When is a rectory not a rectory? The story of a parish with three rectories

on Monday, 15 March 2021. Posted in Architecture, Wiltshire Places

Orcheston is a small, quiet parish on Salisbury Plain, close to Shrewton. The river Till meanders through it, diving and reappearing intermittently. The older, traditional buildings are characteristic of many of the Plain’s surrounding villages – a pleasing blend of chequerboard and banded flints, limestone and from the later 18th century, brick. Before 1934 Orcheston was two parishes: Orcheston St George formed the south half, and Orcheston St Mary formed the north half, both existing as separate communities until the two met in the middle during the mid-20th century at Whatcombe Brow. A recommendation to unite the two parishes as far back as 1650 came to nothing.

My involvement came when I was asked to look at The Old Rectory formerly belonging to Orcheston St Mary. As I started to search I realised that there were two buildings in Orcheston St Mary which at one time bore that name – which was the original? Fortunately, the good old Wiltshire Glebe Terrier was expansive on the subject.
The Orcheston St George rectory is also called the Old Rectory. It looks like an early-mid 19th century red brick house, but with evident origins in the 17th century. The Orcheston St Mary Old Rectory is also said to be of 17th century date originally, though an early rectory house was mentioned in the 1530s, and it is this that was likely rebuilt from scratch by Clare College, Cambridge in flint and stone, when they purchased the advowson in the early 18th century. For those not familiar with ecclesiastical law, this meant that whoever owned the advowson could give the job of rector to whoever they wanted. At a time when the heir inherited the family pile and the spare either went into the army or the church, this was a guaranteed income as novelised by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park.

In 1677 The Old Rectory had 37 acres of land with it, meaning that the rector had responsibility for both human and animal flocks. In 1783 The house was said to be too small for a family. No doubt the expectations of the younger son of a gentry family were for something more up-to-date than the damp, old-fashioned traditional house he was presented with. At any rate, the rector lived elsewhere and the house was more than likely occupied by the curate, the rector’s assistant, as he was responsible for ministering to the villages of Shrewton and Maddington also.

Paper document showing outline plan of plot and building of rectory at Orcheston St Mary
Plan of Rectory at Orcheston St Mary: to rebuild parsonage etc. two plans, permission for faculty, proclamation. Ref D1/61/5/35

At last, the Reverend Edward Tomson Bidwell could stand it no longer and applied for a faculty in 1827 to demolish the old rectory house and to rebuild it on a grander scale on the other side of the road:

"…setting forth that the parsonage house, barn, stable and offices of and belonging to the Rectory of Orcheston Saint Mary aforesaid are become so much dilapidated and out of repair that it is necessary to take down and entirely rebuild the same. That the scite of the present parsonage, barn, stable and offices is very low and damp and constantly liable during four or five months in the year to be overflowed…"

After an inspection of the rectory the plan was approved with the following advice:

"…we do further certify that we do verily believe that to take down the whole of the present rectory house or so much thereof as may be necessary and to build on the same scite a new barn, stables and coach house of the respective dimensions set forth in the said commission will be to the advantage and convenience of the rector of Orcheston St Mary and his successors…"

So it was clear that The Old Rectory was taken down and rebuilt as a barn, stable and coach house with one end of the house preserved as living accommodation for a servant of the spanking new villa-style Rectory over the road. Moreover, all the best and most useful bits of The Old Rectory were removed and reused in the new building. As late as the 1844, the Orcheston St Mary tithe award refers to the two buildings as the Old Parsonage and the new Parsonage. In 1928 The Old Rectory was sold off and became a private house. The new rectory continued until 1933 when that, too, was sold off. Orcheston House, as it became known, is now in private hands.

Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record

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