The Parish Church

Dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, the parish church of Ecton lies just off the High Street, with the graves of centuries around it. When the Spanish Armada threatened invasion in the 16th century the tower was sufficiently prominent to be chosen as one of the five beacon towers of the region, and it is as true today as when Cole wrote in 1825, that ‘various pleasing presentations of the lofty tower of the church offer themselves picturesquely to view through the aged trees which skirt the domain’. It is only perhaps unfortunate that the limestone ashlar work of the top stage, added in the 15th century, does not quite harmonise with the mellow ironstone of the rest of the building.

The Tower

The tower houses the historically interesting mechanism of a faceless clock, which once took up most of the middle chamber; it was heard for centuries but only the works could be seen. A gift to the parish from the Rector, Richard Middleton, in 1630, it was perhaps a timely reminder of him to the village from which he was so often absent, for he was also Chaplain to Charles I. In 1690 chimes were added, playing ‘Britons strike Home’ four times a day during the week and a metrical version of Psalm 4, beginning ‘Hear me when I call’, on Sundays. Though the chimes ceased to play fairly early this century, the clock itself, maintained by the village blacksmith, still functioned until the 1950s. In 1996 restoration was considered, but a report from Smith of Derby, Clockmakers, advised that this would be impractical. They suggested the whole installation should either be put on display in the body of the church or placed on permanent loan in a museum; an alternative proposal to install an external electro-magnetic hammer on one of the bells was considered too costly at £2,700 and the whole idea was dropped.

The Bells

More information on the Bells

The bells themselves date from 1612 to 1749. Until 1749 there had been only five but in that year George Freeman, a native of the village, gave a new treble and this gave the ringers of Ecton a chance to show their worth. A painted plaster panel in the ringing chamber records the names and heights of those who on 2nd April 1756 ‘rang the First Six Bell peal 720 upon 6 bells of the Parish’. They are all there, dressed in knee-breeches, stockings and buckled shoes, the tower master, presumably, distinguished by his frilled shirt, white stockings and the bunch of keys at his waist. Their bells are raised and their clay pipes and no doubt much needed liquid refreshment lie at hand on a bench. The feat was repeated when George III came to the throne in 1760 and then not again, it is believed, until 1926.

When Henry de Campania - his is the first name on the list of incumbents - became Rector in 1220, the church was probably already beginning to develop its present form, enlarged from what the Victoria County History says may have been an ‘aisleless church with central tower, north and south transepts and short chancel’. In the 13th century a new tower was built at the west end, and the walls of the nave were breached to provide an aisle on either side. The chancel was lengthened, with a tomb recess in the north wall and a low side window, where the sanctus bell may have hung, on the south side - its outline is still visible behind the choir stalls. At this time, too, a south porch was built, its jambs bearing various markings but most noticeably a scratch sundial, one of more than 130 in Northamptonshire. An old drain stone was at some point built into the outside wall of the south aisle and replaced there during restoration in the 1950s.

The 14th century saw further development; the north aisle was widened and a chapel was added on each side of the chancel, the one on the north side now being the vestry. Typically, the church has a rood loft. The bottom few steps of the narrow stairs which led to it were discovered near the entrance to the Lady Chapel during the work in the 1950s and its position is apparent from the openings high in the walls of the nave.

The roof of the nave was raised and the clerestory introduced in the 15th century, when the final stage of the tower was built and the north porch added - the date 1456 is clearly carved in Roman numerals on the left buttress. In the 17th century a doorway, still visible from the outside, was cut in the 13th century tomb recess to provide an entrance for the Rectors to what became their private chapel and burial place. In the furtherance of this project the chancel arch was blocked and the north and south arches to the chapels were obscured by the large memorial tablets now seen near the north entrance to the church.

The congregation, meanwhile, was not faring so well. In the church review of 1637 it was stated ‘First the seats in the Church are all of them broken rotten and all of them unhansome except five or six seates therein. Some places in the church wants whiting especially over the middle yle on the south side thereof. The beare (bier) wants mending and the south church doore and the steps entring into the north Church doore wants mending’. No doubt the seats were replaced; almost two hundred years later, in 1825, pews were installed and at the west end of the church, above the blocked tower arch, a gallery was built which was still in use within living memory. On ‘Feast Days’ - the celebration of the Patronal Festival - the Silver prize Band of Earls Barton played there after leading a procession of members of the Ancient Order of Oddfellows through the village.

Early this century the chancel was fully restored and choir stalls were introduced, largely at the expense of General Sotheby but ‘with the exception of a small public subscription’. He began, too, the refurbishment of the Lady Chapel, but it was his widow who completed the work. She recorded ‘To the Glory of God and to carry out what she believed to be her husband’s wishes, this chapel was completed and the Altar and Reredos added by Edith Marion Sotheby in 1911’. She was a Scot and, touchingly, amongst the painted figures on the beautifully carved screen she included her own St. Margaret of Scotland.

The walls of this chapel are crowded with Sotheby memorials and others to members of the Isted family, from whom they inherited the estate. The memorial to General Sotheby himself reads like a review of the military history of the second half of the nineteenth century, his career spanning service in the Crimea, India, China and Africa; almost as a footnote to his life, a few lines commemorate the wife who did so much to perpetuate his memory.

The most elaborate of the monuments is one of coloured marble, complete with putti, ingeniously commemorating Anne Isted, Spinster; she died in 1763. ‘This monument’, the inscription reads, ‘should have recorded the amiable and truly Christian character of the worthy person in whose memory it is erected if her own commands had not expressly prohibited it’.

