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Visiting All Souls Vicarage, Eastbourne, England: permanence and solidity at a Victorian institution
Symbolic of a past era
In England today, Vicar/Rector 'Kev' or 'Joe', etc., in some cases might himself be expected to use his shrinking stipend to find lodgings somewhere, possibly even at a considerable commutable distance.
But in the 19th century, when All Souls Vicarage was built, the Church of England vicarage was somewhat of a social institution. Such was a vicarage's social prominence that even today the phrase 'vicarage tea party' conjures up images of taking tea and cakes on best china in the company of genteel dames, with young women in floppy dresses in attendance, and scrupulously polite conversation with a universally respected Reverend Gentleman and his wife (1).
One might receive echoes of this former era at the sight of this solid, late 19th century vicarage near the junction of Longstone Road with Susan's Road, Eastbourne, in England's East Sussex. Unlike the neighbouring All Souls Church, to which it belongs, the building is not open to the public, but this English Heritage listed structure may be viewed from the sidewalk.
Features of the Vicarage include multicoloured brick and Syrian window arches, suggesting Romanesque / Byzantine indfuence, in a manner similarly expressed by Architect Alfred Strong in the nearby All Souls Church building.
In contrast to the main Susan's Road elevation All Souls Church, however, the Vicarage employs a greater proportion of yellow brick.
The whole exudes a solidity and permanence, as befits what was seen as an enduring institution in Victorian times especially.
A high hedge happens to give the Vicarage a sense of seclusion, which would not necessarily have been present in Victorian times.
I am actually reminded of Herbert Butterfield's Keble College, Oxford and its Master's Lodge: there is the same solidity, use of brick in design throwback to Medieval times. Though All Souls Vicarage is on a smaller scale, these two structures are of about the same vintage also. I have supplied (right) a photo of Keble College's Warden's Lodge, by way of comparison.
Of whether Architect Strong was directly influenced by Architect Butterfield, however, I am not aware.
It might be added, also, that, for England, Eastbourne has tended to have a higher-than-average population of regular churchgoers, and this characteristic continues to this day. To visitors, England as a whole does tend to offer the paradoxical prospect of a country where the Church of England is established by law — in contrast to North American traditions of separation of church and state —, yet where actual churchgoing continues to reach record lows. My hunch would be that the seeds of this somewhat paradoxical situation probably run rather deep, historically.
November 23, 2013
(1) In his book, Cider with Rosie, Hogarth Press, 1959, Laurie Lee has described his life in early 20th century England, not long after World War One, when traditions of social interaction with the local vicar still ran deep, during which obligatory encounters, in his experience, as Lee tellingly remarks, religion was never mentioned.
Also worth seeing
In Eastbourne itself, other visitor attractions include various fine church buildings, including All Souls Church (see also, above); the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Old Town, dating from the 12th century; other sights include: the Beachy Head cliffs; the Redoubt fortress; Eastbourne Pier; the 19th century Town Hall; the Martello Wish Tower; Sovereign Harbour; and many others.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York - Newark to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. (Distance from London Heathrow to Eastbourne : 146 kilometres.) For access by road, take M25/M23/A23/A27. There are rail links to Eastbourne from London Victoria railroad station. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.