The Living of Kingsdon, Somerset

Kingsdon is a village situated in Somerset a few miles to the north of Yeovil. Its advowson was purchased by University College in 1829, as what would prove to be the last living acquired from the fund set aside for this purpose from the surplus of the income from the Linton estate (see R. Darwall-Smith, A History of University College, Oxford (Oxford, 2008), pp. 237–42).

At the same time as purchasing the advowson of Kingsdon, the College also bought two adjoining pieces of land, known as Tarr’s and Well Close, presumably to enlarge the glebe.

As the number of Fellows of the College in holy orders declined in the second half of the nineteenth century, so the need to retain advowsons lessened, and in 1884 it was decided to seel Kingsdon. On 27 January 1885, therefore, the College sold the advowson of Kingsdon to William Neal of Kingsdon for £3500 (see UC:EB/A1/6 pp. 271–2). As a result, the College only ever made one appointment to the living, namely that of Peter Hansell in 1835.

Hansell matriculated from Wadham College in 1822, but migrated to University College when he was elected to a Bennet Scholarship there in 1824. He was then elected a Bennet Fellow in 1829. He resigned his Fellowship upon his appointment to Kingsdon in October 1835, and remained Rector of Kingsdon until his death in 1897.

The new Rector was ambitious: he rebuilt the rectory at Kingsdon on a much larger scale, taking out a large mortgage, and hoping that he could fill it with pupils whom he would coach. Unfortunately, Hansell’s career was ruined by scandal. In July 1844 he was accused before the Bishop of Bath and Wells of “committing fornication and incontinence” with Susannah Woods, who according to the 1841 Census had been working as his children’s nanny (papers on the case may be found at the Somerset Heritage Centre, ref. D\D\Bd/1).

Hansell confessed to his part in the affair, and in September 1844 he was suspended from the execution of his ministry anywhere in Kingsdon or elsewhere in the diocese for seven  years. Hansell retired with his wife and family to the commune of St. Servan, near St. Malo in Brittany, where in 1850–1 he was able to persuade three Anglican priests resident in that area to testify formally as to the propriety of his conduct, and he later served as a Chaplain at Caen in 1858–71. It was only in the early 1870s, after almost thirty years, that he returned to Kingsdon, having left the parish to be managed by curates in his absence, and remained there for the rest of his life.

Inevitably, Hansell’s teaching plans came to nothing, and his new rectory proved a burden to him and his successors. A later incumbent, writing in 1923, claimed that Hansell himself died an undischarged bankrupt, and that Hansell’s successor had found the rectory impossibly large to manage. In 1922, however, Hansell’s rectory was destroyed in a fire, and no attempt was ever made to rebuild it. [The Archivist is grateful to Jim and Sally Smith of Kingsdon for providing information about the life of Peter Hansell and his rectory.]

It is at least possible that one of the reasons for the College choosing to sell the living of Kingsdon, as opposed to any other, was embarrassment at the conduct of the one rector whom they had appointed there.

All the documents in this collection were found in the archives during the stocktaking of July 1993.

Catalogued in January 2016.

A pdf version of the full catalogue may be found here.