1. St Barnabas Vicarage,
Back in 2007, before
my predecessor as Parish Priest here at Walthamstow St
Barnabas even announced his resignation, albeit with him
approaching his 70th birthday, a Diocesan official asked
if he wouldn't mind another minister coming to view the
Vicarage. The minister in question had just been
appointed to a full-time responsibility in a specialist
ministry. It was not even being suggested that he would
be "house for duty", simply that he would live in the
house. The assumption seemed to be that future ministry
to the parish would be provided by a non-resident
priest. Naturally, my predecessor, the PCC and the Area
Dean (who happened to be me), were, as we say in East
London, "a bit miffed".
predecessor's retirement and representation to the
Bishop, a meeting of the PCC - attended by the Bishop,
Archdeacon and Area Dean - heard the Bishop's proposal
that the parish be provided with a "house for duty"
priest. The Area Dean suggested that the Deanery might
be able to consider any reduction in stipendiary
provision at St Barnabas in the context of a wider
deanery plan and, after further consultation in the
parish and deanery, it was agreed that the parish would
be provided with a new priest on half a stipend. There
was one applicant, the Area Dean, and the Bishop was
kind enough, after some negotiation, to allocate another
half-stipend to deanery work, enabling me to take up the
position as Parish Priest of what my predecessor would
often call, "the best parish in the Church of England".
St Barnabas is a
relatively small for an urban parish with some seven
thousand souls living in a neighbourhood of thirty
streets. The church is somewhat tucked away in the
middle of the neighbourhood but has the massive
advantage of being an architectural gem designed by W.D.
Caroe. Built in 1903, it was provided with seats for 700
people. The church is in excellent physical condition
and has a lively multi-cultural congregation, with
between 60-80 people attending most Sundays.
Occasionally the church is full for weddings and other
events. It represents a Christian presence in an area
with a large proportion of people from other faiths. The
congregation is well connected into the local community
and its hall used as a hub for neighbourhood activities.
The Vicarage, built
in 1904, was also designed by W.D. Caroe, its front door
facing the church entrance at a distance of no more than
twenty feet. Nevertheless, the house has provided
privacy to me, my wife and five children since we moved
here in 2009. The front porch includes access to a
separate wash room and to the spacious Vicar's study,
regularly used for church and community meetings. It is
an immensely practical house, with a decent sized
drawing room, a dining room, a pantry, a kitchen and
utility rooms (with access to a fairly private garden).
The first floor has four bedrooms and a small study; the
top floor houses two bedrooms and a family room.
Compared to our previous Vicarage (built in 1960) it has
needed very little maintenance from the Diocese. We
occasionally use the drawing and dining rooms for
meetings, and it was a particular joy to host the Save
our Parsonages AGM here in 2012.
There are downsides.
The house is in excellent condition but lacks heating on
the top floor. It is the existence of the top floor
which, according to the Diocesan Houses' Committee,
renders the Vicarage too big and therefore "unsuitable".
At the same time, the Diocese refuses to pay for the
installation of heating on the top floor which it
renders "superfluous". However, my two older sons (16
and 13), whose bedrooms are on the top floor, are hardy
types and do not complain. We all feel immensely
privileged to be living here, not only because we love
the house but because we love the congregation and
neighbourhood too. It is also fabulous to be in a house
with a sense of history. Last year, we were contacted by
a seventy year old who had lived here as the then
vicar's daughter and left when she was ten (in 1946).
She and her brother were the last children to have lived
in this house and she has now become a friend to our
family: a lovely connection. She had loaned me her
father's biretta for me to use during my year as
Chaplain to the Mayor of Waltham Forest.
Only four parsonages
older than St Barnabas' survive in Walthamstow: the old
rectory for Walthamstow St Mary, now part of Walthamstow
School for Girls; the old vicarage for Walthamstow St
Stephen, now the Waltham Forest Registry Office; the old
vicarage for Walthamstow St Saviour, now the residence
and offices of the Bishop of Barking; and the vicarage
for Walthamstow St Michael, now accommodating a new
incumbent who also has five children!
During the vacancy,
before I applied to come to St Barnabas, I hosted an
inter-faith meeting in the Vicarage after which a clergy
colleague remarked, "pity the poor sod who will move
into there!" The reality is that this an ideal house in
which to live and minister. Described in The Old
Rectory as having "the atmosphere of a working
parsonage", this house, lovingly restored to many of its
original features by my predecessor and his partner, is
an excellent house for my family and for the parish. We
can well understand why my predecessor stayed here for
over thirty years!
