A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1937.
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The parish of Ecton covers about 2,300 acres. It lies on the side of a hill which rises gradually from the River Nene, the southern boundary, to a height of 360 ft. towards the parishes of Sywell and Overstone on the north. The soil is light loam and gravel with a clay subsoil; the chief crops are wheat, beans, and roots. The south part of the parish is covered by a part of the irrigation farm of the Northampton Corporation, and the land near the river is liable to floods.
The village of Ecton is built along both sides of a road which leads from the river up the hill to the main road from Northampton to Wellingborough, on which lies the World's End Inn, mentioned in 1678 (fn. 1) but rebuilt about 1765. The approach to Ecton village from Northampton is shaded by two rows of ancient elms. A two-story house of ironstone, with mullioned windows, at the south-east end of the village bears the date 1695, another 1697, and a tablet on a shop shows that it was formerly the free school, built by John Palmer in 1752. The rectory house was originally erected by John Palmer, (rector 1641–79) but rebuilt in its present form by his grandson Eyre Whalley in 1693. It is of two stories with a well-designed front elevation of dressed ironstone and a slated hipped roof. The interior has been much modernized, but retains a fine 17th-century oak staircase with turned balusters. In the landing window are the arms of John Palmer (1641), Thomas Palmer (1691), and Eyre Whalley (1735), rectors, and one of the upper rooms contains excellent 18th-century panelling. (fn. 2) Ecton Hall, the seat of Lt.-Col. Sotheby, stands high, commanding extensive views. It has a good front, of ironstone, built in 1756, but incorporates work of an earlier date. (fn. 3)
John Cole in his account of the parish, written in 1825, says: 'There is a tradition that Ecton was formerly a market town, and that the market was held in a field now well known by the name of Dove-house Close, but there is no confirmation of this report to be found in the fragment of the usual market-cross in the village.' Ecton was the birthplace of Benjamin Franklin's father, whose family had lived in the parish upwards of three hundred years. (fn. 4) From about 1687 to 1703 Henry Bagley, who is buried in the church, carried on a bellfoundry in Ecton. (fn. 5) The Board school was built in 1876. There are Baptist and Methodist chapels. The population, which numbered 447 in 1931, is chiefly employed in agriculture. Ecton parish was inclosed in 1759. (fn. 6).
In 1086 Henry de Ferrers held of the king 4 hides, valued at 100s., in Ecton; Bundi had held them in the Confessor's time, when they had been worth £3. (fn. 9) This land formed part of the honor of Tutbury. After the death of Henry de Ferrers the overlordship passed to his son Robert, rst Earl of Derby, and with the other possessions of the Earls of Derby and Ferrers became merged in the Duchy of Lancaster. The last mention of the overlordship occurs in 1575, when it was held as parcel of the Duchy by suit of court and 5s. 9d. rent. (fn. 10) About 1428 Ecton passed to a younger branch of the Montgomery family, who held this manor, together with that of Cubley in Derbyshire, of the Tutbury honor. Between 1482 and 1529 Ecton is found held of the senior branch of the family as of their manor of Cubley. (fn. 11)
The first tenant in ECTON or MONTGOMERIES MANOR was Ralf, who held 4 hides of Henry de Ferrers in 1086. (fn. 12) These hides were held at the time of the Northamptonshire Survey by William de Montgomery. (fn. 13) Probably this land was part of the 4 knights' fees held in 1166 by Walter de Montgomery, from whom the land passed to William de Montgomery by 1177. (fn. 14) This William was succeeded by Sir William, who held two fees in 1242. (fn. 15) In 1284 William held 1 fee in Ecton and his son Ralph had 2/3 of a fee (fn. 16) in the same place, which he held from Isabel de Forz, Countess of Devon. (fn. 17) In 1297 William de Montgomery held the manor of Ecton and manors in Derbyshire as 7 fees. (fn. 18) By the year 1316 Walter de Montgomery, probably his son,held Ecton; (fn. 19) he died in 1324 and was succeeded by his grandson Walter, (fn. 20) who was holding in 1346. This Walter's younger son Walter (fn. 21) had 1½ fees in 1428; (fn. 22) his brother Nicholas succeeded to the manor of Cubley in Derby, and from him and his heirs the younger branch held Ecton. (fn. 23) In 1482 a John Montgomery died seised of a part of Ecton Manor which had been settled on him and Margaret, daughter of William Holdenby, on their marriage in 1449. The residue