St Peter's Rectory
Rectory Lane, Berrkhamsted
Rectory Lane takes its name from the Rectory of St Peter’s Church. This is the house provided by the church for the Rector — the priest-in-charge — of the Parish of Great Berkhamsted. In fact, there have been three different Rectories on this lane.
The original rectory stood to the west of the Cemetery. It is not known exactly how old this building was. This was the birthplace of the poet and hymn-writer William Cowper, who was born in 1731, the son of the Rev. John Cowper, Rector of St Peter’s 1722-1756. William Cowper’s many works included the Olney Hymns and he wrote the hymn “Oh! for a closer walk with God”. His poetry gave the English language the phrase: “God moves in a mysterious way”. In the 1780s, Cowper was active in the anti-slavery movement and associated with abolitionists such as John Newton and William Wilberforce. In the 20th century, Cowper was often quoted in speeches by Dr Martin Luther King. Cowper died in 1800 and was buried in St Nicholas’s Church in East Dereham, Norfolk. He is commemorated in St Peter’s Church by two windows which also depict his pet hares.
From 1810-1851, Rev John Crofts was the Rector of St Peter’s, and during his incumbency he drove many improvements. In 1820 he oversaw Jeffry Wyattville’s restoration of St Peter’s Church, and around 1835 he built a new Rectory further up the lane, and demolished the old Rectory. This large Victorian red-brick house served as the St Peter’s Rectory for over a century. Some of the outbuildings of the original Rectory survived, including the coach house (still in use today as the Rectory garage) and the old well-house known as Cowper’s Well.
The Rectory became home to another writer when John Wolstenholme Cobb was appointed Rector in 1871. Cobb is renowned in Berkhamsted as a local historian who published his extensive research in 1855 in The History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted. He remained Rector of the parish until his death in 1883, and was buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery.
In the 1960s, the Crofts Rectory was sold and a new, less grandiose house was built close to the site of the original Rectory. The Victorian Rectory — now known as “The Old Rectory” — is still standing today at the end of Rectory Lane, and is in use as a private house.
What's connected with this location
1 burial in Rectory Lane Cemetery is linked with St Peter's Rectory — click on a burial below to find out more about the historical connections: