The Rectors of Forncett

Rev. Lewis Radford and his wife Maude

Rectors of Forncett

The rectors of Forncett have always been important members of this community and the village still retains evidence of their various benign activities and influences.

The names of the rectors of Forncett have been traced back to 1256 when the first recorded rector, Guy de Tornello, arrived. From 1496 the parishes of Forncett St Mary and Forncett St Peter were united and shared a rector, and whilst we know little about the early incumbents, the history from 1725 onwards is well documented.

At that time, the Hon. Richard Hill of Hawkstone Park, Shropshire purchased the advowson (the right to recommend a member of the clergy for a vacant benefice, or to make such an appointment) from the Duke of Norfolk. Richard Hill then appointed a family member, Roland Harwood Hill, as rector of Forncett. Furthermore, he obliged his heirs to appoint thereafter only Fellows of St. John's College, Cambridge as rectors of Forncett; a requirement that was adhered to until 1908. Consequently, this small Norfolk village has been home to some remarkably able and academic clergy.

Forncett clergy and their dates of incumbency

Roland Harwood HILL (1725-1730)

Moses LLOYD (1730-64), another fellow of St. John's, also came from Shropshire and was rector until his death in July 1764.

Zachary BROOKE (1764-88) was born at Hamerton, Hunts. He became vicar of Ickleton, Cambs in 1744 and rector of Forncett in 1764, holding both livings until his death in 1788. He also held the position of Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in Cambridge from 1765-88.

William COOKSON (1788-1804) grew up in Penrith and was the uncle of the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. Before coming to Forncett in 1788, Dr Cookson had a distinguished academic career, including a period as Tutor to the children of King George III. When he and his new wife (Dorothy, daughter of the Revd John Cowper, rector of Penrith) settled into Forncett St Peter rectory, his niece Dorothy Wordsworth came with them and stayed until February 1794. Cookson numbered the influential politician William Wilberforce (who had also attended St. John's) amongst his friends, and in 1789 Wilberforce stayed at Forncett rectory for over a month. Dr. Cookson, who became a Canon of Windsor in 1792, left Forncett in 1804 to become rector of Binfield, Berks (and of East Ilsey in 1808) where he remained until his death in 1820.

Thomas JACK (1805-44) also originated from Cumberland and was a Fellow of St John's, serving as curate in the Cambridgeshire parish of Coveney with Manea until his arrival at Forncett in 1805, where he was to remain until his death in 1844. His striking ledger stone (see below) is in the floor of St Peter's Church. Jack established the first National School in Forncett St. Mary, in what is now the Village Hall.

Ledger stone for the Rev. Thomas Jack - photo Richard Ball

John Doudney LANE (1844-46) Born in Portsmouth in 1812, Lane came to Forncett in 1844 - a ministry which was to terminate in his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1847, at the age of 34. He has a memorial plaque above the priest's door in St Peter's Church. 

Photo - Richard Ball
Photo - Richard Ball

John Doudney Lane was the first priest to be appointed by the Howard family - the Earls of Effingham - who had acquired the patronage of the living. On John Lane's death, the two Forncett parishes were separated, each with its own rector.


Forncett St. Mary (1846-1902)

John William COLENSO, (1846-53) became the rector of Forncett St. Mary in 1846 and, although he stayed for only 7 years, he was probably the most famous of Forncett's rectors. A very talented mathematician, he was also a liberal theologian way ahead of his time. We know little of his seven-year ministry in Forncett, but in 1853 he was recruited by Bishop Robert Gray to become the first Bishop of the newly-formed diocese of Natal where he died in June 1883. Colenso left his mark in Forncett as he had the imposing St. Mary's rectory (now called Forncett Manor) built in 1848.

John Edward COOPER (1853-1908) was formerly a Fellow of St John's and assistant master at Repton School. Forncett was his only living, where he remained for 55 years. Cooper was responsible for a major restoration of St. Mary's church. The work, which required the church to be closed for 10 months, included new flint facing of the chancel walls, a new oak roof for the chancel, replacement of the thatched roofs with Staffordshire tiles and installation of underfloor heating in the nave.

Forncett St. Peter (1847-1902)

William Grieve WILSON (1847-1896) was born in Cheshire in 1819 and elected a Fellow of St. John's in 1844. He arrived in Forncett in 1847 and then in 1852 he married Maria Atkinson Holme from Liverpool. William and Maria had five children between 1854 and 1868. In the census records of 1861, 1871 and 1881, the rectory was home to a number of scholars, from various parts of the UK, who were presumably being educated by Rev. Wilson.

