The church to St. Andrew at Boynton in the heart of the East Riding is by no means a historic church on every explorer’s map. Indeed, it is a particularly curious building with a very unique history. Simon Jenkins calls it the ‘all Turkey’ church. It’s an odd place – and for a few reasons needs a little explaining. A glance down toward the small village from the Bridlington road paints that all too familiar picture of England. A picture of rural romanticism. The scene is beautifully set with a 15th century church tower bobbing on a calm sea of green. The landscape is clearly changing by the time you’ve reached Boynton as you head toward the coast. If the scenic view (or the historic church road sign) of tiny Boynton successfully sways you to investigate its historic church, then you may be forgiven upon arrival for asking what all the fuss is about. It is clearly not an early church. Boynton’s 15th century tower itself doesn’t serenade the senses with the splendours of Gothic architectural achievement either. The fact is – despite appearances – little of the medieval is present in this church.
Little is known about an earlier church at Boynton. The little, surviving archaeological and written evidence suggests a likelihood for a stone church of some unknown scale in the local area from at least the 12th century. It should be understood that this is an area with strong religious significance. Sites of prehistoric and pre-Christian religious activity are apparent within measurable distance of this part of the east coast (Rudston and Danes Dyke). Boynton, or perhaps the nearby village of Rudston may have been one of a number of East Riding villages with an early church visited by pilgrims on their way to Bridlington Priory (founded 1113) throughout the early medieval period. Despite appearances and the presence of early medieval religious activity in the area, Boynton’s is a relatively new church building. Perhaps you are aware of Simon Jenkins’ writing on this church. He describes the church and its unique characteristics as ‘delightful’. Unsympathetically he goes on to call its exterior a ‘Georgian brick box’ and gives the church 2 stars out of 5 in his Thousand Best Churches. However he does understand that Boynton’s isn’t a church to be judged on the impressions of it’s exterior alone.
Inside, the church is a complete surprise. You pass through an unassuming, medieval threshold into a magnificent Georgian painted interior. You leave behind the greys of the concrete pavement and the church steps. You forget the grey stone of the stocky church tower. Boynton’s olive green and white coloured walls and furnishings come as a shock to the system both aesthetically and historically.
The history of the present church of St. Andrew’s really begins with a catastrophic fire in the mid 18th century. Having been left in a state of disrepair and possible fire damage, a grant was given on July 23rd, 1767 allowing the church to be rebuilt. This grant was passed to one George Strickland, 5th Baronet of Boynton. The church of St. Andrew owes much to the Strickland family. Without the restoration efforts of the families later descendants, the longevity of the church’s survival could not have been assured. The story of the Strickland’s long lasting bond with Boynton began with the Elizabethan explorer William Strickland some years before. William purchased the neighbouring Manor house in the mid-16th century and likely inherited the much older church next door during this time.
William Strickland was an explorer. He is believed to have brought back the first Turkeys from an adventure of discovery in the New World and introduced them to England. In 1550 the Turkey appeared on the Strickland family crest and can also be spotted countless times in representation throughout the church. There is a wooden Turkey pulpit. A panel of a Turkey in the stained glass and an alabaster Turkey atop a monument. Despite William’s initial enthusiasm in church decoration it appears that for some reason the church fell into disrepair. It was al thankfully restored some years on through a grant passed to his descendant, George, 5th Baronet in the mid-18th century. A well known architect, John Carr of York (Howsham Mill (Howsham), Fairfax House (York) and more), was employed in work at Strickland Manor at the time and his talents put to further use under the 5th Baronet in overseeing the rebuilding and design of the new church.
John Carr’s plan is quite unusual; his achievement spectacular. The lofty interior is separated into a large nave with a small chancel before an easterly-most, large, open-spaced mortuary chapel for the Strickland family memorials. Their elaborate memorials were relocated here during the rebuilding from the old church.
Interestingly, the pews were not originally positioned forward (east) facing as they currently are, having been rearranged in 1910. Positioned facing north-to-south and south-to-north originally, the vicar complained that ‘the existing mode of seating keeps people from church. They cannot bear the strain of being stared at by persons sitting on the opposite side’. Facing west can be seen a short, twisting staircase leading up to the Strickland family pew under the west-tower. Here the Strickland family could observe their tenants during the service and have a full view of all proceedings, which also annoyed the parishoners and fueled the rearranging of the pews.
The architecture of this church dates from a period I am unashamedly not familiar with. I wish to learn more about this period of church building after visiting Carr’s building at Boynton. I can say with some certainty however that besides my inexperience with 18th century architecture, St. Andrew’s must be and surely is truly exemplar of simple, Georgian church design.