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St Michael, Boulge, Suffolk

(52°7′42″N, 1°17′29″E)
TM 254 529
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

Boulge is in the E of the county, 2½ miles NW of the centre of Woodbridge. The landscape is the usual arable farmland of the E Anglian plain; not entirely flat and drained by the network of streams running into the Deben estuary at Martlesham Creek, S of Woodbridge. The name is said to derive from the French 'bouge', meaning an uncultivated heathland, although the Domesday survey give a picture of many small parcels of ploughland. The parish covers approximately a square mile in a two-mile long strip running NE to SW, but it is sparsely populated and there is no village. The community now consists of just 13 dwellings in all; just a couple of farms and a few scattered cottages. The church stands to the N of a small wood in the former parkland surrounding the site of Boulge Hall, demolished in 1956. The normal access to the church is from the S, and from this aspect it appears almost entirely Victorian. St Michael's has a W tower, a nave with a S aisle and a chancel with a large S vestry. Nave and chancel are of flint, of equal width and roofed in one. There is no chancel arch. A plain blocked N lancet in the chancel indicates a date in the early 13thc., but for the rest, the N windows of nave and chancel are ofc.1300 (Y-tracery),c.1320 (reticulated) or 15thc., the N nave doorway is 14thc., and the E wall of the chancel dates from 1858. On the south, the nave aisle is of three bays; the two at the E with a normal pentise roof, and the west bay taller and with its own gabled roof, built as a Fitzgerald family chapel. Edward Fitzgerald, translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, is buried in the churchyard. The chancel also has a transeptal vestry and organ chamber. This work on the S of the church was carried out in three campaigns, in 1858 (by W. G. and E. H. Habershon), in 1867 (by W. G. Habershon and A. Pite), and in 1895 (by S. Gambier Parry of Wminster). In each case the patron was the owner of the Hall; J. P. Fitzgerald for the two earlier works and Mr and Mrs Holmes White for the latest campaign. In each case too, knapped flint facings were used. The Tudor tower is of brick with an embattled parapet and a pointed segmental headed tower arch. Maintenance work to the fabric was carried out in 1978-81 by A. W. Anderson of Norwich (roofs), in 1981 (N wall) and in 1983-84 (tower). Boulge has no Romanesque fabric, but is significant in housing a font said to be an export from Tournai.


The Domesday Survey gives a picture of Boulge as a parish divided into many small holdings under many landlords. For our purposes the most significant is found under the holdings of Robert Glanville, who held a priest, Wulfwine, from Robert Malet with a church with 25 acres of free land and an acre of meadow. Robert de Glanville also held 13 acres from William de Warenne in 1086. This was held by a free man commended to Aethelric before the Conquest. In addition, two free men commended to Arnund held 29 acres under lands of Count Alan included in the valuation of Earl Soham; one free man and a half commended to Eadric held 3½ acres, held by Gilbert from Robert Malet in 1086; 6 acres were held by Roger fitzArnold from Roger de Poitou; before the Conquest a free man commended to Halfdan held 6 acres and another commended to Halfdan and Wulfric held 6 acres, both holdings held by Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1086; a villan called Wulfric held 6 acres listed under the holdings of Ranulf, brother of Ilger; a free man held half an acre listed under the holdings of the Countess of Aumale; and a free man commended to Eadric Grim held 5 perches of land, listed under the holdings of Hervey de Bourges. There was no manor here, but the church is presumed to have descended in Robert Glanville's family. It has been suggested (see Mortimer (1981) that this descent led directly to the jurist Ranulf Glanville (d.1190), Henry II’s Chief Justiciar from 1180.

Benefice of Boulge with Burgh, Grundisburgh and Hasketon.





The font is normally dated afterc.1165, and may be early 13thc. The so-called Tournai marble is a dense carboniferous limestone quarried on the banks of the river Scheldt near Tournai and either exported as freestone for decorative carving (as at Lewes Priory (Sussex)) or worked nearby and the products, mostly fonts, exported. This vigorous industry extended from the 12thc. to the end of the 15thc. The font at Boulge has been identified as a member of the group of exports produced by the Tournai School, but this identification is not certain. An English group of seven Tournai School fonts was established by Allen and Kitchen in 1894 articles. They were: St Mary Bourne, East Meon, St Michael's Sampton and Winchester Cathedral (all Hants), Lincoln Cathedral and Thornton Curtis (both Lincs), and St Peter's Ipswich (Suffolk). Also in 1894, part of the bowl of an eighth font was discovered at Ipswich and is now in Christchurch Mansion Museum. Since that date, three other fonts have been attributed to the group: Boulge, Romsey Abbey (Hants) and Iffley (Oxon) - see Eden (1909) and Dunning (1944). More recent scholars, notably Drake (2002) and Anderson (1999) have cast doubt on these attributions. According to Drake, the Romsey Abbey font was said to have been destroyedc.1850 during a restoration, but there is no other evidence that it ever existed. The Iffley font is of black limestone but is uneven in shape, undecorated and unlike other fonts in the Tournai group. As for the Boulge font; Drake asserts that the finish of the bowl is too smooth for decoration to have been chiselled off it (as suggested by Eden), and points out that the bowl is too tall for its width, in comparison with genuine Tournai School products. The height to width ratio of the Boulge bowl is 1:2.7, while the normal range is between 1:3 and 1:3.5. Anderson took the view that the base and capital of the Boulge font were both Tournai-produced spurred bases, that were later assembled into a font. The views of Drake and Anderson are compatible, and both should be respected as reliable scholars who have dedicated their academic lives to the subject, Drake specialising in fonts and Anderson in Tournai marble. Both were closely associated with the CRSBI, and both have recently died and will be sorely missed.

Anon., The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Boulge, Suffolk. Brief Guide. Revised ed. 1999.
H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 229.
C. S. Drake, The Romanesque Fonts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia. London, 2002, 46-59.
C. H. Eden, Black Tournai Fonts of England. London, 1909.
F. Anderson, '12thc.Tournai Marble Sculpture in England'. Newsletter of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland. 11 (Autumn 1999), 3.
G. C. Dunning, 'The Distribution of Tournai Fonts', Antiquaries Journal, 1944, 66-68.
G. W. Kitchen, 'The History of the Cathedral Font, Winchester', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, L (1894), 6-16.
J. R. Allen, 'Fonts of the Winchester Type', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, L (1894), 17-27.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 2 Central Suffolk. Cambridge 1990, 24-25.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 104.
R. Mortimer, 'The Family of Rannulf de Glanville', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, LIV (1981), 1-16.