A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Pugin and Bucknall at Fairford?



by Richard Barton (2004)



In the earlier 1970 edition for Pevsner, by David Verey, the little church appears under the hamlet of Whelford and is simply described as ‘of c.1850-60; with presbytery’. Writing in the 1999 edition, Alan Brooks now offers a fuller description when he adds ‘a simple buttressed church, in lancet style, built in 1845. Chancel, nave, and w.porch, with a thin bellcote. – stained glass. E.window by Wailes, 1845. The others are all c20: two probably by Jones & Willis c 1917-1918, two by Hardman c.1944-45, three by Geoffrey Robinson, 1989.’

I have to say that I was definitely unconvinced when I first read the following note in historical papers written by the late Miss Celia Willant of Fairford: ‘the church is reputed to have been designed by Pugin and could well be of his style’.

We know that the church at Horcott, which cost £700, was opened on 12th October 1845 but we have no direct evidence for either an architect or a builder. In fact the opening of the chapel merited only thirteen words in the local press.

The church was built as a result of the closure of the Hatherop Mission, which had been supported by members of the Blomer and Webb families since the seventeenth century. When Lady Barbara de Mauley died her husband was anxious to close the Catholic chapel in the Castle and within a short time he was rebuilding his home as a result of a disastrous fire. His architect was Clutton. Ten years later Burges and Clutton were collaborating on a memorial chapel to Lady Barbara in Hatherop Parish Church.

The new Catholic Church, built within sight of the famous medieval church at Fairford, was erected largely as a result of the enthusiasm of the Missioner from Chipping Norton, Fr John Mitchell and Richard Iles, a local farmer, who had recently become a Catholic. His family were responsible for acquiring the land. The original church stood on its own amongst cottages and farms in the small hamlet of Horcott, which was then situated in the Parish of Kempsford. Finances were certainly very tight and the existence of the mission continued to be very precarious for many years to come.

The addition of the Presbytery nearly twenty years later, by Benjamin Bucknall, involved extending the sacristy. This necessitated the removal of the sacristy door from the chancel into the nave and one of the original lancet windows on the South side of the nave was also removed to make this possible. The two light window in the Sacristy shares a common design with the former School Room and was probably inserted by Bucknall. Otherwise the church is structurally as it was when it was first erected.

When the Church was opened in 1845 it had no resident missioner but in March of the following year William Leigh invited the Passionists to begin a Mission at Northfields, Nailsworth. From Easter 1846 this community was also looking after Fairford as well.

Leigh had purchased the nearby Woodchester Park estate in November 1845 and he soon commissioned Pugin to draw up designs for a church and Retreat for the Passionists together with plans for a new mansion house at Woodchester Park. This meant that Pugin was drawing up plans for Woodchester Park within a year or so of Horcott Chapel being opened. Certainly we know that Pugin asked to be excused from the commission for Woodchester in 1846, apparently because of pressure of work. Plans began for the Church of the Annunciation at Woodchester but on this occasion Pugin fell out with Leigh when there was talk of scaling down the church. As a result Bucknall was to design Woodchester Park Mansion and Charles Hansom was to design the Priory Church.

As for the St Thomas’s at Fairford – does it resemble other work by Pugin? It is a very simple church but there are striking similarities with features from other Pugin churches. The Summer 2002 edition of True Principles included an article by John Purkis on St Ives in Cambridgeshire. The illustrations were of great interest. The east end of the Church of the Sacred Heart, shorn of its aisles, and translated into Cotswold stone, could be the east end of St Thomas’s. Above the ‘East’ end triple lancet windows at Fairford is a quatrefoil rather than a trefoil window but there is certainly some similarly. The illustration of the interior of St Ives shows a window by William Wailes. We have a Wailes Window dated 1845 and with a similar feel to the ‘East’ window to St Ives. It has ‘wallpaper’ glass incorporating three lozenges or medallions. The central one depicts St Thomas of Canterbury and is certainly very Puginesque. This is flanked by St Augustine of Canterbury on one side and Pope St Gregory the Great on the other. These would certainly be popular themes for a man from Ramsgate even though nearby Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, is one of the places where St Augustine is said to have met the Celtic bishops in 603. Pugin was using the services of Wailes up until 1845 when, Stanley Shepherd tells us, he turned his attention to Hardman. Could this be significant? This window is at present away being conserved but we hope that it will be returned to the church for Easter.

