When George Herbert came to his Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton parish, the rectory in Bemerton had not been occupied for at least ten years. His immediate predecessor, Walter Curll, had lived some distance away from the parish, although he may also have had a residence in Salisbury Cathedral Close.
Looking at the building today, it is hard to imagine the scope of the original house that Herbert found - it was a rectangle, one room deep, 3 rooms long, 2 storeys high. The house was substantial enough, but in poor repair and probably very cold, damp and dirty through being empty for so long. It would have needed quite a lot of work to bring it into a habitable condition. It was certainly far beneath what Herbert would have been used to.
We know that he repaired and restored it considerably. Herbert’s room was in the middle upstairs, and would have had a view to St. Andrew's Church on one side, and across the river to Salisbury Cathedral on the other (this latter view is almost unchanged today). The middle room on the ground floor was the main hall and according to Izaak Walton it was here, on the chimney mantle, that Herbert had a tablet installed that read:
To My Successor
If thou chance for to find
A new House to thy mind
And built without thy Cost
Be good to the Poor,
As God gives thee store,
And then my Labour's not lost.
A copy of this tablet now sits on the outside of the house over the Lower Road entrance.
Over the years the Rectory has had smaller and larger work - the basic L-shape came sometime in the 18th century. There were stables on the west end for a long time, which were later taken away, to tidy the house up. A later (also famous) incumbent - the Archdeacon William Coxe, employed Sir John Soane in 1788 to extend the house and add the stables. At this time the windows were unified and the patchwork flint-knapping gave the building a unified appearance.
Sometime in the 19th century the L-shape began to be filled in with the addition of the front door and staircase and the neighbouring single storey addition. At the beginning of the 20th century the stables were rebuilt in brick, and we know that there was enough accommodation for the then Rector, Francis Warre, to house his own family and some 13 servants. This was probably within a 3 storey extension at the west end, with a flat and rooms going the length of the attic. The attic rooms remain, but the west wing has since been demolished.
Today the Old Rectory and St. Andrew's Church still face each other, but the road sitting between them is frequently busy, lying as it does on a 'rat run' to a nearby industrial estate. Children going to and from St. John's School have to navigate the dangerous narrow junction - the road has no pedestrian walkway at this point. But at the rear, the outlook from the riverside garden is as tranquil as ever, with the Cathedral spire clearly visible in the distance. The house and grounds are now privately owned.