In the body of the church are several memorials to past Rectors and parishioners, the most outstanding being those to the Palmer and Whalley families, who between them ministered to the parish for more than two hundred years. John Palmer, Rector 1641-79, was so notable a mathematician and astronomer that in 1667 he was invited by the Secretary of the recently formed Royal Society to enter into a ‘Philosophical correspondence especially in Astronomy and Algebraical Aequations’; it was known, wrote Oldenburg, that he had made many observations with his ‘excellent telescope,’ at Ecton. There is a wall monument to him in the chancel, surmounted by a bust by Rysbrack, as is the monument to his grandson opposite, the patron of the church in his day.

A bronze tablet, unveiled by the American Consul-General in 1910, recalls Benjamin Franklin’s connection with the village. At the top of is a bust in relief and below a quotation from one of his speeches at the Convention of 1787, when the new Constitution of the United States was drawn up and signed at Philadelphia; ‘The longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men’. The church still receives occasional visits from members of the Franklin family.

Two other wall tablets record the establishment of village charities. John Barker, who died in 1729, left to the parish a meadow which he expected to produce sufficient income to provide cloth for coats for two poor men of the village, ‘as the minister and Churchwardens of Ecton shall think convenient, and the remainder of the money to be given in a Dole of bread on St John’s day’. Two doles of bread, another tablet records, were to be purchased out of the dividends of Stock left to six Trustees of the parish by the Rev. Palmer Whalley in 1801, ‘half to be distributed on Lady Day, and the other half on St Michael, on which days he desired the Common Prayers might be read in Church’. The bread was to be given to frequent attenders, ‘particular regard being had to those who should regularly attend Holy Communion’. The Dole table in the churchyard was recently restored but all Ecton charities were combined in November 1992 to form two charities only - the Relief in Need Charity and the Educational Charity.

There are five stained glass windows in the church. Two of them were erected by Mrs Sotheby in memory of her husband, Major General Frederick Edward Sotheby whose notable military career has already been mentioned. For one of these, in the chancel, she chose the depiction of the story in II Samuel XXIII where, rather than drink water brought to him at the risk of other men’s lives, David poured it out on the ground as an offering to God, so illustrating those qualities of courage and unselfishness which Mrs Sotheby prized in her husband. The other window, in the Lady chapel, was copied from a card designed by her sister, which had so pleased her husband that he had declared a wish to have a ‘coloured window’ made from it, a wish his widow had now fulfilled. A third window in the Lady chapel is dedicated to Mrs Sotheby’s mother.

In the north wall of the chancel is a window erected in 1924 by Alfred Sotheby to the memory of his parents, Admiral Sir Edward Southwell Sotheby and his wife. (Alfred also paid for the restoration of the tomb recess below, in the course of which work the ancient aumbry was discovered). This window is a copy of one in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, designed by Sir Edward Burne Jones and executed by William Morris and Co. in memory of Alice Liddell - Alice in Wonderland. The fifth window, in the north aisle, has no Sotheby connection but was dedicated by a former Rector, the Reverend John Cox-Edwards, to the memory of his son, lost in the disaster to the Empress if Ireland in the St. Lawrence River in Canada in 1914; just below is a memorial tablet to his parents.

Over the years the maintenance of the fabric of this old church has caused constant problems. Within the last fifty years there has been trouble with dry-rot in the Sanctuary and in the main beam in the Lady chapel, and the south aisle has had to be completely re-roofed; a solid floor, surface with parquet tiles, has been installed in the nave and the old gallery and pews beneath have been removed. The friable ironstone of the walls is subject to severe weathering. Stonework repairs have been carried out to the clerestory windows and latterly a major programme of work to the tower has been completed with the aid of a grant from English Heritage. In addition, the font, which had once been lost for many years and had been found serving as a drinking trough in a local farmyard, has received specialist conservation work. It was satisfying for all concerned when on the occasion of the last Quinquennial the report was able to speak of ‘the present well cared-for appearance of the church’.

A current problem is the heating. Since that Sunday at the end of October 1909 when it was reported ‘New heating apparatur used for the first time. It was highly successful...the temperature of the church has been made all that could be required’, standards of comfort have risen! Several attempts have been made to upgrade the system; the solid fuel boiler was replaced first with an oil-fired, then with a gas-fired one, and it is hoped that today’s modifications, including a new pump and extra radiators will suffice for some time to come.

In other ways the interior of the church is constantly being improved and embellished. Amongst the gifts made by individual parishioners have been a nave altar, a communion rail in the Lady chapel, a large vestment chest in the vestry. A loop system has been installed for the hard-of-hearing and a group of ladies has long been busy making new seat cushions and embroidering hassocks; others are renowned for their beautiful floral creations on special occasions. Just inside the north entrance, a coffee bar provides a welcome corner for congregation and visitors alike and the children have their own corner opposite. The whole building is lovingly looked after by members of the congregation.

The church, a Crown living, is fortunate in having its own Rector who, although also Warden of Ecton House, The Peterborough Diocesan Retreat House and Conference Centre, is able to concentrate his pastoral responsibilities on the one parish. Since he came in 1990, the Reverend Peter Naylor has officiated at twenty-one weddings, seventy baptisms and thirty burials while his wife, Patricia, has built up a thriving Sunday School, now known as the Sunday Family, of twenty-nine children. Today in 1996, there are 106 names on the Electoral Roll of the parish. Whatever changes the future may bring, the prayer of the church will always be that of Mrs Phipps when, on September 27 1925, she first switched on the electric lights and prayed that the ‘Heavenly light might shine in the hearts of the people of Ecton’.

Jean Morrison

The Rectors of Ecton

Since the signing of Magna Carta in 1215 there have been 56 rectors of Ecton, each giving an average of almost 14 years ministry to the village. A few stayed for only a year, others for much longer; Henry de Campania for 49 years in the 13th-century, Thomas West for 40 years in the 14th-century, John Montgomere and John Bate for a total of 66 years during the 15th-century when most of the construction of Ecton church we see today was completed, John Palmer for 39 years in the 17th-century and Palmer Whalley for 40 years in the 17th-early 18th-centuries. The Palmer and Whalley names are perhaps the best known - more of them later. Finally Charles Tizard Davies ministered in the second half of the 19th-century for 51 years.

