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Wiltshire Community History

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Church of St. Thomas a Becket, Box

Church of St. Thomas a Becket, Box Date Photo Taken 2003
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:29:35
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

The church is adjacent to the site of a large Roman villa and a mosaic floor was found in the churchyard in the 19th century. There may possibly have been a Saxon church here, certainly St. Aldhelm was involved with the Hazelbury quarries around 700 A.D. and there were Saxon churches at Hazelbury and Ditteridge. There was definitely a Norman church, although no evidence of this remains above ground level, and documents indicate that stone from Hazelbury quarry was used for rebuilding the church between 1158 and 1169. There is some mystery surrounding the early dedication of the church and it is believed that the first dedication was to the Blessed Virgin Mary, typically Saxon and early medieval, but that as the cult of St. Thomas a Becket grew from 1190 a chapel, now the Hazelbury Chapel, in the church was dedicated to him. Box would have been on the pilgrims' route to Canterbury and by the end of the 13th century the whole church was dedicated to St. Thomas.

Between 1227 and 1349 the church was under the patronage of the Prior of Monkton Farleigh who supplied monks to serve it. In the 14th century there were substantial alterations to the building with chancel arches cut in the east and west walls of the tower, a two storey building (the present vestry added), an extension to the nave and a new north aisle. In the 15th century the existing squat tower was heightened by the addition of a bell chamber and the octagonal spire. Little change was made to the fabric in the 16th and 17th centuries but there was a major restoration starting in 1713 with the main work on the chancel and north aisle. With an increasing population it was found that the church was not large enough in the early 19th century and in 1831 the south aisle was built and another gallery also added.

By the later 19th century the church interior was said to be very cluttered and this led to the 1896/7 restoration under Harold Brakspeare. All the old galleries were removed and the high pews replaced with lower ones. The floors were lowered by 12 inches (30 cm.) and the walls stripped of plaster. All this revealed hidden memorials and effigies and fragments of 13th and 14th century encaustic tiles. A porch was added to the vestry and heating and lighting installed in the church. This restoration cost £3,500. In 1926 the Hazelbury Chapel was restored. The parish registers dating from 1538, other than those in current use, are held in the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office.

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