Hadleigh is a small town in Suffolk. In the mid-1700s it was recorded as having a population of 2260. The town has a fine 15th-century church and a rather distinctive Deanery tower next to it.
In 1744, Joshua Kirby and Josiah Harris, a joiner and cabinet-maker from Ipswich, were commissioned by the rector, the Rev. Dr. David Wilkins, to make a new altarpiece for the church at a cost of some £170. The `Grecian-style’ altarpiece was removed during renovations in the mid-19th century. Dr. Wilkins died (of gout) in 1745. A new rector was appointed, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Tanner, who happened to be the son-in-law of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Around 1747 or 1748, Rev. Tanner commissioned Thomas Gainsborough to paint a view of the church to be used as an overmantel in the rectory.
Critics are divided on whether, or how much, Kirby aided the young Gainsborough in the perspective rendering of the church and deanery in this unusual wide-angle view. Felicity Owen thinks that Kirby may have painted in the church; Michael Rosenthal suggests it was “probably painted in collaboration with Joshua Kirby” without specifying the exact nature of the collaboration, while John Hayes argues that only “one hand was involved, and that Gainsborough’s”.
Hayes also argues that the figures on around the rectangular tomb are `quoted’ from the third plate of Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness, of 1747.
Another view of the painting and some detailed views are here.
A recent view of the church by Carl Lamb, showing the effects of the 19th century renovations, is here.