A Rectory Revised

PUBLISHED: 15:01 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 16:22 20 February 2013

A Rectory Revised

A Rectory Revised

The Old Rectory in St Mawgan has undergone a sympathetic conversion in keeping with its original design but with the addition of some contemporary features, writes Neil Devons

A Rectory Revised



The Old Rectory in St Mawgan has undergone a sympathetic conversion in keeping with its original design but with the addition of some contemporary features, writes Neil Devons



Rectories used to be very important buildings. The rector would have been regarded as a gentleman who was supported by local tithes, which would often provide him with a very comfortable living. Rectories have a social and architectural significance, as well as an ecclesiastical one. The rectors pastoral role was less soul-saving and more about maintaining the status quo. Often built by wealthy landowners to provide a living for a second or third son, rectories were usually constructed with large families in mind. They would most likely have a large study, servants quarters and substantial gardens for community functions and the entertainment of parishioners.


All this makes former rectories highly marketable as private residences, or, in the case of one superb example, one of the most desirable self-catering holiday establishments in Cornwall. The Old Rectory of St Mawgan is a Grade II* Listed building, sitting on a hill overlooking the village close to the North Cornwall coast. It was designed around 1858 by William Butterfield, a Gothic revivalist and major figure in the High Victorian style, but became redundant as a rectory in the latter half of the 20th century.


It was built for the Reverend Ferdinand Stephens who had become rector in 1846. He was the younger son of Samuel Stephens, the MP for St Ives, and owner of Tregenna Castle, and needed a suitable home after his marriage in 1853 to Charlotte Willyams, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor.


The census return for St Mawgan-in-Pydar Parsonage in1861 reveals the lifestyle of the Reverend Stephens. The 45-year-old rector was living with his 30-year-old wife, but had no children. They did, however, have four servants a cook, housemaid, ladys maid and a stable boy. At this time William Butterfield was working on three significant buildings in the village the church where he designed a new lych gate, tiled flooring, benches and altar rails, a new school for boys and infants and the new rectory. Butterfield was remarkably consistent in his designs for rectories and parsonages. The external symmetry of the Georgian period was not for him. He believed that the exterior ought to be adapted to the requirements of the internal arrangements.


In more recent times, the task of restoring the Old Rectory fell to architects Gilmore Hankey Kirke (GHK), specialists in historic house renovations and modern interventions to older buildings.The firm undertook detailed research into the building including consulting original documents in the local history archive and the Cornwall Record Office. GHKs Michael de Wolf says: The historic building report shows a comprehensive understanding of the history and significance of the house and this was enhanced by detail uncovered during the restoration work.


The report proved a fascinating read for the owner of the house and those involved in the project. It was an invaluable tool for the architects in developing sensitive proposals for the Listed building, and in discussing them with English Heritage and the local Conservation Officer. Michael de Wolf continues: Little of the layout of the plan had been altered from the original Butterfield design, and a number of important internal features survived. We undertook the removal of areas of modern partitioning to return the building to the Butterfield plan. All remaining historic features were retained and restored, although some fireplaces and other elements had been lost over the years.


Against this historic context, the propertys owner was keen to display his passion for modern design and contemporary furnishings and to design a high-quality property. The result is an exciting mix of conservation work, and contemporary intervention, adds Michael.


There is a wonderful sense of space and the grand house offers generous living areas, a spacious drawing room and a beautiful kitchen the hub of any country house. The first floor is reached by original main stairs or the more discreet butlers stairway leading to six beautifully furnished bedrooms including three double bedrooms, two twin-bedded rooms and an adult-sized twin bunk room, each with stunning valley views through the celestial windows complete with deep window seats.


The main bathroom boasts an overhead rain shower, relaxing stand-alone bath and slate features. There are two other bathrooms, one containing a larger shower and one with a bath-shower combination. All are fitted with fresh modern fittings to contrast the existing features.


The Old Rectory at St Mawgan is made for rest and relaxation. It has all the practicalities of a weekend retreat, although a private chef can be called on for that special night in. For that special night out, Jamie Olivers 15 and Rick Steins internationally acclaimed seafood restaurant are only 15 minutes drive away, while there is a plethora of Cornish pubs serving truly local food and drink.


The St Mawgan project demonstrates how historic buildings can be given a modern role to play as family homes. It also highlights the need to proceed with caution and professional advice.


Michael de Wolf concluded: Many would be surprised at what you can achieve with a historic building, even one with listed status. However, we need to understand what the owners want to achieve and begin early consultation with conservation officers they dont like surprises or speculative restoration of buildings. Its essential to understand a building thoroughly by analysing whats important about it, which parts are truly historic and which are more recent additions. This may require detailed research including an archaeological assessment of how the building has evolved.


Conservation of historic buildings is about extending their life and if changing their use or extending them contributes to that, there is no reason why really good design wont be accepted. As older buildings go, the Old Rectory at St Mawgan is certainly set for a long, useful and highly valued future.



The Old Rectory, St Mawgan is available to rent occasionally through Unique Homestays: www.uniquehomestays.com


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