Father Steven Saxby -
Parish Priest of St Barnabas, Walthamstow.
2. By the river of Eden we sat
down and rejoiced!
Three years ago, we moved from a
1980's, four-bedroom purpose built parsonage to our
present home, the Rectory at Warwick Bridge. The house,
which is just east of the ancient border city of
Carlisle and on the banks of the beautiful River Eden,
was built at the same time as the adjacent church
building, both of which boast as their architect Mr John
Dobson who is known for designing Newcastle Central
We had spent just over three years
living in Wetheral, a delightfully large property for a
curacy, but despite the space it did have its drawbacks.
The property, despite being modern was both dark and
cold. At the time we couldn't see its limitations and
upon being "elevated" to the role of Rector we were torn
between staying put, or to move across the river.
The diocese gave us the option.
The parsonage at Warwick Bridge is a Victorian (1846)
six-bedroom house of substantial proportions and the
prospect of moving in was a daunting one to say the
least. How would we furnish it as relative newly-weds?
How would we keep it warm?
Had the post of Rector not been
advertised with the parsonage at Warwick Bridge there
would have been no decision to make ... it had slipped
through the net for it was on the diocesan "hit list".
They felt duty bound to honour the parish profile and
give us the decision whether we wanted to move in. Well,
after much thought and prayer, a few burst pipes and new
ceilings we decided to move - and are so glad we did!
Like most clergy families, we are
concerned to keep our home warm. That has not proved an
issue, much to the surprise of diocesan authorities. In
comparison to the 1980's house we were in, the Rectory
is light, bright and warmer and our gas and electricity
bills are roughly the same, if a little cheaper. (So
much for the old chestnut that traditional parsonages
are a drain on resources.)
Indeed, we find that once the
house is warm, it stays warm for longer thanks to its
thick sandstone walls. It also helps that we have a wood
burner, something we insisted on before moving in. This
was duly installed in the main living room without
altering any of the original features. It is a
tremendous asset and after negotiations with the
diocese, we were able to share the cost of this and are
pleased that the diocese are working on a policy to
enable other clergy in older properties to do the same.
We love the fact that our house is
big enough to host meetings, coffee mornings, suppers
and other events basic things which are important and
integral to parish life - parish rooms do the same
thing, but nothing beats hospitality in a family
home. (The diocesan line is that parsonages are simply
places of work and residence for the parson and his
family. They are not provided for entertainment
purposes. Really? So much for Christian hospitality as
part of ministry?) We have taken the attitude that God
has blessed us with such a wonderful home that whilst we
live here we want to use it as best we can in his
As has already been said, we were
led to believe that the house was on the diocesan "hit
list". When we moved in we were told we would be the
last couple to live in there, however this has been said
to the previous two incumbents! Given the history, the
geographically disparate nature to the centre of the
parish (there is no real community feel) and the
integral nature of parsonage and church on the one site
it would be a disaster if the house were to go.
Recent informal conversations seem
to indicate that the house is now safe for the time
being. This is largely due to its location and the
impact it has on church life. (It is immediately next to
the church and its driveway allows parking for the
Sunday services and access to the church and graveyard.)
Although the house is very big and
some would argue unnecessarily so, it is a wonderful
place which to live and work. Our eight-month old son
seems to think so and we're looking forward to the day
when he runs around and enjoys it too!
Revd David Craven
- Rector of Holme Eden and
Wetheral with Warwick,
3. Life in a Georgian rectory
Of course, not everyone wants to live
in a nine bedroom Georgian rectory. We did and we loved
it. Seven years ago we moved into Withyham Rectory (East
Sussex), and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there until
my retirement in April this year.
Strictly speaking, it was not a
Georgian rectory. It had been built in the late
seventeenth century on what is believed to have been the
same site as its medieval predecessor. Sometime in the
eighteenth century the handsome, but unpretentious house
was aggrandised with a classical facade clamped on to
its front elevation of nine bays, and its plain front
door embellished with a grandiose canopied porch.
Nor did we have nine bedrooms. Thirty
years ago the south wing was sealed off and leased as a
separate dwelling. Still, we rubbed along happily enough
in these reduced circumstances, making do with five
bedrooms, one bathroom, two reception rooms, kitchen,
study – and a Georgian plunge bath (more of that later).