Two niches flank our triple lancet chancel window in a similar arrangement to St John’s Hospital at Alton. The west front has something of Hulme and even Warwick Bridge although the feel of the church with its slate roofs, its external appearance, which conceals the separate compartment for the chancel, is more like St Peter’s Wexford or Barntown in Ireland. Even the porch has parallels with other churches by Pugin. Clearly at Fairford we are dealing with a humble church like the now demolished St Nicholas at Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, and expensive detail is undoubtedly lacking. After all it is believed to have cost only £700 to build. The sanctuary arch is rather like the one at Boldmere but there are stone fittings such as the piscina and the font. The stone altar, which has always lacked a proper stone reredos, was brought forward during the 1980’s. The lightly constructed wooden roof is reminiscent of others by Pugin and resembles the one shown in the architect’s drawing of proposed interior of church at Cambridge.

Sadly, the décor of St Thomas’s Church is now very plain but an old photograph shows that there was once rich stencilling in the Sanctuary and there is still evidence of stencilling around the statue of Our Lady.

Interestingly, we know that in May 1842, Pugin sketched Fairford Parish Church and he visited the town again in July 1850. Could he have designed a church for Horcott in 1845? If not we are looking at a copy!


Attached to the Catholic Church of St Thomas of Canterbury is Horcott Presbytery, positioned to the south west of the church and linked to it by the Sacristy. It is constructed of Cotswold stone with a clay tile roof. The house has been seriously mauled over the years yet it still retains much of its character and manages to complement the church and together they present an evocative range of buildings.

When I was appointed as Parish Priest of Fairford in 1998 I was delighted to take over the responsibility of its church and presbytery. When I walked into the house for the first time I immediately felt that I was probably be moving into another house by the architect Benjamin Bucknall. For nearly three years I had been working at St George’s Taunton where the church and adjoining Rectory are both by Bucknall. The Presbytery at Horcott instantly reminded me of other Bucknall houses too. Various tell-tale features, together with a tantalizing reference in the diocesan archives, helped me to persuade Alan Brooks to write in the 1999 edition of the Pevsner volume for The Cotswolds – ‘Attached Presbytery of 1863 probably by Benjamin Bucknall’.

Having been brought up in the Stroud valleys I have been long acquainted with the work of the local Catholic architect Benjamin Bucknall and I am familiar with his domestic architecture which ranges in scale from Woodchester Park Mansion (built 1854-1868) to smaller properties nearby such as St Stephen’s, Nympsfield (built 1862), and Scar Hill (built 1861). I immediately recognized at Horcott familiar features from these properties at Nympsfield.

During the late 1840’s the priests who served the Mission at Horcott were from the Passionist Retreat at Northfields and later Woodchester. Members of the Passionist Community received Benjamin Bucknall and two of his brothers into full communion with the Catholic Church together with Miss Matthews who was a family friend of the Bucknalls and later became the Foundress of St Rose’s Convent in Stroud. Woodchester and Stroud were then neighbouring missions to Fairford so it is likely that the Iles Family, the benefactors of Fairford, were acquainted not only with the Leigh Family of Woodchester Park but also with Benjamin Bucknall himself. In fact Richard Iles may even have used the skills of Bucknall to enlarge his house at Reevey, near Kempsford.

