The Old Rectory


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
The Old Rectory, brick wall and gates to the west, 53 Downham Road, Watlington, Norfolk, PE33 0HS


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Statutory Address:
The Old Rectory, brick wall and gates to the west, 53 Downham Road, Watlington, Norfolk, PE33 0HS

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Georgian rectory with an earlier timber-framed core of probable mid-C16 date.

Reasons for Designation

The Old Rectory, a Georgian rectory with an earlier timber-framed core of probable mid-C16 date, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* it is a good example of the evolution of this building type over at least four centuries providing important evidence of building practices and techniques, from timber framing to brickwork; * evidence from all these phases survives, notably the Tudor brickwork in one of the fireplaces and the crosswings, along with the areas of exposed timber framing; the refined Georgian interior treatment including the paired arched openings with neo-classical detailing at the top of the stairs; and the variety of Victorian fireplaces.

Historic interest:

* it is possible that the origins of the Old Rectory are contemporary with the creation of the moat which is relatively rare as in most instances the original building has been replaced; * this historic association provides important evidence for the relationship between the building and the moat, the evolution of the site, and its place within the locality over several centuries.

Group value:

* it has group value with the scheduled moat within which it is located.


In White’s History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk (1845), Watlington is described as ‘a neat village of detached houses, 6 miles S. by W. of Lynn, in the fertile marshes on the east side of the Great Ouse river, about a mile E. of the bridge at Wiggenhall St. Mary Magdalen. Its parish contains 502 inhabitants, and 1,633 acres of land, mostly the property of Chas. Berners Plestow, Esq. The rectory, valued in the King's Book at £41 15s. 8d., is in the gift of C.B. Plestow, Esq., and incumbency of the Rev. Edw. Cobbold.’

The early history of the Old Rectory is not known but the moat surrounding the present building is likely to be medieval or Tudor in origin. A former owner discovered documentation in Norfolk Record Office which dates the moat to the ‘13th year of the first Queen Elizabeth’, ie, 1571. Moated sites range in date from the mid to late C12 and continued into the early C16. By far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern parts of England. The island or platform around which a moat ran often contained the medieval manor house, although where buildings exist today on platforms they are rarely the earliest to have stood on that site. Many buildings on moated sites date from the C17 to the C20, and often these buildings completely replace earlier ones. It is not uncommon however for later buildings to mask within them parts of earlier buildings. About 800 medieval moated sites exist or are known to have existed in Norfolk. Many of them surrounded manor houses; and rectories and vicarages enclosed by moats are quite common.

The Old Rectory is a multi-phase building that has evolved over several centuries. It is thought by former owners to have originated as a medieval hall house but no evidence was seen during the recent site visit to support this theory. There is documentary evidence for a rectory on the site from the mid-C16 however. Based on the two exposed wall frames in the second and third bays, and the jetty which indicates it had two storeys, the earliest surviving phase of the building appears to be a jettied two-storey, three-bay timber-framed house, possibly with a middle-entry plan form. This plan form first appears in the C16, a period of considerable experimentation in the layout of houses, and consists of a central entrance with chimney stacks at either end. The Tudor brickwork in the eastern fireplace provides further evidence to support this. The two brick cross wings were also added around this period or slightly later. An internal wall at the rear of the house has exposed lime plaster which has been dated by a plasterer to the late C17 or early C18, although another plasterer believes it to be pre-Tudor. This may have been part of an earlier outshot.

The rectory underwent considerable alterations in the Georgian period when it was re-fronted in brick and a staircase extension was built between the cross wings. A small extension was also built onto the east side, it is thought to provide a room with separate access for the Vicar to receive visitors on parish matters. During the Victorian period the roof was raised along the frontage to provide accommodation in the attic and a back staircase for the servants was installed (since removed). The full height bay window was added at some point between 1905 and 1928 (the dates of the second and third edition Ordnance Survey maps). The brickwork on the ground floor of the façade matches that of the bay window so it must have been renewed at the same time. The fenestration in the flanking bays also matches that in the bay window. In the 1950s the Reverend Browne ran a boys’ ‘crammer’ school from the rectory.


Georgian rectory with an earlier timber-framed core of probable mid-C16 date.

MATERIALS: the rectory has two areas of exposed timber framing but more may survive underneath later plastering. The ground floor and bay window on the façade is of machine-made red brick with red brick and terracotta dressings, and the upper storeys are rendered and painted white. The side and rear elevations are of handmade brown brick of different phases with brick dressings. The roofs are clad in pantiles.

PLAN: the building is situated at the northern end of a scheduled moat. It has a principal south-facing range of three bays aligned east-west with two Tudor cross wings on the north side, the space in between infilled by a Georgian staircase bay.

