Life in Ecton before the Second World War
I have for some time thought it would be a good idea to record my memories of my early life in Ecton up to April 1939. That was when I left home to spend, as it turned out, 29 years serving in the Royal Air Force.
Ecton was a friendly and attractive Village in which to grow up. In those days everyone knew everyone else and it was possible, if one wa so inclined, to count the population starting at the top of the Village and working down.
Life revolved around the Hall, home of Colonel and Mrs Sotheby, and like most of the Village our house belonged to the Estate. My 6 brothers and 2 sisters and myself were born in the first cottage in The Crescent. We were such a large family and I can remember, as a very young boy, that when my mother got us ready for a walk she would tell each of us to sit on the low wall in the garden and not move until all were ready to leave.
Even when, some years later, we moved to 18 High Street (now Grange Cottage) conditions were still very cramped. Colonel Sotheby then had 78 high Street, which comprised 2 cottages, made into one house with 5 bedrooms. We moved into our new home in 1935. Of course in those days bathrooms were a luxury that didn't exist in such houses so that all water had to be carried from a tap situated across the road. (I feel that it is a very great pity that these taps were not preserved, indeed I think that they should be reinstated). On Sunday afternoons there was much carrying of water in order to fill the galvanised baths in readiness for wash day on Mondays. A wash house existed in the corner of the barn and on Monday mornings a fire was lit under a copper in order to boil the clothes, bedsheets, etc. Mother had a big mangle and we would take it in turns to help mangle the washing. With 9 children and 2 adults to wash for I often wonder how my mother found the strength to work so hard week after week. Fortunately Mrs. Patrick, who lived across the road, was very kind and used to help her.
Garden fetes used to be held in the Hall grounds, an ideal venue for such activities; quite apart from the lovely views across the fields there was so much space. Teas were served in the old coach houses. There were all sorts of stalls and sideshows such as bowling for a pig, skittles, slow bicycle race, etc. These fetes were always a huge success and large sums of money were raised for a variety of causes.
Once a year, when the daffodils were in bloom, and the Hall grounds were opened to visitors, it was a joy to wander through the grounds and woodlands. The Kitchen Gardens were especially interesting and quite extensive. I remember the Head Gardner, Mr Wise, very well. He always wore a blue apron and pushed a flat truck with large wheels. Tenants used to pay their rent in his potting shed, I believe they still do.
It was an example of the authority and influence of Colonel Sotheby that when electricity was being brought to the Village, the Company attempting to erect a post near to the entrance to Blacksmiths Yard, he promptly ordered that work must cease and poles must be erected away from High Street. I well remember that when electricity was installed in our home at 18 High Street my mother had the privilege of switching on our lights for the first time. What an experience after oil lamps and candles!
Another person who had considerable influence in the Village was Canon Jephson. He was a very nice, caring and sincere person, very supportive of young people in whose activities he took great interest. Two of my brothers and I joined a Company of the Church Lads Brigade which had been formed in Great Billing by the Vicar, the Rev. Canton. Other boys from Ecton also joined and it became known as the "Billing and Ecton Company". Rev. Canton was appointed Commander of the Northampton Battalion of the Church Lads Brigade in the rank of Colonel.I remember how proud Canon Jephson was when one year he was able to display the trophies which our Company won in the Battalion Competitions, which used to be held in the Drill Hall, Clare Street, Northampton. They included drill, physical training, smartness of turnout and team games.
There were 4 shops in the Village. The Co-operative society was situated in what was the old School built by John Palmer in the 17th Century. It was an independent society and was run by a local Committee, until it was taken over by Earls Barton Co-operative Society.
At the entrance to Manor Farm was an Off Licence run by Mrs Darker who also sold various household necessities. Mr. Billy Nichols had a little shop in his cottage which was situated in what is now the garden of 14 High Street with the entrance being in Blacksmiths Yard. He pushed a truck around Ecton, Great Billing and Cogenhoe selling a variety of things. Mr and Mrs Greenham also sold things such as tobacco, cigarettes, etc., in a little shop in their house in Blacksmiths Yard.
The Newsagents were Mr and Mrs Gibbins who lived in one of a row of three houses opposite The Crescent; only one house now remains, 61 High Street. Next to Mr and Mrs Gibbins lived Mr and Mrs Copnall. Mrs Copnall ran a Christmas Club which we called "The Chocolate Club". We paid our pocket money into this club and bought chocolates and sweets at Christmas time. There was a good selection of chocolates and sweets, but I particularly remember the Cadburys Selection boxes - at 2/6d a box, jolly good value they were!
There was also a Post Office which was opposite the school and run by Miss May Johnson and by her father before her. May used to sell stationery and greeting cards. She was responsible for accepting telegrams in a telephone kiosk situated inside the Post Office. She would seek the help of one or other of us to deliver telegrams. This was a sought after perk because we were paid 3 or 6 old pence according to the distance we had to go. I can recall May herself cycling to the dispersed farms in all weathers - she was quite a character and held strong views on a variety of subjects.
There were two bakehouses run by Mr Charles Tebby and Mr Jack Campion. Not only did they bake jolly nice bread but pastry meals and Sunday roasts with Yorkshire pudding which were taken along to them by the Villagers. This was done before the advent of gas in the Village when cooking at home was done on an old fashioned cooking range which also provided heating. Mr Tebby, whose bakehouse was on the corner of Barton Fields, cured flitches of bacon and hams taken along by those who kept pigs. My father kept several pigs as did quite a few people in the Village notably Mr Sam Middleton and Mr Dexter who had a big pig yard to the rear of 47 and 49 High Street. At 12 High Street was a Bakery owned by Mr Campion from where mother bought bread. Mother was a good customer for we needed lots of bread. It was delivered by Harrold Garfield, a man with a rich sense of humour. One day he picked up my youngest brother by the seat of his pants and tore them; mother was not amused! We used to go along very early on Good Friday mornings to buy Hot Cross Buns.