The 1894 Parish Councils Act was part of a wide ranging reform of local government in the nineteenth century, which created Urban and Rural District Councils and, in villages, Parish Councils to deal with local problems.
The first meeting of Ecton Parish Council was held in the Board School at seven pm on Monday 31 December 1894. The all male council comprised Major General Sotheby and Messrs Blason, Callis, Hart, Hawkes, Mabbutt, Perkins, Tassell and Tebbutt. Not altogether surprisingly Major General Sotheby was elected Chairman, a post he would conscientiously fill until his death in 1909.
Early meetings of the Council are much concerned with communal water taps, sewage disposal (particularly in Back Lane), the state of the bridle road to Cogenhoe, and the appointment of Constables. In 1897 the inconvenience of having to go to Wollaston to register ‘in case of death’ was a cause for concern and In the same year a petition from Billing Parish Council was received in support of ‘improved accommodation for foot passengers to and from Billing Station in time of floods’. In 1899 an overhanging hedge was a hazard to cyclists, and the farmer, Mr Dicks, was asked to cut it.
This pattern has not changed in the 103 years of the Council’s existence; roads and pavements, street lighting, rubbish and the Ecton Charity accounts are typical of the subjects which have exercised the minds of Ecton parish councillors from the beginning and still demand their attention today. National events warrant a mention in the minutes only when they require local action - the organisation of a Silver Jubilee or Coronation party or a collection for a disaster fund.
It is nevertheless surprising to find so little mention of the two world wars. During the whole of this time aspects of the war effort were discussed on only four occasions - Lord Derby’s recruiting scheme in 1915, National Service in 1917 (`matter adjourned for further consideration’), a Food Control sub-committee in 1917 and, in the only reference during the whole of the Second World War, a campaign to grow more food in 1940.
Between the wars, in 1924, ‘ the employment of a fire engine’ was considered by the council but surprisingly in a village with so much thatch, no action was taken. More urgent consideration was given to the question in 1927, because ‘at a recent fire in the village there was no-one able to use the fire-engine belonging to Col. Sotheby’. After much discussion, particularly about the cost, an agreement was made with Northampton Corporation for the use of their fire engine at a cost of £5-7-7 per annum. ‘Messrs T Lester and C Tapp were appointed to communicate with the Fire Brigade in the event of an outbreak’. How effective this arrangement was is not recorded.
By 1948 it was much better organised - the Minutes recording that ‘in case of fire anyone could call the National Fire Service by dialling ‘O’ and saying “Fire”.’
In recent times new concerns have arisen - a population imbalance in the village caused by young people moving out, the problems of long-term unemployment and the threatened closure of the school were all causes for concern in the early eighties.
The village has been fortunate over the years in the people who have been prepared to give their time and talent to the service of their neighbours. For most of its existence the parish council was strictly an all-male preserve and it was not until 1969 that the first woman, Jan Wetherall, was voted onto the council. Another twenty-five years would pass before the council was led by a woman, Sheila Ingram, who took the chair in 1991.
The hopes and fears of the whole village are reflected in the Minutes of the Parish Council. Here one can find recorded all the significant developments in the village since 1894 - the coming of mains water, electricity and the telephone, new housing estates, the conservation area, road developments and gravel extraction. And here we find how little our problems have changed over the years. Roads and pavements were causing trouble in 1894, the condition of the telephone kiosk demanded attention in 1939 and car-parking and speeding were an annoyance in 1947.
There is no reason to suppose that it will be any different in the next hundred years.