The Old Rectory: The Story of the English Parsonage

Added about 2 years ago by Sacristy Press

The Old RectoryOUT NOW: Traditional English rectories and vicarages have been neglected by the Church in the post-war years, but have become highly desirable to property buyers, and are now cherished by their new private owners. They combine many coveted qualities: their fine architecture, their air of civilisation, their charm and character, the traditional values and the essential “Englishness” they evoke, their large gardens and often splendidly rural locations.

The Old Rectory is about these fine houses, their place in English history and the history of the Church, their architecture, their architects, their contribution to our culture, and their sometimes eccentric occupants—both clerical and secular. This new edition includes additional material and 68 plates (most of which are in full colour).

From the Foreword

“Old” is not a word that the twenty-first century much cares for. People shrink from it, going to painful lengths to preserve the appearance of youth and acting as though they had never grown up. But bracket “Old” with “Rectory” and the response is entirely different. Together, the words conjure up a vision of the most desirable of house types for affluent living. The Old Rectory has status, but not, in this democratic age, to an off-putting extent.

As this book shows, it may be in any architectural style (though not, since the great age of rectory building had finished by the Second World War, the hideous ones): estate agents will hope for Queen Anne, though Regency and Victorian are more numerous. Whatever the period, the house will have good-sized rooms, high ceilings and architectural presence. The large garden can be developed into a horticultural paradise, while leaving room for tennis courts and swimming pool. Offices and games rooms can be made out of the stables. Old rectories are companionably part of their villages, but remote from the modern estates that have been built on the edge. Their appeal to modern buyers is enhanced by their proximity to the church; newcomers buy into the tradition and history, even if they do not regularly sit in the pews. Perhaps the association with past clergymen, imagined writing their sermons or cataloguing their natural history collections, exerts a subliminal attraction. The spirits of the past are benign. And so, one hopes, are the well-heeled professional families who occupy them today. Buying one of these fine properties provides entry to an exclusive and agreeable club, that of the Old Rectory owner; barristers, newspaper editors, company directors, doctors, software developers, interior designers, and architects belong.

The retreat of the Church from villages has coincided with the closure of other services. The charity Pub is the Hub has pioneered the idea that sub-post offices, shops, and IT centres can be saved if they share premises with other threatened institutions; the focus is the pub, which can even host church services. What a pity that the initiative is not Parsonage is the Hub. The modern vicar is now housed in the manner of his medieval forebear, in much the same manner as his flock; he does not have room to hold parish events or host other activities in his parsonage house, even if he wanted to – and expectations of privacy are now such that he probably doesn’t. As rural vicars attempt to spread themselves between their many parishes, the most appropriate form of dwelling could be a caravan.

But take heart. Save Our Parsonages stands up for those parsonages which still serve their original function (just as the Rectory Society helps the owners of Old Rectories to join hands). Meanwhile, we should be grateful that Old Rectories are for the most part beautifully cared for, and not threatened with collapse or dereliction. It is an irony that the church beside them may quite possibly be in a better state of preservation than at any time in history – albeit that the vicar, as a permanent presence, has often left.
Clive Aslet, Editor-at-Large of Country Life

Still not convinced? Here is what reviewers said about the first edition:

“A humdinging page-turner of a book.”
The Spectator, December 2009

“A personal romp through the parsonages that Jennings particularly admires and which give a beguiling synopsis of the developments of this curiously English dwelling.”
The Rectory Society Newsletter, March 2010

“Jennings has produced an excellently presented and beautifully illustrated story of the history of the English parsonage.”
Historic House, September 2010

Get your copy of The Old Rectory for only £29.99 today. Anthony Jennings is Director of Save Our Parsonages, and on the council of the English Clergy Association and the committee of the Patrons Group. He is also a member of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee, on the committee of Bourne Civic Society, and a trustee of Bourne Preservation Trust.


Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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