In Northamptonshire, county of squires and spires,
Higham Ferrers is tucked away off the junction of
the A6 and A45, alongside its close neighbour, Rushden.
This pretty medieval market town is a little-known gem.
Centuries-old houses of mellow limestone cluster around the Market
Square, with its 13th-century market cross and Georgian town hall.
Behind the square, the quiet church close has a unique group of
ecclesiastical buildings that could grace a cathedral city.
What to see
One of the finest churches in the Midlands, St Mary the
Virgin, with its towering steeple and stunning, double-nave
interior, dates from the 13th century. Roundels in the west porch
depict scenes from the life of Christ. They were carved in 1270 by
one of the foreign masons employed on the rebuilding of Westminster
Abbey. Tendrils and figures form a Tree of Jesse on the stone
frames of the doorway.
The exquisitely carved rood screen and choir stalls, with
misericords under the seats, were given by Henry Chichele in 1425.
Born in Higham Ferrers, Chichele was a trusted adviser to King
Henry V, founder of All Souls College, Oxford, and Archbishop of
Canterbury from 1414 until his death in 1443.
Chichele's beautiful little chantry chapel stands next to the
church. With its tall pinnacles and carved battlements, this jewel
of Perpendicular architecture served as the town's grammar school
for nearly three centuries after the dissolution of the
Across the churchyard lawn, Chichele's Bede House was built to
house 12 poor, elderly men of the borough. Now the parish hall, it
still has its impressive 15th-century timber roof and fine
The ruins of Chichele College, founded in 1425 as a place of
prayer and learning, stand on College Street, which is lined with
Elizabethan houses. Its gabled front has a Tudor door, gargoyles,
and niches that once held statues of the patron saints of the
college. Behind it, there is a recently planted medieval-style
cloister garden, and the partly rebuilt chapel is used regularly
for art exhibitions.
Don't miss the exquisite "Mapestry" hanging in the public
library, and do end your visit with a walk along the banks of the
Where to eat and drink
Beans coffee-shop on the Market Square offers sandwiches,
cakes, and the best cappuccino in town. The Griffin, a friendly
17th-century inn on the High Street, has cosy bars, and a good
Kimbolton Castle was a Tudor manor house when Catherine
of Aragon died there in 1536. Vanbrugh, Hawksmoor, Pellegrini, and
Robert Adam transformed it into the stately palace that now houses
Kimbolton School. St Andrew's, in the village, has the only Tiffany
window in a parish church in England.