We of Ecton today, as with so many parishes throughout our country, can be doubly grateful to this long line of rectors for not only ministering to the parish and adding to the fabric of the church and village, but also to meticulously keeping records that give us insights into the life of the parish over many centuries. Thomas Cromwell introduced parochial registers in 1538, and the keeping of such records was enforced through an injunction in 1547 and thereafter by canon in 1603 which stipulated:

‘every incumbent was enjoined to complete his register from “the law's first taking place” or at least from 1558’.

Ecton's register begins in 1559!

Turning now to the contributions of individual rectors, we start with Richard Middleton instituted rector of Ecton in 1628 until his death in 1641. He was a chaplin to King Charles I. He commenced monthly communions in 1629 in place of the then quarterly communions, paying the additional costs himself. In 1630 he set up a new clock mechanism, which still remains in the church tower.

John Palmer followed Richard Middleton, being instituted on 18 November 1641, remaining as rector to Ecton until his death in December 1679. In addition, in 1665, he was promoted to Archdeacon of Northampton. He is acknowledged as a celebrated mathematician, astronomer and linguist publishing a number of works including The Planisphere. He married Bridget Catesby, eldest daughter of Clifton Catesby of Ecton Hall.

The importance of John Palmer's ministry cannot be emphasised too strongly, not only for what he gave to and left for future generations of the parish, but also because he was the first of the Palmer and Whalley families whose members were subsequently rectors of the church for over two centuries from 1641 until 1849.

John Palmer was also responsible for the linking of his family name with a number of important buildings in the village that remain standing today. During his ministry Ecton House was erected as the new rectory. It was rebuilt in 1693 in its present William and Mary style by his eldest son, John Palmer and extended by his grandson, Thomas Palmer (first son of John Palmer's second son Thomas) forty years later. A further grandson, John Palmer (second son of John Palmer's second son Thomas) erected the ‘school for poor children’ off the High Street in 1752.

John Palmer Senior was succeeded as rector by his eldest son John in 1680 until the latter's death in 1688. Prior to taking up his appointment in Ecton, John Palmer had been deacon to the Lincoln's Inn chapel. John Palmer's second son, Thomas, followed as rector of Ecton until his death in 1715. In turn his eldest son, also Thomas, was rector between 1720 and 1732. His youngest child and third daughter Barbara married Eyre Whalley. Eventually following the deaths of her two brothers and two sisters she became the sole heiress of her father.

The next century and a half were dominated by the Whalley family. Successive generations of the family were instituted from 1715 until 1849, with only one break when, as noted earlier, Thomas Palmer was rector. In total no fewer than eleven members of the Whalley family chose the church as their profession and five served as rector of Ecton. Later generations of the family turned from the church to the army.

The first member of the family, Bradley Whalley, was rector twice between 1715-1720 and again between 1732-1738. Prior to that he was vicar of St Giles in Northampton and rector of Cogenhoe. To the latter in his will dated 13 June 1743 he gave:

‘a large silver coffee pot to be sold or exchanged and about the value of it to be laid out in purchasing a flagon of a full quart or more to be given to the minister and churchwardens of Cogenhoe.’

Eyre Whalley was instituted rector in 1738 following the resignation of the last incumbent. In 1743 he also became rector of Cogenhoe, holding both posts until his death in 1762. He was responsible for building Rectory Farm in 1741 having married Barbara Palmer, grand-daughter of John Palmer.

Perhaps the most notable member of the Whalley family was Peter Whalley who, besides being rector of Ecton for just one year between March 1762 and February 1763, was vicar of St Sepulchre's, Northampton, headmaster of a number of schools, including Courteenhall Grammar School between 1752 to 1760 and editor of Bridges’ History of Northamptonshire. In addition he was a noted literalist publishing a number of papers including An inquiry into the learning of Shakespeare and A vindication of the evidences and authenticity of the Gospel.

Palmer Whalley, eldest son of Eyre Whalley was instituted as rector in 1763 and held the living together with that of Wilby, becoming rector of Wilby in 1782, until his death in 1803. During his ministry of forty years he was confined to his room for long periods due to illness, during which time he composed and circulated among his parishioners the poem The Sick Minster's short but affectionate address to his people.

What of the rectors of the 20th-century? It has been a time of both change and consolidation, yet through the reuse of Ecton House as the Peterborough Diocesan Retreat and Conference Centre and the combination of warden's responsibilities with Rector, we retain a rector today, a rare feat for such a small parish - long may it continue.

As early as Canon Arthur Jephson's time, 1911-1936, mention is made in the then Daily Echo of the declining size of the congregation and ‘if it continues will soon be at vanishing point’. It would seem therefore that such worries for the future are not just of today, but have concerned our ancestors throughout time. The soured relationship between Canon Jephson and his parishioner William Christopher Perkins, landlord of the World's End, which led to the report in the Daily Echo in 1912 is in the past and although remembered through to the present day, is something that would and must not be allowed to occur again.

Finally, having touched upon change may we mention consolidation; a theme common for all our recent rectors, and provoking Cyprian Thorpe, when in the mid-1970s the 13th-century tower was crumbling and there was no money to pay for it, to contact the celebrity Ernie Wise. He spoke on Radio 4's This Week's Good Cause to help raise the £6,000 needed. The money was raised, the tower restored. God willing, may our church; its people, rector and building, long continue.

