The Rise and Fall of the Ancient Rectories of Ealing
By Dr Jonathan Oates, Ealing Local History Centre Historian
Until the twentieth century the rectory or vicarage was one of the most prominent buildings in the parish, both as regards physical size and also significance. What follows is a brief discussion about the rectories and vicarages belonging to the seven ancient parishes which were in Middlesex but now form the post 1965 London Borough of Ealing, in west London. I will not be dealing with the vicarages created for the new parishes carved out of these parishes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as population expanded rapidly. They are too many in number.
As with most rectories, their origin is Medieval, but more than that cannot be said with any certainty. Most of them were documented in the fourteenth century, but may have existed previously. They were the house in which the priest and his servants, and after the reformation, his family, lived. To take but one example. Perivale rectory, just to the north of the church, was then valued at six marks. In the sixteenth century it was described as being ‘a very unpretentious building and adjoining it was a smaller house, both of which have been absorbed behind the present façade, and converted into one house’. Investigations in the twentieth century revealed that parts of the building dated from the fifteenth century. They found a second wall behind the first, one made of an oak framework with wads of clay, dung and straw, with wrought iron nails which might have been five centuries old.
Yet rectories were not stuck in a Medieval time warp. In Acton, for example, a new rectory was built at the end of the sixteenth century because the Rev. John Kendall found the existing house so dilapidated that he had a brick house built on the road side of the churchyard, to the south west. It was the misfortune of a successor of his to have his property damaged by Parliamentary soldiers in 1642.
Above: The Rectory, Acton (circ 1900)
By the seventeenth century, these houses were among the largest in their respective parishes. Hanwell rectory had eight chimneys, so was clearly no small dwelling. That for Ealing had ten. That for Perivale only had five, however. By the beginning of the eighteenth century Acton rectory had 17 rooms and that for Northolt 15.Yet by the end of the eighteenth century, Ealing Rectory was no longer in use and became absorbed into a private school and was demolished in the next century. The social standing of the clergy was often high and ranked alongside that of the gentry. Although not wealthy they were highly thought of because of their religious and educational standing.
Some of these rectories were rebuilt in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hanwell rectory was rebuilt in 1847 when there was a wealthy incumbent, the Rev. Sir Charles Clark, baronet, who had ‘a modern house’ built (with six children and several servants, he certainly needed it). There was a well and an ice house in the grounds. Northolt’s rectory also boasted several outhouses in its grounds, too. In Greenford a new rectory was built in 1876 and is the only surviving rectory which existed in this district in the nineteenth century and continues to do so now.
Perivale rectory was, by the end of the nineteenth century, described as ‘a half-timbered building in the style of the fifteenth century; it is very picturesque, and quite in harmony with the church and farmhouses and outbuildings in its vicinity. The most ancient portions of the structure, which are very old, may be seen at the back; the front was added about the middle of the present century’. It had 11 rooms. It was certainly a picturesque site and the subject of many postcards, as was that of Norwood.
Above: The Rectory, Perivale (1902)
The twentieth century, with its social and economic upheavals, was not kind to rectories. That in Hanwell was vacated by the rector who was given a newly built detached house on the Green by 1922, rather more distant from his church. Quite possibly he was relieved; he and his wife had no children and only one servant. Nor unlike Clark did he had a private income to supplement his stipend. The newly named Old Rectory was briefly in private hands until being demolished and replaced by low rise flats in the 1930s. Both Perivale and Northolt rectories were becoming increasingly dilapidated by the 1950s and 1920s respectively. Repairs would be expensive. Northolt rectory ceased to be dwelt in and was pulled down. Despite urgings that the Perivale rectory be saved due to its historical significance, its listed status was removed and it was demolished in 1959.
The eighteenth century rectory at Norwood had an even more cataclysmic ending; being destroyed by a flying bomb in the summer of 1944, in an incident where the rector’s daughter was killed. It was six years before a new rectory was built on roughly the same site. Acton’s rectory was rebuilt in 1925 but only lasted just over six decades before redevelopment of that part of Acton forced it to be destroyed and the rector now lives in a semi-detached house some distance from the church, as does his colleague in Northolt. Apart from the Greenford incumbent, the others dwell in modern detached houses. Ealing had a new vicarage in the 1960s, which is rather off the beaten track compared to its predecessor. All these houses are less distinct than their predecessors, though doubtless more practical.
Other than Greenford Rectory, none of the rectories which existed in these parishes before the late nineteenth century survive. The incumbents of these parishes reside in more modest dwellings, often further removed from the churches that they conduct services in. Some of the rectories which ceased to exist in the twentieth century were hardly ancient; as in the case of Hanwell and Acton, but others, such as that of Perivale, and, to a lesser extent, those of Northolt and Norwood, were. Elsewhere in the country there has been similar trends, but in many places the Church sold the building to someone else to reside in and so largish houses titled The Old Rectory are often found in villages and small towns.