A 15th-century house, once home to the author of Tristram Shandy, and an 18th-century former home of the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, are among the four properties selected for the final of Country Life magazine’s England’s Finest Parsonage competition.
 
The competition, sponsored by Savills, was launched in April this year to celebrate the role of the rectory or vicarage in English rural life and attracted more than 100 nominations from the public from all over the country. The winner will be revealed in this week’s issue of Country Life magazine, out on Wednesday (17 September).
 
Judging panels visited 12 shortlisted parsonages in the North, South, East and West of the country over the summer (see Town Mouse at the Ritz). The four finalists are:

North: Shandy Hall, medieval in origin, stands opposite the church in the pretty North Yorkshire village of Coxwold. It was the home of Laurence Sterne, parson and novelist. He lived there from 1760 to 1768 and wrote Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey in an intimate book-lined room in the house. Today, the building is both a museum and a home.  Shandy Hall was selected by judge, Rev Dr Michael Higgins, a trustee of Save Our Parsonages and former Dean of Ely Cathedral.

South: The Old Rectory in Farnborough, Berkshire, set high above the Berkshire Downs, was occupied by generations of the same clerical family from the 17th to the 19th century. It was built in about 1740 and remodelled a hundred years later with a porch and bellcote. A domed drawing room was also added to the house in the 1950s. From 1945 to 1951, John Betjeman wrote about, lived in and loved the house. Just beyond The Old Rectory lies the church, which boasts a fine memorial window to Betjeman designed by John Piper.  The Old Rectory was chosen by judge Lucinda Lambton, the broadcaster and writer.

East: The Old Rectory, North Creake, Norfolk, is one of the earliest houses built by the  Gothic architect, S.S. Teulon in 1845. The house, with weather-vanes, elaborate chimneystacks and stepped gables, nestles in a valley just behind the church. Teulon’s fine and idiosyncratic interiors substantially survive, including an upper landing with a glazed dome. It was chosen as a finalist by James Miller of the Rectory Society.

West: The Old Rectory, Tatenhill, Staffordshire, was built for the Dean of Lichfield in 1710.  It has a handsome yet modest Georgian façade, a finely crafted staircase and doors and interiors that remain remarkably unchanged. It was chosen by judge Ptolemy Dean, an architect, who commented that it was “appropriate for a man of the cloth who might have ridden from here to visit his parishioners.”

John Goodall, architectural editor of Country Life, said: ‘We had a splendid collection of finalists to choose from. This is not simply a competition about architectural merit. The particular appeal of parsonages lies in their combination of architecture and location; set among fine gardens or in a prominent location on a village green beside the church. In the right circumstances, even relatively modest buildings can look remarkable.’

Crispin Holborrow, director of Savills country house department, added: ‘We have been delighted by the response to the competition. A rectory or vicarage is often at the top of the wish list when people are planning to buy a home in the country. The parsonage can deliver that rural idyll many people dream of – a large, well proportioned, historic family home in a village. The four finalists are an exceptionally varied group, chosen from a very strong field.’
 
The winning regional parsonages will receive a portrait of their house by artist Liam Wales.