The Victorian Church and the Prosser-Powell family

For nearly 300 years, from the 1660s until the mid 1950s, eight of this family were incumbents at Dorstone, firstly as Prossers, then as Prosser-Powells.   Several monuments in the chancel are dedicated to them.

So when the Reverend Thomas Prosser Powell became Rector of Dorstone in 1887, he inherited hundreds of years of family tradition in the pastoral care of the parish.

His father, the Reverend Thomas Powell, to whom the East window is dedicated, had held the living from 1843 to 1886.  He had started out as a surgeon with the East India Company. On the advice of his father, Colonel Thomas Powell, then living in Hardwicke, he had returned home, taken holy orders and married Clera Prosser, daughter of the Reverend Thomas Prosser, last of a long line of Prossers, who had held the living in Dorstone since just after the Restoration of 1660.powell-rev-thomas1842-1886

Over the years, the Prosser family had acquired a considerable amount of land in the area, so Thomas Prosser Powell found himself quite a large landowner as well as Rector of Dorstone.  Since 1875, Thomas Prosser Powell had been Vicar of Peterchurch, living at Hinton Hall (then Peterchurch Vicarage). Married to Jessie Caroline Davies, daughter of Mr. Percy Davies of Crickhowell, he had raised a family of five children, two sons and three daughters.Before his marriage, Thomas Prosser Powell had been part of the local gentry’s lively social round, vividly described in Francis Kilvert’s diary.  In that diary, Kilvert relates an incident which makes him seem a very human individual and not just a dry-as-dust historical figure. He describes a picnic at Snodhill on a hot day in June, after which they all go to dinner at Dorstone Rectory.

“After dinner, the carpet was taken up in the drawing room and there was a dance on the slippery oak floor which was sadly scratched and scored by the nailed boots of the gentlemen and some of the ladies. Tom Powell slipped and fell” [Kilvert’s Diary 21 June 1870]

In 1887, however, such youthful escapades were well behind him and we see ‘Tom’ Powell, installed in Dorstone Rectory with his young family, taking up his pastoral duties with dedication and enthusiasm. His second son George Henry describes how music was made in the old church, in phrases reminiscent of Thomas Hardy.

“The church music in those days was provided by two men, one who blew a cornet we used to watch with eager delight, his cheeks expanding to bursting point, expecting every moment a loud pop as they burst. The other played a fiddle and the amazing agility of his fingers and his bow filled us children with delight.”

[A Veteran Looks Back. Hereford Diocesan Messenger 1948].

One of the new Rector’s  first tasks, however, was to rebuild the church. Although the existing building was only 63 years old, (the original Norman church having been replaced in 1826) it did seem to be in a perilous state and its rebuilding an urgent necessity.

By December 1888, the Rector had written to the Bishop asking for a faculty to rebuild the church, telling him he had already received a generous offer from Mr. Percy Davies, his father-in-law. Begging letters were sent to everyone who had ever had a connection with Dorstone and the money was soon collected. £1,800 was the original estimate which soon proved not to be enough. The final sum required was £2,162 and, with more help from Mr. Percy Davies, this was raised and the work started.

(One cannot help but compare this modest amount with the cost of installing the Golden Valley Railway line at about the same time which was £18,000 per mile!)

Young George, confined to bed with a childhood illness, was able to watch the demolition work through the rectory window:

“shrieking to see a gang of men pulling down the East End with a crash and a roar and seeing the workmen discover a communal grave full of bones which were reported to be the remains of victims of the Great Plague and a constant stream of jugs of hot coffee were carried out to the workmen as an antidote against their catching the plague”

(Taken in part from The Green Book – Dorstone 1890 – 1990)  available to buy for £4 download