29 May 2022

Searching for the former
rectories and vicarages
in Stony Stratford

Saint Giles Mews, Vicarage Road … the site of new rectory built by the Revd William Thompson Sankey in the early 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

With the imminent retirement of Father Ross Northing, the Parish of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, and All Saints’, Calverton, is about to begin the search for a new rector.

The Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Ven Guy Elsmore, imdicated in a note in the parish notices this morning (29 May 2022) that the vacancy may soon be advertised and the advertisement of the vacancy and the recruitment process may begin once the parish is in interregnum.

The present rectory in Stony Stratford is at 14 Willow Lane, off Mill Lane, and a curate’s house is available in Bunsty Court, although the parish has not had a curate for many years.

The rectory at 14 Willow Lane, off Mill Lane, in Stony Stratford (Photoraph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

In the past, the Parish of Saint Giles in Stony Stratford has had a number of rectories in the past, and I have gone in search for them as two of us have walked around the town.

Saint Giles Residential Home, Elizabeth House and Acorns at Saint Giles Mews on Vicarage Road are on the site of the former vicarage in Stony Stratford. The vicarage was built ‘on the site of a small farm’ by the Revd William Thompson Sankey, who was Rector of Stony Stratford in 1859-1875.

When Sankey arrived in Stony Stratford, he decided the vicarage on the High Street was inadequate, and built a new rectory at Vicarage Road, formerly known as the Back Lane. While the new vicarage was being built, the Sankey family rented Calverton House, near the corner of Horsefair Green.

Calverton House near Horsefair Green served as the vicarage in the mid-19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Calverton House may have been the only house in the town that was grand enough for Mrs Sankey and her five children, including four children from her previous marriage. But it had also served as a rectory for Sankey’s predecessors, the Revd CM Christie (1851-1857).

However, the local historian Dr Oliver Brown, in Stony Stratford: the town on the road (1987), says Calverton House was built by Christie, who ‘quickly formed a poor opinion of the existing vicarage’ at 36 High Street when he arrived in Stony Stratford in 1851. It seems to have also served as a vicarage for Christie’s successor, the Revd Joseph Boord Ansted (1857-1859).

Sankey has been described as ‘undoubtedly … one of the greatest benefactors of Stony Stratford, as he made so many improvements in the town.’ He initiated a slum clearance programme, pulling down some old hovels and building what became New Street, leading from the High Street to his new vicarage and to Vicarage Street.

Sankey also built a primary school on Vicarage Street. As his crowning glory, he built Saint Paul’s School, which opened in 1863 and which became known as Mr Fegan’s homes in the 20th century. He died on Whit Monday, 10 May 1875.

Sankey was succeeded as Vicar of Stony Stratford by the Revd George William Corker (1875-1880), and the house Sankey built in the early 1860s continued as the vicarage for over a century until it was demolished.

Calverton House, where the Sankey family lived briefly, now has an address on Ousebank Way. This mansion, now divided into flats and separate family units, is said by some sources to date from the Georgian period.

The former vicarage at 36 High Street, Stony Stratford … the architect Edward Swinfen Harris was born there in 1841 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The previous Vicarage in Stony Stratford was at 36 High Street. This is an 18th century house that served as a vicarage. It is built with vitrified brick with red surrounds to the windows that are now painted over. However, it seems not to have been lived in by the clergy of the town for many decades.

Stony Stratford’s celebrated architect, Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), whose works, mainly in the Arts and Crafts style, can be seen throughout the town, was born at this vicarage on 30 July 1841. But his father was not a vicar; instead, he was the clerk to the town bench of magistrates, the Board of Guardians and other bodies.

Dr Oliver Brown speculates that an earlier vicarage for Saint Giles Parish may have been on the west side of High Street, and was likely to have been in the area close to the church. But Brown found no record of such a vicarage, and wonders whether the house was lost in the fire of 1736 which destroyed much of Church Street.

The Old Manse, an 18th century house off High Street … was this ever a vicarage? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The east side of Stony Stratford stood in the Parish of Wolverton, and was served by the Church of Saint Mary Magdalen, which was destroyed by fire in 1742.

There was no need for a clergy house when the decision was taken not to rebuild Saint Mary Magdalen Church. But I wonder whether the Old Manse, an 18th century house off High Street, could have served as a vicarage in the past.

No 106B High Street, now known as the ‘Ratcatcher’s Cottage,’ has also been known in the past as the ‘Old Vicarage’ … the tower of Saint Mary Magdalen is in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

No 106B High Street, an 18th century house with earlier origins, is now known as the ‘Ratcatcher’s Cottage.’ But it has also been known in the past as the ‘Old Vicarage,’ and stands behind the tower of Saint Mary Magdalen.

This house is of Tudor origins, and was rebuilt after the fire of 1742 in random rubble and has a probably later brick front at the south-west with brick modillion eaves cornice. This is a two-storey house with one window each on the south-west, and a steep pitched tiled roof has hipped dormers. Inside, the house has an inglenook fireplace. The gabled projection at the north-east side is said to have a former ‘Priest’s Great Chamber’ on the first floor.

However, it is difficult to know with certainty how long, if ever, this house served as a vicarage. The stewards of Wolverton Manor lived there until Dr John Radcliffe took possession in 1712. John Battison, the steward at that time, continued working for the new owner, although there is no suggestion that any of Radcliffe’s estate managers lived there.

The Ratcatcher’s Cottage received its present name from a resident who is said to have been a successful rat catcher in Stony Stratford in the early 20th century.

The other rectory or vicarage in Stony Stratford is the former vicarage of Wolverton Saint Mary on London Road, Stony Stratford. Swinfen Harris returned to his home town in 1868 to make additions to this house, but it no longer serves as a vicarage and has been converted into a private house.

The former vicarage of Wolverton Saint Mary on London Road … Swinfen Harris returned to Stony Stratford in 1868 to make additions to (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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