Bill Wilson

A complete list of the rectors of

Ecton in chronological order

Henry de Campania 1220

Adam de Belstede 1269

Stephen de Burgo 1274

Roger de Montgomere -

Ralph de Barton 1288

Simon de Hegham 1306

Robert de Markeyate 1311

Nicolas de Lodelowe 1324

John de Gobele 1337

John de Macclesfeld 1340

Henry de Astbury 1349

John de Newenham 1353

Thomas West 1360

John de Gatryk 1400

John Hauberk 1401

John Montgomere 1411

Robert Haldenby 1452

John Bate 1453

Edward Montgomery 1478

Thomas Boyvile 1491

John Alyreson -

Thomas Wilkinson 1502

Thomas Saunders 1503

John Woolseley 1535

John de Coloribus 1557

Edward Still 1591

Nicholas Baynes 1592

Richard Garier 1611

William Parker 1619

Richard Middleton 1628

John Palmer 1641

John Palmer 1680

Thomas Palmer 1688

Bradley Whalley 1715

Thomas Palmer 1720

Bradley Whalley 1732

Eyre Whalley 1738

Peter Whalley 1762

Palmer Whalley 1763

Thomas Whalley 1803

John Christopher Whalley 1831

Charles Tizard Davies 1849

John Cox Cox-Edwards 1900

Arthur Jephson 1911

F Athelstane Sadler 1936

Stuart Artless 1951

Edward Woollcombe 1954

Ronald Goodchild 1959

William Gale 1964

Thory Bonsey 1967

Cyprian Thorpe 1973

Michael Payne 1978

Trevor Willmott 1983

Peter Naylor 1990

Rectors Remember

Canon Cyprian Thorpe, Rector 1973-1978

Before coming to Ecton Cyprian Thorpe spent over 36 years in South Africa. He spent five years as Rector of Ecton and Warden of the Diocesan Retreat and Conference Centre, a job which is demanding, but full of variety and not without its lighter moments. These extracts are from his autobiography, ‘Look Back in Joy’.

At Ecton we had a constant stream of people coming to stay, representatives of all types of English churchfolk, both lay and clerical, and this presented me with a wonderful re-indiginisation opportunity. Many of the meetings were national rather than diocesan in character and so one met some very interesting people.

Nor were all the conferences religious. Trade Union groups such as NALGO, Barclays Bank and the Anglia Building Society met there from time to time for three to four days and about ten weekends a year there were courses for stone-masons.

The work of the House was quite demanding. There was only one resident full-time worker but a splendid team of women who worked part-time. The occupancy of the House was very high and we were often booked up with both day and residential retreats for eighteen months ahead.

Apart from Walter, our aged gardener, who came two mornings a week, I was the only man about the place. The House was licensed to sell alcoholic liquor, so I had to go to the Quarter Sessions and become a licensed victualler..

Village religion was very much folk-religion. The old feudal idea still obtained of the morning service being for the squire and such like, and Sunday Evensong, where we had, contrary to the national trend, a much larger congregation, a service for the working classes.

The most exciting fund-raising event was when I persuaded the BBC to include us in This Week’s Good Cause . The lovely 13th-century tower of the church was crumbling ... I had heard that Ernie Wise, of ‘Morecambe and Wise’ fame, had local connections so I wrote to him having got his address from - above all people - the Bishop’s chauffeur. It was some time before I got a tiny scrap of paper, handwritten, saying, ‘Dear Sir, I will do your broadcast, E Wise’. That’s how I became a scriptwriter for one of England’s most famous comics!

Michael Payne, Rector 1978-1983

Our first encounter with our Ecton Experience was, as for other Wardens maybe, not in Ecton but in London, for Ecton is a Crown living and, accordingly, we were invited to London and to no less a prestigious address than No.10 Downing Street, to meet the Secretary for Appointments. We found ourselves going through that familiar door and upstairs to his office after having an interview with the then Bishop of Peterborough deep in the House of Lords. For the first time in our lives we were treading in the Corridors of Power!

When we came to Ecton itself in the summer of 1978, we were charmed by the village, the Church and the House. It was a beautiful place to live and work in. We were glad to have the Church close by and a parish to look after as well as the Retreat House and Conference Centre, for we had not been trained as ‘hotel keepers’. A church’s worship and ministry, its parish and people had been our special work and concern for most of our lives.

Our five years at Ecton were very interesting, very demanding and, for the most part, highly enjoyable. What we have always cherished, looking back, was our relationship with the staff who mostly came day by day from the village itself. They were so welcoming and co-operative and took pride in their work to give the guests a welcoming `haven of peace’, with excellent meals and comfortable facilities. The well cared for gardens gave much delight also to guests, from prison chaplains spending their free afternoons playing croquet on the lawns, to retreatants exploring the secluded unmown area, counting as many as 63 rare wild flowers. During our first year the eleventh Ecton Festival was held and it was a great delight to welcome Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who had performed the opening ceremony of the Retreat House in 1968.

For one member of our family, living in Ecton became very important. Our daughter, Elisabeth was engaged to be married. What better setting for a wedding than the Church and House at Ecton? A number of our far flung relatives and friends could be housed in the Wing. What better wedding reception could there have been than provided by Marilyn, the cook (a ‘Treasure’ if ever there was one) and all the other staff members, who eagerly did all the other necessary preparations to make it the Great Day it was! It was very cold, being January 1st, but it was a warm occasion for which we cannot be too thankful.

I have said that our two-fold ministry at Ecton was very demanding and so it was, as the number of bookings for Retreats and Conferences continued to increase over the years. So having reached retirement age in 1983 I thought it right to lay it down and deliver it into younger hands and move to our retirement home on the Norfolk coast. I am still busy helping in our group of churches and in the deanery and beyond. I seem to ‘collect’ churches like ‘stamps’! Christine is busy with the Mothers’ Union as Diocesan Treasurer. (she has always enjoyed maths!) - and her experience at Ecton with book keeping and accounts has helped her considerably with this. She is also still secretary of The Friends of Happisburgh Lighthouse, which they saved from closure in 1988 and became the first Independent Lighthouse. Members are spread far and wide. So there is much to interest and occupy us.

