VILLAGE HISTORY


INTRODUCTION

SOME NOTES ON THE HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF BOXFORD

Boxford, under its original name of Koddenham, appears in the Domesday Book. The name is perpetuated in Coddenham Hall, a farmhouse built near the site of a much earlier Tudor mansion bearing the same name on the outskirts of the village. The lordship of Boxford, amongst many other properties in East Anglia, was granted to a Norman Knight, William Malet, a companion to William the Conqueror.

It is said that this was a reward for giving King Harold a decent burial after the Battle of Hastings. The Peyton family who owned and occupied Peyton Hall until the middle of the 19th Century are directly descended from the Knight.

William MaletWilliam Malet

Not a lot is known of the early history of the village itself. It was certainly an important centre of the woollen industry which flourished in this part of East Anglia between 1400 and 1800, and had a far greater population then than it has now, reaching its peak in the 17th Century. Records show that in 1522 there were four Craft Guilds established in what was then a small town, indicating a prosperous manufacturing centre; in fact, from an industrial point of view, it was just as important as its better known rival, Lavenham. It seems quite likely that Boxford Grammar School, to which John Winthrop refers in his diary, was built and endowed by the Guilds sometime before 1560. It was granted Articles of Incorporation by Queen Elizabeth in 1596. The school continued as such until the late 1880s, since when it has become a private residence. It is situated at the top of School Hill on the road to Sudbury.

Industry
From the benefactions to the Church alone, it is obvious that Boxford was a very wealthy town in which employment was found for hundreds of people. It is particularly interesting to discover that at least six merchants or tradesmen in Boxford, during the period 1648 to 1672, minted their own small currency, or 'brass farthings' until they were pronounced illegal. The reason for them doing so was that the value of the official halfpennies and farthings was not recognised by the ordinary people. Coins bearing the names of Thomas Goodale of The Falcon; Susana King of The Swan; Daniel Bowtell, a Mercer; Ambrose Ponder, a Mercer; John Riddelsdale, a Distiller; and James Warwell, a Draper are still in existence. The last named was a Royalist, son of James Warwell, the Rector of Boxford from 1638 to 1663. He defied the Cromwellian regime by displaying on the reverse of his coins a Crown and a Fleur-de-Lys - a pledge to The King over the Water.

Boxford brass farthings:
Susana King of The Swan Daniel Bowtell
Susana King of The Swan Daniel Bowtell
Ambrose Ponder John Riddelsdale
Ambrose Ponder John Riddelsdale

With the decline of the woollen trade, other industries were established, notably parchment making and brewing, and there were at one time no fewer than 22 maltings in what was still a flourishing town. A number of glove makers from the Continent settled in Boxford at the time of the persecution of the Huguenots which culminated in the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve. The houses in which they worked survive in Stone Street and Swan Street.

Mills
There were many mills in Boxford. There is a record of a windmill being blown down in 1605, and there were others at Calais Street, Sand Hill, and Whitestreet Green, but no trace of these seem to exist. In more recent times Boxford smock mill was destroyed in a blizzard in 1881. This was rebuilt and then destroyed by fire 1901. There was a water mill on the river where the present surgery now stands and the river was navigable up to this point. When it was built is not known. It was burnt down in 1934 and the flood gates collapsed after the floods the following year. This reduced the river to its present size and there are still one or two in the village who can look back with nostalgia to the days when bathing and boating were still enjoyed on a lovely stretch of water above the mill. There were other water mills at The Wash and in Peyton Hall meadows.

 

Boxford Smock MillBoxford Smock Mill

Pubs
The town was well served by its Inns. In addition to those existing today - The Fleece and The White Hart, there were The Falcon, The White Horse, The Saracens Head and The Swan in Swan Street, The Compasses on Stone Street, Chequers on Church Street, The Kings Head in Broad Street, The Baker's Arms at Whitestreet Green, and The Half-Way House on the Polstead boundary. Each no doubt had its history but little is recorded. There is the story, claimed to be authentic, of the last minute escape in the early 17th century of a gypsy rascal when about to be burnt as a witch, the sentence having been passed and the pyre built in the stable yard of The Fleece. And it is often recalled that much later, in 1828, the examination by the magistrates took place of Thomas Corder in the public bar of The Fleece, which is lined with panelling originally in the Parish Church. Corder was afterwards found guilty and hanged for the murder of Maria Marten in The Red Barn at Polstead. It is also recorded that he was imprisoned for the night in the Boxford Village lock-up, which was later the Fire Station, and is now a bus shelter. It still retains the initials 'B.G.' - Boxford Gaol - above its doorways. Yet another story is told that before one of the bells was raised into position in the Church tower, it was filled with beer in The Fleece yard and all were invited to drink from it!

 

Boxford The Swan, Swan Street
The Swan, Swan Street

The White Hart also has its tales. You have probably heard of a character named 'Tornado Smith' whose mother was the landlady of the Inn. He was the first in this country to build a 'Wall of Death' which he erected in the backyard. He also owned a lioness which he had brought up from a cub and which he exercised daily in the streets of Boxford until some of the more timorous of the villagers complained. The lioness is believed to have been buried in the forecourt.

The River Box
Crossing the river in the village, it seems, has always been somewhat of a hazard. Originally there was only a ford from which the village got its name, but in the early 17th century there were apparently two bridges; one stone, one wooden. The following two extracts from John Winthrop's diary refer to the crossing -

'On the 17th February 1607 Jane Dryfield and her childe departed from her mother's in Groton to goe to London; the night before she was in danger to have been burned in the bedde, and as she rode through Boxford her childe fell into the river a Boxford bridge'. He adds the comment - 'Haec sunt malorum omnia', which might be loosely translated 'Some people have all the bad luck'.

