A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1936.
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The parish of Little Gidding is bounded on the north-east by the Bullock Road and Sawtry, on the south-east by Steeple Gidding, on the north-west by Great Gidding, and on the south-west by the Alconbury Brook, which separates it from Thurning. The parish contains 724 acres, and the land, which rises from 112 ft. above the Ordnance datum at the brook to about 200 ft. at the village, is about half arable and half grass. The soil is heavy clay. The nearest railway station is at Holme, about 8 miles to the north-east.
The village is celebrated as being the residence, in the 16th century, of Nicholas Ferrar and his family. (fn. 1) The ancient manor house where they lived stood between the present manor farm and the church. King Charles I is said to have visited the Ferrars there on three occasions, viz. on 13 May 1633, on 15 March 1642, and on 2 May 1646, on his way to join the Scotch army. In the following November the Parliamentary soldiers sacked the house and the church, and the family fled; they returned, however, in July 1647, and remained until a few years after the Restoration, when they finally left the house, although their names continue to be recorded in the parish registers until 1748. The house probably began to fall to ruin when they left it; part of it is said to have been taken down early in the eighteenth century, and the remainder in 1798.
The manor of LITTLE GIDDING is not mentioned by name in the Domesday Survey, but at that time it presumably formed part of the manor of Gidding held by William Engaine, (fn. 2) and it was probably granted by his grandson, Viel, to the latter's younger son, Warner Engaine, to hold directly of the king. (fn. 3) Warner Engaine held it as half a knight's fee in 1166. (fn. 4) In 1285 it was stated that he had given a toft and three acres of land in Gidding to the Knights Templars for 12d., while Maud Engaine (perhaps his widow) had given them the church. (fn. 5) At this early date the manor is generally called 'Gidding Warner'; later it became known as 'Gidding Engaine' and 'Little Gidding.'
Warner Engaine had at least three sons, Richard, William, and Henry. Richard, who is always carefully described as 'Richard son of Warner Engaine,' probably married Sara de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. This lady is often given as the wife of Richard son of Viel Engaine, but it is clear that the latter's wife was the daughter of William de Chesney. Richard was holding half a knight's fee in Huntingdonshire in 1186 (fn. 6) and 1190, (fn. 7) but in 1201 the assessment of his property seems to have been reduced to a quarter of a fee. (fn. 8) He evidently died before 1208, in which year his brother William Engaine granted half a virgate of land in Gidding to William son of Richard and Maud his wife. (fn. 9) William held a quarter of a fee in 1210–12; (fn. 10) in 1219 his holding is described as half a fee, (fn. 11) but this was probably a mistake, for afterwards it was still held as a quarter of a fee. He died in 1228, when the guardianship of his land and heir, and the marriage of the heir, were granted by the king to William de Raleigh, clerk. (fn. 12) The heir was his son Ralph, who, in 1236, granted the manor as two hides of land to Warner Engaine, probably his cousin, and from this time Ralph and his heirs held the manor from Warner and his heirs for the rent of a silver mark and foreign service. This agreement was made between them in the presence of the king, from whom Ralph held the manor and from whom Warner was to hold it in future. (fn. 13) A Warner Engaine of Lincolnshire died in 1250, when his brother Thomas answered for his debts; (fn. 14) but it is not clear how Warner's mesne lordship of Little Gidding went. Ralph was succeeded, before 1276, by his son William, (fn. 15) who had two wives, the first Cecily, and the second Amice. Cecily was, apparently, daughter and co-heir of Simon de Copmanford, and in her right William obtained, by agreement with Silvio de l'Enveyse and Isabel his wife, the other co-heir, half the manor of Copmanford with half the advowson of the church. (fn. 16) William Engaine was alive in 1298, (fn. 17) but in 1307 Little Gidding was owned by his son Ralph, parson of Copmanford, who, in that year, settled it, together with the reversion of the third part held by William's widow, Amice, upon his brother William, with remainder to William son of William and Agnes and contingent remainder to Warner, son of William Engaine the elder. (fn. 18) William the son of William and Agnes must have died young, and this couple were apparently succeeded by a daughter who married