Our historic parsonages constitute an astonishing architectural legacy. Built to house the rectors and vicars that have served the parishes of the established church from the Middle Ages to the present day, they’re a remarkably varied group of buildings.

Large and small, ancient and modern, their particular appeal lies in a distinctive combination of fine architecture and idyllic setting: parsonages are not only often large and handsome houses set amid mature trees and gardens, but they commonly stand in attractive proximity to their church at the very heart of towns and villages across the kingdom.

It is to highlight the exceptional importance of these buildings that Country Life, in association with Savills, is seeking out England’s finest parsonage. This award is not limited only to the parsonages that still house the clergy, but also extends to those that have passed or been sold into private hands over the course of time.

The history of the parsonage proper begins with the emergence of the English parish system nearly 1,000 years ago. Every one of the 10,000 or so parishes established in the Middle Ages was theoretically served by a resident priest, each of whom required a house. Almost from the first, there’s evidence that such buildings began to descend as church property from priest to priest as a benefit of their office.

It’s this peculiarity of descent outside lines of family inheritance, rather than any particular tradition of design or style of architecture, that distinguishes the parsonage. In all other respects, parsonages are homes like any other. Their developing form over time offers fascinating insights into the changing expectations and fashions of domestic life among the educated and wealthy in society at large.

The word parsonage has come to embrace what were formerly two technically distinct types of residence—the rectory and the vicarage. Medieval parishes generated an income for their incumbent from such sources as tithes, church dues and church land termed glebe. In simple terms, a rector enjoyed directly and in full these revenues. By contrast, a vicar—literally a deputy—was employed by an absent beneficiary of this income (usually a religious foundation such as a monastery or college) and received a stipend in return for his service.

This arrangement survived the Reformation, and there persisted from it a division within the parish clergy between rectors, who were generally wealthy and occasionally very rich, and their relatively poorer cousins, vicars. Not that this distinction was ever financially clear-cut: the huge variations in the value of church livings effectively blurred the divide between poor rectors and wealthy vicars.

Over time, the practical importance of this distinction was eroded by far-reaching changes in the organisation and financial management of the church. Many of these up to the present day have been bound up in some way with the improvement of existing parsonages or the creation of new ones.

Since 1900, the Church of England has sold off large numbers of historic parsonages. Some of these sales have been controversial. Whatever their long-term wisdom, they have created a new group of owners, many of whom remain passionately interested in the history and architecture of these buildings.

Whether in church or lay ownership, parsonages remain a crucial and much-loved feature of the English landscape. Yet these buildings rarely receive the public attention they deserve. This award is intended to celebrate these unsung masterpieces of English domestic architecture.

For further information, please contact Susannah Glynn (020–3148 4442; susannah_glynn@freelance.ipcmedia.com)

For its setting, history or architecture, which is your favourite parsonage?

To enter, please email your nomination, together with a photograph, to susannah_glynn@freelance.ipcmedia.com, or post your entry to

Miss Susannah Glynn

COUNTRY LIFE

Blue Fin Building

110 Southwark Street

London SE1 0US

Please include:

The name of the parsonage, and the village and county where it is located

A contact name, phone number and email address for the nomination

The reasons why you think this parsonage should be entered for the award