An 18th century rectory, the former home of the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, is unveiled as the winner of 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 public nominations from all over the country.
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 auctioned off by the Church Commissioners in 1945 and bought by Lord Chetwood as a very late wedding present for his daughter and son-in-law, Penelope and John Betjeman. When the family moved to Farnborough, it had no electricity or running water. Betjeman described it as ‘dirty; but classy looking outside.’
From 1945 to 1951, John Betjeman wrote about, lived in and loved the house. Betjeman inaugurated the practice of ringing the bell above the porch for his son’s birthday, a tradition observed by subsequent owners. Just beyond The Old Rectory lies the church, which boasts a fine memorial window to Betjeman designed by John Piper.
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Long after he had moved out of The Old Rectory, Betjeman returned to visit and, sitting by the fire, composed an instant verse for current owners Michael and Caroline Todhunter, who have lived in The Old Rectory for the past 40 years.
Judging panels visited 12 shortlisted parsonages in the North, South, East and West of the country over the summer. A list of four finalists was chosen.
John Goodall, architectural editor of Country Life, said: “The Old Rectory Farnborough is a quite exceptional house and, for its architecture, history, setting and connections with the parish, is the deserving winner in a field of outstanding finalists of the title of England’s Finest Parsonage.”
Crispin Holborow, director of Savills country house department, commented: “The Old Rectory is a building that delivers the popular ideal of an English rectory – handsome architecture that remains relatively untouched, beautifully proportioned interiors and stunning gardens. We had a strong field of entries, four spectacular finalists and an outstanding winner.”
The winning regional parsonages will receive a portrait of their house by artist Liam Wales.