All our parishes (in Leicestershire, Oxford-shire and Northamptonshire) have been wonderful places to work in. Thankfully we still hear from our many friends in former parishes, one going back to when I was curate No.3 in a Leicester parish very long ago and we are grateful to God for His mercy and love from them all.

God Bless - Michael and Christine Payne

Trevor Willmott, Rector 1983-1990

1983 - we left the heat of Southern Italy to come to Ecton. Our first sight driving up through the lime avenue was of a community life which we had never known. How would we cope with life in a small village having lived for four years in a city of eight million? More importantly, how would the village cope with us?

The memories are kaleidoscopic. Friendship - almost the first day driving out of the village, not wearing a dog collar, we were flagged down by Paddy Macquire, ‘You must be the new rector - come and have a drink’. A Church which seemed, like the spring, to be ready for new life. The first Ecton Festival - Old Time Musical - Bertie Knight: Geoff and David climbing ladders to put up the bunting; china smashing in the House’s courtyard; Communion in the Marquee on the back lawn. A sense of achievement as we commissioned the builders to restore the south windows of the church.

Generosity and openness: Jan Wetherall, a giant among Christians, yet humble in her determination to keep the Church central to the life of the village. The altar table which bears her name but, as with everything she did, dedicated not to her but to the greater glory of God.

Ecton House: unblocking the drains; cooking breakfast for 26 when snow prevented Marilyn getting in to cook. A House which seemed to be a meeting point for so many different groups and individuals yet, in all its busyness, had a peace which is almost unfathomable. The ikon of the Holy Saturday which hangs in the Chapel captured for me something of God’s endless possibilities offered to those who would but accept His love. Ecton House - a place of prayer but equally a place for living and playing.

Home for the Willmotts. The discovery that Elizabeth was to be born in the place which captured our hearts ‘the first child to be born to a living rector for hundreds of years’. So lunch on the lawn after her baptism for everyone!

1989 - telling the congregation that when a Rector rings himself in he also reminds himself that ‘here is no abiding city’. Yet the warmth and the love abides in us as we, for a few years were privileged to be a part of Ecton life. The picture of the churchyard now hangs in a different house but a final reminder not only of seemingly endless walks with my bishop who wanted to talk about the life of the Diocese but more importantly, of a link with all those who have been touched by the love of God worked out in the life of the village. Thanks be to God.

Peter Naylor, Rector 1990-

The Parish Church of Ecton has been in existence since the 12th century, having been served and led by 56 Rectors of whom I am honoured to be the most recent. Interestingly, if you employ a simple arithmetical division you will discover that the average length of an incumbency is nearly 14 years. The longest serving Rector was the Reverend Charles Tizard Davies (1849-1900) but those were different times and circumstances. When we look at the list of Rectors of Ecton, it is deeply moving to reflect upon the religious, social and political changes that have taken place since Henry de Campania, the first recorded parish priest (1220-1269), came up the hill to oversee his spiritual and social responsibilities.

Ecton is a very special place. This village appraisal, so lovingly and skilfully prepared, tells a remarkable story of rich community life with the church at the centre. There has been a long and continuous procession of villagers and others making their way through the doors of the church for baptisms, weddings, funerals, celebrations of Holy Communion and events of national importance; all bringing their fears, hopes and experiences of a common humanity to share with God and His Son Jesus Christ. Sometimes when I look at the church, perhaps when it is bathed in sunshine or caught by the light of the moon, I am almost moved to tears as I think of the past. A community of souls, departed and living, congregate here to enjoy the sanctity of a church and ground made holy with the prayers of the people, both ancient and modern.

As I complete my full-time professional life as a priest of the church, I wish to express a deep sense of gratitude for having had the privilege of being Rector and Warden of Ecton House since 1990 - for me it has proved a humbling and inspiring end to half a century of continuous work. Ecton is a village of rich diversity, a hot spot of holiness and a blessing for those who live here. Many who come on pilgrimage from far away share these values.

Peter Naylor

Stephen Evans, Priest-in-Charge 1998 – 2000

My predecessor, Peter Naylor, began his entry in Ecton, A Northamptonshire Parish, by stating that he had been the 56th named Rector of Ecton. As it happened, he was also the last.

I came to Ecton in 1998, although I moved into the West Street Rectory with my family, Diana and Lydia, just before Christmas 1997. Since 1991, I had been Vicar of Northampton St. Paul, the poorest parish in the diocese of Peterborough. The move to Ecton had something of the ‘ridiculous’ to the ‘sublime’ about it!

I came, not as Rector though, but as Priest-in-Charge - and with a ‘portfolio’ of jobs. Not only was I Warden of Ecton House (the last as it happened), but also Clergy Training Officer (responsible for the continuing ministerial development of the diocese’s 167 clergy) and as Liturgical Officer, responsible for the worship of the diocese’s 356 churches and for the introduction of the Church of England’s new service book, Common Worship.

As Priest-in-Charge of Ecton, I had the same responsibilities for the pastoral care of Ecton as had all my predecessors who had served the village as Rector. A Priest-in-Charge does not have the Freehold of the Living in the same was as a Rector or a Vicar, but serves on a contract or a Licence from the bishop. This normally happens when a bishop feels that a parish is no longer viable as a freestanding entity because of its size or because the bishop wants to combine the parish with other parishes or to give the priest-in-charge other diocesan duties. Technically, the Living is ‘suspended’, and this continues to this day, with my successor Jenny Parkin, who is Priest-in-Charge of Ecton and Chaplain to the Cynthia Spencer Hospice in Northampton.

