The Old Rectory at Great Yeldham, photographed in 1899. It was built in the late fifteenth century but has Victorian additions, including the timbered porch.
To the right of the hall is a breakfast room, one of the flagstones of which can be raised to reveal a soft-water well. During our first year of residence my wife and I frequently ate our meals to the accompaniment of the croaking of frogs that made their way out of this well and across the floor. Beyond the breakfast room lies the kitchen, which at one time was a brewhouse. Ham hooks adorn the ceiling and the roof above boasts a belfry, whose bell can be tolled from the kitchen quarters below. A main stairway from the lower passage beyond the hall leads up to a room on the first floor which has an exceptionally beautiful carved oak ceiling of the sixteenth century. This ceiling is decorated with heraldic emblems and sym­bols of a masonic character and may have been built into the house at a slightly later period than the original structure. Nearby, in the wall of the upstairs passage, the exposure of beams has revealed the frame­work of Elizabethan windows, covered in when the house was extended at a later date.
Four years ago, in search of a home which would enable my wife and me to sink our roots in the fertile soil of north Essex, I wandered down a leaf-strewn drive to find myself confronted by a building of truly enchanting features. The enchantment prevailed over a natural reti­cence at the very obvious drawbacks, and I became the owner of a house that must surely be one of the most unusual in Essex.
Several years ago our author became the owner of a very old and most un­usual Essex house. In the breakfast room a flagstone can be raised to reveal a soft-water well; from the kitchen a bell can be tolled; and throughout the house a wealth of inscriptions adorn the many beams. What is more, a set of old human bones was found under a window-seat—and on a number of occasions the front-door bell has rung without visible cause!
One of the most fascinating features of the house from an antiquarian standpoint is the wealth of inscriptions upon beams to be seen in various parts of the building. Cross­beams in a small room on the first floor contain Greek and Hebrew lettering of early origin. In one of the three attic rooms is another beam which contains an inscription in early English lettering: " Cast me not away from thy presence"—a quotation from the psalms.
As one might expect, there is a cellar beneath the house on the south side. The doorway to the cellar is fifteenth-century. For many years there has been talk of a priest's hiding place and a secret passage from the cellar to the nearby church. Alas, so far we have failed to negotiate either. Perhaps further searching will reveal both.
Each era of its history has left its mark upon the Old Rectory: the Tudor lath and plaster and brickwork, the Elizabethan windows, the seventeenth-century gables, the Georgian panelling and the large Vic­torian wing at the south-western end of the house. The fine array of chimney-stacks also reflects the passage of history.
An article of this nature would hardly be complete without a reference to ghosts, for Essex is a county famous for its ghoulish manifestations. Shortly after moving in we heard stories of Edwardian maidservants
The Old Rectory at Great Yeldham was built as a parsonage in the late fifteenth century and nestles in a dell behind the parish church of St. Andrew. It is a long, rambling house, the medieval part of which is of lath and plaster while the inevitable Victorian addition is of brick with a plaster surface. The visitor passes under a pleasant timbered Victorian porch and enters a fine hall with stout oak beams in the ceiling and a floor of early tiling. Adjoining the hall on the left-hand side is a room with moulded ceiling timbers and a decorated central beam. It also has a large Tudor fireplace which was recently exposed. It was under the window-seat of this room that we made the surprising discovery of a set of human bones. Sub­sequent tests revealed that these were the bones of a woman and were somewhere between 300 and 400 years old. One is free to speculate on the possibility of a plague victim. Equally it may be that the cemetery was at one time greater in extent than today. Perhaps even darker visions come to mind.
by Ronald Bartle
One will never know the answer. This house, like many others, retains its secrets.
The room just mentioned leads on into a smaller room known as the prayer room, where no doubt generations of clergymen held family prayers and probably also prac­tised their private devotions. Its somewhat obviously Victorian Gothic doorway is en­cased in an earlier medieval structure with drawings of apparently very early origin on the upright supports on either side.
The Old Rectory at Great Yeldham
as it is today, hardly changed since
1899 (see photograph opposite).
who complained of lights that went on and off without human aid, of a rector's dog that refused to enter a particular room (the room in which we found the human remains) and of a bachelor clergyman who declined to live in the rectory because of the noises he heard at night. Our own experience in this field has been limited, but not wholly uneventful. Our front door bell, which is of the old-fashioned pull-down variety, has on occasions rung without visible cause, and lights have sometimes performed unaided functions that normally require human agency. As for furniture, we have so much that we would be unlikely to notice whether or not any particular item had been moved.
Perhaps it may be said in conclusion that such houses as these, which are becoming ever fewer, should be the concern not merely of their occupiers but of the people of the county in which they are situated. They form part of a common heritage that may all too easily be lost for ever to the generations to come.