At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Buxhall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Buxhall Buxhall Blessed Virgin

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          We are in the hills to the south of Stowmarket, where cycling can be a bit of an effort if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. Buxhall church bestrides a ridge looking across the dip to its near-neighbour, the parish church of Great Finborough which stands like a beacon above this relatively steep valley, its weird spire unlike any other and instantly memorable. Buxhall church is memorable too, for it sits beside what appears to be a splendid 18th century rectory, making a perfect picture together.

If you are on foot or on a bike, a long footpath leads from the Hitcham road to the north. This comes out onto what appears to be the rectory lawn. Or, at least that is was what it looks like, but the shape and position of it suggests that it might once have been the northern side of the churchyard. On one occasion that I visited I met an old lady walking her dog who'd looked into the records, and she confirmed this for me. She said that the people at the rectory still maintained it, but it still belonged to the church. But the interesting thing is that the great house beside the church was not built as a rectory at all. In fact, it is Copinger Hall, home of the Copinger-Hill families from the mid-16th Century to the mid-20th Century. The Hall as we see it today dates mostly from the early 18th Century. The Copinger-Hills were a remarkable family. They were closely associated with this church over the course of five centuries, as Lords of the Manor and as Rectors. They presented their sons to the living throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and well into the 20th. When I first visited in 1999, the current rector of the time was only the third of the 20th century. Not only did the Copinger-Hills present their sons to the living of the church, they also bankrolled successive restorations, as we shall see.

If you come by car you can park to the south of the church. A long path leads through the lovely, overgrown graveyard giving you plenty of time to admire the church, for in this land of perpendicular glory St Mary is a decorated jewel, rebuilt in the early 14th Century at the height of medieval confidence before the starvation, disease and recession that would disfigure the rest of that unhappy century set in. The tower is slightly later, and as grand as they come. Simon Cotton found a will of 1393 in which the rector of the time, one Thomas Catt, left 25 marks to the building of the tower. Some twenty years later Isabel Hedeset left 20 shillings to the wardens of the same church to spend on the bells, suggesting the tower was complete by this date.

Brick battlements on the nave add a touch of the exotic, and the east end of the chancel is turretted in a fancy way. An unusual survival on one of the buttresses on the south side of the nave is a cross picked out in flint. This seems to be one of the consecration crosses from the 14th Century rebuilding. There is a contemporary set of them not far off at Creeting St Peter. Quite why only one has survived here, and in such good condition, is a mystery.

Henry Hill, rector in the 1870s, appears to have been the architect for the major 19th Century restoration here. There was another big restoration in the 1920s by SJ Burley who, James Bettley points out in the revised Buildings of England: Suffolk West, was successor to the eccentric Ipswich architect John Corder. This reroofed the nave, and you step into a large, light space with very little coloured glass. Everything is of a high quality, the furnishings hand-carved in oak from the Buxhall estate. Some of them were the work of Agnes Hill, the rector's daughter. The stalls bear the Copinger-Hill arms and their name appears on memorials. One plaque poignantly records the death of the last of the male line in 1973.

The chancel roof is older, mid-17th century, a curious date. In fact, it can be dated exactly, since 1656 is inscribed on one of the beams. At this time chancels certainly weren't used for any sacramental or liturgical purpose, so one wonders why it was felt necessary to reroof it at this time, almost on the eve of the Restoration of the Monarchy and the Church of England after the long puritan night. Perhaps the chancel was in use as a school room, or a meeting room. The 14th Century double piscina survives and is beautiful, although the associated sedilia was lost to a later window. Some medieval glass survives in the upper lights of the chancel windows, careful arrangements of 15th Century fragments. You can make out the hand and poisoned chalice of St John the Evangelist flanked by two angels, and a heraldic shield bears two cockerels and the ghost of a third. Someone, perhaps the King & Son workshop of Norwich who were good at this kind of thing, has reconstructed a scene of the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin flanked by two censing angels using 15th Century fragments towards the bottom of each light.

Thanks to Simon Cotton's investigative work we know the medieval dedication of Buxhall church. Alice Wymbyssch requested that her body be buried within the church of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary in Buxhale, in the ambulatrio (what we would now call the central aisle) of the nave. Elsewhere in Suffolk the Assumption dedication has been restored correctly at both Haughley and Ufford.


Simon Knott, October 2020

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looking east chancel looking west
truncated sedilia looking east font (14th Century) the interest arising there from to be distributed in coals to the poor of this parish for ever
poppyhead: two heads and a grinning face above poppyhead: wolf howling Coppinger memorials Buxhall
15th Century fragments: hand holding a staff (Resurrection?) 15th Century fragments two angels flank St John's hand with a poisoned chalice (15th Century fragments)
15th Century fragments: shield with two cocks (once three?) 15th Century fragments: flowers and foliage two angels flank the hand of St John holding a poisoned chalice (15th Century fragments)
Coronation of the Blessed Virgin flanked by censing angels (20th Century reconstruction, some 15th Century fragments)

Copper memorial: "...of HM Ship Curacoa, killed in the assault on Gate Pah, Tauranga, New Zealand... erected by his old messmates" Coronation of King George VI May 12 1937

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