Because of my extensive diocesan and regional responsibilities, the bishop agreed to the parish having the services of Father James Mogridge, an experienced non-stipendiary priest, as Assistant Curate. Much of the day-to-day pastoral work fell to Father James and I shall always be in his debt for his gentle and loving care, not only for the people of Ecton, but for me, during a time which proved to be enormously stressful.

When I came to Ecton, a very large question mark hung over the future of Ecton House as a place for retreats and conferences. The House had a very unhealthy balance sheet and had been running at a considerable loss for a few years. A huge maintenance programme needed to be initiated, very quickly, and government legislation relating to Disabled Access and Health and Safety Issues addressed with some urgency.

A number of steps were taken more or less immediately. These included expanding the House’s clientele, moving the library, ‘letting out’ office space to other diocesan officers, and in re-shaping Ecton’s programme. A major decision was taken to move from an in-house catering team to employing outside caterers and a series of Assistant Wardens were appointed from the Time for God Christian service programme.

All of these changes took a huge toll on the time, patience and energies of the House’s permanent staff, and an Assistant Warden was eventually appointed.

At the same time, the diocesan authorities set up a commission to look at the long-term future of Ecton House, which concluded that only two options lay open to the diocese: spend upwards of £500,000 to bring the House up-to-date within the requirements of government legislation, or to sell the House. The committee opted for the latter.

The time following that decision was far from easy; few people in the village seemed willing to understand or able to accept the decision that had been made, and winding the down the House’s activities, disposing of its assets and making 14 staff redundant was a very painful experience.

The toll on me personally, and on my family, was considerable and only a very few within the village and congregation offered any support. After all, I was the absentee Priest-in-Charge who closed Ecton House!

My time in Ecton was one of great heartache. In retrospect, agreeing to juggle four very different and demanding jobs was foolish. I tried, with God’s – and Father James’ - help, to do my best at all four.The process of closing Ecton House – which had by the end begun to return a profit on its activities – was managed as well as it possibly could have been. Common Worship was successfully introduced across the diocese. Clergy Training had become a major feature of diocesan life and the first process of clergy review had been introduced. As for the parish of Ecton, the village was extremely well served and cared for by Father James, and the programme of works leading to the creation of the Toilet, Utility Area and Meeting Room in the parish church was initiated.

The Reverend Canon Stephen Evans

Rector of Uppingham

December 2003

The Churchyard

Much pleasure can be gained from taking time out to wander around this beautifully kept churchyard, the peace and tranquillity of ‘God’s Acre’ shining through the frenetic lifestyle of the mid 1990’s. Entering the churchyard via the north gate will take you through a line of trees including holly, lime and silver birch, with a wide border flanking the path to the main door of the Church planted with rose trees, shrubs and seasonal flora.

Close by are the headstones of Thomas and Eleanor Franklin, uncle and aunt of the great American statesman and scientist Dr. Benjamin Franklin. The present generation of the Franklin family are regular visitors to Ecton. On the north side are two flowering cherry trees planted in 1968 by Robert Franklin from Houston, Texas, and on the south side is a Franklinia Altamaha, planted by the Georgia branch of the Franklin family in 1995.

The shapes, sizes styles and materials of the headstones take many forms, from the local sandstone to the modern marble; wooden crosses bearing simple inscriptions to large ornate tombstones and memorials. Unfortunately the varied climatic conditions we experience and the passage of time has completely eroded many of the original inscriptions on the older headstones.

One small headstone standing along the north wall bears the initials TW with the date MDCCVIII (1708). The oldest complete headstone is that of William Lovell who died in 1729 but there is is a small stone now lining one of the paths inscribed CH 1674, whiich, from the church register, must be that of Cicelie Hensman. There are many broken sections which have been laid almost like paving at the east perimeter between the two Sotheby family memorials. Typical of many English country churchyards, the various graves, tombs and memorials shows recurring family names through the generations; descendants of these families reside in the village of their ancestors today.

At first glance the large `tombstone’ opposite the west door appears to be fairly ordinary but it is reputed to be a dole table from where bread was distributed to the poor of the village. According to one local stonemason this table could tell many a tale with the youth of the village using it for other recreational pastimes over the years!

Several memorials are dedicated to those who died in foreign lands. One of the most interesting is opposite the east side of the church and tells of a disaster at sea; Joseph Cox Edwards, who lies next to his mother - wife of the then rector of Ecton - lost his life to the disaster which struck the `Empress of Ireland’ in the St Lawrence river in Canada on 29 May 1914.

During recent years members of the community both past and present, have worked tirelessly in an effort to gain recognition in the annual `Best Kept Churchyard’ competition. The summer of 1996 brought success when Ecton became runners-up with a total of 93 points out of a maximum of 100 - just one point behind the winners! May their achievement spur them all to greater glory in years to come - and future generations too. A fitting accolade to the memory of all who rest in this beautiful corner of Ecton.

Tony and Marlene Green


From the church register

Next time you drive up the hill towards Earls Barton spare a thought for Thomas Morris, an Ecton man, who, in 1702, was ‘barbarously robbed and murdered by 3 Highwaymen upon Wellingborough Road in Barton Hill’ He was described as a husbandman, that is a farmworker, so he was probably killed for just a few pence.

The church registers, with descriptions such as this, bring to life those distant times. Here we find the sad story of William Child ‘a Youth of 11 Year of Age, killed by a fall from Apple Tree’ in 1764. It was October so perhaps he was scrumping. Not all died so young - Frances Sturman a widow, ‘commonly called Nurse Sturman’, was ninety when she died in 1767. Ecton women seem to have always been long-lived. Some men too although we are not told how old Thomas Charles was - only that he was ‘A Poor insane old man’!

