Prop­erty News

Dearly beloved, the par­son­age’s ap­peal never fal­ters, finds Eleanor Doughty

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by An­nun­ci­ata Wal­ton

Eleanor Doughty finds out why we all pray for a par­son­age

NEVER mind big, crum­bling piles with more bed­rooms than you have sec­ond cousins, the English par­son­age pro­vides a per­fectly sized slice of idyl­lic coun­try life. With fea­tures such as well-pro­por­tioned rooms, a cen­tral vil­lage lo­ca­tion and lush, green gar­dens, it’s easy to see why more than just vic­ars are drawn to these charm­ing prop­er­ties and their pop­u­lar­ity has never re­ally waned. Af­ter all, par­son­ages—a term that de­scribes both vicarages and rec­to­ries— are pos­sessed with, as Cather­ine Mor­land put it in Northanger Abbey, ‘un­pre­tend­ing com­fort’.

How­ever, not all par­son­ages were made equal. Many fit the ‘Ge­or­gian box’ archetype, but oth­ers come in al­to­gether more Vic­to­rian, even mod­ern, garb. Writer An­thony Jen­nings, di­rec­tor of Save Our Par­son­ages, de­scribes them as ‘per­haps the most ad­mirable, de­sir­able and aes­thetic body of do­mes­tic build­ings ever built’ in his book The Old Rec­tory: the story of the English par­son­age.

Agents tend to be thrilled when a rec­tory comes onto the mar­ket. They’re the ideal fam­ily home, be­lieves Luke Pen­der-cud­lip, head of Knight Frank’s Sher­borne of­fice (01935 810062). ‘A lot of peo­ple don’t want the huge house with 12 bed­rooms. If you have two or three chil­dren, a rec­tory can be a good size.’ Ge­o­graph­i­cally, they’re spot on, too. ‘They’re usu­ally next to a church and, there­fore, you have all the ben­e­fits of vil­lage life, a lo­cal pub and per­haps a school,’ says Mr Pen­der-cud­lip. Mark Peck, di­rec­tor of Ch­effins, the Cam­bridgeshire-based agency, agrees (01353 654900). ‘With im­pos­ing lo­ca­tions and gen­er­ous gar­dens and grounds, old rec­to­ries are often the best prop­erty in the vil­lage. They con­tinue to rep­re­sent the ar­che­typal vil­lage house for many buy­ers.’ The P. G. Wode­house Eng­land per­cep­tion helps. ‘For many, they con­jure up im­ages of cro­quet matches on the lawn with cu­cum­ber sand­wiches,’ ex­plains Mr Peck, who’s re­cently sold a for­mer vicarage in So­ham on be­half of the Ely Dio­cese. The par­son­age is also an un­der­stated so­cial marker. ‘They cap­ture in el­e­gantly built po­etry the po­si­tion of many wealthy in­di­vid­u­als,’ says ar­chi­tect Rob­bie Kerr of ADAM Archi-

tec­ture, who grew up spend­ing time at a charm­ing Queen Anne rec­tory in Stan­ford-in-the-vale, Ox­ford­shire. ‘The church lay at the heart of the com­mu­nity and those running it were often well dis­posed, with time to ex­plore ar­chi­tec­tural taste and re­fine their home into beau­ti­ful build­ings of the lat­est fash­ion.’ Often, Mr Kerr says, they were ‘built with­out con­straint’.

In a so­cial con­text in which the el­dest son would in­herit the es­tate, the sec­ond would join the Army and the third would go into the Church, the vicarage needed to be sturdy. ‘If you were the son of a rich fam­ily, you weren’t go­ing to go and live in a tiny lit­tle prop­erty—you would be liv­ing in a fine house,’ says Lind­say Cuthill, head of Sav­ills’ coun­try-house de­part­ment (020– 7016 3820). ‘You start, through that his­tor­i­cal con­text, hav­ing very well de­signed, sub­stan­tial houses for peo­ple of means.’

Nov­el­ist Jef­frey Archer has lived in his rec­tory in Grantch­ester, Cam­bridgeshire, for 30 years. The vil­lage has three—the old one be­long­ing to the Archers and im­mor­talised in Rupert Brooke’s 1912 nostal­gic poem The Old Vicarage,

Grantch­ester, the mid­dle vicarage and, now, a mod­ern one. The Archers’ house, which dates back to 1683, has a 3½-acre gar­den with ma­ture trees, a lake and front lawn (Coun­try

Life, April 15, 2015). In­side, it’s ‘the per­fect size,’ says Lord Archer. ‘We’ve got a kitchen, a util­ity room, a din­ing room, a draw­ing room and a study and, up­stairs, a tele­vi­sion room and five bed­rooms. You can’t look at it and not think “what a lovely house”.’

The fi­nan­cial pre­mium on par­son­ages is dif­fi­cult to pin­point, but agents es­ti­mate it to be about 10%– 20%. In any case, de­mand out­strips sup­ply; it’s not ev­ery day that rec­to­ries come up for sale.

Those par­son­ages that come with­out lots of land di­vide buy­ers, says Mr Cuthill. ‘A high-pro­file celebrity may love the look of a rec­tory, but feel un­able to buy it be­cause it’s vis­i­ble from the street. A lot of rec­to­ries had a sep­a­rate door onto the gar­den for parish­ioners to come and visit; that means easy ac­cess. If you want some­where very pri­vate, it might not be the prop­erty for you.’

Luck­ily, for the rest of us, a par­son­age is pretty close to per­fect.

Ser­mons and the sim­ple life: from Rowan Atkin­son (in Keep­ing Mum, below) to Jef­frey Archer, the par­son­age is still pop­u­lar

If only all vic­ars looked like James Nor­ton (in Grantch­ester), we’d all live in a rec­tory

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