Richard de Eye, but was dead by 1361, when her husband was holding her moiety of the advowson of Copmanford by 'the courtesy.' (fn. 19) This unnamed daughter was succeeded by her daughter Amy or Amice, who had three husbands, firstly Adam de Morewyk, secondly Gilbert de Haysand, and thirdly Robert de Stokes. In 1361 she settled the manor of Little Gidding on herself and Gilbert, with the remainder to her children, and with a contingent remainder to Gilbert's brother William. (fn. 20) William de Morewyk, son of Adam and Amice, in 1377, sold the reversion of the manor of Little Gidding and half the manor of Copmanford to Nicholas de Stukeley the elder. (fn. 21) Amice, however, with her third husband, Sir Robert de Stokes, was holding the property for life, and they still held it in 1388 (fn. 22) and 1390. (fn. 23)
In 1408, the manor, then valued at 10 marks, was owned by John Stukeley, (fn. 26) perhaps the son of John and Agnes, and it seems to have passed, presumably by sale, soon afterwards to Sir John Knyvet, who, in 1423, sold it to John Gedney, of London. (fn. 27) In 1428 it was held, as a quarter of a knight's fee, by William Walker. (fn. 28)
We hear no more of the manor until 1510, when Christopher Drewell died seised of the manor of Little Gidding with tenements in the same and in Steeple Gidding and in Little Stukeley said to be held of Thomas Cheney and the Abbot of Ramsey. (fn. 29) Steeple Gidding and Little Stukeley were held of the abbot, but it does not appear that Thomas Cheney ever held the manor of Little Gidding. Christopher was the son of Robert, son of Stephen Drewell, (fn. 30) but there is no evidence that either his father or grandfather held any land in Little Gidding. He left a life interest in his estates to his wife, Margaret, with reversion to his heirs. (fn. 31) Christopher's son and heir, John, died a month after his father, and was succeeded by his brother Robert, then aged 19. (fn. 32) Robert, who married Elizabeth (or Katharine), daughter of Humphrey Stafford, of Blatherwick, made his will in 1558, and died in 1561, seised of the manor. (fn. 33) His son and heir, Humphrey, settled the manor, in 1596, on his son Humphrey Drewell junior (afterwards Sir Humphrey), but reserved to himself and his wife, Etheldreda, a yearly rent of £100. (fn. 34) The father and son, soon afterwards, sold the manor to Sir Gervase Clifton for £5,500. (fn. 35) It was arranged that Sir Gervase should retain £1,000 of the purchase price and pay the rent of £100 to Humphrey Drewell senior and his wife. Sir Gervase Clifton, in 1612, settled the manor on Esme, Lord Aubigny, upon the latter's marriage with Sir Gervase's daughter Katharine. (fn. 36) Apparently some dispute arose as to the £1,000, for in 1619, after Sir Gervase's death, Esmé, then Earl of March, brought a suit in Chancery against Sir Humphrey, in the course of which Sir Humphrey declared that, although his father and mother were both dead, Sir Gervase had not paid him a penny of the £1,000, but he had, at an earlier date, given several obligations in respect of Sir Humphrey's debts, amounting to £200. He said, moreover, that he had been informed of the proposed sale of the manor to Esme, and that Sir Gervase had promised that, on the completion of purchase, he would pay the £1,000 into the hands of a trustee to ensure the payment of the rent of £100; and he said, further, that Esmé had, afterwards, brought a suit against Sir Gervase to discover the encumbrances on the manor. (fn. 37)
On her death, in 1634, Mrs. Ferrar left the manor, by will, to her son Nicholas, who was the originator and guiding spirit of that little band of religious devotees who settled in Little Gidding and by their zealous enthusiasm and piety, their sincerity and learning, and their industry made the house a place of note and attracted to it visitors of all ranks and of all shades of opinion. (fn. 40) Nicholas died, unmarried, in 1637, when the manor passed to his elder brother, John. John had three children: Nicholas, who followed in his uncle's footsteps, but died, unmarried, at the age of 21; John; and Virginia, who lived with her brother John and died, unmarried, in 1688, and was buried at Little Gidding. On John's death, in 1657, his heir was his son, John, who married Amy Brooke and had six sons—Brooke, John, Thomas, Nicholas, Basil and Edward—and two daughters. On his death, in 1720, he was succeeded by John, who married firstly Mary Squire, and secondly Elizabeth Goddard, but died childless in 1737, and was succeeded in the manor by his brother Thomas, who was rector of Little Gidding from 1691 to 1706, when he became rector of Sawtry St. Andrew, which he held, as also the rectory of Hamerton, until his death.
