Langham as a single benefice, the sale of the vicarage in Boxted and the purchase of another property in Langham.
After the 1914-1918 war there was a sharp decline in church congregations. Records for one Sunday in 1934 show eight people attending Morning Prayer and twelve at Evensong. Church attendance improved during the period of the 1939-1945 war with an average of 40 at Morning Prayer and 25 in the evenings. During the '50's church congregations again declined and today the one Sunday service is attended by an average of 20 people, although festival services are better attended. The church no longer has a paid Sexton or Verger and members of the church undertake most of this work.
In 1684 there was a silver cup engraved 'Boxted' on the foot and a flagon and paten in pewter, probably identical to the silver cup, paten and flagon surviving in 1810. By 1887 there were two silver cups marked 'Boxted', a silver paten marked 'Boxted' and a flagon dated 1778. In 1925 the plate comprised an unmarked silver cup, probably early 17th. Century, a copy of that cup dated 1836, a paten dated 1782 and two flagons dated 1778 and 1811.
An oak chest was recorded in 1552. The surviving one may be a 17th. Century replacement. There are fragments of 14th. Century ruby and blue glass in the tracery of the chancel south windows.
The principal monuments are:
Her husband and family erected the marble pulpit in the church in memory of Marianna Freeman Corton, who died in 1881.
A mausoleum was built on the south side of the church by the Vesey family , in memory of Capt. Arthur Vesey, who was killed in a riding accident.
A new oak and iron churchyard gate was presented by Capt. H. Lefroy. New gates replaced the churchyard gates in 1995, both gates were donated. Also donated in 1996 were gates and fencing to the entrance of the graveyard, an area that was expanded southwards in 1868 by land taken from Camping Close.
(Camping Close is medieval land designated for recreation of villagers especially 'ball play')
The east window had been added during the early 1870's. A gift from the Norman family as a memorial to their father Rev. Charles Norman, vicar 1832 - 1867, and was created by Messrs Clayton & Bell of London who were responsible for many excellent Victorian and Edwardian stained glass windows in England. The Reredos , presented by Rev. George Murton in 1924 in memory of his wife Henrietta, was designed by the architect W. H. R. Blacking and painted by W. Gales from the Victoria and Albert Museum, who was also secretary to the Church Advisory Committee. 'Mr Gales was in the front rank of painters and working with Mr. Blacking was responsible for works of this kind in many parts of the country' (PCC minutes 1923). The rich texture of the chancel is enhanced by the perpendicular windows, which, being of clear glass, let in maximum light. In 1999 the Parochial Church Council commissioned Messrs Howell and Bellion of Saffron Walden to decorate the Chancel ceiling with a star motif on a blue background. All the colours used were dictated by the strong colouring of the East Window and the Reredos. Messrs Howell and Bellion added the Hale Bopp comet, seen in the skies in 1998 and the total eclipse of the sun of August 1999 as a reminder to future generations of these heavenly occurrences.
Tithe is a levy of one tenth on the agricultural production from the land. It has its roots deep in history. In Deuteronomy chapter 14, verse 22 it says 'Thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year''
In Anglo-Saxon England 'tithe' became the recognised means of supporting the church. At King Edmund's synod in 974 non-payment was actually made an offence punishable by excommunication. Six hundred years later, during the Reformation, Henry VIII seized the monasteries lucrative 'tithe rights' and gave - or sold them - to new colleges, schools or his personal friends.
Tithes were originally paid in kind, one tenth of each crop i.e. one sheaf of corn to support the church, the remaining nine sheaves for the farmer. The corn belonging to the church was stored in 'glebe barns' until sold. Later the levies were paid in cash, one tenth of the farmer's gross returns from his land being given to the church.
Before the Reformation there were 'great tithes' and 'small tithes'. The 'great tithe' of corn etc. was paid to the monasteries and abbeys such as St, John's Abbey, Colchester, Little Horkesley Priory, Wix Priory etc., also to the bishops - and sometimes to the manors. The 'small tithe' went to support the parish and pay the incumbent.
Following the establishment of the Church of England this method of supporting the church changed. What once were the 'great tithes' were paid to the rectory manor and were known as 'rectorial tithe'. The 'small tithes' were known as the 'vicarial tithe' and maintained the local parish and vicar. In the 19th. Century it became possible to commute the rectorial tithe in the favour of the vicarage or amalgamate them. The tithe was then paid direct to either the vicar or the rector.
After the Great War, a 'Tithe Commission' was established to collect the levy from the farmers. During the agricultural recession of the 1920's and 30's many farmers were unable to pay their tithes and a 'tithe war' between the farmers and the commission ensued. The Church made a decision to allow farmers to commute their 'tithe payments', but the Second World War intervened, so nothing happened.
When the war ended a tithe bill was presented to Parliament allowing farmers to commute their tithes for a fixed sum. From 1952 onwards most farmers commuted the tithes and today this levy no longer exists.