A further entry dated 12th January 1620 suggests that the bridge might have ceased to exist by then - 'Ridinge throughe Boxford with Mr. Gurdon in his coache, my son Henrye being with me and one of Mr. Gurdon's men, entering into the towne over logges and high stumpes until they came upon the causeye right against the Church and there were snarled in the logges etc and the coache being broken in pieces, top, bottom and sides, yet by God's most merciful providence we were all safe - Blessed be His holy Name!'

Surnames
A study of the Parish Registers which go back to 1557 show that a number of surnames in these early records are still current in the village today. Probably the best known are those of Kingsbury, Whymark and Kemball, though there were also Rices and Kings. It is recorded that a Kingsbury, a carpenter, was one of the large party of Puritan emigrants which accompanied John Winthrop of Groton Hall who became founder and first Governor of the State of Massachusetts. It is also reported that the same Kingsbury built the first Church in Boston, Mass. The Kingsbury family was engaged in the building trade in Boxford from the 17th century to the 1980s, Kingsbury's employed many local people and was well known throughout East Anglia. The family Whymark is still prominent in the village and there was a 'Whymark' listed in the Domesday Book.

Law
The Court House and Police Station, now disused as such, were built early in the 19th century and Courts were held there regularly until 1962. In the early days of its existence there was much unrest amongst agricultural workers and their sympathisers and feelings ran so high against the farmers that cases of arson were of frequent occurrence. It is surprising to recall that in one case heard at Boxford Court, a draper's apprentice from Polstead was sentanced to deportation to Australia for writing a letter to Sir Charles Rowley threatening to set fire to his property.

Leisure
Little is to be found in the records of the leisure activities of the village people in medieval times. It is known that Boxford staged two important fairs each year; one on Easter Monday and the second on 21st December - The Feast of St. Thomas. No doubt games of all kinds were played. We know they played football in Boxford because John Winthrop entered in his Diary that on 4th March 1617 'Brand brak his leg at footeball'. Brand or Brond was a well known name in the district and this particular Brand was probably the son of the owner of Coddenham Hall, a rich clothier.

The Church
Boxford's Church of St. Mary dates from the early fifteenth century, but there was certainly a church on the site in 1190, and parts of that church may have been incorporated in the present handsome, dignified and most impressive building. The tower which is 74 feet high, is summounted by a little leaden spire or lantern which originally contained the 'clockbelle', now placed with the other bells. It was partly covered with cedar wood in the early nineteenth century. About one hundred years ago the weather vane at its apex was blown over and was hanging in a perillous condition. Mr. W. Bloss Kingsbury, for many years a church warden, scaled the spire and removed the vane.

 

Boxford Church
Boxford Church

Both porches are of particular interest. The North Porch was probably constructed in the fourteenth century and may have been moved to its present position from a monastery once situated below the site of the present Peyton Hall. An echo of this monastery can be heard in the names of the fields adjoining - Upper and Lower Trinity. It is said that monks serviced the Church before the Reformation and were lodged in rotation at Brick House in Ellis Street. They used a causeway over the river to get to the Church (hence the name of 'The Causeway' housing estate between Brick House and the river) and the small, very ancient 'Priest's Door' on the south side of the Church was said to have been built for their convenience.

The porch itself is a fine example of decorated wood work and may well be the oldest of its kind in Suffolk, if not in the Country. The South Porch is very elegant. It was built in the middle of the fifteenth century of soft sandstone which was floated over from Caen on rafts. It was carved with great care by masons who, it is said, camped for very many months in what is now the closed churchyard. The sandstone was obviously so valuable and fascinating to work that the craftsmen were loth to leave a square inch undecorated.

The interior of the Church contains much of interest. The font with its panelled pedestal of the fifteenth century, has a Jacobean octagonal cover, and the traces of mural inscriptions and paintings should be noted. Mention must be made of the mural tablet -

In memory of
Elizabeth Hyam of this Parish
for the fouth 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

There is also a charming brass - a memorial to David Bird, the Rector's infant son, who died in 1606, and is shown asleep in his cot with his pattens neatly disposed underneath.

Alas, the Church was badly mauled by misguided iconoclasts in the seventeenth century. In 1643 the Earl of Manchester, 'General of East Anglia' appointed William Dowsing 'Parliamentary Visitor of Suffolk Churches' with instructions that 'all Crucifixes, Crosses, images of any one of the Trinity or of the Virgin Mary, and all other pictures of saints and superstitious inscriptions should be taken away and defaced'. William Dowsing, who was born and died at Laxfield, kept a Journal in which he recorded 'visiting' 110 churches and the manner in which he carried out these instructions. Sudbury, Assington and Stoke-by-Nayland are mentioned, but not Boxford, and it is probable that one of his Deputies of whom he had several, was detached to attend to Boxford Church. By this time, the Church, through donations and legacies, had accumulated a considerable number of silver ornaments, gilded and painted carvings, statues and sculptures, and richly embroidered copes and other vestments in addition to the items included in Dowsing's instructions. All were destroyed or looted. But though these men were able in their perverted zeal to destroy so much of beauty, they were unable to detract from the imposing grandeur of the edifice itself.

Taken and revised from notes made by Ralph Tugman in 1972.
Thanks to John and Wendy Moles for sourcing the material.