The Old Prebendal House – it’s all in the name

prebendalfloodedSitting beside the River Evenlode in Shipton is the imposing set of buildings comprising The Old Prebendal House. Now a well-appointed care home, it has a long and varied history. Resident, inmate and amateur historian Christopher Heath takes up the tale.

The Old Prebendal House is built on the site of what was once an intensively used cemetery. Successive builders have found that virtually every trench that is dug yields yet further human remains, dating back to Saxon times.

For centuries, the house was the centre of a working farm. It wasn’t until 1912 that the name of the property was changed from Parsonage Farm.

But why ‘prebendal’? Prebendary land is land given by the church to favoured individuals who, in return, would look after the church and the services held there. In the 12th century, the feudal owner of the property, one Arnulf the Falconer, granted it for his son Humphrey to Salisbury Cathedral. The purpose of the grant was to endow a new prebendary at the cathedral; and the expectation was, no doubt, that the first such ‘Shipton Prebendary’ would be Humphrey himself. This link with the church explains why there is some evidence that the current house was once a vicarage.

The original farmhouse was a single-storey building that included a small hall. Sometime during the fifteenth century it was converted into a two-storey house with an attic. The earliest part of the building that remains is a ‘pilaster’ or dummy pier, thought to have been part of a raised granary for the storage of grain collected as tithes. The pilaster, looking like a thin buttress, can still be seen, on the eastern wall of the central courtyard.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the present complex of buildings is the Tithe Barn, constructed probably in the fifteenth century, sporting a range of cruck trusses. It was in the eighteenth or nineteenth century that a hayloft was added here, plus an external staircase and doorway. This splendid construction is now the main dining room, and is used for some external functions.

Well-known local building firm, Alfred Groves and Sons, carried out extensive alterations around 1912, just in time for the building’s use as a convalescent home for wounded servicemen in 1914/1915.

Parsonage Farm, which previously had been a farmhouse, possibly a vicarage and, more latterly, a fairly modest private dwelling, was greatly enlarged and improved around 1912, as well as being re-named. In 1987 a more complete modernisation and conversion of the buildings was begun, resulting in the emergence of ‘The Old Prebendal House Nursing and Retirement Home’ in 1991. This smart, and well-run home is currently owned through its subsidiaries by an Irish company, Quay Ventures Limited.

That might have completed the current history of the house had it not been for the floods of 2007. On that occasion, the Tithe Barn floor disappeared under eighteen inches of water, and the residents were evacuated into the New Beaconsfield Hall. So while the Old Prebendal House might have a very long past, it was certainly not one without incident.

Christopher’s illustrated and annotated booklet, entitled ‘The Old Prebendal House – Dates, with Pictures’, is available for reference at the reception desk in the home. Copies are not on sale, but are likely to be available by arrangement for borrowing.

June – July 2018