Marsham Argles: The Forgotten Man of Kingsley House?

Marsham Argles had a considerable influence in Barnack and deserves to be better known, if only because he rebuilt the rectory, which in the 1960s came to be known as Kingsley House.

Kingsley HouseMarsham Argles was born in 1814, the son of a naval officer. In 1831 he entered Merton College, Oxford. After graduating, Marsham was ordained into the priesthood and served first at Cranford and then Duddington. In 1839 he married Margaret Julia Davys, the daughter of George Davys, who that same year was appointed Bishop of Peterborough.

Then in 1851, aged 37, Marsham was appointed rector at Barnack. It was said at the time that it was a curious coincidence that he should succeed to the comfortable benefice of Barnack and to a canonry, both in the gift of the worthy prelate, who when accused of nepotism, replied: Why should an excellent young man be prevented from having a good living merely because he is my son-in-law?

Barnack had been without a rector for seven years, after the scandalous incumbency of the Rev. Herbert Charles Marsh. He had been relieved of his duties by Bishop Davys in 1844, following a failed prosecution brought by Rev. Marsh against one of his French mistresses. (For an account of the case at Northampton Assizes see the Stamford Mercury for 8th March, 1844.) It must have been difficult for Marsham Argles to pick up the pieces, but he clearly succeeded because he stayed as rector until 1891. He and his wife Margaret moved into the rectory and by 1857 had nine children, five boys and four girls. He possessed an ample fortune and owned land in Cumbria. He was known for his munificence to the Peterborough Cathedral Restoration Fund, to which he gave £1300. He also gave the throne and pulpit, the marble floor for the choir and two organs. His gifts amounted to between £7000 and £8000. He restored the church in Barnack, as he had in Duddington.

However, his life was marred by tragedy. In 1831 his father, Captain George Argles R.N., died at Southampton after he stabbed and shot himself. Furthermore, four of Marsham’s five sons predeceased him. Henry died aged eight in 1858, Francis died in 1871 aged 24 and Charles drowned in 1879 at the age of 36 while swimming in the Thames at Cookham. Then, in 1883, his youngest son Marsham Frederick died of fever, aged 31, on his return from India, where he had been working with the Oxford Mission to Calcutta. There are four stained glass windows to three of his sons in the church, but the grandest window that Rev. Argles installed is the east window dedicated to his father-in-law, Bishop George Davys of Peterborough, who died in 1864. He also gave the fine mosaic reredos that is set below this window.

Marsham Argles was keenly interested in the education of the village children. He was school manager when Thomas Whitman was appointed head teacher in 1864 and he was also a chief inspector of schools for the Northamptonshire Education Society. A month after taking charge of the school, Mr. Whitman faced the daunting prospect of a visit from a school inspector. He records in his logbook that for eight days immediately prior to this visit Rev. Argles and his curate were in school examining the children in writing and arithmetic. This early partnership between the rector and head teacher proved fruitful. Between 1865 and 1869 the average attendance at the school rose from 107 to160 while the local population remained at about 900.
Rev. Argles’ enthusiastic support for the school, which had been built in 1796, led him to fund an extension. This was a room for the infants and was added to the west side of the existing building. It came into use in 1872.

On a far grander scale is the work funded by Marsham Argles on the rectory. The first mention of a rectory in Barnack is in a rental for 1344. The oldest part of today’s old rectory is the much modified Button Cap building on the north side and the wall linking it to the main house. This may date from the sixteenth century. The entry for Barnack in the Northamptonshire Victoria County History for 1906 states: The rectory, south west of the church, was formerly a very interesting mediaeval building; only the north end of this building now remains and except for a sixteenth century fireplace has no ancient features. Most of the present building is the result of rebuilding work by Marsham Argles, completed by 1880. Confirmation can be seen in the Argles coat of arms to the right of the entrance porch. It is the same as that on the brass memorial plaque to Marsham Argles on the north wall of the chancel in the church. The rectory is therefore largely a Victorian house typical of the Gothic Revival in Britain, which was at its height between 1855 and 1885. It is certainly not the one the Kingsley family knew and which can be seen in an 1810 illustration in The Gentleman’s Magazine (Vol. 80). Perhaps to mark the completion of his building works, Rev. Argles almost certainly planted the giant Wellingtonia tree now standing in Bishop’s Walk. This tree has been dated to about 1880.

Marsham Argles died on 19th November, 1892 while on an extended visit to Southsea. (During the summer Barnack’s first Horticultural Society show had been held in the rectory grounds where, in his absence, his wife distributed the prizes.) He was 78 and the previous year had been made Dean of Peterborough. The Stamford Mercury for 25th November records that his body was taken by train to Peterborough and a service was held in the cathedral. Then, accompanied by two hundred mourners, it was brought by special train via Wansford to Barnack. With many villagers in attendance, he was buried in the family plot close to the wall at the eastern end of the churchyard.

Today the name of Marsham Argles, rector for forty years, is remembered neither in the house he built nor in any of the roads that now run through the rectory grounds. Instead, the name Kingsley has been preferred. Rev. Charles Kingsley and his family, including his thirteen-year-old son Charles, who was later to write The Water Babies, left Barnack in 1832, after only eight years in the village. Such is the influence of fame. Brian Palmer