Thomas married Martha Goddard, and died in 1739, when his heir was his only surviving son, Thomas, who died in 1748, leaving the manor, by will, to his sister Judith, wife of William Horne, for life, and then to his cousin Nicholas Ferrar, son of his uncle Basil. Judith died in 1749, when Nicholas succeeded. In 1753, Nicholas with his daughter, Champante Alice, and her husband, Gaspard Larne, conveyed the manor to his brother Henry Ferrar. (fn. 41) In 1767, Henry Ferrar sold the manor to Arthur Annesley, but subject to the dower of his wife Mary. (fn. 42) Arthur Annesley died in 1773, when he was succeeded by his son, Arthur, who lived until 1844, but apparently settled the manor on his son, a third Arthur Annesley, who, as Arthur Annesley the younger, was dealing with it in 1807. (fn. 43) In 1844 he succeeded a distant relative as 10th Viscount Valentia, and in 1848 he sold the manor to William Hopkinson, of Stamford, who died in 1865. The manor then passed to his nephew, the Rev. William Hopkinson, of Sutton Grange, Northants, who sold it in October 1910 to Mr. Frank Fisher, of Watford, Herts. It was put up for auction in August 1918, and purchased by Mr. George H. Whattoff, but the manorial rights seem to have been lost.
Humphrey Drewell, junior, sold land and a windmill in Little Gidding to Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Haselrigge, junior, in 1592, (fn. 44) but this could only have been a lease because the mill passed with the manor in 1596, 1620 and 1625. (fn. 45) There is no windmill in Little Gidding now.
The church of ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST consists of a chancel (22¾ ft. by 12 ft.), nave (32¾ ft. by 13¼ ft.) and a modern vestry on the south (13½ ft. by 9½ ft.). The walls are of red brick with some stone dressings, and the west wall is entirely faced with stone; the roofs are covered with stone-slates, and that of the vestry with slates.
The church is not mentioned in Domesday Book (1086), but there was certainly a much earlier church than the present. It seems to have had a chancel, (fn. 46) nave, north transept (fn. 47) (or perhaps an aisle) and a west tower. (fn. 48) It was in a neglected state and used as a barn in 1625, in which year it was repaired and restored to its proper use, new floored and wainscotted throughout, and provided with a new brass font, a brass eagle lectern, and a gallery at the west end for the organ. The church was greatly damaged by Cromwellian soldiers in 1646, when they destroyed the organ and threw the eagle lectern into the wood.
In 1714 the nave was entirely rebuilt and the north transept and west tower were pulled down; the chancel was apparently rebuilt at the same time, but in a cheaper style. (fn. 49) In 1853 the church was thoroughly restored, reseated like a college chapel, the windows reglazed, and the vestry added. The east wall and south-east corner were repaired in 1921.
The brick chancel, c. 1714, has stone foundations on part of the south side and at the north-east corner. It has a modern semicircular-headed east window all of plain brickwork. (fn. 50) In the south wall is a modern doorway to the vestry. The chancel arch, which is apparently of brick and semicircular, is encased in oak panelling. The roof is modern. The modern vestry, 1853, has a plain square-headed window in the east wall and a fireplace in the south wall.
The nave (1714) has two square-headed windows with plain stone architraves in each of the side walls; and in the west wall is a square-headed doorway with Renaissance architraves and an entablature and moulded cornice—the frieze inscribed 'This is none other but the House of God and the gate of heaven.' The west front has plain pilasters at the angles, each surmounted by low pedestals on which is the date 1714, finished with small obelisks. The gable above is occupied by a Renaissance bell-cote with rusticated pilasters at the sides and finished with a steep pyramidal pinnacle with a ball on the top.
There is one bell, without inscription. There was no bell in 1840. (fn. 51)
The font, c. 1625, is of brass, and has a small basin on an elegant baluster stem; it has lost its base and is now fixed to a brass ornament consisting of a leopard's head between two wingless griffins, which, in its turn, is fixed to the stone steps of the font. It has a brass cover in the form of a crown of crosses, fleur-de-lis and trefoils. Round the bottom of the stem are the words 'Dei Dei Dei.' It is said that c. 1625 Mrs. Ferrar provided the church with a new font with legs, laver and cover, all of brass. (fn. 52)
The brass eagle lectern, also the gift of Mrs. Ferrar, c. 1625, has an eagle desk on a moulded stem and base and with three lions as feet. This lectern was thrown into the wood in 1646, (fn. 53) but was recovered and restored to the church soon afterwards, for it was certainly in the church in 1708, (fn. 54) 1748 (fn. 55) and 1846. (fn. 56)
A brass hour-glass stand on an iron bracket, probably of c. 1625, is fixed to the north respond of the chancel arch. A large bronze candelabrum is inscribed to the memory of the Rev. Samuel Edmund Hopkinson, d. 1841.
