The Fortunes of a Wiltshire Parish Rectory

Stratford Tony is a small village 4 ½ miles from Salisbury. The river Ebble flows through it, and the line of the ancient Roman road known as ‘Icknield Street’ passes close on the west side of the village. The most notable occupant of Stratford Tony was the impressionist painter Wilfrid de Glehn, who lived at the Manor House from 1942 until his death in 1951. The population now only amounts to around 50 people.

Last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to investigate the old rectory, now a private house. The house presented a decorous early Georgian front with views across the lawns to the river below. As ever, we looked beyond the polite elevation to the hidden corners and roof spaces to reveal a very different story. Remains of a c1500 timber-frame were found embedded in replacement stone walls and in the roof which suggested that this was a much more humble farmhouse. Grabbed by the intrigue glands, our researcher Louise did what she does best, which is to squirrel out those hidden facts embedded in layers of old parchment. It turns out that it was quite possibly a grange farm for the Abbey of Lyra in Normandy (nothing to do with His Dark Materials or the constellation of stars!) and then the Priory of Sheen in Richmond, London.

Its transformation to posh rectory happened in the later 16th century when Lawrence Hyde acquired the advowson (the right to recommend a clergyman to a ‘living’ in the parish) from the Crown in 1560. Lawrence Hyde was part of the influential Hyde family of Wiltshire, he had benefitted greatly from the acquisition of land and property following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He held a lease from William Earl of Pembroke, of Wardour Castle and Park around the time he was granted the advowson at Stratford Tony. Members of the Hyde family held it for over 126 years up to 1686, when it then transferred to Edward Fawconer of Sarum.

By 1671 the glebe terrier noted a substantial rectory house comprising …A mansion house, a brew house, a wood house, a barn, a stable, a fodder house besides some skillings (cowsheds), an orchard, 2 gardens…. Lawrence and his son Robert Hyde installed three members of their own family as clerks at Stratford Tony. It is very likely, the patronage of the Hyde family resulted in substantial investment in the parsonage house, including the addition of a smart Georgian wing. This was extended further in 1791 by Reverend Stockwell, the rector at that time, who commemorated it with a datestone.

The rectory fell out of use in 1923 when the benefice was merged with that of Bishopstone and became a private house. The first lay owner, a major Collison implemented a transformation which was very typical for its time. Distinct fashions occurred at different periods, and for the humble farmhouse a ‘gentrification’ was inevitably made in the later 18th century/early 19th century period followed in the second half of the 19th century and earlier 20th century by a ‘rustication’, part of the Arts and Crafts movement, which undid all the first effort and put back a pre-Georgian type of interior. This trend was replicated in middle-class homes everywhere in Wiltshire and Wiltshire Buildings Record has seen and recorded many such schemes, some overseen by architects such as at Jesses, Dinton where the architect was known to be Biddulph-Pinchard, and some by local builders, very likely implementing the ideas of the owners themselves, and no doubt accommodating finds from reclamation yards and demolished houses. The old rectory at Stratford Tony was no exception, and any elegant fireplaces, plasterwork and dado rails were done away with in favour of dark 17th century panelling and a reproduction fireplace.

Thus it is that most houses are a very pleasing and individual mix of styles reflecting their owners fashion and fortunes. Of course we can only speculate from known examples what some houses looked like in the past, as one scheme may obliterate partly or wholly the previous scheme in a phenomenon noted by Pam Slocombe as ‘alternate rebuilding’.

Dorothy Treasure
Principal Buildings Historian, Witshire Buildings Record

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