EXTERIOR: the principal three-storey range has a pitched roof with a shallow slope at the front with deep eaves supported by paired brackets and a much steeper slope at the back which extends into a catslide. The jetty spanning the façade is supported at both ends by brackets of moulded brick. The façade is dominated by an off-centre full-height canted bay window in the second bay. This is lit by three one-over-one pane horned sash windows on the first floor and two-over-two pane sashes on the upper floors which have flat gauged brick arches and stone sills. The floors are demarcated by moulded brick bands enriched with egg-and-dart in terracotta. The upper band is continued across the façade. Flanking the bay window are, to the left, double-leaf French windows of C20 date, and to the right, a narrow one-over-one pane sash filled with Art Nouveau style stained glass, a six-panel door, and two one-over-one pane sashes. The two-over-two pane sashes on the upper floors have moulded and shouldered architraves with a reprise.

Projecting from both gable ends are wide chimneys adapted to have narrow flues which have stacks with oversailing brick courses, probably as part of the Georgian alterations. A gabled projection on the east side with a parapet and tiled roof contains the room that was added to conduct parish business. It is accessed on the south side through a double-leaf panelled door with glazed upper panels and moulded lintel, and is lit by three sash windows.

The rear (north) elevation presents a very different architectural form to the façade. At either end are two-storey cross wings constructed of small handmade bricks of probable Tudor date. A gabled projection on the east cross wing formerly contained a WC. To the right is a two-light fixed window. In both gable ends of the cross wings there is evidence of a blocked opening at first-floor level. In the middle of the elevation rises the tall staircase bay, added in the Georgian period, which has a pitched roof that extends downwards to join the west cross wing. The bay is pierced by a tall sash window with slender glazing bars and a semicircular upper section which lights the staircase; and a six-over-six pane sash above. There is a blocked arched opening on the ground floor. The staircase bay is flanked by small single-storey extensions under single pitch roofs with multi-light casements which, from the size of the brick, date to the C19.

INTERIOR: overall this has a Georgian character with surviving fixtures and fittings that include fireplaces, six-panel doors, moulded cornices and some floorboards. The entrance hall leads into the reception rooms in the second and third bays, and through segmental arch openings with roll mouldings to the staircase, rear corridor and service rooms. The room in the first bay (on the left) has a substantial chamfered bridging beam and joists, and a wide hearth opening now fitted with an Aga. The room in the second bay has panelling below the window and a full-height plain fireplace surround of handmade red brick. In the third bay the room is lined by a panelled dado with large square panels and has panelled embrasures at the windows. The grey marble fireplace has a mantelshelf supported by shaped brackets and it retains some herringbone brickwork of Tudor date. On the other side of the north wall is an area of close studding with daub infill and a sole plate that was discovered underneath a Georgian stud wall around 2016. Arranged along the rear (north) side of the building is a series of service rooms which retain plank and batten doors with strap hinges. These include a scullery which has a floor laid in red brick with a diagonal drainage channel, and another room containing lime plaster that has been dated to at least the early C18, possibly earlier. The dogleg stair at the rear of the house has a closed string, turned balusters and slender newel posts with square caps. At the top of the staircase on the first floor a pair of arched openings with keystones and panelled square columns lead to the corridor and the upper flight of stairs. The room occupying the first bay contains a grey marble fireplace surround with a cast iron grate and tiled cheeks. The fireplace in the room occupying the second bay is a plain brick opening flanked by arched niches forming display cupboards. The east wall has exposed timber framing consisting of close studding and primary braces, all scored in order to take plaster. In the third bay, a beam has been encased by moulded timber with a lamb’s tongue chamfer stop. The room has a lugged fireplace surround of unpainted wood enriched with egg-and-dart and bead-and-reel. It has a bolection frieze and a dentilled mantelshelf. The upper floor contains a series of small Victorian fireplaces with wooden surrounds and ornate cast iron grates. One of these is more impressive with flanking reeded columns, a reeded frieze with corner blocks, and a cast iron grate with an ornate hood and tiles.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the Old Rectory and moat is bounded on the west side by a red brick wall laid in English bond with stone saddleback coping. Towards the southern end is a pair of iron gates flanked by substantial brick piers. The gates have verticals with spearhead finials along the top and middle rails and a row of pierced quatrefoils along the lock rail. To the north is a single gate in a similar style with a scrolled overthrow. Approximately halfway along, the wall changes to a low buttressed wall surmounted by railings with spearhead finials.


Books and journals
Ashwin, T, Davison, A, An Historical Atlas of Norfolk, (2005)
Wilson, D, Moated Sites, (1985)
William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk (1845)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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