Rev. Grieve Wilson and his family in the garden of the rectory - about 1865

William served as rector of Forncett for almost half a century until his death in 1896. His wife, Maria and her daughter, Agnes, then moved to Kensington, London. In 1903 Agnes Wilson published a book entitled "Friends of Yesterday" which described the lives of some of the residents of a hypothetical village called Sedgbrook which is clearly based on her life in Forncett.

Rev. Lewis Bostock Radford
Rev. Lewis Bostock Radford

Lewis Bostock RADFORD (1896-1902) Born at Mansfield, Notts. in 1869, Radford was assistant curate in Warrington from 1892 before moving to Forncett in 1896. He moved to Holt in North Norfolk in 1902. In 1909 Lewis Radford took up an appointment as Warden of St Paul's College, University of Sydney. In 1915 he was elected fourth Bishop of Goulburn, a large diocese encompassing much of New South Wales, including Canberra, already designated as the location of the new national capital. He resigned his see in 1933 and returned to England where he died in 1937 at the age of 68.


When the two benefices were reunited in 1902 under John Edward Cooper, Cooper continued to live at St Mary's rectory and remained there in retirement. In his later years, he employed curates to assist him, one of whom succeeded him. He died in April 1914 at the age of 91. 

Thomas Jackson BENTLEY (1908-35) was a minister in Australia before returning to become curate at St Alban's Acton Green, then at Forncett from 1903-8. He apparently lived in one half of Austhorpe House - which was renamed St. Edmund's House. Bentley oversaw the successful foundation of St. Edmund's Mission church in Forncett End, which was dedicated on St. Peter's Day - 29th June 1904.

In December 1908 Thomas Bentley became rector of Forncett - the first since 1730 who had not been a Fellow of St John's College Cambridge.  He gave his name to Bentley Road (formerly called Dirty Road) in Forncett End.

Rev. Thomas Bentley (Keith Parker on his knee)

Joseph Fenner SPINK (1936-47) After a curacy at St John's Weymouth, Rev. Spink taught in schools until becoming vicar of East Cowton, Yorks in 1926, then of Catterick in 1930 until his arrival at Forncett in 1936. He retired in 1947 to Epsom.

Frederick Ercolo VOKES (1947-56) After his curacy at East Cowes, he too taught for several years; then, after three years as rector of Wansford and Thornhaugh near Peterborough, he came to Forncett in 1947. He was a theologian of some repute, who had written 'The Riddle of the Didache' in 1938. On leaving Forncett he was Professor of Theology and Hebrew at St David's College Lampeter for two years, then Professor of Divinity at Trinity College Dublin until his retirement to Lancaster in 1980.

Colin Francis SCOTT (1956-59) After a varied ministry, including curacies in Leicestershire, work for the Church of England Children's Society and parishes in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, Rev. Scott came here having been rector of Barnack, Ufford and Bainton. He left to be rector of Cantley and Limpenhoe and retired in 1962.

Rev. Colin Scott
Rev. Colin Scott

Charles Hamilton ARNOLD (1959-79) He served curacies at St Mary's Dover and Milton Regis (Kent), Holy Trinity Eltham and Mortlake. He was vicar of St James Camberwell from 1951-9.

Thomas Martin William FITZGERALD (1979-82) came to the parishes of Forncett, Flordon, Tasburgh and Tharston after curacies in Bristol and at Great Yarmouth, where he had charge of St Paul's church. He moved to London in 1982 to work with the Joshua Trust.

Robert Daniel BLAKELEY (1982-85) Much of his early ministry was spent in Canada and the USA. Then, after a curacy at St Marylebone, he was appointed priest-in-charge of the four parishes. He left to be chaplain of Ravenscourt School, London and retired in 1992.

Thomas Denys Milville RAVEN (1985-89) He was curate of Bradfield (Berks), then vicar of Otterton (Devon), and of Wadhurst and Tidebrook (Sussex), before becoming rector of Forncett, Flordon, Tasburgh and Tharston. He retired to Halesworth.

For details of the Rectors since 1989 please see "recent Rectors" on the St. Mary's church website.

The information on this page draws on Forncett Archive Note 8 and on the "History of St. Mary's Church" by Roy Tricker.