The Rectory:
a case study in the rise, fall and restoration of a Georgian parsonage

Lambeth Palace records show that the original Rectory was built in the 1720s, at a cost of £1459, almost certainly to designs by Hawksmoor and his assistant. It was a simple rectangular building on four floors, with two large rooms per floor plus a staircase and small room off. The door probably faced the church drive, with the staircase to its right. There are some indications [see right]  that Hawksmoor envisaged similar rectangular buildings on each corner of the site (perhaps part of his vision of a 'primitive Christian settlement'), but if so none of the others were ever built.

It proved inadequate, for when Herbert Mayo was Rector an additional block on the north-west corner was added to provide additional rooms (each with fireplace) on all four floors: the brickwork and string couses still mark the addition. The north-east corner was added between 1795 and 1810 (possibly replacing some earlier work); again, the brickwork and string courses on this side of the house show the division clearly. The staircase to all four floors moved to its present position - it may previously have been shifted to the rear of the house - and the main doorway was moved to the west side, with a porch. The windows on the south elevation may also have been enlarged at this time, perhaps because of encroaching developments on the west, along Cannon Street Road. Thus the building assumed its present basic form - a simple four-storey rectangular building, with the door and staircase towards the rear - though the internal divisions have been altered many times. However, some original features - including shutters, floorboards and fireplaces - remain.

The Victorian additions were less happy. An eastern bay, on three storeys only, was added in the 1850s, and another on the west (with adjustments to the entrance porch) in around 1895. The brickwork, pointing and windows were ill-matched, and the western extension presented an ugly blank face, though they were partially concealed by the buildings along Cannon Street Road. The main approach to the Rectory was through the gates to the left of the main church gates, where there was a front garden facing onto the road.  The story of how the front door came to have metal reinforcements and an iron bar [still in place], to protect the Rector from the Ritualism Riots mobs of 1859-60, is told hereAt some point a small parish room was built on the north side of the house [1890 plan right] - long since demolished.

Bomb damage in the Second World War, and makeshift repairs, further disfigured the building, particularly on the south-east corner. Rectors continued to live here [left, from the west in the 1950s] until the church was remodelled in the 1960s and the Solomons took up residence in the south-west corner, in a 'maisonette' on two floors. The 'Old Rectory' was then occupied, as a series of flats or rooms, by a succession of tenants over the years - right is a note of 1979 by the Rector about the financial arrangements for this [names removed]. See here for details of some who lived in the church flats and/or the Rectory. Parts of the house, particularly the basement, fell into a poor state of repair. With a single entrance and staircase, there was little privacy of access. The one 'constant' was the top-floor presence for over thirty years of Edith Wyeth, whose family moved in after the demolition of the Mission House in the 1960s.

In 1990 when discussions about the future of the house were under way the then-Rector Gillean Craig produced a carefully-argued discussion paper pleading for its proper restoration - not least because the unsatisfactory 'maisonette' accommodation in church would have been lost under development plans then under consideration. A full report on the state of the building and the various possible options was produced in 1992 [exterior pictures on right]. In the event, the agreed course of action was to remove the Victorian additions, restoring something of the Georgian integrity, and recreating a family home. This was made possible with grant aid from English Heritage, and the development by Blashfield and Peto of a block of flats outside the Rectory on Cannon Street Road. A particular issue was whether to retain a separate top-floor flat (with no private access) or to remodel the basement (where independent access was possible), and the latter course prevailed, with the flat separated from the parsonage and becoming a diocesan responsibility. So, after temporary relocation during the building works, until her death in 2011 Edith Wyeth remained resident in the building to keep the Rector in order - but three floors lower down!

Then and now...
Here are pictures of the Rectory today, from the west, east (through the gate) and north (showing the garden), and 'before and after' sketches showing the effect of the removal of the Victorian additions.

Fact and fiction

In Evelyn Waugh's 1938 novel Scoop, the socialite Mrs Algernon Stitch persuades Lord Copper, owner of The Daily Beast, to appoint her novelist friend John Courtenay Boot as war correspondent to Ishmaelia. Unfortunately it is his cousin William Boot, an inept nature correspondent, who gets sent by mistake. Mrs Stitch owned a black Austin Seven which she habitually drove on the pavement rather than the road, to avoid the traffic. On one occasion she drove it down the stairs of the gents' public lavatory in Sloane Street. We learn less about her husband, a cabinet minister (whose character, it is said, was based on the diplomat and politician Duff Cooper). The point of mentioning the Stitches is that Waugh says they lived in a superb creation by Nicholas Hawksmoor - as do the Rectors of St George-in-the-East! (Christ Church Spitalfields also has a fine - indeed larger - Hawksmoor Rectory.)

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