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The Parsons Years

Building works

The Victorians were great builders and modifiers of old buildings, and none more so than Herbert Parsons. A vicarage had been built in 1836 before he came to Elsfield, to house the Reverend Gordon and his family. The house, situated next to the church, had been paid for by Lady Susan Doyle, a member of the North family, who gave £800, and the foundation stone was laid by the Reverend Gordon’s two children, Henry and Mary.

The Church

When they arrived in the village, Herbert Parsons and his wife spent considerable amounts of money on the church. It was remodelled in 1849 and 1859 when it was restored to a very complete Early English appearance. The Jacobean pulpit and the 12th century tub font were retained. The churchwardens’ accounts reveal that in 1859 there was a minor restoration by G.E Street (re-flooring and re-seating) which cost £413-11-0d. Contributors to this were Colonel North, who paid for the communion rail to be made up from 17th century balusters at a cost of £50. John Parsons (Herbert’s father), Herbert Parsons and Miss Parsons (Herbert's sister) all contributed £25 each while William Parsons and William Tredwell, both farmers, paid £15. Mr Greaves, one of the church wardens, paid £10, the Diocesan Society £50, the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel paid £56 while the Vicar and his friends contributed a magnificent £126-19-1d. The collection at the re-opening ceremony also raised £56-11-11d. Herbert’s father noted in his diary that on 7th July 1859 at the opening of the church "Our party went. Herbert gave a great entertainment to ‘Rich and Poor’. All went well."

Herbert’s wife Louisa donated generously in her own right, in 1860 giving a silver communion service consisting of flacon, chalice, patern and alms dish and an altar cloth. At some time in the 1870s or 80s she also paid for a mosaic of the Last Supper by Salviati, which decorates the wall behind the altar. Salviati was a very popular artist in Victorian England. There are Salviati mosaics in St Paul’s in London, the Albert Memorial, St George’s chapel in Windsor. In America there is a Salviati mosaic in the Baptistry Chapel of the Church of St John the Baptist in New York City, and one of Abraham Lincoln in the Senate House in Washington, so it is quite a surprise to find one of his mosaics in this simple village church.

The church was kept spick and span by the cleaning lady, Mrs Wakelin in 1866, who was paid £1 a quarter. Mrs Lockton had taken over the responsibility in 1883 and Mrs Narroway in 1901. There was no change in their wages, but by 1901 £2-12-0d was being paid to the clerk with an additional £1 for attending to the fires.

The Elsfield Manor
The Elsfield Manor

The Manor

The Manor House was more than doubled in size by Herbert Parsons. The High Gothic Victorian addition sits incongruously alongside the 18th century building but must have provided a great deal more accommodation for his family and servants. His study window was next to the road and he is reputed to have watched in the mirror which hung above his desk, to see who in the village had gone down to Marston to the pub. The farm labourers responded by removing their boots so they could not be heard as they passed the Manor on their way home.

Herbert Parsons in his old age in his pony carriage
Herbert Parsons in his old age in his pony carriage

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