Forncett Manor

Forncett St. Mary Rectory

Upon the death of Revd John Doudney Lane in 1845, the Diocese appointed another Fellow of St John's College, Revd Dr John William Colenso. However, this time the appointment was to Forncett St Mary parish, as Forncett had now been created a duality, with Rev William Greive Wilson installed as rector at Forncett St Peter rectory.

As there was no rectory in Forncett St Mary Colenso set about having one built. A suitable plot of land was purchased on a rise overlooking the church, the upper Tas Valley and the school established by his predecessor bar one, Rev Thomas Jack, close by. The architect was Samuel Whitfield Dawkes who had practices in Cheltenham and London, and who had already designed a number of churches in the Midlands. The rectory cost £1394, of which £1000 came from Queen Anne's Bounty (a fund set up specifically for poorer clergy), £350 from St John's College, Cambridge and £44 from Colenso himself. 

The Rectory - Forncett St. Mary
The Rectory - Forncett St. Mary

Colenso's rectory was grand and impressive but also functional both as a family home and as a base for tutoring students, undoubtedly for entry to Cambridge University; St John's College was his alma mater. However, the rectory was soon to lose its first resident upon his elevation to the bishopric of Natal in 1853.

The Revd J. E. Cooper succeeded Colenso in 1853 and remained as rector until 1908. Cooper found the 'Bishop's Palace' a spacious and useful environment for his family and the necessary domestic staff, as well as tutees. In 1871 there were 13 in the house, in 1881 14 including his 5 children. By 1901 there were 18 in the house; his daughters were running a school with 11 girls aged from 11-17. The tradition of housing such a preparatory school seems to have continued for a few years.

In 1920 the rectory was sold on instructions of Revd T. J. Bentley at auction to Mr Russell Steward for £1,550 together with some glebe lands; the purchasers of the latter were Messrs Coleman, Buck, Humphreys and Self. One lot was withdrawn: the old pasture known as 'The Parks'.

Since then the former rectory has had a chequered history. It was briefly run as a hotel in the 1960s; ICL used it for their monthly meetings. In 1970 it was bought by the Langley Trust, whose trustees named it 'Forncett Grange' and set it up as a hostel for young offenders, a project which foundered when one of the inmates murdered the former headmistress of the village school, Miss Mary Armstrong.

Shortly afterwards the Trust vacated the premises and it was sold. It then became a residential home for elderly folk (called 'Forncett Manor'), until the proprietors could not afford the upgrades necessary to conform to new EC regulations. They sold the house to a private entrepreneur, who converted the institutionalized building back into a beautiful family home, an event celebrated when the CPRE held an annual meeting there with a talk about Colenso. 

The initial material for this article was Forncett Archive Note No.16 - written by John Webster. Further information came from "A History of St. Mary's Church, Forncett" by Roy Tricker.