The priest who had been responsible for the last days of the old Hatherop Mission and for the building of St Thomas’s Church at Horcott was Canon John Mitchell, the Missioner at Chipping Norton. In 1852 the Canon was appointed to Taunton where he erected the splendid new church and presbytery at a cost of £6,000. The foundation stone was laid in 1858 and the church was opened in April 1860. The architect of the church and presbytery was none other than Benjamin Bucknall. It may be significant that Canon Mitchell retained an interest in this locality because in 1892 he provided a site for the present St Peter’s Church in Cirencester. Was Bucknall appointed as architect at Fairford because he had come upon Mitchell’s recommendation?

In 1863 Fr Peter Seddon was appointed as Missioner at Fairford and he wrote to the Bishop on 2nd March 1863 that he was now in lodgings in Fairford, which was easier for him than supplying the Mission from Swindon. He mentioned his need of furniture for a school at Fairford as thirteen of his local children were then attending Protestant schools. Certainly he was receiving financial support from the brothers Jose Santiago and Pedro d’Alcantara Garcia who were both students at the Royal Agricultural College when he first arrived at Fairford. When Pedro died in December 1864 he left money for a site for a new church in Cirencester, which it was often said was to be designed by Benjamin Bucknall but this may have arisen from a misunderstanding over a letter concerning the presbytery at Fairford dated 16th February 1866.

On 1st April 1897 Richard Iles wrote to Canon Russell concerning a rumour that was then afloat that certain monetary gifts to the Fairford mission were unaccounted for:

“…The Rev Peter Seddon built the Presbytery borrowing for the purpose £250 from Mrs Mary Powell with the understanding (which I believe is in the deeds) that interest should be paid for the money during the lives of the late Mrs Mary Powell and her daughter the present Anne Exton Powell but, on the death of the one who survived, the money should fall to the mission so that on the death of the present Anne Exton Powell that money will fall to the mission. I am not quite certain that the £250 covered the whole of the presbytery, but I think so.

The Rev Peter Seddon built the school. At that time, a young very wealthy Spanish gentleman came to study at the Agricultural College and Garcia used frequently to stay a day or so with Fr Seddon, from Saturday to Monday, spending Sunday at the Presbytery. I believe from him came money to build the school.”

It would also seem likely that Fr Seddon would turn to a local Catholic architect for help with these projects. Sadly we do not have direct confirmation of this but we do have a conveyance of land to the Diocese dated 1st April 1867, which had provided for the erection of the church, presbytery, school, schoolhouse and burial ground. There is also correspondence in the Diocesan archives dated 16th February 1866 in which Bishop Clifford wrote to Fr Seddon about a complaint from the architect Benjamin Bucknall concerning a house that had been commissioned from him:

Bishop’s House

Clifton Feb. 16 1866

My Dear Mr Seddon,

After reading over several times your letter to me of the 11th & Mr Bucknall’s of the 5th ins, I am still unable to understand whether the sum of £31 claimed by Mr Bucknall has been paid by you to him and is included in the sum of £385 which you have accounted to me for as paid on account of the building: or whether the sum £31 has not been paid to Mr Bucknall because you do not think he has a claim to it. This is the point I want clearly to understand. If you have paid the sum claimed by Mr Bucknall it will be sufficient for you to let me know the fact, & I need not enter into any further details about the accounts till I come over to Fairford when I can see you personally – But if you have not paid the £31 to Mr Bucknall then you must let me know on what grounds you refuse payment. It is quite clear both from your statement and from that of Mr Bucknall that he cannot claim his commission from you, because he agreed beforehand to forfit (sic) that if he had exceeded his estimate – which he has done. But the £31 form no part of his commission but are part of the cost of goods delivered and accepted – Mr Bucknall did wrong in exceeding his estimate, but as there no contract you are certainly liable for the £31 if the articles in question were really purchased for the house.

Please therefore to give me an answer on this point that ‘I may know what to say to Mr Bucknall…’

In the following year Peter Seddon was removed from Fairford and the new priest, John Dickenson, complained bitterly about the condition of the mission when he inherited it. The undated ‘Account of Receipts and Expenses of the Presbytery at Fairford’, now in the Clifton Diocesan Archives probably dates from his tenure:

‘Received from Mrs Powell £250

From sale of land – money not paid £62

Total £312

Cost of Building: £368.10.9d

Interest on money £11

Architect £6

Sundries £2.10.0d

Total £388-0.9d

Balance £76.00.9d’

In May 1868 an Inventory was made of the furniture in the Presbytery and the following rooms were described – the large downstairs room, the small sitting room, the hall, the kitchen and upstairs the large bedroom, the passage, the library and two other bedrooms.

