Like many Ilfracombe houses the Vicarage presents its back to the road. The approach through the fine pillared entrance reveals an uncoordinated array of windows, arranged it seems, from internal needs rather from outside design. It is by no means unattractive, partly because of the spacious and shady setting, but also because of the fine detailing and materials. Three massive brick chimneys rise from a swept slated roof with deep overhangs supported by a curved white coving which gives contrast to the weather slating of the first floor. Below this, local brown stone in irregular coursing is used with freestone dressing for the windows and entrance. This last has a slated pent roof over it supported by carved wooden brackets, possibly from the earlier Vicarage which was most likely on this site. Alan Hussell, a local architect, writing about the Vicarage in 1937 speaks of this earlier building:-
The present Vicarage is possibly built on the site of the former one which, according to Miss Gratiana Chanter's book, "Wanderings in North Devon", was quite an old building and itself formed part of a still older building - a mansion. Miss Chanter, describing the former Vicarage in her book, says it was "A long low house with buff coloured face and deep finely slated roof, not always even, but gently undulating, as if its old beams had wearied with keeping the horizontal for so many centuries, and had lowered their aching arms to a more restful position. The kitchen is thought to have been the entrance hall to the grand old mansion, of which it once formed a part". One remembers to have heard that this kitchen, or part of it, is incorporated into the present Vicarage.
In this kitchen, (which Hussell refers to) the right hand annexe, which, though sharing the same design features as the main block, is distinct. Beams and bosses from the old house are incorporated into the front room ceiling of the present Vicarage.
In the "Arts and Crafts" tradition, Ewen Christian, the London architect of the Vicarage, brings together and harmonises the varied elements of the entrance front. The windows are not only irregularly distributed, but some are sash and some casement according to need. It is this principle of convenience (and comfort), that has a determining factor in the building of this movement. They have a homely, welcoming feeling, in contrast to the formality of Georgian and forbidding austerity of the Gothic Revival. This refined domesticity is evident on the garden front of the Vicarage.
Here at first glance, we have a conventional double fronted house, beautifully slated on its first floor with stone facings below. Above is a widely swept slate roof with its pinkish brick chimneys rising grandly from it, and overhanging the walls with curved white coving making a contrast with the grey slate below. The ground floor has two five light rectangular bay windows, under a lean-to slated roof, which joins them. So far all this is unexceptionally conventional, but then comes the unexpected. Normally between the bays there would be an entrance, often the main doorway leading into the hall, but here there is a blank wall and the only entrance on the garden front is into the conservatory.
Then on the first floor there are sash windows over each bay, but one is of two lights and the other just one, why? To add to the imbalance, the dormer above the single light window has four lights whereas the one over the large window has only three! Is this intentionally perverse, or is it just to suit the needs of the room within.
There is a style of architecture which breaks conventional rules to create an impression, we call it Mannerism, and it has produced some great architects (Michelangelo was one), but the Vicarage is hardly mannerist. It has a quiet even comfortable feel about it, and it is this, no doubt, the aim to provide utility and comfort, that gives us the reason for its eccentricities. Only those who have lived in it will be able to say whether the architect has been successful here.
Jim Bates - February 1999