History of The Old Rectory
The Rectory of Llangattock is mentioned in Pope Nicholas’ Taxation compiled in 1288 with a living at that time valued at £16. There is evidence that the Village Farm may have been the original Rectory house. The Old Rectory became the new Rectory at the end of the 16th Century and served as the parsonage until 1950.
Before the disestablishment of the Church of Wales in 1920, Llangattock was a wealthy living with the Rector employing 10 servants. The Rectory was enlarged in 1852 when the imposing porch was added by Rev George Howell, and again in 1884-5, when the sum of £806 12s 5d was expended for ‘alterations, repairs and enlargements’ by the Rev T J Bowen. At this time the north wing was added. In 1947 the Rector Canon R. M. Cole-Hamilton was appointed Archdeacon of Brecon. He resigned the living of Llangattock, which he had held since 1913. Incumbents appointed to their livings before disestablishment were allowed to keep their stipends but the new Rector Rev Clifford Bowen received a reduced income from the living and it was decided to sell the Rectory and build a new one commensurate with this income. The Rectory was sold to Major Steven Taylor for the sum of £3,800. The new Rectory was formerly opened on 29th April 1950 by Lady Parker.
The Old Rectory became a hotel in 1963, owned by the partners Mr and Mrs A Newman and Mr and Mrs A Groves. At that time the hotel had only five bedrooms.
There was also a ‘pink lounge’ containing a magnificent carved-wood bar. This bar was originally a bookcase belonging to the well-known Herbert family. It has now been moved to our entrance lounge where it serves as a very grand reception desk.
It stands over 9 feet high and twelve feet wide, a solid hunk of ornate, all-over carving of lions heads, bunches of grapes and leaves. An old Welsh proverb, surmounting this truly magnificent piece, has been transcribed by the Aberystwyth Reference Library to read:
‘A clean conscience keeps the owner secure.’
Thought to be of foreign origin, the wood is probably mahogany and walnut but has no clue as to its date. Mr Newman found a label attached to it which indicated that it came to this country by ship. It was addressed to John Arthur Herbert, Llanarth Court.
The modern building near the front entrance to the Rectory was originally the Coach House. It was also the stable and cow shed. Near it was a large pig sty. The large horse chestnuts to the front have been a part of the landscape for many years and been a landmark for travelers. The Spanish Chestnut on the lawn was a splendid tree. A swing hung from it and Evelyn Laye OBE used to use the swing when she stayed with the Archdeacon in the house. Evelyn was a famous theatre actress of her time (1900 – 1996) and also appeared in several early Hollywood talkies.
There used to be a spring called Mary’s Well in what is now the hotel’s golf course, regarded as a spring of healing water. Women came from distant places to obtain water to bathe the eyes of babies and young children with an infection. The spring has since been redirected.
One of the more prominent Rectors to live at the Old Rectory was Matthew Herbert who was appointed in 1621 by the Earl of Worcester. In addition to his living he conducted a small school at the Rectory for the sons of the gentry in the neighbourhood. From 1632-8 Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Breconshires famous metaphysical poet, and his twin brother Thomas lived at the Old Rectory whilst they were educated before going on to Jesus College, Oxford. According to the tradition of the day Henry dedicated a poem to his former schoolmaster. These lines are found in the poem ‘Ad Posteros’.
‘then I went
To learned Herbert’s kind encouragement,
Herbert, the pride of our Latinity;
Six years with double gifts he guided me.
Method and love, and mind and hand conspired,
Nor ever flagged his mind, nor his hand tired.
This was my shaping season.’
Henry, as the older twin, was destined to succeed his father as squire so he was in Oxford for only two years. He was then sent to London to study the law. Thomas was to be a clergyman so stayed at Oxford for four years. He entered Holy Orders and became Rector of Llansanffraed.
Civil war broke out in 1642 and Henry was recalled to his home. He was an ardent Royalist and a man of peace. There was little for him to do and so he writes that he studied and practiced Physics for many years. In 1677 he is described as a doctor and uses the letters MD after his name. He practiced medicine throughout Breconshire and his reputation spread far and wide.
From his writings we know that Vaughan had a horror of war and hated the idea of bloodshed, but he served in the army, probably inspired to do so when Charles 1 visited Brecon in 1645. It is possible that he was in the siege of Raglan Castle under the command of his kinsman the Marquis of Worcester. Raglan was the last stronghold to surrender on August 19th 1646.
Henry Vaughan’s best known poem has been set to music as Hymn no 286 in Hymns Ancient and Modern:
‘My soul there is a country far, far beyond the stars
There above noise and danger
Sweet peace sits crowned with smiles
And one born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
If thou canst get but thither
There grows the flower of Peace
The Rose that cannot wither
Thy fortress and thy ease.’
The following is a small, but beautiful fragment from one of Henry Vaughan’s poems on personal loss entitled ‘The World’
‘I saw eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm as it was bright,
And round beneath it time in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved in which the world
And all her train were hurled.’
Henry Vaughan died in 1695 in Llansanffraid, near Brecon where he was also born and spent most of his life. His grave, with a very large tombstone, can be seen outside the church and a memorial tablet to him inside.
Henry’s teacher, Matthew Herbert, was displaced from Llangattock in 1646, after the Royalist defeat. He courageously continued to preach in the parish, but he died shortly after the Restoration and his wife and children were left destitute.