Austin Iles, son of Richard Iles, later wrote in his ‘Random Recollections of the Fairford Mission’:

The Rev. Peter Seddon was here from 1863 to 1867; he was a young energetic priest and made several converts. The next priest was the Rev. John Dickenson. He was here from 1867 to 1869. Unfortunately he was most unsuitable for the Mission and several of the previous missioner’s converts fell away’

The late Dowager Lady Sherbourne left Dr. English a sum of money for burying her. He spent the money in enlarging the Presbytery by the brick erection at the back. Fr. Seddon built the Presbytery, School and School-house. My aunt, the late Mrs. M. Powell, found some of the money to build the presbytery and the Bishop paid her £11.10.0d in yearly interest till her death. As our family has always lived more than 3 miles from the church, my father built a stable in the corner of the Presbytery garden. It was taken down and rebuilt nearer to the house for the convenience of Fr. Seddon as he also had a horse. Our family has always claimed the right to the exclusive use of this stable.’

A gentleman who visited the churchyard once told me that his late wife was descended from the family of Farmer, who were builders of Fairford, and that she had spoken to him of a photograph which had shown members of the firm building Horcott Presbytery. I have not been able to substantiate this story.


Certainly the appearance of the house has considerably changed since the time it was built. Fortunately we have plans of the house that were prepared by Eric Cole and Partners in April 1964 and they can assist us in reconstructing how the property may have looked before that date. These plans resulted in major alterations and repairs to the church and presbytery by Messrs. H.R. & G. Baldwin of Horcott, during 1965-66, which cost £5475.13.11d.

The house reflects a High Victorian Gothic style and is built from local coarsed limestone with freestone dressings and heavy quoins. It has a steeply pitched gabled roof with a projecting gabled stair tower at the front to accommodate a winding stone newel staircase. The roof is covered in plain red clay tiles, which are nestled between substantial stone copings and the stone crest. The original tiles were re-used on the front slopes when the house was completely re-roofed by the Hanks family in 2003. The stone-coped gable ends have finials and large shaped kneelers together with stone axial and corbelled gable-end stacks with weathered caps. The whole design demonstrates strong lines and a muscular use of stone.

Eric Cole’s plans reveal that the residence originally boasted of a ground floor plan consisting of four rooms with four rooms on the first floor. At the rear was a substantial stone outbuilding or stable with a coping on the front elevation. This had similar stone bosses and kneelers for the coping to the ones found on the house itself. This structure obviously started its life as the stable described by Austin Iles above but was being used in 1964 as a garage and store. The lean-to structure situated directly behind the house in Eric Cole’s plan was the brick kitchen and utility extension erected in about 1908 and financed from the legacy of Susan, Lady Sherbourne.

The Front or West Elevation of the house has certainly altered over the years. Originally the front door was to the right of the projecting stair tower with a cross-mullion-transom window on either side both with surviving relieving arches above, rere-arches inside and carefully designed hood moulds and splayed stone sills. The windows in the projecting bay are unchanged but the canopied niche was originally left empty. The bosses for the guttering were originally six inches lower and probably supported stone guttering. The holes in the quoins probably indicate the position of original lead down pipes. In 1965 a new doorway was cut into the front of the house, just to the left of the projecting bay and this new doorway with its shoulder arch probably utilized stonework from the old doorway. The former front entrance was partially blocked up and a cross window was replicated and inserted into the space without a relieving arch and with thinner walls beneath. In 1999 Patrick Conoley designed a statue of St Thomas of Canterbury for the niche, which is cut from Caen limestone. Unfortunately the rainwater guttering has been altered many times and two ugly vent pipes now deface the frontage. In 2003 the house was re-roofed and after much heart-searching the stone bosses were lifted up six inches, out of line with the bosses for the coping, so that they could more effectively support the cast iron guttering. For many years a glazed conservatory concealed the entrance door and the site of the fixings are still visible in the stonework today. One of the schemes, produced by Cole in July 1964, would have involved major changes to the front of the house so as to incorporate a total of five windows and a new doorway on the ground floor and two windows on the first floor. The existing windows in the projecting bay, the cruciform finial and the decorative niche would all have been removed.

