Where Wrens young and old set­tled for the quiet life

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Cottages & Kings - Clive Aslet

Sir Christo­pher Wren was born at East Knoyle, in Wilt­shire. We vis­ited the vil­lage for a wed­ding ear­lier this month, sit­ting in the church of which his fa­ther, Dr Christo­pher Wren, was rec­tor.

Not that Dr Wren was only Rec­tor of East Knoyle; he rose to be­come Chap­lain in Or­di­nary to Charles I, Regis­trar of the Or­der of the Garter and Dean of Wind­sor, ac­quir­ing the rich liv­ing of Hase­ley in Ox­ford­shire along the way. But he took his min­istry at East Knoyle suf­fi­ciently se­ri­ously to re­build the church roof (like his son, he was “well skilled in the math­e­mat­icks’’).

He also dec­o­rated the chan­cel with a scheme of plas­ter­work. No more than a glimpse of rose trel­lis was vis­i­ble from our po­si­tion be­hind a pil­lar, and it was barely more com­pre­hen­si­ble when we took a closer look af­ter the ser­vice.

Dr Wren seems to have had an in­ge­nious mind, which ran to Latin puz­zles and a farfrom-ob­vi­ous iconog­ra­phy; ref­er­ences to prayers ris­ing like in­cense to heaven sug­gest that this High Church­man was hav­ing a dig at the Pu­ri­tans. They got their own back by burst­ing into the church, seiz­ing the doc­tor and hack­ing off part of his plas­ter­work. Later, bits of the chan­cel ceil­ing sim­ply fell down. Then a restora­tion of 1846 re­placed the dec­o­rated chan­cel arch.

What is left is a baf­fling cu­rios­ity. Per­haps it in­trigued young Christo­pher suf­fi­ciently to set him on the path to St Paul’s.

While the 1846 restora­tion may have been in­sen­si­tive, parish­ioners were luck­ier in 1891, when the tower was in an alarm­ing con­di­tion. Philip Webb, found­ing Sec­re­tary of the So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of An­cient Build­ings, was the ar­chi­tect en­gaged in build­ing the Wyn­d­ham house Clouds, out­side the vil­lage. With the help of Det­mar Blow, a Ruskin-in­spired ar­chi­tect who was then learn­ing his trade as fore­man, he car­ried out a sym­pa­thetic re­pair at mod­est cost, his own time be­ing given for noth­ing.

On leav­ing the church, we looked in at the vil­lage shop, to see if they had a guide­book to the vil­lage. They did, in the form of a hand­some hard­back book. East Knoyle is that sort of place. The shop it­self is a com­mu­nity en­ter­prise, run by vol­un­teers. It opened last year on the site of a bus shel­ter. Some­times you will find a re­tired banker be­hind the counter, but on this oc­ca­sion we were served by a young lo­cal man, who pressed us to sam­ple lemon driz­zle cake be­ing sold at the lo­cal farmer’s mar­ket.

Al­though only a mile from the A303, the vil­lage can seem iso­lated, par­tic­u­larly if you de­pend on pub­lic trans­port. The old post of­fice had closed, and the con­ver­sion of the fill­ing sta­tion to a garage for re­pair­ing clas­sic cars meant that lo­cals had nowhere to buy cig­a­rettes. Wren’s Shop is now a model en­ter­prise, sell­ing a se­lect range of prod­ucts that one can imag­ine peo­ple might ac­tu­ally want.

The re­cep­tion was held on a glo­ri­ous farm, on the other side of the “knuckle” of hill from which East Knoyle may take its name. On the way we drove through much of the pleas­antly strag­gling vil­lage (some­times twice).

Sil­very lo­cal lime­stone un­der thatched roofs is the key­note of the older houses. Not many of them are on the mar­ket at the time of writ­ing: Wool­ley and Wal­lis of Shaftes­bury (01722 424524) had a three­bed­room stone cot­tage on the mar­ket for £235,000 (not sur­pris­ingly it is now un­der of­fer). Con­sole your­self with The Pad­docks, a stone-built ex­ec­u­tive home with “far-reach­ing views” that Strutt and Parker’s Sal­is­bury of­fice (01722 328741) are of­fer­ing for £435,000. Ham­ble­don etate agency of Shaftes­bury (01747 851151) have an in­of­fen­sive mod­ern cot­tage on their books for £245,000.

For some­thing more ar­chi­tec­tural, Ham­ble­don Es­tate Agents is seek­ing of­fers over £800,000, for Albany House, a hand­some vil­lage house in the High Street. Be­fore the wed­ding we had lunch at the Lamb at Hin­don: a rea­son for mov­ing there in it­self.

Clive Aslet is Ed­i­tor at Large of Coun­try Life.

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