The Old Vicarage in Selmeston stands on or close to the site occupied by a clergy house for many centuries. The first recorded vicar, John Bontynge, is known to have been here by 1350, which was the twenty-third year of the reign of King Edward III and a year when the country was ravaged by the Black Death. Bontynge survived the outbreak and continued at Selmeston for a further thirty-six years, making him one of the longest-serving incumbents of the living. Between his death in 1386 and the outbreak of Civil War in England, Selmeston had twenty-two parsons, including John Serlys, who was deprived of his living in 1442-43 for maintaining a lewd relationship with one of his servant girls.
John Wilshaw, a staunch Royalist, who was inducted in 1638, was deprived of his living during the Protectorate and replaced by a supporter of Oliver Cromwell, Martin Fist. The latter died in 1653 and was replaced by Robert Sybson, another puritan who was nonetheless allowed to retain his living after the Restoration.
The Rev. Stephen Jenkin, who served the Parish from 1801 to his death in 1827, initially lived here but later moved to Salehurst, near Robertsbridge, and installed a curate. The practice of absentee pluralism was common in the church at that time and may have contributed to the vicarage falling into disrepair. It was probably as a result of the appointment of Henry Latham in 1833 (the year that slavery was abolished in the British Colonies) that the old house was substantially remodeled or rebuilt. It was originally larger than the house you see today, which was “rationalised” in the 1950s.
Latham, who was also vicar of Alciston from 1834 onwards, was born into a distinguished family, graduated from Brasenose College, Oxford and was called to the bar but “finding the law not to his liking, soon entered the church”. He left Selmeston in 1847 and died of cholera, in Boulogne, in 1866.
The next incumbent was Henry Foster who, in 1860 had an income from the Parishes of Selmeston and Alciston of £500. At the time of the 1851 census, he was 36 years old and sharing the vicarage with his wife, five children and five resident servants: two nursemaids for the children; two maids-of-all work; and a gardener-cum-groom. The servants’ quarters have been demolished but the brass bell pulls that would have summoned them are a remaining feature of the present house.
WD Parish came here in 1863 and died here in 1904. Amongst his successors, Thomas John Bullick is notable as having been the first occupant to have a telephone – Ripe 35. In addition to a stipend of £354, he received £9 from Queen Anne’s Bounty, a Fund instituted in 1704 to assist the poorer clergy in repairing their houses. Funding for the Bounty originally came from tithes paid to the Pope, which were “transferred” to the Crown by Henry VIII. Queen Anne, at her own express wish, surrendered this income to the Fund.
In the 1950s, the Church Commissioners sold The Vicarage to Kenneth Baker (the former Conservative MP and cabinet minister who is now The Rt.Hon Lord Baker of Dorking C.H.) and the name of the property was changed to The Old Vicarage. The current owners moved in to the property in1998.