|Diary of a Somebody
Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire
by Sarah Shuckburgh
Sarah Shuckburgh visits the
parsonage, now a hotel, where a famous journal was
I have come to Upper Slaughter with a long-dead country
clergyman as my guide and host. . . or rather, with my
well-thumbed copy of The Diary of a Cotswold Parson, out of
print for years, but republished on February 27. Reverend F
E Witts wrote his journal almost 200 years ago, but today
little has changed in his beautiful village.
The name Slaughter - or Sclostre in the Domesday Book -
means "a muddy place", and the Slaughter Brook still
meanders past the Norman church and between 300-year-old
cottages of honey-coloured stone. On the site of a
house once owned by Henry VIII stands the 17th-century manor
where Reverend Witts lived - and where I am staying
for the weekend.
The rectory is now a comfortable hotel, called Lords of the
Manor, but I can easily pretend that I'm here as the
Reverend's guest, as every room is full of family paintings,
books and furniture. In the hall, I shrink under the icy
stare of the Rector's favourite aunt, Apphia, Lady Lyttleton,
whose stern portrait hangs above the heads of the smiling
receptionists. Her Ladyship's finger points to an improving
passage in her Bible.
My bedroom - with its antique four-poster bed and
free-standing cast-iron bath - is named after Ferdinando
Tracy Travell, rector and owner of the manor from 1763. His
portrait hangs downstairs, and his coat of arms is carved
above the drawing-room fireplace. When Tracy Travell died in
1808, his nephew, Francis Edward Witts, newly-married and
already a keen diarist, became rector, and remained here
until his death in 1854.
Reverend Witts apparently spoke little to his wife and
instead confided all his thoughts to his diaries. His prose
does not have the grace of Kilvert, a later, better-known
parson diarist, but his observations are shrewd and witty.
He comments on national news - the Enclosures, the Reform
Bill, and "the imputed adulteries and gross indecencies of
Queen Caroline" - and on local events - the completion of
the Berkeley canal, the arrival of "tram carts which travel
by steam" and the grand opening of the Moreton-in-Marsh
He complains of the "tardy civility" of an ancient widow who
waits 18 years before paying him a visit, the suicide of a
parishioner ("the want of sound religious principle no doubt
brought on temporary insanity"), and a quarrel in the
rectory kitchen which leads to the dismissal of most of his
domestics. We read about his visits to lunatic asylums, to
the wool fair, and to the Three Choirs Festival -
inaugurated in 1715, and still running today.
Witts's hectic round of social engagements and public duties
involves long journeys on his horse, through countryside
that he adores, and which is as pretty now as it must have
been then. The Warden's Way footpath, for example, passes
the manor, and there are wonderful walks in all directions.
Half a mile downstream is the enchanting village of Lower
Slaughter, with its mill wheel still turning. A mile
upstream is the hamlet of Eyford, where Milton is said to
have written parts of Paradise Lost. The lovely market town
of Stow-on-the-Wold is three miles away.
The Reverend "enjoyed a refreshing dish of tea" when he got
home from his exertions and, after my bracing walk, I too
take tea by the fire, as I gaze through the mullioned
windows on to the park, and dip into the diaries again.
Francis Edward Witts - the diarist's great-great-grandson -
sold the manor in 1985, but still lives in the village.
Reverend Witts's rectory is the only hotel in
Gloucestershire with a Michelin star (reawarded last month
for the eighth consecutive year). The Reverend would
doubtless be pleased to see his rectory as it is today, and
to enjoy its still unspoilt Cotswold setting.
'The Diary of a Cotswold Parson' (£7.99, Sutton).
the Manor Hotel (01451 820243; www.lordsofthemanor.com),
doubles from £149.
First published by the Telegraph