A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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The patronage of Boxworth church, recorded from the mid 12th century, when relics of St. 'Inicius' were said to be deposited there, (fn. 1) probably belonged in that period to the Picots' manor. In 1272 Joan of Huntingfield obtained releases of the advowson from possible claimants, including the lords of Waterbeach and Swavesey. (fn. 2) Thereafter it remained with the lords of Huntingfields manor (fn. 3) and their successors (fn. 4) until the late 20th century. (fn. 5) The Knyvetts and Huttons sometimes granted turns to present, as in 1431, 1475, 1495, and c. 1545. (fn. 6) In 1499 Sir William Knyvett chose a kinsman, John Knyvett, who resigned in 1516. (fn. 7) Francis Holt, rector 1572-96, procured the next presentation after his death for his widow, who appointed John Boys, their daughter's intended husband. (fn. 8) John Standley, having quarrelled with and driven away the distant Sclater kinsman whom he had presented in 1754, sold the next turn to Thomas Hirst who presented himself in 1759. (fn. 9) Henry Standley, when selling the manor, reserved the next turn for the benefit of his kinsman Robert Poynter, who was presented accordingly in 1791. (fn. 10) George Thornhill (d. 1852) presented his younger son John in 1839, and A. J. Thornhill chose in 1875 and 1879 two elderly clergymen related to him by marriage. (fn. 11) From 1961 the benefice was held with Elsworth. (fn. 12)
The living, which has always remained a rectory, had in 1279 all the tithes and 2 yardlands, called 2 carucates in 1340, held of Huntingfields manor; c. 20 a. of them were rented to free tenants. (fn. 13) In the 17th century the glebe included c. 255 arable strips, reckoned later as 111 a. (fn. 14) The rectory was worth 20 marks in the early 13th century but 40 marks in 1276 and 1291. (fn. 15) It was leased in 1376 for £40 a year, (fn. 16) and though taxed in 1535 at only £18 12s. 4d. (fn. 17) was worth £110 a year in 1650. (fn. 18) From that time the glebe strips were occupied by the lord's farmers. Under agreements regularly renewed between lords and incoming rectors, as in 1708 and 1765, the lords paid the incumbent £115-120 a year for the glebe and in lieu of all the tithes. By 1765, perhaps by 1739, the lord let to the rector a 70-a. farm, making the living worth £150 in 1786. About 1792 Robert Poynter claimed the III a. recorded in the old terriers. A third of them being untraceable on the ground, George Thornhill reluctantly agreed to set out 122 a. of arable as glebe and by 1794 to increase the tithe composition. (fn. 19) In practice the new glebe was still occupied by the Thornhills' tenant farmers until after 1885. (fn. 20) At inclosure in 1840 the rector was allotted 129 a. of the fields in addition to his 12 a. of closes. (fn. 21) The tithes were worth £340 c. 1800, including £285 from great tithes. (fn. 22) They were still taken by composition c. 1830, (fn. 23) but were commuted between 1838 and 1842 for a rent charge of £440. (fn. 24) The rector retained c. 130 a. of glebe into the late 20th century. (fn. 25) His income, which stood at £498 gross c. 1830, (fn. 26) £439 in 1851, (fn. 27) and £698 gross in 1874, (fn. 28) was still maintained by the patron's favour at £600 net in 1885. (fn. 29) In 1955 the patron, Noel Thornhill, bequeathed £3,300 to augment the living. (fn. 30)
The rectory house, probably already occupying its modern site in a 4-a. close north of the churchyard, (fn. 31) included in 1376 a hall and chamber and in 1632 a hall, two parlours, two butteries, and chambers and solars on the upper floor. (fn. 32) Henry Breary, rector 1708-43, (fn. 33) made 'very good gardens' around it, and John Standley rented it as his Boxworth residence c. 1750. (fn. 34) In the early 19th century the curate shared it with a farmer. (fn. 35) John Thornhill rebuilt it on a larger scale when he came to reside in 1840, (fn. 36) in grey brick with Tudor details. (fn. 37) The house, thoroughly repaired c. 1946, largely at the patron's expense, (fn. 38) still belonged to the living in 1983.
Rectors were recorded from the early 13th century. (fn. 39) The wealth of the living attracted officials and academics. After John de Furneaux, rector by 1337, (fn. 40) had been drowned fighting at Sluys in 1340, the king presented a royal clerk, absent on royal service in 1345. (fn. 41) Such men, often not even in minor orders, included Reynold Shirland, who, after exchanging Boxworth with a kinsman in 1352, (fn. 42) simoniacally obliged that kinsman's successor in 1376 to let Shirland take half the rectory income for four years, ostensibly as lessee. (fn. 43) Until 1410 successive rectors usually quitted Boxworth by exchange, (fn. 44) and were often, especially after 1390, repeatedly licensed to be absent for two or three years at a time, sometimes supposedly to study. (fn. 45) One presented in 1380 was not ordained priest until 1388, and two later rectors were also not priests. (fn. 46) The 15th-century rectors included two heads of Cambridge colleges, of whom Thomas atte Wood, 1431- c. 1448, left a gradual to Boxworth church. William Basset, 1486-96, and his successor both had degrees in theology. (fn. 47) The parish was probably usually served by chaplains, as in 1379. (fn. 48)
By 1279 rents from 7½ a. had been granted to support the service at St. Mary's altar in the church, (fn. 49) for which villagers gave land and service books in the 14th century. (fn. 50) In 1347 Henry of Boxworth gave five messuages and 40 a. there and in Elsworth, worth £3 a year, to endow a chantry at St. Catherine's altar for himself, his wife Maud, and others. The first chaplain was installed later that year. (fn. 51) The advowson of that chantry passed with Overhall manor, whose lords regularly appointed chaplains until the early 16th century; (fn. 52) Sir Robert Ashton, treasurer of England 1375-7, presented in 1379 and 1382. His first nominee (fn. 53) was deprived in 1382 for deserting his duties and carrying off the chantry's goods. (fn. 54) Another chaplain was deprived c. 1475. (fn. 55) In 1499 a Fen Drayton man left £20 to buy land worth 2 marks yearly to augment the Boxworth chantry priest's stipend, provided only that he would reside and perform his duties. (fn. 56) The chantry, worth 5 marks in 1535, (fn. 57) was not recorded later.
