The answer to your prayers
Country vicarages and rectories make perfect family homes - and a surprising number are for sale. In Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, for example, church bosses are anxious to off-load large village homes they no longer need.
Stuart Clarke of estate agents Clarke & Simpson, handling the sales, recently sold a vast Edwardian rectory in the popular Suffolk village of Orford. "These houses have an enduring appeal," he says. "We offered this one at auction with a guide price of £800,000; it actually sold for £1.1 million."
In many places the church has already sold most of its historic period rectories. But it is worth approaching the local diocesan board where you are house-hunting to find out if it has any sales in the pipeline.
Homes near churches can carry a liability to pay something called "chancel repairs". Recently, an owner of a farmhouse in Warwickshire was handed a huge bill for repairing the local church.
‘An old rectory in a country village has the enduring appeal of a Jane Austen novel’
However, according to Stuart Clarke, even though liability to pay chancel repairs may not show up on the property search, it is rarely a problem.
"To make sure, the solicitors doing the conveyance will suggest that the new owner takes out insurance to cover the risk, which doesn’t cost a fortune."
An old rectory in a country village has the enduring appeal of a Jane Austen novel and for many Londoners moving out of town it remains high on the wish list. And as the modern-day local vicar decamps from a high-cost old rectory to a low-cost home from which to run several parishes, many more vicarages are coming on to the market.
Traditionally they have prime position, at the very heart of a village, within a stone’s throw of the church, the local village shop and pub. And they make the perfect country family home. The old rectory will also often be the largest house in the village built between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The classic is the Georgian mansion, but impressive is the gabled Victorian red-brick gothic revival. But the Edwardian has appeal, too.
They all offer grand rooms with high ceilings and generous open fireplaces. They are light and airy, with oodles of space.
Most old rectories are listed but with few structural changes needed to bring them up-to-date, battles with English Heritage or the local conservation officer are rare.
All the Home Counties have a good supply of old rectories but they are thickest on the ground in East Anglia where, from the middle ages until the 18th century, wealth from the wool industry funded the building of magnificent churches and rectories.
Where to look
Look for rectories with an easy drive to rail stations with a quick commute to London, such as Manningtree in Essex (67 minutes to Liverpool Street) and Diss on the Suffolk/Norfolk border (100 minutes to Liverpool Street).
‘It hadn’t been touched since the seventies’
Estate agent James Bedford, 43, and his wife Rebecca, 44, live in a five-bedroom rectory with their three children, Thomas, 19, Frankie, 17, and Henry, 15. He and Rebecca bought their rectory in Fornham St Martin seven years ago.
"It hadn’t been touched since the Seventies but the bare bones of the house were already there, all we had to do was update it, removing the likes of hessian wallpaper and gold swan taps."
The house has two good-sized reception rooms with marble fireplaces, shuttered sash windows and French windows; a kitchen cum dining room with pale green shaker-style kitchen units and double doors opening on to the large garden that overlooks parkland.
The train service from Bury to King’s Cross takes about 110 minutes.
James and Rebecca are now looking for another house to do up and have put The Old Parsonage on the market for £795,000, through Bedfords (01284 769999).
Photographs by Tony Buckingham