If it’s not the weather, then it’s property. An English man’s home may be his castle, but it’s also spawned a particularly British obsession. And whereas the Lydiard Millicent Housing Needs Survey didn’t get much press coverage, a local property currently on the market with Humberts has captured the popular imagination.
The Old Rectory in Church Place has featured in the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald, The Times and The Daily Mail. The latter headlined its piece Melinda Manor, and focused on the house’s previous owner, former glamour model and TV presenter, Melinda Messenger.
Messenger and her then husband, Wayne Roberts, renovated The Old Rectory in 2004. At the time, the property was used as offices, and known as Pembroke House. Messenger and her young family lived at The Old Rectory for about a year before turning their attentions to another property, this time in Lower Wanborough, Applegate House. Shortly afterwards, they sold Applegate House and moved to Berkshire.
In both cases, the subsequent owners redecorated and carried out extensive work, leaving their own mark on the properties. However, so far as some sections of the British Press are concerned, the houses are still steeped in their celebrity allure. Whilst it would be premature to anticipate the addition of a blue plaque anytime soon, The Old Rectory is not without historical interest in its own right.
Indeed, The Old Rectory is one of the grandest properties in Lydiard Millicent. It occupies a central place in the village, albeit one that is discreetly hidden behind honey-stone walls and luscious hedging. Situated in the middle of Lydiard Millicent’s conservation area, it is a Grade II listed property. Built in 1855, by Rev. Christopher Cleobury, it was designed by Hardwicke of Gloucester (a close friend of Turner and most famous for his Doric Euston Arch at Euston Station).
Although called The Old Rectory, it is not the original rectory. The first rectory was situated immediately south of Butts Lane, in what is now the school playing field, close to the pond near the current rectory. However, by the nineteenth century, the original rectory had fallen into disrepair, its state being described as “ruinous”.
From the early eighteenth century until Cleobury’s appointment in 1853, the living of All Saints had been held in plurality, ministered by a succession of non-resident clergy. This, no doubt, contributed to the sorry state of affairs.
Plans for a new rectory first surfaced in 1807, when Dr Warneford, Cloebury’s predecessor, purchased the living. Warneford was a well-known philosopher and philantropist, and a wealthy man too. During his incumbency of Lydiard Millicent, he was also rector of Bourton on the Hill, an honoury canon at Gloucester Cathedral and one of the founder trustees of the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum.
As soon as Warneford saw the state of the rectory in Lydiard, he vowed to rebuild it.
However, things don’t always go according to plan. Warneford never moved to Lydiard, and he never rebuilt the rectory.
Although Warneford remained All Saints’ rector for over forty years, he preferred to stay in Bourton. There he lived, in his other rectory, with his five servants, until his death 38 years later. Rather than going to the trouble of ministering to his parishioners himself, he came to an arrangement with a neighbouring cleric. For a stipend of £100, Rev. Hugh Allan, from St Mary’s in Cricklade, agreed to ride over and conduct essential services in Lydiard.
Nobody knows for sure why Warneford eschewed Lydiard. Possibly, the locals were too recalcitrant for his liking. Things had not got off to a good start. Looking to the parish to fund his plans for a new rectory, Warneford had proposed raising the tithe. However, local farmers objected vociferously to his plans, pointing out that his predecessor had only just raised the tithe, and they weren’t in the mood for more taxation.
So Warneford never moved into the rectory, which continued to be occupied by a tenant farmer until it fell into disuse.
Unfortunately, it was not only the rectory which suffered during Warneford’s term. Disinterested in Lydiard, he also allowed the church building to deteriorate. The Vestry (the predecessor of the parochial parish church council) tried to raise funds through public subscription, but once again the villagers resisted. Eventually, the Lord of the Manor and the Vestry applied enough pressure, and Warneford agreed to make a contribution.
However, it was too little, too late, even by nineteenth century standards. The Bishop intervened, and persuaded Pembroke College, the living’s patron to take action. Perhaps influenced by the waves of anti-clericalism sweeping the country, the College finally agreed to appoint a resident incumbent. In 1853, Cleobury replaced the 89-year old Warneford.
Little is known about Cloebury. However, Douglas Payne in his book A View of Lydiard Millicent, describes him as a well-intentioned but sick man. Cloebury was a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford and appears to have been relatively wealthy.
At least, he was prepared to spend some of his own money on rebuilidng the ruinous rectory.
His new rectory, today’s Old Rectory, cost £4460 to build. Of this, Cloebury contributed £2760, with the balance coming from the Queen Anne’s Bounty and another source (possibly Rev. McKnight, his curate). A stained glass window in The Old Rectory still bears Pembroke College’s coat of arms, a tribute to Cloebury’s college and patron. The rectory gardens also reflect his vision. Cloebury gave McKnight £200 to spend on trees, and included unusual varieties of oak and exotic species in his planting scheme.
Cloebury was rector for eleven years. He appears to have been a charitable man, and interested in the affairs of the village. He bequethed £100 to the parish, to be held in trust, the interest to be distribute annually to the poor and needy. The Cloebury charity was active in the village until relatively recently.
Times change. It is hard to guess what Rev. Cloebury would have thought of the reincarnation of his home into Melinda Manor.
More recently, the pictures of The Old Rectory in Humbert’s brochure show an English country garden at its best. There’s a riot of foliage, lush herbaceous borders, pots of lavender, and a pond bestrewn with water lilies.
It takes a leap of imagination to see the world through the eyes of a nineteenth century clergyman. Somehow though, I think Cloebury would approve.
All pictures @Humberts, reproduced here with thanks. You can view the full sale particulars for The Old Rectory on Humberts’ website.