St Mary's Church Boyton

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Neil MacDougall on September 15, 2011

(Wiltshire Community History)

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Boyton

The date of the first church in Boyton is not known, but it was already being rebuilt in 1159. Part of the south wall of the chancel is 12th century and the rest of the building originates from the 13th and 14th centuries. When Sir Richard Colt Hoare visited this church c.1820 he described it as 'one of the most interesting parish churches in the Vale of Wily [Wylye], and its architecture has been very little altered since the death of Bishop Giffard in 1301'. At this time the church was 82' long and 22' wide. It consisted of a chancel, nave, tower and north and south chapels.

The church was rebuilt in 1859, by which time the building was in poor condition. The walls were out of true, bricks and windows broken, pews rotting and the plaster roof falling down. The work undertaken was to take down and rebuild the north wall of the chancel and the west wall of the nave, and to re-roof the whole building. The tower was repaired and restored and new east and west windows installed. The galleries, pews and all internal fittings were stripped, and the building generally restored. The total cost was £1,231 raised by voluntary contributions.

The entrance to the church is through the tower, which has an arch with 13th century mouldings. It was probably transferred to its present position from the south wall of the nave, where there is now a small window. Adjoining the tower is a room described by Hoare as 'a cell for a priest'. There was evidence of this room being 'once permanently inhabited' and he assumed it had been the home of the sacristan or other officer of the church.

The north chapel is early 14th century, shown in the reticulated tracery of the north window and the arch to the nave with two sunken quadrant mouldings. On the east wall the ground is raised one step for an altar, and there is a small niche for an image or crucifix.

The nave of the church is the latest part of the building. The west wall was rebuilt and the roof, ceiling and fittings are all new. In the south wall is a small window. To the right of the window, on the outside wall, is a scratch dial. High above this are a series of stone coffin lids, probably from the tombs of medieval priests, which have been used at some time to repair the wall.

The arch separating the nave from the chancel is nearly a hundred years later than the date of the chancel itself, and was probably built c.1315. The chancel is the oldest part of the building, and as such suffered the worst decay prior to rebuilding. The restoration notes written in 1860 make clear the effort made to restore this part of the building to its original beauty. The author even compares the roof formation to Ely Cathedral. The Victorian glass in the east window has been removed and replaced with older glass of varying dates. Some in the bottom left hand roundel is that found under the floor of the Giffard Chapel. A few fragments at the bottom of the central light are from Chartres Cathedral; they were among the effects of a soldier who lost his life in the Second World War and were presented by his relations. The window now forms a memorial to the parents of the Rector responsible for the 1956-60 restoration.

The last section of this church is also the finest, namely the Giffard Chapel. The Chapel was erected c.1270 by the brothers of Sir Alexander Giffard as a memorial to him and other members of the family. Its main feature is a large, circular west window, described in different guides as 'a tour-de-force' and an 'architectural gem'. It is 12 feet across and geometrical in design, made up of circles of stone. Little, if any, of the old glass remains in this window, but there are examples of heraldic glass, including the arms of the Lamberts and the Fanes.

The most striking feature of the chapel is the effigy of the knight in armour. The effigy dates from before the building of the chapel and is not in its original position, so presumably it was in the church before the chapel was built. The figure represented is probably Sir Alexander Giffard, who died sometime after 1262, but it may also be his father Hugh, Constable of the Tower of London. On the floor before the altar of the chapel is a series of memorial slabs of the Lambert family.

The re-opening ceremony following the rebuild in 1860 was reported by the Salisbury Journal. The Bishop attended on Friday 29th June and there were services at 12.00 noon and 6.00 p.m. During the afternoon the congregation enjoyed a fine meal served to them in a marquee; the labouring classes were supplied with beef and beer. After the ceremony 'the remainder of the day was devoted to dancing and to sports of a rustic character, and in the evening Montgolfier balloons and fireworks were let off'.

Minor alterations to the building were carried out during the 20th century. Repairs were made in 1907-9, which included work at the Rectory. The first heating apparatus was installed in 1913. In 1949 this was replaced with a new electric light and heating system. Further restoration work, including repairs to the Giffard Chapel, took place during 1956-60.

The parish of Boyton with Sherrington survived as an ecclesiastical unit until 1980, when it joined with Codford St. Peter and St. Mary and Upton Lovell. Around 2000 it became part of the Upper Wylye Valley Team Ministry. This includes all the above parishes plus Heytesbury, Tytherington, Knook, Norton Bavant and Sutton Veny. The parish registers dating from 1560, except those currently in use, are available to view at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on September 15, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by Neil MacDougall
    • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
    • Taken on 2011/09/14 10:45:50
    • Exposure: 0.006s (1/160)
    • Focal Length: 24.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/6.300
    • ISO Speed: ISO100
    • Exposure Bias: -0.33 EV
    • No flash

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