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Houghton Conquest Rectories

The Old Rectory January 2016
The Old Rectory January 2016

Houghton Conquest originally had two advowsons, two rectors and two parsonages at any one time – although only ever one church! The two parsonages were known as Houghton Franchise and Houghton Gildable. Terriers of both parsonages survive in the parish archive [P11/2/1-2 see below]. Though not officially amalgamated until 1641 the two rectors were united in one man from 1557.

J. W. Burgon, Dean of Chichester, did extensive research on Rev Dr Thomas Archer, Rector of both Houghton Franchise and Houghton Gildable - from 1589 to 1631. His work was published in 1873. He writes of the parsonages [CRT130Hou5]: “We are indebted to a few scanty notices in Dr Archer’s manuscript for all our knowledge on this subject, and one can but wish that the good man had been a little more communicative. He explains that anciently there were here two Rectories and two Rectors; one of the moiety called Houghton Franchise, the other, of Houghton Gildable and a Rectory house belonging to either. Of these two parsonage houses, he describes the one (it belonged to Houghton franchise) as “moated about”. The other, by the church, as “abutting on parish-house on the north, next to the church wall”. He found it thatched; and caused it to be tiled in 1620”.

“I cannot help thinking that Archer must be here alluding to the very ancient tenement, now the property of a farmer named Armstrong, whose garden is still bounded by the west wall of the churchyard [i.e. Grange Farm, which became the rectory again in 1956, though today’s building is late 19th century]. Behind it, on the north side of the churchyard, is a stew for fish. “Parish house” will also have stood somewhere hereabouts, but has long since disappeared. Archer, who held by special license both Rectories informs us that he lived entirely in the moated house belonging to Houghton Franchise; and which it is also certain must have stood on the site of the present Rectory [now the Old Rectory]. The other, he let to different tenants in succession. One of these bore the name of Christopher Shakespeare – which famous surname Archer, (like others of his time) writes “Shaespur””.

“When Archer speaks of “the row of elms growing along from the parsonage-gate to the bridge over the moat leading on to the parsonage-house called Houghton Conquest or Franchise”, which he says were planted by himself in 1612 – his words were more than usually suggestive. It shows that Houghton Rectory has been approached by an avenue (of elms if not of limes) for upwards of 250 years: and that then, as now, “the parsonage gate” was at a distance from the Rectory. The “bridge” has long since disappeared – but from the accounts many a time given by aged inhabitants of the village of the state of things anterior to Barber’s occupancy [Thomas Barber, rector from 1821 to 1837] it is plain that a bridge of some sort was needed so late as the beginning of the present century [19th century], in order to approach the Rectory-house without inconvenience”.

Terriers survive of both the old rectories. One of these was made by Archer himself in 1625 [P11/2/1]. The Rectory of Houghton Franchise is described as: “A Parsonage House moated round about, consisting of Bays and Rooms as followeth: A Hall the Windows Glaved, also a Summer Parlour and beyond that a little Winter Parlour with a Chymny in yt also a little Chamber joining to the Parlour. Item above the Stairs, two Chambers and a little Closet. Item a Kitchin and two little Chambers over yt and a Buttry and a little Larder House adjoining to the Kitchen [in those days kitchens were often separate buildings due to the risk of fire from cooking]. Item a malthouse with a Kellhouse and three little Chambers over yt. Item a Milk house by the Gate and two little Houses to lay Wood in by the Gate. Without the Moat A Barn of three Bays, also a Stable and a Hog stye”.

The parsonage of Houghton Gildable: “A Parsonage House with a Hall, 2 little Chambers, below a little Buttry and a Milk House, both in the entry going into the Hall and four Chambers above the Stairs. Item a little Kitchen, a Stable. Item a Barn of three Bays and a Hog stye. Item a little Orchard with a Pond in yt”.

There was an episcopal visitation by the Bishop of Lincoln to Bedfordshire in 1712. In answer to a questionnaire, the rector wrote: “The Rector most part of the year in the Parish, not in the Parsonage house, which is not yet quite rebuilt”. There is no entry for Houghton Conquest parsonage in the Archdeaconry terrier of 1713 suggesting that it was still in the course of erection. When the Old Rectory was listed by the former Ministry of Public Buildings and Works in 1952 (as Grade II, of special interest), it stated: Earlier 18th century, built for the scholar Zachary Grey, rector 1725-66”. However, it would appear that it was built a few years earlier if the statement of 1712 is to be believed.

The building is constructed of red brick, some of it vitrified giving a mottled effect. It has a clay tiled roof and a double pile plan, that is, two separate roofs running parallel to one another along the width of the property. It comprises two storeys and attics. There is a mid-19th century red brick two-storeyed block to the east and a single storey service block to the north.

J W Burgon states: “Until 1873, a considerable portion of the old Rectory house was standing, continuing the present Rectory in an easterly direction, with an elbow to the north. It was used for a kitchen, scullery, laundry, manservant’s bedroom and other offices. It had become considerable dilapidated through sheer tract of time”.

The mid-19th century eastern block was built between in 1874 and 1875 [P11/2/29]. The Bedfordshire Times of 25th April 1874 has a piece noting that tenders were invited for additions to the rectory. Papers in the Ely Diocesan Records at Cambridge University Library survive [EDR/G3/39/204 and G3/40/43].

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The valuer visiting the rectory [DV1/C86/23] found that it comprised three reception rooms, two kitchens, a scullery and a coal house downstairs with eight bedrooms and a bathroom above and six attics on the second floor. A brick and tiled stable and saddle room stood outside, along with a derelict barn. The valuer commented: “No hot water. Soft water pumped and often fails” and “No lighting. Lovely house. Would let for £150 a year but for absence of drinking water. 14 bedrooms only 1 Bath. Fetch drinking water from village.

Grange Farm January 2016
Grange Farm January 2016

From 1952 The Grange was repaired, previous to selling the Rectory in 1956 [P11/2/28]. It was bought by Miss M E Moore who decided to sell it a year after buying it. The sale particulars [Z938/6/23/5] have an asking price of £5,500 and describe the place as containing: an entrance hall with a spiral staircase; a lounge measuring 22 feet by 16 feet; a study measuring 18 feet by 14 feet; a dining room measuring 16 feet 6 inches by 14 feet 3 inches; a butler’s pantry; a large kitchen; a bathroom; a wine cellar and two other cellars. On the first floor was a dressing room measuring 11 feet by 8 feet, a bathroom, a separate WC and four bedrooms measuring, respectively: 18 feet by 14 feet 6 inches; 17 feet 6 inches by 15 feet; 14 feet 6 inches by 12 feet and 11 feet 6 inches by 9 feet. There were six attics “part of which is used as a small flat” on the second floor. There was an adjoining annexe (presumably the one built in 1875) comprising an entrance hall, sitting room, kitchen and fuel store on the ground floor with three bedrooms, a bathroom, WC and linen cupboard on the first floor. The house and grounds together extended over 4.5 acres.

From 1956 The Grange, ownership of which had remained with the church since its days as the Rectory of Houghton Gildable through its rebuilding in the late 19th century, became the Rectory until 1978 when Houghton Conquest was joined with Wilshamstead as a single benefice, the parsonage for which was, and is, in Wilstead