A history of the Westwood Rectory and Parish Room

As part of the preparation for obtaining planning permission to upgrade the Parish Room I have been doing some research into the history of the Room and the Rectory, the results of which may be of interest to readers.

There was possibly a church on the site of the present church in Saxon times but it is first recorded in 1299 as part of the parish of Bradford on Avon, sometimes recorded as a Chapel of Ease. It was looked after by the curates of Holy Trinity in Bradford but there was never any residence allocated to them and they are believed always to have lived in Bradford. However in 1876 the Diocese of Salisbury created the Parish of Westwood in its own right and the first Rector, the Revd Basil Blogg Babington, was appointed in 1877. At the same time a sum of £1500 was granted by the Church Commissioners to build a new rectory.

The 1843 tithe map of Westwood shows two plots of church land adjacent to the churchyard, described as Church Close, and Cottage and Garden. The map also indicates another building next to the road where the entrance to the later (1968) rectory was made and this has been identified as a barn. The 1877 rectory was built on the Church Close by a Bristol builder to a Flemish architect's design and was completed in 1878, but the cottage and barn were retained and are shown on the 1887 OS map.

The Revd Babington is recorded in the 1881 census as living in Lower Westwood Rectory with a full household of 10 including a cook and two domestic servants. Both Revd Babington and his wife Ella were born in India and were aged 35 and 31. Their two older sons were born in Bristol which is presumably where he served before. Of the five children born in Westwood, four died in the Rectory under the age of two between 1878 and 1882, so it is perhaps understandable why he chose to move.

He was appointed to Exeter, St Thomas, in 1883 and in 1884 a new Rector was appointed, the Revd William Ruscombe Wollen, born in 1842 in Bridgewater. At some stage the barn had been converted into stables for the Rectory but the cottage remained and according to the Parish minutes was being used as a meeting room. In the next few years it must have been decided that the cottage was too small for that purpose and the Parish agreed to replace it with the present Parish Room. I have been unable to locate any records of discussion with the Diocese or any other authority or indeed any reference to it in the equivalent of the PCC minute books. Nevertheless the foundation stone (just to the right of the door onto the road) says that it was laid by Daisy Wollen (the youngest daughter, then aged 8, of the Rector) on 24th October 1892 where it is referred to, for a reason I have been unable to discover, as a 'Memorial Stone'.

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I have searched through the Wiltshire Times for 1892 and 1893 and found little to help except that in August 1892 a Garden Party was held in the garden of the Rectory to raise funds for the Parish Room, the total needed being a further £200 in addition to £70 already raised. There are many stalls listed, much the same as our annual fête today, and similarly it was remarked that the number of visitors at the start was disappointing on account of the weather! There is no record of how much was actually raised, but at the Harvest Festival in September a collection of £4. 7s was allocated to the project which was stated as being about to start, and in March 1893 a Rummage Sale is held in the Parish Room (clearly built by then) which raised £19 towards reducing the sum still due.

From there on I have found nothing more so if any reader can add to this history I am sure we will be most interested.

David Chalmers