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Article 9 by Rev. Elias Owen in the Ruthin School Magazine

The antiquarian, Rev. Elias Owen (1833 - 1899), was rector of Efenechtyd, near Ruthin in Denbighshire, from 1881 until 1892. Between 1888 and 1891 he wrote ten articles, anonimously, for the Ruthin School Magazine on subjects of local antiquarian interest.

This ninth article [Ruthin School Magazine No 24 p.218, Feb. 1891] is about housing for the clergy and he uses the history of the rectory at Efenechtyd as an example of its development. Elias used information from glebe terriers or parish terriers (a term specific to the Church of England and from the latin, terra, meaning 'earth'). A terrier was a document giving details of glebe, lands and property in the parish owned by the Church and held by the incumbant (rector, vicar or perpetual curate) to help to support him and his church. The terrier would often contain an inventory of the glebe's composition (usually the vicarage or rectory, possibly some fields and the church building itself, its contents and its graveyard).



Abodes for the clergy do not exist in every parish, but they are much more numerous now than they were formerly. It is quite as well as otherwise, that there should be, in this and other neighbourhoods, no vicarages belonging to certain parishes, for this will cause people to think that there was some reason for this state of things, and it will tell its tale in these days when the thoughtless say - "Oh, the parson's house belongs to the parish." The answer to such a silly remark, if there were; no evidence to the contrary, would be - "If the parson's house belongs to the parish, why are there not parson's houses in all parishes?" The fact however is, that the houses occupied by the clergy of those days were erected by them at their own costs and charges, and in those parishes where there are no houses the clergy shrank from the liabilities which they would incur by undertaking the responsibility of erecting an abode. They preferred, therefore, renting a house to spending their own money or mortgaging their living for the convenience of occupying a. rectory. There are no houses which have been erected by parishes for the clergy. These houses have been built by the clergy themselves, as shall he shewn by extracts from Parish Terriers.

When several churches were served by one clergyman, clerical residences were not required in every parish for the use of the clergy, but when this state of things was brought to a close, then it became s necessity that the clergy, resident in-a parish, should obtain a place of abode in the parish wherein they laboured. In the first instance their houses were merely small cottages just like a labourer's house in our days. This is not a remark made without foundation. I will, by and by, give quotations from Parish Terriers to prove the correctness of this statement. But these ancient or first abodes of the parochial clergy, being much smaller than the houses at present occupied by the clergy, in many instances still exist and form part of the present rectories; thus, at Llanelidau, the old rectory house was not destroyed when the present edifice was erected, but, if I am correct, it was for a while occupied by cottagers, and ultimately converted into outbuildings, which now form part of the quadrangle at the back of the rectory. Much the same thing occurred at Efenechtyd. The first rectory in that parish was merely a hovel. It now forms part of the premises, and its extent can be seen by those who enter the wash-house attached to the present rectory.

But one of the most perfect ancient rectories in the Diocese of St Asaph is that which is called the old rectory in the parish of Pennant, Montgomeryshire. And from this building we can infer what the rest, in similar places, were like.

This old rectory has been converted into out-buildings, or rather, it is used as a kind of a store-house. The walls and roof have been left as they were originally. The fire place is at one end of the buildings, and it is large, and was, I have no doubt, at one time considered cosy. The only sleeping apartments were formed by cutting off or partitioning a portion of the kitchen. There was only this kitchen for all purposes. The walls were only a few feet high and anyone could reach the roof. So poor indeed was this building that it was not considered good enough for the tenant who rented the glebe, and so, close by, stands e small modern farmhouse of the usual shape, but the old building I have tried to describe retains its old name, and it is a sample of what many rectories once were.

But now I will shew how these small rectories were enlarged. I will, first of all, mention that which is at Efenechtyd, which is only a short walk from Ruthin.

In a Terrier dated Augt. 24th, 1719, I find the following mention of the Rectory:-

"A small glebe-house of two Bays."
In the Parish Terrier for July 4th, 1745, is this entry:-
"A small house of two Bays."
The Terrier of July 4th, 1801, is somewhat more explicit than the two preceding Terriers, and it states:-
"One small dwelling House in length thirty six feet, in breadth sixteen feet, without the walls, containing two small bays. One Barn of two bays, One small thatched Stable contiguous to the Barn."
The small dwelling-house alluded to above is still a part of the rectory buildings. It is brick built, and externally, it has not been much tampered with. At present it forms the wash-house; and what was at one time the floor chamber has been converted into a coach-house, and the loft above the coach-house, reached by a ladder, was once probably a bedroom. The building was, therefore, a mere cottage.

I now come to the Terrier of Augt. 23rd, 1811, that is, only 10 years after the above description of the rectory, in which we have the following:-

"Imprimis, One dwelling House enlarged by the present Rector, built of stone, and covered with Slate, comprising 1 vestibule 12 feet in length by 10 feet in breadth. and a Lobby above it of the same dimension, 1 Parlour or dining Room 18 feet in length 14 Do. in breadth and 9 feet in height, and a Room above of the same dimension but 1 foot lower in height. 1 Cellar and Pantry 18 feet in length by 7 Do. in breadth, and 10 feet in height, being a yard in the ground. and a room above it of the some dimension in length and breadth, but considerably lower in height, being arched. 1 other Parlour 12 feet in length by 12 Do. in breadth and 7 Do. in height, and a Room above it of the same dimension. 1 Kitchen 13 feet in length by 12 Do. in breadth and 7 Do. in height and a Room above it of the same dimension. 1 Staircase 12 feet by 6 Do., 1 Brewhouse, 1 Scullery, 1 Barn of two Bays. 1 Cowhouse, 1 Stable, 1 Privy, & 1 Pig-sty; all built of stone except the Barn which is of Brick and all covered with slate except the Cowhouse which is thatched with straw."
The Renter alluded to in this quotation was the Rev. John Jones. This gentleman converted the small dwelling-house of two bays, or compartments, into a good residence, but he was succeeded by the Revd. Ed. Thelwall, who further enlarged the Rectory house, as shewn by the Terrier of September 29th; 1831. Quoting again from this document, it is stated:-
"Imprimis. A Glebe house, which has been enlarged by the present Rector, now consisting of one entrance hall and room over the staircase, one parlour and a room over, one cellar and a room over, one study and a room over, one store room and room over, one pantry and room over, one back stair case, and one kitchen, scullery and larder, and two rooms over, one three-stall stable, one single-stall stable, one coach-house and granary over it and one laundry all covered with slates."
In 1865 the then Rector, the Revd. J. Pugh Evens, expended nearly ₤200 in re-roofing, and raising the walls of, and in repairing, the Rectory. This was done by Mr. Evans at his own expense.

I am afraid that all this is dry information, but it is not uninteresting from many points of view, for it shews conclusively, how the many abodes now occupied by the clergy in their respective parishes were built. These buildings were erected often at the private costs of the incumbents, but never by rates collected from Parishioners. This is proved conclusively by entries in the Parish Terriers. Parson's abodes belong therefore to the incumbents and their successors for ever to the end of time.

The description above given old rectories shew how poor the abodes attached to livings once were, and how much they have been improved in the present century.

The other articles by Rev. Elias Owen published in the Ruthin School Magazine:

  • Click here to view article 1 - General introduction
  • Click here to view article 2 - Clues to church histories
  • Click here to view article 3 - Holy wells
  • Click here to view article 4 - Holy wells
  • Click here to view article 5 - Holy wells
  • Click here to view article 6 - Church bells
  • Click here to view article 7 - Church bells
  • Click here to view article 8 - The parson's pay
  • Click here to view article 10 - The maintenance of church walls