ID: GWG_RCT / Elaine Barker

TitleRectory Cottages Great Wigborough
AbstractThe two cottages known as Rectory Cottages, situated on top of Wigborough hill, just opposite the church and the Rectory were demolished in approximately 1967.

Rectory Cottages, Great Wigborough

The cottages were replaced by St Stephens House which enjoys similar panoramic views to those from the top of the church tower.

Such modest cottages would never have been lived in by their wealthy owners and it is the deeds that reveal who owned the cottages. It is clear from the list of owners that the cottages were in the ownership of two of the rectors and their families for a considerable length of time.

Details from the Deeds of Rectory Cottages

On 28th February 1887 Major Frederick Godfrey Bird, Royal Marine, and his brother, Sotheby Godfrey Bond, sold the two cottages along with 7.718 acres for £300 to the Reverend Frederick Theobald. The two brothers were the sons of the Reverend Godfrey Bird who had been Rector of St Stephens Church for 47 years from 1832 until his death in 1879. It is likely the Reverend Bird had owned the cottages and his sons, acting as joint executors of his will, put up the cottages for sale. It was the next incumbent who bought the cottages.

The Reverend Godfrey Bird

Between 1887 and 1935 the cottages seem to have regularly passed in and out of the Theobald family's hands.

On 11th September 1888, the Rev Theobald, incumbent from 1886 until his death in 1925 at the age of 84, sold the cottages to his late sister's husband, Col. Francis Gordon Degge Watson.

On 12th October 1898 Colonel Francis Gordon Degge Watson sold to Alfred Charles Lestourgeon Theobald, a Colonel in the army and son of the Reverend Theobald. The deeds tell us that the cottages have two tenants, Thomas Whitehead and Walter Coldham

On 28th August 1906, Alfred Charles Lestourgeon Theobald sold the cottages for £350 to his father, The Reverend Frederick Theobald, the incumbent of St Stephens Church whose address is given as The Rectory.

On 3rd April 1911, The Reverend Theobald gave the cottages to another son, Walter Gordon Theobald all parcels as before and the tenants are Arthur John Wenlock and Florence Scott

On 24th March 1918,Walter Gordon Theobald sold to Norah Forbes of The Hyde, a nearby farm on which Norah and her husband, Colin Duncan Forbes, worked as general and dairy farmers. They had moved down to Essex from Northumberland, having both been born in Newcastle. Upper Hilly Field is also named in the transaction and £260 was paid.

On 12th July 1922, Norah Forbes sold the cottages and only 40 roods of the land (the total having been 7.718 acres) back to Walter Gordon Theobald for £270. At this time the tenants were James Bradford and Arthur John Wenlock.

On 27th April 1935 Walter Gordon Theobald sold, presumably both cottages, to the existing tenant Arthur John Wenlock while the other cottage was occupied by tenant Agnes Emma Clark.

On 9th December 1954 there is a lease for Agnes Emma Clark for the cottage she is living in.

In 1967 Lawrence George Wenlock, who presumably inherited the cottages from his father (who died in 1956), sold to Peter and Beryl Portia Playle for £3,000. The Playles demolished everything on the site and built a Colt house, a timber-framed, largely cedar house.

St Stephen's House in 1972 with the Church Tower in the background

In 1972 the Playles sold to the current owners who have adapted and added to the existing house to their own design.

The Tenants

The cottages were sometimes used as accommodation for school mistresses for Great Wigborough, and in one case, Little Wigborough School. There were also a number of gardeners, laundresses, grooms and coachmen living there over the years. Most likely, they were accommodated in Rectory Cottages to serve the incumbents' families at Great Wigborough Rectory who also had live-in domestic servants.

The question remains as to when Rectory Cottages were built. The deeds begin in 1887, but we know from Ordnance Survey maps that they were there in 1874. Looking at the censuses there are no cottages named as such but there are two cottages listed as being on Church Hill or Near the Church or Church Road in the 1861, 1871, and 1881 censuses.

In 1861 on Church Hill, Hannah Willie, a laundress is living in one cottage and George Elliott a groom and gardener, his wife and 15 year old son, also a gardener, are living next door. George Elliot is listed in the 1851 census in the same job but it is not at all clear where he is living, not apparently next to the rectory.

In 1871 Near the Church are Henry Pullen an agricultural labourer married to Charlotte who is a laundress and next door George Elliott's family. George is now listed as a Coachman and Gardener and his wife as a domestic servant.

In 1881 in Church Road, Sarah Whithams, a laundress, is living with her niece, Ada Whithams who at 17 is an underteacher, and a lodger, Julia Foddy, a schoolmistress. Next door is a coachman, Edward Debenham. We know that Ada Whithams was teaching at Little Wigborough School in 1884 at the time of the earthquake. Kelly's directory of 1882 lists Julia Foddy as the mistress of Great Wigborough School. There is no incumbent at the Rectory on the day of the census but a cook, housemaid and kitchen maid are all in residence. (Possibly the family were away).

