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St Mary, Burgh St Peter
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Burgh St Peter
Our 18th century ancestors would not recognise the insides of their churches if they came back to them today, with their sanctuaries, benches and coloured glass. The 18th century was a time of low congregations, and the family at the Big House could pretty much run the church their own way, if they had a mind to.
The Boycotts of Burgh did. As patrons, they presented their own sons to the living for nearly two hundred years - that is to say, the Boycotts not only owned the place, they ministered to it as well. They made themselves responsible for the repair of the building, which was in rather bad shape by the late 18th century. As was common for the local gentry, they saw the parish church as their mausoleum, but rather than fill the building with elaborate tombs, they built an extraordinary structure onto the base of the ruined tower, thus killing two birds with one stone.
The Boycott mausoleum was the work of Samuel Boycott, who in 1793 obtained a faculty to repair and build up the steeple which has long been in a ruinous condition. Can't have been much arguing with that in the Bishop's office, but you wonder if he submitted plans along with it. Probably, there never was a tower. The base is very late medieval, probably early 16th century, and it is likely the tower was never completed before the Reformation intervened.
And so, Boycott's folly went up. The little church guide says that it is supposedly based on a church which Samuel's son saw on the Grand Tour in Italy, but observes that it has more in common with the ziggerat temples of Iraq.
Not all the Boycotts became Rectors. Samuel's grandson Charles did not follow his older brother into the ministry, but ended up as a land agent on a vast estate in County Mayo, in Ireland. In the agricultural depression of the1880s, he attempted to enforce rent rises on behalf of the absentee landlord. He became the test case of the Parnellite Land League's attempt to fight such rises. He was shunned by everone in the parish - when his carriage drove by, the people turned their backs on it. Servants refused to work for him. Shops refused to supply him with goods. Nobody spoke to either him or his family for more than a year.
Simon Knott, February 2005
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