In 1653, Francis Wright succeeded John Napper as vicar of Cocking, and like his predecessor he officiated at the funeral of several of his children as well as that of his wife. Vicar of Cocking for thirty years, his early years as parish priest coincide with the Protectorate, and Wright had to guide the parish through the troubled period when Oliver Cromwell attempted to supress the Church of England.
Francis Wright was born at Eton, Berkshire in about 1610, the youngest son of Revd. Richard Wright (1572–1638) and his wife Frances. In 1611, Richard was appointed as Master of Eton College by Sir Henry Savile, Provost of Eton. As an “alien”, Richard’s appointment was not popular and, shortly after his appointment, William Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln, wrote to Savile objecting to the appointment of an outsider, adding that the master should be a bachelor and a layman. After only two months as master, Richard Wright was replaced by Matthew Bust, and was elected as a fellow of the college. In June 1613, Richard succeeded Bust as rector at Everdon in Northamptonshire, where he remained until his death in 1638.
Francis Wright was educated at Merton College, Oxford from where he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in April 1629, being elected a Fellow of the college the following year and obtaining his Master of Arts degree in 1634. In 1646, he was appointed as headmaster of Gresham’s School in Holt, North Norfolk. The school had been founded in 1555 by Sir John Gresham under the stewardship of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.
On 4 March 1653, following the death of John Napper, Francis Wright was appointed as vicar of Cocking “by permission of The Great Seal”. Wright is first mentioned in the Cocking parish register when he baptised his son Francis on 10 March 1654; his wife is recorded as Sarah.Note 1 Sadly, young Francis died before he was 18 months old and was buried in Cocking churchyard on 26 July 1656.
In the meantime, Wright had been formally inducted as vicar of Cocking on 27 July 1654. This was shortly after the appointment of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.
Over the next twelve years, the following family events are recorded in the Cocking parish register:
Thomas, baptised 26 January 1657
Damaris, baptised 3 February 1658, buried 23 June 1659
Sarah, baptised 14 September 1659, buried 19 December 1659
Francis (Sarah’s twin brother), baptised 14 September 1659, buried 6 June 1665
Sarah, baptised 27 December 1660, buried 10 January 1666
Sadly, the family had suffered one misfortune after another with only one of their first six children surviving past their sixth birthday. The family fortunes now improved, with each of the remaining five children all appearing to survive into adulthood. They were:
Susan, baptised 2 March 1663
Charles, baptised 4 December 1664
Jane, baptised 8 July 1666
Samuel, baptised 19 January 1669
Francis, baptised 8 May 1672.
Tragically, the family was once again struck with misfortune, as Sarah died shortly after the birth of her last child, and was buried alongside her five young children in Cocking churchyard on 18 May 1672, leaving Francis to raise the surviving six children, all apart from Thomas aged under 10.
In 1667, Wright noted in the Cocking Parish Register:
I present the fences about the churchyard of the parish of Cocking which are to be repaired at the charge of the parishioners to be out of repair. I present the tower belonging to the church of Cocking to be decaying and growing to ruine for want of due reparations.
Wright remained at Cocking until October 1683, when he exchanged parishes with Josiah Pleydell, with Wright moving to St Mary Magdalene church at Lyminster, near Littlehampton.
Wright served his new parish for only three years and died in 1687, to be succeeded as vicar of Lyminster by Conyers Richardson, who was also vicar at West Dean.
Note 1. I have been unable to find Sarah’s maiden name nor to locate details of the marriage.