We treasured the rectory! And so did,
and do, the parishioners, who are proud to call it
theirs, and no amount of talk about its being benefice
property can persuade them otherwise. The great hall,
which occupies the ground floor of the central three
bays of the house, was a useful venue for PCC meetings,
Bible study, children’s choir practice, church social
events, and an annual deanery chapter dinner. It was
also our family dining hall for high days and holidays,
such as Christmas, Easter and birthdays. At family
celebrations the grandchildren had space to romp as the
adults in mellow and indulgent mood enjoyed their port
and cheese. Every Thursday evening in term-time the
stately hall would echo with the voices of the
children’s choir practising choruses for the family
service and belting out action songs like Oranges and
Lemon or The Farmer’s in his Den or even A Hunting we
Originally the hall had been very
much a working space with its great beams exposed to
view, roughly plastered walls, stone floor and an open
fire-place, wide enough to take great branches of timber
five foot long. It was here that local farmers came in
muddy boots to pay their tithes, and it was here the
rector conducted his secular business with his glebe
manager and outdoor staff. Later, in the 18th
century the rough walls were panelled and a false
ceiling was suspended to hide the beams, bringing the
great hall into the home life of the rectory. This
process of domestication was carried on into the 20th
century when the stone flags were replaced with parquet
flooring and central heating radiators were installed;
regrettable but necessary concessions to modern
standards of comfort.
The living quarters were in the north
wing, with the panelled (17th century
linen-fold) drawing room at the front and double doors
communicating with what used to be the dining room at
the back. The doors could be folded back to make the two
rooms one. Above them on the first floor there used to
be a similar arrangement, creating a large double
reception room, or library and upstairs drawing-room.
The lay-out was changed, probably in the 20th
The kitchen quarters with servants’
hall, kitchen, pantry, scullery and well, occupied the
ground floor of the south wing. Sleeping quarters for
the rector and his family were on the first floor of the
south wing and above the great hall. The servants slept
in rooms in the spacious attic, or in a small 16th
century building next door.
This original disposition of rooms
was altered completely when the south wing was closed
off and leased in the 20th century. The north
wing now had to accommodate a new kitchen in what had
been the dining room, and a bathroom and lavatory
upstairs in what had been bedrooms. Until modern times
there had been, of course, no indoor plumbing upstairs.
We never discovered where the indoor privy had been
before the nineteenth century, if, indeed, there had
been one at all. A consequence of this re-arrangement
was the loss to the rector and his wife of all those
small ‘utility’ rooms and cupboards, now out of reach in
the south wing. Despite living in such a spacious home,
we had nowhere to put the vacuum cleaner, the broom, the
brush and pan, and the ironing board! Still, that was a
small price to pay.
So far I have not mentioned the
study...and what a study! During my time in sundry
parsonages and cathedral houses I have been lucky in
having been provided with excellent studies, all with
enough fitted shelves to accommodate an adequate working
library. The one in Withyham rectory, however, exceeded
all. With its built-in wall-cupboards, deep enough to
conceal an overhead projector, screen, guillotine,
archived documents and shoe-boxes full of old sermons,
and its floor-to-ceiling shelving on three walls it was
and is a study to die for. An additional and charming
feature was the fireplace with its minton-tiled
As you would expect, we had mice.
They inhabited the numerous cavities between the floors
and behind the panelling, and had done for generations.
It was believed that within the 17th century
structure of the present rectory there was concealed at
least one former rectory, and possibly the one before
that. In the 14th century the place had been
lived in by monks, the living being a cell of the priory
of Morteyn in Normandy. Inevitably, French mice
concealed in the monks’ baggage would have settled here
and interbred with the indigenous population of Withyham
rectory. As each building was constructed around its
predecessor the mice remained, taking advantage of more
spacious accommodation. Ours was not the only
post-reformation parsonage in England to be home to the
descendants of pre-reformation mice, proud of their
recusant ancestry and Norman blood, and doubtless still
loyal the Bishop of Rome.
Finally, the most unusual feature of
the rectory was the Georgian plunge bath, installed by a
predecessor in the 18th century. This was a
small subterranean stone-lined chamber, four foot
square, access to which was by a short flight of steps
descending beneath the main staircase. Still in place,
but no longer in use, were two massive taps, one for
cold water the other for hot. These would have been fed
by pipes running beneath the ground to the water supply
and the boiler in the south wing. The chamber would have
been filled to a depth of four feet, enabling the rector
to submerge himself during his daily ablutions. We never
discovered which of the past rectors, or his wife, was
the last to enjoy this luxury.