The Old Parsonage House At Sharnford
John Nichols provides a fine illustration of the old Sharnford parsonage house that once stood alongside the church, in his monumental survey of Leicestershire Antiquities. He writes of being "very hospitably received at the rectory in 1792" by Rev. John Horton and his wife, a "truly respectable couple" who claimed that they had "not been any further than Hinckley for half a century." This two-storeyed, timber-framed house which has now been demolished, has an interesting history. According to Nichols an inscription on a board once attached to the building stated that "M.B. The Parson Bilt this hovse 1639", suggesting that the builder was Giles Banks, rector of Sharnforth from 1637 to1683. Although Sharnford was not a particularly rich living the annual value of the parsonage evidently increased fivefold after the Civil War, from ₤40 in 1650 to ₤200 by 1791. With additional income from "horticulture" - presumably grain, produce and fruit from the orchards - the annual value of the living had swollen to more than ₤360 by 1811. Nichols Horton, who served as rector of both Sharnford and Little Peating from 1738-1793, lived here for fifty-five years. He was replaced by George Waddington in 1793, then Robert Nares, a prebend of St Pauls and a canon residentiary of Lichfield who stayed only a few months from September 1798 before resigning and being replaced by Joseph Cotman in 1799.
At the turn of the century Sharnford had grown into a sizeable settlement with 77 houses, housing 81 families with a total recorded population of 373, according to the 1801 census. Nichols describes the inhabitants as being mostly yeomen and tradesmen. There were no "titled great" owning property here, and no acknowledged lord of the manor. The parsonage house, like most church property, experienced occasional periods of neglect and rebuilding depending upon the incumbent. A terrier of 1745 describes a fairly substantial building "of three bays of building with brew house and dairy, two bays, the stables two bays and barn, two bays, the Homestead and Garden about two acres". The Enclosure Award in 1764 records 229 acres of glebe lands. By 1765 the barn had expanded into a "tithe barn of three bays" and there was also a brew-house and other adjacent buildings of five bays, and a fashionable "Dove House" or dovecote. (L.A.O. Terriers, 1745, 1765).
Ecclesiatical visitations provide very clear evidence of the parsonage house falling into neglect, mainly as the result of being used as a farmhouse and grain store. In his 1778 visitation Archdeacon James Bickham recommended that the churchyard was to be fenced off from the rector's house, and that the rectory was to be repaired. Again, in 1797 we learn that the parsonage house and outhouses were "uninhabited and going to ruin", and needed "to be completely and substantially repaired" (1D/41/18/21 p. 127). The archdeacon complained that "the tenant or occupier of the glebe lands makes use of the house for a granary; every room and chamber of it is laden with grain, to the certain injury and desolation of the building: this to be immediately removed". In the visitation of the following year, Burnaby repeated Bickham's earlier instruction that the grain was to be removed out of the parsonage house (1D/41/18/22, p.127)
Despite the note of urgency, the incumbent does not appear to have taken much heed of these instructions, for when Rev Joseph Cotman was appointed to the living on February 28th, 1799 he complained of having to spend £700 on repairs "before I could get into the house". Before coming to landlocked Leicestershire Cotman had been Chaplain of Duncan's North Seas Fleet. As might be expected from a former naval man he was very forthright in his answers to the Ecclesiastical Revenues Commission, making a very plausible case for repairs and rebuilding. As he recorded on his arrival, "the principall walls…are to a great extent composed of old and decayed wood framing filled in with… old brickwork. The partition walls are chiefly of a very old and weak studded work covered with decayed boards on lath plaster. The ground floors are… brick. The roof is extremely weak and unsound excepting a small portion recently repaired…The out offices…are not at all adapted to be useful or convenient in their present situation for the proprieter of the new rectory house".
By 1821 most of the urgent repairs appear to have been completed, a terrier of that year describing the parsonage house and outbuildings "all in good repair, which were in a most dilapidated state at the rector's arrival, the lands in general in a wretch'd state". Cotman had also made some agricultural improvements to bring in extra income, the rectory garden of nearly a quarter of an acre and an adjoining orchard being "well planted by the present rector with fruit trees" (LAO terrier13/1, 1821).
The 1832 answers to the articles of inquiry to the Ecclesiastical Revenues Commission found Cotman still in residence and making improvements. Although the population of the parish had increased to 450 according to the recent census, the church was big enough to accommodate the entire parish, with a Dissenting chapel housing another third of the population. The newly refurbished parsonage house "built by the present incumbent and kept in perfect repair" was occupied by the rector whose annual income had grown to ₤340, the tithes being reduced to a few shillings as the value laid out in land at enclosure. Cotman was proud of his improvements, recording that "if land should keep its value (as at present) the income will remain as at present. But if Parliament does not consider the landed interest as well as commercial land must sink in its value. I have lately let land for sixty per acre that in 1815 was purchased for ₤10". In 1842 he was apparently still comfortably residing in the old parsonage house, kept in "decent repair".
Cotman who died in 1850 at Sharnford in his eighty-ninth year, was largely responsible for restoring the old parsonage house and offices. However we might imagine he had some misgivings, as he wryly noted in 1832, the money he had expended upon repairs and land "would have purchased a superior Advowson". The expenditure on repairs and improvements would appear to have been largely wasted, for in 1851 the next incumbent demolished the old timber-framed structure and replaced it with a new parsonage house costing £1200.
Sources: John Nichols, Antiquities of Leicestershire Vol. IV, pp 920 et seq.
Lincoln Archives: Glebe Terriers 1745, 1765, 1821.
Leicester Record Office: Archdeacon Bickman's and Burnaby's visitations: 1D/41/18/21, p.127; 1D/41/18/22, p.127., L.R.O. 245/50/8, p. 158.
Church of England Records Centre: Sharnford, NB 19/180B. Cf. Articles of Inquiry. Ecclesiastical Revenues Commission…1832.
Transcripts of correspondence are from S. R. C. Harratt, 'A Tory Anglican Hegemony Misrepresented: Clergy Politics and the People in the Diocese of Lincoln, c. 1770-1830', University of Lancaster unpublished Ph.D (1997).
Entry for death of Joseph Cotman in the Gentlemans Magazine, XXXIV, (1850) p. 222
Plans and description of the new parsonage house in C. N Wright's, Directory of Towns, Villages, and Hamlets Twelve Miles Round Leicester (1890), p.522.
© Simon Harratt and Alan Roberts, 2006