had been granted in 1475 to John's son William and his wife Elizabeth; William, therefore, succeeded to the whole of the manor. (fn. 24) Michael Montgomery died holding the manor in 1507, and Thomas Montgomery, his kinsman, succeeded to the estate, (fn. 25) which on his death in 1529 descended to his son Michael, then aged 14. (fn. 26) Thomas left an annuity of 10 marks out of the manor to his younger brothers, (fn. 27) which was the subject of litigation after his death. (fn. 28) In 1567 Lewis Montgomery, son of Michael, (fn. 29) settled the manor on his wife Jane, daughter of Sir Robert Lane. He appears to have left two parts of Ecton Manor to her for her life, the remaining part to Jane, probably a daughter, the wife of Thomas Eaton. (fn. 30) The manor was ultimately to revert to his brother William Montgomery, who in 1574, together with his brother Theophilus, alienated their reversionary interest in Ecton to Thomas Catesby. (fn. 31) Thomas Catesby died in 1592 and was succeeded by his son George, then about 15 years old. (fn. 32) George still held the manor in 1650. (fn. 33) From Thomas Catesby, who died seised of the manor in 1699, it descended to his daughter (fn. 34) Elizabeth, (fn. 35) who married Ralph Freeman. In 1712 Ecton Manor was alienated by Ralph Freeman to Thomas Isted, (fn. 36) who was succeeded in 1731 by his son Ambrose. In 1745 Ambrose Isted received licence to inclose certain highways in Ecton provided he made another common highway in his own lands. (fn. 37) He died in 1781 and his estates devolved on his son Samuel; his daughter Mary married William Sotheby. (fn. 38) Samuel Isted died in 1827 and his son Ambrose died without issue in 1881, when Ecton passed to his first cousin once removed, C. W. H. Sotheby, (fn. 39) and is at present the property of Lt.-Col. Herbert George Sotheby, D.S.O.
In the 15th century Sir Thomas Tresham of Sywell held a considerable estate in Ecton described as ECTON MANOR. In 1462 Edward IV granted to John Donne, one of the ushers of his chamber, the manor of Ecton recently forfeited by Sir Thomas Tresham. (fn. 40) In 1480 Edward IV granted these same lands to his servant Wm. Sayer and his wife for life, (fn. 41) and four years later they were bestowed upon Edward Brampton and his heirs male. (fn. 42) After this date there is no further mention of the Tresham estate, but it is possibly identical with the manor held by Francis Catesby in 1527, when he willed that Francis, second son of his nephew Anthony Catesby, should succeed to his manor of Ecton. He died the following year and Anthony, son of his brother Humphrey and father of Francis mentioned above, then held the estate, probably in trust for his son. (fn. 43) Francis Catesby the younger died in 1537, his heir being his elder son Thomas, then aged 3. (fn. 44) In 1575 Thomas, then of full age, claimed ⅓ of his father's lands, (fn. 45) and in 1581 he compounded for the estate with his mother Mary and her husband Nicholas Thorne, who surrendered it to him in 1598. (fn. 46) To this Thomas the Montgomerys alienated their more important manor of Ecton (q.v.) in 1574, (fn. 47) in which this property becomes henceforward merged.
A third manor was formerly held by the abbey of Warden. In 1291 the abbot held lands in Ecton valued yearly at £3 13s. 7d.; (fn. 48) in 1535 these, including the grange of Ecton, were valued at 61s. 6d. (fn. 49) After the Dissolution, the estate, called ECTON MANOR, was granted in 1540 at a yearly rent of 6s. to John Gostwyk and Joan his wife; (fn. 50) they in the same year received licence to alienate it to William Nicholls. (fn. 51) In 1585 Augustine, second son of Thomas Nicholls and grandson of the original grantee, alienated his manor to Edward Stonynge and Julia his wife, (fn. 52) who in 1586 conveyed it to John Freeman. (fn. 53) In May 1606 John Freeman settled part of his estate on his son Francis on his marriage with Thomasine Andrews, with remainder to his daughter Margaret, wife of Sir Robert Osborne. At the death of John Freeman in 1615 his heir was his grand-daughter Catherine, wife of Sir Edward Gorges and daughter of Margaret Osborne deceased, (fn. 54) and in 1627 they transferred the manor to Sir Anthony Haselwood. (fn. 55) From this date until 1678 there is no mention of the manor; but in 1678 Thomas Hackoll bought the manor of Ecton, situated in the Abbot's or Prior's Hyde, from William Bernard for the sum of £650. (fn. 56) In 1689 Nicholas, son of Thomas Hackoll leased this property for a term of 900 years to Henry Bagley, bell-founder in Ecton, (fn. 57) and in the same year he sold him the mansion house of Ecton. (fn. 58) After this date no further trace of the Warden manor has been found.