The Sacristy was probably extended forward by Bucknall to link the church to the house. The two-light mullioned window with shoulder arches echoes the three-light window on the West Elevation of the old School Room. The coping flows from the north gable of the house.

The gabled South Elevation of the house is largely unaltered except for the demolition of the free standing stone built utility building or stable and its replacement with a modern garage in 1965. We can still appreciate the substantial stone coping with its bosses, kneelers and finials on the gables of the house. The ground floor cross window and the first floor three-light mullioned window have fine hood moulds, splayed stone sills and relieving arches and inside there are rere-arches. Sadly upvc windows have been inserted which certainly scars the outward appearance and reduces the natural light. There is a ventilation light into the roof space

Today a large flat roofed kitchen wing at ground floor level disfigures the Rear or East Elevation. Changes have largely been made to the ground floor and it is not easy to reconstruct how the house originally looked. At first floor level the only window is the attractive small gabled stone dormer at eaves level with its corbelled kneelers and finial, which, in 1965, was altered possibly involving the removal of a stone mullion, and more recently a upvc window unit has been inserted into it. Beneath this feature is the present ground floor window, which has been inserted into the position where in 1908 a window was turned into the doorway into the kitchen. This 1965 restoration was marred by the crude chisel work where the exterior stonework was cleaned of paint. Originally there would have been a kitchen window where the boiler house doorway is now situated and an external doorway where the toilet window is situated now. All of the windows at the rear had square transom lights above and the ground floor doorway and windows had relieving arches, which are still visible. Again the bosses and guttering have been altered and two roof lights have been inserted.

The North Elevation is the least altered of all. It has the same stone coping with bosses and kneelers as the South Elevation but here a massive chimneystack springs outwards a few inches from the building. There are two windows with squared off rere-arches at first floor level, which overlook the church, and there is a small ventilation light in the roof space. Sadly the windows have been replaced with upvc ones which have seriously reduced natural light. In all, the house has two fine chimneystacks serving six fireplaces.

Moving inside the house the arrangement of the rooms on the ground floor has been completely altered except for the sitting room and stair well. Previously the front door opened into an entrance hall with the winding stone staircase rising from it. The existing doors opened into the cupboard under the stairs, into the sitting room, the former dining room and the former kitchen. Now the last two doorways open into the passageway, which was constructed in 1965. This has seriously encroached on the former dining room and kitchen. These rooms are now used as an outer Sacristy and a cloakroom.

The sitting room and the former dining room have fine stone window seats, and rere-arches in the form of shoulder arches. Stone corbels support the ceiling beams and one of the ones in the sitting room projects from an elaborate mullion between the rere-arches. The original fireplaces in the hall and sitting room have sadly been removed but part of the one in the former dining room is still present. Before the 1965 renovation the old entrance hall only received natural light from the window in the stair well and parishioners remember it as being a very gloomy place. This would not have been the case before 1908 when the window in the entrance hall was turned into the doorway into the kitchen. The original kitchen, which is now occupied by the passage way, cloak room and boiler room, must have been very small and the 1964 plans show a stone flagged floor for this area.

The first floor bedroom plan was also altered in 1965. The bedroom above the sitting room has a fine rere-arch, corbels for the ceiling beam, a stone fireplace and stone window seats. Unfortunately it has been spoilt with its roof light, upvc window and intrusive en suite bathroom. The rear bedroom is largely unaltered with a stone window seat, stone bosses for the beam and a stone fireplace. The principal feature is the dormer window with its stone window seat. Again the window was altered in some way in 1965, possibly involving the removal of the mullion. Sadly in more recent years a upvc window unit has also been inserted.