Several village lads were drowned ‘swimming in the river’ and there are the expected infant deaths from disease - smallpox being the culprit in 1789 and measles in 1797; how parents must have dreaded the telltale signs in their children. Of course families were much bigger then - the registers show that many couples were producing a child a year.

This was probably especially true of one Ecton woman whose child’s baptismal record reads thus: ‘Joseph, third, or fourth Bastard Child of Elizabeth Jolly, common abandoned Prostitute, who has once been brought to open Penance in the Church, was baptized, 1st Jan 1788 P Whalley, Rector’. An intriguing note was added that - ‘Some anonymous Person sent by Mr Isted a £20 Bank Note to indemnify the Parish from Charges’.

Ecton Feast

The Ecton Feast coincides with the Patronal Festival of St Mary Magdalene [when]; on Sunday afternoon the ‘Oddfellows’, Girl Guides, Church Lads’ Brigade and others would parade through the village before a service in the church which was accompanied by the Earls Barton silver band up in the gallery. Afterwards the band members enjoyed the hospitality of tea in villagers’ homes before playing later near the shrine.

One of the regular features in years gone by was the visit of the fair. In the twenties Billings’ fair would be set up in a field in West Street next to the school; later Strudwicks’ brought theirs to the field behind the ‘World’s End’,(now the carpark), or over the main road.

There was always a church fete, which was at the Hall until Col Sotheby died and afterwards between the church and the rectory (now Ecton House). More recently the fete moved into the gardens of the House. Another feature is the flower festivals, creatively designed around the theme of the weekend and beautifully displayed in the church.

In some recent years Ecton Feast was taken literally with memorable banquets - ‘Norman’ in 1986 as part of the Domesday Festival and ‘Elizabethan’ in 1988 during the Armada Beacon Festival. Prior to these an American Connection festival and a Victorian Music Hall are also not easily forgotten. For these events marquees were erected on the lawn of Ecton House and normally sensible Ecton villagers donned strange but appropriate costumes and, under the influence of convivial company, let their hair down and had a good time.

The Ecton Feast has given enormous pleasure to a great many people during its long history as well as raising a vast amount of money for worthwhile causes, mainly for the restoration of the church but a percentage is always donated to charity. Long may it continue.

The Bells of St. Mary Magdalene

It is fascinating to consider that, since 1749, the same six bells, notwithstanding some recasting, have been ringing out over the village, celebrating marriages, tolling funerals and, for a while, telling the time.

Despite the proximity of the bell foundry belonging to Henry Bagley and Thomas Franklin, none of Ecton’s six bells was cast there, although it is said that Thomas launched the fund for the bells, the earliest of which are dated 1612, long before he got involved in bell casting. However the Treble, the latest of the bells, was cast by a later descendant of Bagleys, probably in a bell pit in the church-yard.

The bells have been rehung twice this century; first in 1912 by Whites of Appleton, Berkshire at a cost of £85 and again in 1965, when John Taylor & Co of Loughborough rehung them in a new steel and cast iron frame at a cost of £1750.13.0. Despite their considerable weight they are, in the opinion of the Wellingborough branch ringing master, Tim Samson, very easy to ring and have a lovely deep tone making them one of the best rings of six in the area. The ring is in the key of E.

In 1878 Thomas North, in his book The Church Bells of Northamptonshire, wrote that ‘at the Death knell four tolls are given for a male - three for a female’. There was no equality then, even in death! He also recorded that the ‘pancake bell is rung on Shrove Tuesday’ and that ‘for Divine Service the bells are chimed and the sermon (tenor) bell is rung’. His information came from the Rev CT Davies, the incumbent at that time.

The inscriptions and details of Ecton’s bells are as follows:

The Treble was cast by Henry Bagley III in 1749, weighs 4cwt 3qtrs 11lb and has a diameter of 29¾". The inscription reads: GULIEL : FREMAN AR : IN HAC PAROCHIA NATUS ME LEGAVIT MDCCXLIX.

The second bell was cast by J Keane in 1612, weighs 6cwt 2qrts 26lb and measures 32¾". The inscription reads: GOD SAVE OUR KING.

The third bell was cast by Hugh Watts in 1612 but had been cracked by 1965 and was recast by John Taylor in that year. It weighs 7cwt 2qrts 9lb and has a diameter of 34½". The original inscription, an alphabetical ABCDEFGHIKLMNO, was retained in the recast bell and John Taylor’s monogram was added with the inscription: Recast 1965 / * * * / W GALE / RECTOR / J Wetherall, T Dicks / Churchwardens

The fourth bell was cast by Hugh Watts in 1612. It weighs 7cwt 2qrts 11lb and has a diameter of 35¾". It has the warning inscription: FEyRE GOD

The fifth bell was cast by Hugh Watts in 1622 and has a weight of 11cwt 3qrts 4lb and a diameter of 40¾". The inscription reads: IH’S NAZARENVS REX : IVDEORVM FILI : DEI MISERERE : MEI.

The Tenor bell was cast by Hugh Watts in 1634. It weighs 15cwt 2qrts 20lb and has a diameter of 45". The inscription reads: IHS ANSARENUS REX IUDEO - RUM FILI DEI MISERE MEI.

[The following article was contributed by Michael Lee, who has made a particular study of bells and bell-founders. The author insisted that the article should appear as submitted and no sub-editing was allowed.]

The Bellfounders of Ecton

A Master Blacksmith would be constantly required by a Bellfounder. Many wrought iron parts are needed and without these the hanging of Church bells would be impossible. There is no doubt that Henry Bagley, bellfounder, of Chacombe in Northamptonshire, had used the services of Ecton’s master blacksmith, Thomas Franklin, many times before 1687, the year when he decided to join his friend at ‘Ecton by Northampton Wall’.