In 1086 there were two mills in Ecton worth 14s. (fn. 59) Of these mills one remained attached to the main manor (q.v.), the other appears to have passed to the abbey of Warden which possessed a mill in Ecton as early as 1291. (fn. 60)
In 1629 Charles I granted a court leet and view of frankpledge in Ecton to Robert Owen and his heirs. (fn. 61)
Cole (c. 1825) states that there is said to have been a nunnery or cell subordinate to Delapré Abbey, and describing Ecton House he writes: 'At the back of the house is a yard bounded by high walls, which still retains the name of Nuns' Court.' (fn. 62) There is no record of any land in the parish having belonged to the nuns, but in 1538 'all liberties belonging to the Priory of St. Mary' in Ecton were granted to Anthony Denny and Joan Champernowne, whom he was going to marry. (fn. 63)
The parish church of ST. MARY MAGDALEN consists of chancel, 41 ft. by 14 ft. 10 in., with north and south chapels; (fn. 64) clerestoried nave, 59 ft. by 20 ft.; north aisle, 12 ft. wide; south aisle, 9 ft. 6 in. wide; north and south porches, and west tower, 12 ft. 6 in. square, all these measurements being internal. The chapels are continuations eastward of the aisles and cover the chancel for about half its length.
The church is built throughout of ironstone rubble except the later upper stage of the tower which is of wrought freestone, and has plain parapets and lowpitched roofs. The nave was slated in 1814, (fn. 65) but elsewhere the roofs are leaded.
The building in the main is of 13th-century date, with alterations and additions in the 14th and 15th centuries, but it may have developed from a 12thcentury aisleless church with central tower, north and south transepts and short chancel. The nave of this early building covered the area of the three western bays of the present nave, and the eastern bay of which represents either the crossing of the transept or an extension eastward of the nave. In the 13th century aisles were added, the chancel rebuilt on a larger scale, and a new tower erected at the west end, the arch of which still stands. In the 14th century the tower was rebuilt in its present form, the north aisle widened and the chapels north and south of the chancel added. The nave arcades seem to have been refashioned at this time, retaining, however, many 13th-century features. The north porch is an addition of the 15th century and during the same period the tower was heightened and the clerestory added. The chancel is said to have been lengthened about 12 ft. in the 17th century, when a doorway was cut through the north wall, and then or at some later time in the long Palmer-Whalley régime (fn. 66) the chancel arch was filled in, (fn. 67) and the north and south arches to the chapels obstructed by large memorial tablets, (fn. 68) the chancel thus being cut off from the rest of the church and used as the burial-place and private chapel of the rectors. About 1825 the church was ceiled and newly pewed, and a west gallery was afterwards erected and the tower arch blocked. The work then done still remains, but the chancel was opened out again about eighty years ago and has since been restored. (fn. 69) The north chapel, or vestry, was rebuilt in 1890, and in 1908 the south chapel was rebuilt and extended about 6 ft. eastwards. (fn. 70)
The chancel has a moulded string externally at sill level and an east window of four lights with modern Decorated tracery and moulded rear-arch, the internal shafted jambs of which are of 13th-century date: there is also a three-light window with modern tracery in both the north and south walls. The 17th-century north doorway was cut through the east end of a 13th-century arched tomb recess and part of an aumbry but is now blocked and the recess restored, the doorway showing only on the outside. In the south wall is a small roundheaded low-side window, now blocked and covered by the chapel. The arches between the chancel and chapels are of two hollow-chamfered orders, the inner springing from moulded corbels. The chancel arch is of three chamfered orders, the two outer continuous and the innermost springing from half-octagonal responds with moulded capitals and bases. At the east end of both nave walls is a rood-loft doorway, that on the north side being blocked: on the south, part of the stairway remains.
The nave consists of four irregularly spaced bays. The eastern arch on either side springs from halfoctagonal responds with moulded capitals and bases, and all the arches are of two chamfered orders. On the north side the westernmost pier is octagonal and the other circular, but on the south both are octagonal, all with moulded capitals and bases. The responds are octagonal, but the third arch (from the west) on the south side rests on a moulded corbel attached to the masonry pier. At the east end the aisles are separated from the chapels by pointed arches of two chamfered orders. The aumbry in connexion with the former aisle altar remains in the north wall, and at the east end of the naves, south of the chancel arch, is a trefoiled recess high in the wall.
The south doorway is of two hollow-chamfered orders stopped above the impost and hood-mould with heads: the jambs are only slightly chamfered. The early-14th-century north doorway is of three moulded orders, the middle one on shafts with moulded capitals and bases, the others wave-moulded; the hood-mould terminates in heads. The floor of the south porch is level with that of the nave, but on the north there is a descent of three steps. In the south-west angle of the north porch is a stoup with ogee-headed canopy trefoiled within, and in the east wall a rectangular recess. Above the outer arch is a trefoiled niche. An inscription on the north-east buttress reads: 'Ao dnī. mo. cccc. lvj edificatur'.
At the west end of the north aisle is an original lancet window, the jamb only restored, but the other windows of the aisle are modern. The windows of the south aisle are square-headed, and in two of them the mullions have been renewed in wood. The clerestory windows are also square-headed.
