What is the best house to buy in a village if you’re planning a move to the countryside? The manor house, perhaps? Forget it, unless you are worth a small fortune.
A farmhouse? It will be miles from civilisation and likely to have too much land.
A chocolate-box cottage? Inclined to be dark and constantly in need of maintenance.
When the writer and film director Monty Whitebloom was faced with this dilemma 20 years ago, he came up with his answer — to buy the village rectory.
Georgian splendour: The Old Rectory in Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire
‘We had been viewing houses in North Cornwall for three years and nothing was right, then we found the rectory,’ says Monty, 57, who is selling his Cornish rectory in Tregardock for £2.25million (johnbrayestates.co.uk).
‘We lived in London’s Soho at the time, which wasn’t great for our young kids. I wanted them to get air in their lungs and experience the wild outdoors.
‘I’m also sociable and this has been an ideal space to entertain friends in the village.’
Monty’s rectory, which dates from 1760, has the look of a Poldark film set. The five- bedroom house is sheltered by beech and alders, and in the five-acre garden there’s an old, gnarled oak tree, giving shade for summer teas.
There are good reasons why rectories such as Monty’s are so sought after. Built by the church as symbols of wealth and prestige, they range architecturally from Queen Anne to Georgian and the Victorian Gothic period. Some are architectural gems and invariably they are structurally robust.
Rectories are always close to the centre of the village, usually a stone’s throw from the church. Internally, they are likely to have high ceilings, huge windows and several reception rooms.
Nowadays, these features also make the rectory the ideal ‘forever’ home. It is big enough for a large family, with office space. Multi-generational living is a possibility and the gardens are usually substantial but manageable.
Rectories are good value, too. According to research by Jackson-Stops, the average selling price for one in 2022 was £371 per sq ft. That compares with £382 per sq ft for a chocolate-box village cottage.
Little wonder that estate agent tomtoms start beating whenever one comes on the market. ‘We recently had a beautiful old rectory at East Knoyle in Wiltshire for sale,’ says Annabel Blackett, of Strutt & Parker. ‘We had 50 viewers in quick succession and sold it for its asking price.’
If you are lucky enough to find a rectory you can afford, you get more house for your money. Demesne Hall, outside the Dales market town of Wolsingham, is an imposing rectory dating from 1848, with seven bedrooms and an annexe.
‘It is in the middle of good walking country,’ says Louise Olds, of Fine & Country, who is selling the house for £1.5million. ‘It has private gardens and would make a wonderful boutique hotel.’
In chapel-going West Wales, you find few rectories. ‘Manses are their equivalent,’ says Carol Peett of West Wales Property Finders. ‘These tend to be less architecturally extravagant and more austere-looking. But they are good, solid properties that make excellent family homes.’
Camrose is a four-bedroom former manse near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, for sale with Savills (savills.com) at £495,000.
However, not everyone is besotted with these ecclesiastical piles. ‘Buyers come chasing the old rectory dream,’ says James Law of Stacks Property Search. ‘They tend to overlook the disadvantages.
‘They are often listed, which presents problems when you want to do home improvements. They have large expanses of single-glazed windows, which are the devil to keep clean, and heating the enormous rooms can be expensive.’
None of these drawbacks cut much ice with Monty Whitebloom. ‘I am only selling because our three children have grown up,’ he says.
‘Our rectory is sheltered from North Cornwall’s wicked winter storms, yet it is full of space and light. I love it.’