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 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 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’.
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.
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
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.