In the 1891 census, Walter Coldham, a gardener, and his family are living Near Church although it is listed as only one cottage. His wife Ellen is a laundress. In 1901 the family are listed as being in Rectory Cottages.

Although we cannot be certain these census entries refer to Rectory Cottages there are no other candidates; Great Wigborough Hill was as sparsely built upon as it is today. The fact that the cottages housed schoolteachers for the nearby village school and gardeners, coachmen, and laundresses who would be essential staff at the Rectory is a compelling argument for these unnamed homes near the church being Rectory Cottages.

From 1898 the tenants are listed on the house deeds, which makes the researcher's life a lot easier!

In the 1901 census, Lancashire born Thomas Whitehead aged 70, previously a farmer in Gloucestershire, is living in one of the cottages with his wife Margaret aged 62 who is the schoolmistress at Great Wigborough. Their daughter, Louise, at 22 is an assistant mistress at the school. Thomas died the following year.

Next door, Walter Coldham, now a widower, is living with his two daughters and two sons. Of the older children, Lilian, aged 22, is a housekeeper and Charles aged 16 a gardener like his father. Were they the housekeeper and gardeners at the Rectory?

By 1911 Walter's daughter, Lilian, had been married for under a year to a Tiptree man who is working as a carman for a brewer and they are living in Leytonstone. Walter is living with them, a jobbing gardener, and he was to die in 1926 in West Ham.

Meanwhile, in the 1911 Great Wigborough census, Florence Scott, born in Reading and aged 34 is listed as an Elementary School teacher, living on her own in the cottage next door to Arthur John Wenlock, his wife and infant son and daughter.

This is the first reference to Arthur John Wenlock who was, some years later, to be the first owner occupier of the cottages after being a long-term tenant. Arthur Wenlock was a gardener, born in Little Wigborough and brought up in Marsh Cottage in a large family. Presumably close to the seawall at Little Wigborough, Marsh Cottage no longer stands although there is a Lower Marsh Barn still there.

In the 1918 electoral register Arthur and his wife Ethel Emily are listed as occupants of Rectory Cottage while next door the occupier is Arthur Bradford.

(A James Bradford is listed as tenant in the deeds of 1922).

Arthur and Ethel appear in the 1929 electoral register living in the two cottages with another tenant, Agnes Clarke, living with two of her sisters next door.

On 27th April 1935 Walter Gordon Theobald, the son of the Reverend Frederick Theobald, sold to Arthur Wenlock, while the other cottage continued to be occupied by Agnes Emma Clark.

In the 1939 register Agnes Emma Clarke (1881 - 1971), the other long-standing resident of Rectory Cottages is still living in the other Cottage next door to Arthur Wenlock. She is the head of the household with three sisters, Gertrude, Gladys and Dorothy and a sixteen year old boy, Eric Clarke. According to a family tree posted on Ancestry, he was the son of Agnes's sister Dorothy. There are two other children living with them as well, Jean and Angus Mowat. They were both born in Paddington, the children of a soldier, and it is possible they were also the children of Dorothy.

As a 20 year old, Agnes Clarke appears in 1901 as a parlour maid living at Great Wigborough Rectory in the household of the Reverend Frederick Theobald. In 1911, visiting relatives in Weeley, when the census was taken, she is described as a cook, probably still employed at the Rectory.

Among the deeds for Rectory Cottages there is a lease for Agnes for the cottage she is living in, dated 9th December 1954.

Arthur Wenlock was to live in his cottage until his death in 1956 and it remained in his family's possession until 1967.That Arthur had been gardener at The Rectory is borne out by a touching story from Joan Yates, daughter of the incumbent The Reverend Yates. She married at St Stephens during the war years in 1941 and she wrote

Clothes were on coupons and our gardener Wenlock had given me seven,

so enabling her to buy her wedding dress.

We don't know when Agnes left Rectory Cottages, she was to live to the age of 90 and died in 1971, but she was probably the last tenant. With the sale to the Playles in 1967 the cottages were demolished.

Elaine Barker
A Meeting Place for The Community
St Stephens Great Wigborough

Read More
1881 Ordnance Survey map of this area
The Rectors of Great Wigborough

AuthorElaine Barker
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 Rectory Cottages, Great Wigborough. Agnes Clarke in the photo ? Probably posted 1932, addressed to Mrs A.W. Clark, Blackheath, Colchester.  GWG_RCT_001
ImageID:   GWG_RCT_001
Title: Rectory Cottages, Great Wigborough. Agnes Clarke in the photo ? Probably posted 1932, addressed to Mrs A.W. Clark, Blackheath, Colchester.
Source:Peldon History Project