|Speaking of the late Canon Barker, a former rector of the church, the Rev. T. S. Stoney (Rector of St. Mary’s) said :-
“He came to Rushden 62 years ago. The village it was a village in those days was described by Bishop Magee as “the blackest spot in his diocese, when Canon Barker came to it.” The place was in a state of utmost neglect, the fabric of the church was in a dilapidated condition and there were no schools worthy of the name.
“The new Rector was a man of great mental culture and intellectual power, as well as of a genial disposition, and he brought all these qualities to bear on the object that he had ever before him the well-being of the parish. He planned with the aid of friends a large new school; he built a beautiful and commodious rectory; he restored the church at a cost, it is said, of nearly £6,000; at his own expense he provided an Infant School in Coffee Tavern-lane, and a school and Mission Room at the foot of Higham Hill.
“He was also the first to plan and support any work of general utility, such as the building of what we call the Waverley Hotel. He was very keen on the scheme to provide water-works for the town; he was the chief promoter and president of the reading room. In addition, he was a great temperance reformer and did much to foster what he called “the greater sobriety of the people.”
“I have come across the notes of an old sermon which he preached in memory of a doctor friend of his called T.J.S.” the Rector continued: “In this sermon Canon Barker speaks very feelingly of his friend. He reminded his hearers of his friend’s genuine spirit of self-forgetfulness. “That life,” he said, “was not a life lived for self. The outward and material rewards of his profession money, fame, position were but the accidents, the supports and appliances of his work; his real reward lay in his usefulness.” He pointed out that his friend was no respecter of persons; “that he loved to sit with unwearied patience in the humblest cottage.
“Canon Barker closes his sermon thus:-
“He leaves behind him, for his family, for his neighbourhood, this heritage as grand a heritage as man can leave the stirring, elevating example of a life of earnest, useful work; a life with a real meaning in it. To my mind few things are more sad than for any man or woman to live in a place for years, and not to be really missed out of it when they die.”
“If I am right in my idea of Canon Barker’s character, the picture of the friend the doctor which he draws, was in the main a portrait of himself. He was a great character; a born leader of men. He undoubtedly loved to have his own way, and as that way was most often right, people in time learnt to acquiesce.
“He came here at the age of 42. He had had various experiences; a curate in the very heart of London, in St. Peter’s Pimlico, British Chaplain in Dresden, Incumbent of High Cross, Herts., but Rushden was his life’s work. His gifts, intellectual, physical, spiritual, were consecrated to the high calling of his profession. He was possessed of great bodily vigour; he had a fine presence and was a good preacher; he had a fine practical judgment and unwearied devotion to duty. His imperturbable good humour and unbounded charity in judging others, and keen sympathy with his people both in joy and sorrow, led to the influence which he undoubtedly possesses in Rushden to this day.”
The Rector continued: “I wish we had a statue set up to his memory in the town: I think the story of his life and work ought to be the heritage of every Rushden child. He is not really dead. He lives in the memory of Rushden folk. His influence persists. The impress of his character is still felt. His works do follow him. His lessons are remembered. His life’s story is an inspiration.”