Although the high altar had been removed by 1552, its site was not tidied in 1561. (fn. 58) A rector was deprived in 1554. (fn. 59) Edward Lees, whom Thomas Hutton, then rectory farmer, had paid as curate c. 1544, (fn. 60) was briefly rector 1557- 63 (fn. 61) and was licensed to preach c. 1561. (fn. 62) His successor Matthew Hutton, 1563-76, already a considerable pluralist and eventually archbishop of York, (fn. 63) served Boxworth through curates. (fn. 64) The pious John Boys, a Greek and Hebrew scholar, rector 1596-1644, at first resided, organizing meetings for study among the neighbouring clergy and boarding and teaching gentlemen's sons at his parsonage. From 1604, while helping to prepare the Authorized Version, he lived at Cambridge, riding out weekly to hold services. (fn. 65) John Killingworth, his curate in the 1630s and successor as rector, (fn. 66) was styled able and pious in 1650. (fn. 67) James Duport, dean of Peterborough, rector 1667-79, (fn. 68) also employed curates at Boxworth. (fn. 69)
By 1728 the rector Henry Breary lived at Boxworth half the year and employed a curate for the other six months. He celebrated communion thrice a year, and held two services with sermons every Sunday; both practices continued into the 1770s. (fn. 70) After Breary nominal incumbents held Boxworth until 1754 for a fellow of King's, who took the profits and actually did the duty. (fn. 71) Thomas Hirst, though also holding Little Shelford, was resident at Boxworth in 1775. (fn. 72) Robert Poynter, rector 1791-1839, usually lived on the Standley family living at Southoe (Hunts.). At Boxworth he employed curates, who by 1817 also served Lolworth, holding only one Sunday service, alternately morning and afternoon, at Boxworth. The number of communicants was barely 12 in 1825 and 8 in 1836. (fn. 73) From the 1850s John Thornhill and his successors again held two Sunday services, preaching at both by 1885. Almost all the inhabitants were churchgoers; an attendance of 75-80, half filling the 150 places, was claimed at afternoon services in 1851 and 1885. At the communions, held twice a month instead of quarterly from the 1880s, only 20-25 of c. 50 potential communicants regularly attended in 1873 and scarcely 12 by 1885. There was a choir of 25 by 1897. (fn. 74) Boxworth still had a resident rector in the 1980s. (fn. 75)
The church of ST. PETER, so named by 1408, (fn. 76) comprised by 1900 a chancel with south vestry, nave with south aisle and north and south porches, and west tower, and is built mostly of exposed rubble, dressed with clunch and limestone ashlar. (fn. 77) The nave north wall has a 12th-century core. Quoins and a small windowhead of that period were re-used in later work. The plain octagonal font is perhaps 13th-century. The church was substantially remodelled in the 14th century; the chancel, whose western arch alone partially survives, was rebuilt and new windows were inserted in the nave north wall. The south aisle, perhaps built to house St. Catherine's chantry, has a four-bay arcade on piers resembling the chancel arch responds. Its two original windows probably date only from c. 1400. The tower was of two stages, surmounted by a tall, heavy spire with two tiers of lucarnes. (fn. 78) In the 15th century the nave was embattled and a north porch added. The chancel, its windows decaying by the 1560s, (fn. 79) seemed ready to fall in 1579, (fn. 80) and was finally brought down in 1636 by a storm which 'rent the steeple'. (fn. 81) When rebuilt soon after, the chancel was probably shortened, receiving a straight-headed east window, since replaced, probably similar to the surviving window at the east end of the south aisle. The small south vestry, the ogee-tipped chancel arch, the panelled chancel ceiling, and the nave and aisle roofs probably also derive from rebuilding after 1636. (fn. 82) The eastern bay of the chancel has renewed 20th-century windows and is rendered in cement.
A screen, no longer extant, and some stalls survived in the chancel in 1745. A new pulpit was installed in 1682. (fn. 83) Simple memorials to clergy and others include that under the altar of the blind mathematician Nicholas Sanderson (d. 1739), son-in-law of a former rector. (fn. 84) A farmer left £10 for building a gallery in 1792. (fn. 85) The tower fell c. 1810 and was rebuilt in brick in 1811. (fn. 86) Of the three bells recorded in 1552 and 1745, (fn. 87) one of 1615, later recast, and one of 1669, survived the fall. (fn. 88) The squire and rector restored the church c. 1868, (fn. 89) having the tower rebuilt in Gothic style with tall pinnacles. The chancel was refaced in irregular patterns of masonry and received new window tracery, all the parapets were thoroughly embattled, and new porches were added. (fn. 90) New glass, designed by C. E. Kempe c. 1900 and placed in the windows between 1905 and 1912, so darkened the church (fn. 91) that when the aisle roof was renewed c. 1937 (fn. 92) dormers were inserted. An organ of 1857 was installed in 1953. (fn. 93) The cup and paten still in use may be of c. 1570. (fn. 94) The parish registers, beginning in 1585, are virtually complete. (fn. 95)