The walls of the chancel are lined with a high dado, c. 1714, of oak panelling with turned balusters supporting segmental arched ribs in front; at the east end is a reredos of four panels, rearranged in 1853, upon which are fixed the brass tablets inscribed with the Lord's Prayer, Creed and Ten Commandments, of 1625.
The north and south and west walls of the nave are lined with oak panelling, in front of which is an arcade of balusters supporting arched ribs with pendants in the middle, and with cornice above. Those on the south are probably of 1714, but those on the north are modern; they have all been raised above their original level and now rest on modern oak stalls. On the west wall is an embroidered panel of the royal arms of Charles I, and another piece of tapestry, both the work of the Ferrar household; and in a glass case below the south-west window is an example of their bookbinding.
There are six brass plates fixed to the responds of the chancel arch, and commemorating (i) Mary, daughter of Soloman and Judith Mapletoft and granddaughter of John and Susanna Collet, d. 1656; (ii) John Ferrar, d. 1657; (iii) Susanna (Ferrar), wife of John Collet, d. 1657; (iv) Ann (Brook), wife of John Ferrar, d. 1702; (v) Eleanor (Long), relict of James Goddard, d. 1717; and (vi) John Ferrar, d. 1719. There is a modern brass tablet to the Rev. John William Aytoun, rector, d. 1918. There are modern memorial windows: in the vestry, to W. H. [William Hopkinson] 1855; in the nave, to John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, 1621–1641; Nicholas Ferrar, d. 1637; King Charles I; William Hopkinson, d. 1865.
In the churchyard, to the west of the church, are the table-tomb of Nicholas Ferrar; three stones with indents of inscription plates; a slab to John Collet, d. 1650; and a partially obliterated inscription to Susannah daughter of John and Susanna Collet and wife first to Joshua Mapletoft and afterwards to James Chedley, d. 1657.
There is only one ancient register, viz.: baptisms 7 February 1657 to 12 May 1782, marriages 23 October 1662 to 7 February 1748/9, burials December 1637 to 2 January 1781. The earlier part is said to be copied from an older book, now lost, but there is no evidence of this.
The church plate (fn. 57) consists of a silver chalice engraved with the arms of Hopkinson, Azure, on a chevron Argent, between three estoiles Or, as many lozenges Gules; crest, a demi-lion rampant; and motto 'Pro Rege meo prosperis et adversis'; and inscribed ' D.O.M. Hanece lagenam cum patinâ in usum fidelium D.D. Gulielmus Hopkinson Dominus manerii de Gidding Parvâ Div: Joan: Fest: A.S. MDCCCLIII,' hall-marked for 1853–4; a cover paten for the same, inscribed '1853,' hall-marked as the chalice; a plain silver 17th-century standing paten, said to have belonged to Nicholas Ferrar, no hall-mark; a silver standing paten hall-marked for 1629–30; a silver alms-dish inscribed 'For the Church of Little Gidding of the guift of Susan Beckwith,' hall-marked for 1634–5; a silver flagon inscribed 'What Sr Edwyn Sandys bequeathed To The Remembrance of freindship His freinde hath consecrated To The Honnour of Gods seruice, 1629,' and on the handle 'For the Church of Little Giddinge in Huntingtonshyer,' hall-marked for 1629–30; a 17th-century crucifix, given by Lady Grosvenor in 1915, and inscribed 'From S. M. G., Whitsuntide 1915,' 'In remembrance of Nicholas Ferrar and his household, that with them we may be partakers of Thy Heavenly Kingdom.'
Maud Engaine, probably widow of Warner Engaine, gave the church to the Knights Templars' Preceptory of Temple Bruer, (fn. 58) before 1185. The Templars retained the advowson until their suppression in 1312. In 1313 the Bishop of Lincoln presented, but by 1335 the advowson had passed to the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, who retained it until the Dissolution. (fn. 59) It then passed to the Crown, with which it still remains.
Since 1875, when the benefice was joined to Great Gidding, the Lord Chancellor has presented alternately with the patron of that benefice, and since 1925 the patronage has also been shared with the patron of Steeple Gidding.