Ecton Village

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.

List of Rectors of Ecton

Name Date
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, Oxfordshire 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 1990-1998

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