The two rooms at the north end of the house may well have been designed for a housekeeper as the doorways from the landing were once angled so as to open on to each other. Both rooms have small windows facing on to the church roof with rere-arches in the form of shoulder arches. The windows are now both filled with upvc units. The room at the rear has stone corbels for the beams and a stone fireplace. The front room has been turned into a bathroom and its doorway was altered in 1965 so as to provide space on the landing for an airing cupboard. The landing area is quite large with a solid stone banister over the stair well. Because all the rooms on the first floor are partially within the roof space there are purlins running through all the rooms and sloping walls to the front and back. The windows were carefully arranged so that three of the rooms are lit from windows situated in the gable ends of the house. There is also one in the stair well and the only dormer window is situated at the rear.

The attic space is divided into three sections by brick walls with purlins and beams running the length of the house. The only features are the two chimneystacks and the two small ventilation windows.


The School and adjoining Schoolmaster’s House were erected as one structure at the same time as the Presbytery and, from the evidence of a 1961 aerial photograph, shared many similar features with it. As the Presbytery is the work of Benjamin Bucknall then we can be sure that this building is too. The whole building was designed on a T plan with the house occupying the trunk part of the T. Like the Presbytery, it was built in Cotswold stone with quoins and relieving arches and with red clay tiles on the roof. It would seem there were no copings or finials on the gable ends. Nearest to the Church, and running parallel to it, was the class room which was lit by a three light window with shoulder arches which faced the footpath at the west end and two square mullioned windows looked over the churchyard. There are examples of both styles of window in the Presbytery.

The front elevation of the house included a mullioned window on the ground floor facing the footpath with a mullioned dormer window positioned at first floor level. As with the Presbytery, the first floor rooms were situated partially in the roof and two chimneystacks served the whole of the building.

The building ceased to be a school in 1888 and was leased as a private residence. The schoolroom was briefly used as the church hall until it was finally sold in 1974 to a Mr Cuss for the sum of £4,000. Since then the property has been severely altered and added to, so much so, that it is now difficult to imagine what it originally looked like. A large wing has been added to the east of the former school house and comparing the west elevation with today the ground floor window has been re-positioned and the gable end chimneystack removed.


Today St Thomas’s is a loved parish church. In recent years Colin Ash of Highworth has completely re-pointed the building and re-slated the Porch and Sacristy. The main Church roof was re-slated by Maurice Hanks of Cirencester who then re-tiled and partially re-pointed the Presbytery. Although Horcott Presbytery has a hideous extension to the rear it is still an attractive little house. It was designed to be economic in its use of space and yet it contains lots of expensive stone detail. Clearly it was intended to stand up against the ravages of the elements, which it has done for the past 140 years. On 13th September 2004 both the Church and Presbytery at Horcott were listed Grade II.

2 comments on “Pugin and Bucknall at Fairford?

  1. Sally Lyne
    February 3, 2020

    Another lost work of Benjamin Bucknall is in Gower. Benjamin Bucknall designed the Old Rectory in Llanmadoc, Gower, for Rev J.D. Davies. The old village story is that J D Davies went to Switzerland in 1875, and then built a new Rectory on the site of the old in 1876. We have a letter written by the Rector concerning money from the Queen Anne’s Bounty, saying that his architect is Benjamin Bucknall. It is highly likely that J.D.Davies went to Lausanne with Bucknall, to the home of Viollet le Duc. Both the exterior and the interior of the new Rectory have many similarities to Villa la Vedette, the home of Le Duc, and JDDavies quotes the views of Le Duc several times in his History of West Gower.

    • Richard Barton
      February 3, 2020

      Many thanks for this fascinating addition. These days I am involved with Woodchester Mansion and we are always interested to learn more about Bucknall. With kindest regards Richard

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