The move did not mean that Henry was to completely forsake the family foundry but the unique task ahead at Lichfield needed a singular mind and a good blacksmith so Henry moved from Chacombe and purchased Manor Farm, Ecton. Both the wills of Franklin and Bagley are dated 1697, countersigned by both and other members of the family. The wills show that both men were property owners of some standing.

It is thought that both the bellfoundry and smithy were situated near to the ‘Three Horseshoes’ public house and towards the village Church, with a joint use. This can be seen in a detailed map of Ecton (including householders names) dated 1840 (NRO). Bagley rebuilt his house at Manor Farm - the datestone reads H.E.B. 1694 (Henry and Elizabeth Bagley 1694).

Henry Bagley was the eldest son of Henry Bagley, first of the Bagley Bellfounders of Chacombe, and he had obtained experience in the craft to the highest level. This expertise was to be proved as many bells (marked Ectoniae) were cast at the Ecton foundry including the bells for Lichfield Cathedral, which in 1687 was the first ring of ten bells ever to be rung full circle (as in change ringing). In a letter from the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral we learn that Bagley having begun the task ‘had so oversized the eight bells he had cast that they had swallowed up all the metal (from the old bells removed ) and £80 more was required to complete the ring of ten bells’. The Dean and Chapter agreed to the extra expense as ‘the bigness of such a ring would be far more befitting the place’. The largest bell was to weigh 1½ tons of bronze: 70% copper and 30% tin. The reader must understand that this feat was more than substantial and many other bells were cast from the Ecton foundry. Distance was no problem as in 1698 a ring of six bells was cast for St Elphin's, the Parish Church at Warrington. The following inscriptions were placed on these bells:

1 Treble (smallest bell)


Henry Bagley made us in 1698


For God and Church




We all ask peace of Thee




Glory to the Holy Trinity forever




Sing unto the Lord a new song

Long live William our King









We can see from the inscriptions on the fifth and sixth bells that the bells were cast by Henry Bagley at ‘Ecton near Northampton’ and that the Holy Trinity churchwardens’ names were Matthew Page and John Bromfield. These details of the inscriptions and the following poem were published by W Beamont Esq in 1888 in his book ‘A Chapter on Bells’ and some inscriptions on them:

Holy Trinity grant us peace

That we new songs to Thee may sing;

Grant that the Church may more increase

And William long may reign our King.

These bells were newly hung up here

When Bromfield and Page the wardens were;

Henry Bagley cast them all

At Ecton by Northampton wall

And of the work this was the date-

Sixteen hundred and ninety eight.

The writer’s verse added to the poem:

Five years pass by and now we hear

When Bagley and Franklin founders were,

By dangers of this trade now dead!

Now Anne! “God save our Queen” is head.

Henricus Penn, for God, Church and all

At Ecton by Northampton Wall

And for his six at Lymm will be

Seventeen hundred - plus only three.

This poem must have been taken from the Church of Holy Trinity at Warrington and translates the inscriptions on the bells. The additional verse explains that Henry Penn takes over the Ecton Bellfoundry and casts a ring of six bells for St Mary the Virgin at Lymm in Cheshire. One of Henry Bagley’s last rings of six bells was cast for St. Keneburga, the parish church of Castor near Peterborough, in the year 1700. These same bells ring out today.

Thomas Franklin died in 1702 and Henry Bagley in 1703. From an Administration of Matthew Bagley, brother of Henry the bellfounder, we find mentioned a sister, Sarah Penn, formerly a Bagley. Sarah married Thomas Penn and we find in the Parish Register of All Saints, Middleton Cheney the entry ‘May 8 1685 Henry son of Thomas and Sarah Penne’. Henry was the third of eight children; he had served under Henry Bagley until the deaths of his masters and stood his ground in the depleted foundry, as in 1703 at the age of only eighteen we can see from the added verse of the poem that he cast the six bells for St Mary the Virgin, Lymm. These bells were known as ‘The Canticles.’

The inscription on the treble bell reads:


O come let us sing unto the Lord



ECTONI 1703 Recast 1891

And on the sixth bell:



From these two inscriptions it can be seen that Henry Penn has taken over the Ecton foundry. The only other bells cast in this same year were at St. Dennis, Faxton (one bell) and at All Saints, Holcot, with the inscription:


The bell has an angel cast into the above band and I think that it was the first bell he had cast in his own right; the boy would have needed the help of an angel for this was a great task for such a young man. In 1706 Penn cast a bell for Warrington Chapel and in 1708 one for the new Nonconformist Unitarian Church at Stand, a small community above Manchester. This bell was stolen by a Jacobite mob in 1715 but was somehow returned to the church only to be destroyed by a German bomb after the evening service on 22 December 1940. The same bell was recast in 1952 with the name Henry Penn again cast into the inscription band.

In the period 1707-8 Penn had his attention drawn to the fact that the Peterborough Cathedral bells were in a poor condition and in need of urgent attention. The Ecton foundry was about to close as Penn moved to Peterborough and cast a ring of ten bells for the Cathedral in 1709. This would not have been possible without the Bagley knowledge instilled into Penn in the casting of the bells for Lichfield Cathedral in 1687. The bells were very similar as the tenor,the largest of each of these rings of ten, weighed one and a half tons.

Henry Penn married Dinah Ashton of Peterborough in 1710 and they had eight children. Penn did not forsake his connection with the Bagley family as evidence points to the fact that they worked together when required. The Bagley Bellfoundry at Chacombe continued until 1771.

After casting over 250 bells in 96 churches and two great houses, Henry Penn died in 1729 at the young age of 44, as in the last verse of the poem :

‘by dangers of this trade now dead’.