Elsewhere in this issue of Country Life, my esteemed colleague Jeremy Musson describes the classic English old rectory as ‘an ideal of country life because it combines architecture of interest with a country setting and the pleasures of village life’ (page 56). Everyone wants to live in an old rectory-the problem is that there are never enough of them to go round, because their owners rarely want to move. Thus, it’s exciting to find a selection of historic former rectories of exceptional quality coming onto the market in this early part of the year.

Unlike the humbler vicar of the Jane Austen novels, many 18th- and 19th-century rectors were wealthy in their own right -thanks to family money or a successful marriage-and they continued to live the life of traditional country gentlemen, leaving curates to attend to parish matters. No surprise, then, to find the rector’s status reflected in the grandeur of his dwelling, as in the case of imposing Debden Manor at Debden three miles south of the medieval market town of Saffron Walden, Essex. For sale through the Cambridge office of Savills (01223 347147) at a guide price of £2.45 million, the manor stands in a commanding position on the edge of the village, and was built in the late 1700s by local landowner Richard Chiswell, as the rectory to Debden’s handsome, Gothic St Mary’s church. The first incumbent of the rectory, described as ‘a large and handsome residence’ in White’s Directory of 1848, was a relative of Chiswell’s wife, who lived there for more than 50 years. Being an educated man with nothing too pressing to do, he spent much time laying out a gentlemanly small park on the rectory’s 50 acres of glebe land. His legacy includes some fine cedars and holm oaks in the garden, with limes, chestnuts and oaks lining bthe drive through the ‘park’.

Subsequent rectors added to the house. In the 1860s, it was extended to the east to provide extra bedrooms and a new kitchen, scullery and butler’s pantry. A mansard roof allowed space for servants’ rooms in the attics, and the exterior was embellished with fashionable architectural details, including bay windows in the drawing room and dining room. At the start of the 20th century, a new rectory was built on a more convenient site within the village, and the rectory was sold by the Church, being renamed first Harleyfield House and then, in the 1920s, Debden Manor.

The present owners, who have lived there for 40 years or more and now need to downsize, have created a large family kitche on the south side of the house. Wonderfully untouched by time for a house so close to London, Debden Manor, which is unlisted, has more than 10,000sq ft of living space, including four main reception rooms, seven bedrooms and five bathrooms on the ground and first floors. In addition, there are extensive cellars as well as six attic rooms above part of the first floor in need of refurbishment, but with scope to create a further suite of rooms.

The manor’s 23 acres of gracious gardens, grounds and wooded parkland include a number of period outbuildings, among them former stables, a dairy and a chauffeur’s flat in need of renovation, together with an outdoor heated swimming pool and a former tennis lawn. Two cottages at the end of the southern drive are for sale by separate negotiation.

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Over in the Cotswolds, The Old Rectory at Burton, Wiltshire stands in a prominent position on the southern side of the village next to Burton’s only Grade I-listed building, the medieval parish church of St Mary. For sale through Savills (01225 474500) at a guide price of £1.95m, The Old Rectory, built of stone under a slate roof, dates from 1605 and was substantially extended in 1873. By the 1950s, the building was in a poor state of repair and Church administrators were advised that ‘a small house in Swindon would be preferable’. Shortly afterwards, the former rectory was sold off, along with dozens of others deemed too large or too expensive to repair.

Much enhanced by successive owners in recent years, The Old Rectory at Burton has four reception rooms, seven bedrooms and four bathrooms, and stands in one-and-a-half acres of beautifully maintained gardens and grounds, which include a heated swimming pool, a stable block and ample parking.

Since medieval times, the quarries at Teffont Evias in the glorious Nadder Valley in Wiltshire, west of Salisbury, have supplied the stone for the many splendid buildings, great and small, that are the glory of the area, including Salisbury Cathedral itself. There may have been a church at Teffont Evias in 1100, when Harold of Ewyas granted its tithes to St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, but the earliest mention of a rectory house appears in the 16th century. According to local records, it consisted of an east-west range in 1804, in which year, ‘northern outbuildings were erected, the house was extensively repaired and its east end rebuilt’.

Teffont Evias, Wiltshire, Savills £2.5m.

In 1842, a new north-south house, designed in a simple Gothic style and incorporating the service rooms in the northwest corner of the old house was built of local stone by George Gilbert Scott’s assistant and later partner, William Bonython Moffatt. The rectory was sold in 1938 and its name changed to Bridges. Now on the market for the first time since then-at a guide price of £2.5m through Savills (01722 426820)-the charming former rectory has four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms and four bath/shower rooms, plus a two bedroom cottage, a stone barn and outbuilding and two acres of beautiful formal gardens bordering the River Teff, surrounded by open countryside.

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