The tower is of four stages, with moulded plinth, west doorway, coupled buttresses, and vice in the northwest angle. Above the doorway is a vesica-shaped quatrefoil, and in the second stage facing south an ogeeheaded opening: otherwise the two lower stages are blank. The third stage was the 14th-century bellchamber story and has a pointed window of two cinquefoiled lights with moulded head and jambs on each face. The later upper story sets back and has double bellchamber windows of two cinquefoiled lights with transom at mid-height, and a band of quatrefoils and blank shields above. The pierced quatrefoil parapet has octagonal angle pinnacles, but a wooden lantern with 'leaded dome and cross at the top', which formerly surmounted the tower, (fn. 71) has disappeared. The 13th-century tower arch is blocked and partly hidden by the gallery, but it consists of four chamfered orders, the innermost springing from half-round responds with moulded capitals and bases.
The font, which has a circular bowl, was in use in 1825 as a horse-trough at a neighbouring farm, (fn. 72) and its carved ornamentation has suffered but it is apparently not earlier than the 14th century. The hexagonal wooden pulpit is part of an old three-decker.
In the chancel is a mural monument, erected in 1732, to John Palmer, archdeacon of Northampton and rector of Ecton 1641–79, with bust by Rysbrack; one to his son-in-law Samuel Freeman, dean of Peterborough, who died on a visit to Ecton in 1707 and was buried there, and a third to John Palmer, esquire, patron (d. 1763). The south chapel contains a monument to Ann Isted (d. 1763) and other members of the family. In the north aisle is a modern bronze tablet to Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman (1706– 90). (fn. 73)
A circular floor-drain stone is built into the south aisle wall outside, and on the east jamb of the south porch is a scratch dial of wheel type, with two concentric circles and lines radiating in all directions. (fn. 74)
There are six bells, the treble dated 1749, the second (old treble) by James Keene of Woodstock 1612,and the others by Hugh Watts of Leicester, the third and fifth being dated 1612, the fourth 1634, and the tenor 1622. (fn. 75) A clock was erected in 1630 and a set of chimes in 1690. (fn. 76)
The plate consists of a silver cover paten of 1569, a cup of 1591, an alms dish of 1673 with the arms of John Palmer, rector, two cups and patens, and a flagon of 1728, and a large spoon of 1908. (fn. 77)
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms, marriages, and burials 1559–84, (fn. 78) 1591–1637; (ii) baptisms 1637–53, 1656–1754, marriages 1638–53, 1662– 1753, burials 1638–53, 1659–1754; (iii) a small parchment book kept by the 'Register' under the Protectorate, containing births 1653–6, marriages 1654–5, burials 1653–7; (iv) baptisms 1754–April 1810, burials 1754– 1812; (v) baptisms May 1810–1812; (vi) marriages 1754–80; (vii) marriages 1780–1812.
The advowson was attached to the main manor, presentation being made in 1220 by the Earl of Derby as guardian of the heir of William de Montgomery, (fn. 79) and in 1244 by Sir William de Montgomery. (fn. 80) In 1275 Nicholas de Cogenhoe and Amice his wife, who had it of the gift of John de Montgomery, restored it to William de Montgomery. (fn. 81) It remained appurtenant to the manor (q.v.) until 1712 when Ralph Freeman transferred it to Thomas Palmer whose son, then rector, held it in 1720. (fn. 82) John Palmer was patron from 1732 (fn. 83) to 1758. (fn. 84) In 1762 Barbara Whalley presented Peter Whalley, the editor of Bridges's Northamptonshire. (fn. 85) The Rev. John Christopher Whalley held it in 1853 but subsequently sold it. Since 1874 the right of presentation has been exercised by the Crown. In 1291 the value of the church of Ecton was £20 (fn. 86) and in 1535 £21 18s. 7d. (fn. 87)
John Barker, who died in or about 1729, devised 1 acre of land in West Holme, the rents to be applied by the rector and churchwardens in providing coats for two poor men. This charity and the charity of the Rev. Palmer Whalley following are regulated by a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 3 January 1893. The land is let for £1 10s. yearly, and the income is applied in the distribution of coats when sufficient funds are available.
The Rev. Palmer Whalley by codicil to his will dated 10 September 1801 gave a sum of 3 per cent. Consols, the interest to be distributed in bread. The endowment now consists of £166 13s. 4d. Consols producing £4 3s. 4d. yearly in dividends which is applied by the rector and churchwardens in the distribution of bread.
The charity of Thomas Catesby founded by will about 1698 is regulated by a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 3 January 1893. The property consists of 12 a. 2 r. 5 p. of land let in allotments and £93 14s. 7d. Consols, the whole producing £30 9s. 4d. in 1924. £1 per annum is distributed in bread to the poor and is called the Dole Charity of Thomas Catesby, and the remainder of the income is applied in apprenticeship premiums.