Appendix: Little Gidding

A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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'Appendix: Little Gidding', A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, (London, 1926), pp. 399-406. British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

. "Appendix: Little Gidding", in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, (London, 1926) 399-406. British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

. "Appendix: Little Gidding", A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, (London, 1926). 399-406. British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,

In this section



Although the community at Little Gidding cannot be called a ' religious house' in the sense in which the term is used here, yet as a distinct feature in the religious life of the early part of the 17th century it requires a separate treatment in the history of the county. (fn. 1) The idea of a life of contemplation, abstinence and devotion as adopted by Nicholas Ferrar, was an outcome of the wave of mysticism which spread over Europe in the 17th century. (fn. 2) Mysticism, which taught the blessedness of communion or direct intercourse with God through meditation and mortification of the body, had had a strong attraction for Nicholas Ferrar from his boyhood. He was doubtless further influenced in the same direction by the school of Platonists, which a little later flourished at Cambridge and had probably arisen during his residence there. In his travels abroad he seems to have studied the works of Juan de Valdes or Valdesso, a Spanish reformer, Leonard Leys or Lessius, a Jesuit of Louvain, St. Francis de Sales and others who were all imbued with the spirit of mysticism. His sympathy with their teaching is shown by his translation of The Hundred and Ten Considerations of Juan de Valdes, a work whose aim was the promotion of spiritual piety. He also assisted in the publication of the Hygiasticon of Lessius, a plea for sobriety and abstinence, translated by Ferrar's relative Thomas Sheppard, (fn. 3) and of Cornaro on Temperance, translated by George Herbert. Another influence on the Ferrar family was the teaching of the Arminians, the followers of James Hermanzoon generally known as Arminius, professor of divinity at Leyden, who revolted against the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and desired a return to much of the symbolism of the middle ages. This school had a strong following in England, among whom were some of the clerical friends of the Ferrars.

Nicholas Ferrar was born on 22 February 1593; he was the fourth of the seven children of Nicholas Ferrar, a London merchant of considerable wealth and standing, and of his wife Mary, daughter of Laurence Woodnoth of Shavington Hall, Cheshire. In 1606, at the age of thirteen, young Nicholas went from school to Cambridge, where he was entered as a pensioner at Clare Hall. At the incentive possibly of his tutor Augustine Lindsell, afterwards successively Bishop of Peterborough and Hereford, Ferrar began the austerities which marked the whole of his life. He studied medicine and, after takinghis bachelor's degree, obtained a ' Physic Fellowship' at Clare. The climate of Cambridge never agreed with him, and after a severe attack of ague in 1612 his physician urged him to take a tour on the Continent. In April 1613 he went abroad in the retinue of the Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine. Court life, however, did not suit his studious habits and, although he had promise of promotion, he left the household of the Princess to commence those wanderings which occupied some five years of his life and had such an important influence in the formation of his character. To a young man of twenty of a shy disposition, the prospect of travelling alone through middle and western Europe with the facilities then available, must have been in the nature of an adventure. Pursuit of pleasure had no attraction for him, and he made the improvement of his mind the sole object of his journey. He spent a long time at the medical schools at Leipsic and Padua, and at the latter place he studied geometry in order to improve his knowledge of astrology, an important part of a medical training at that date. He also became a proficient linguist and he keenly studied the religious and social problems of the day.

Ferrar on his return home in 1618 had immediately to devote the whole of his time to the family business. His father and his elder brother John were deeply involved in the Virginia Company, founded in 1606 for colonising America. The company was then being attacked by the Spanish ambassador, who desired to obtain for his master complete control over the whole American continent. After the death of his father in 1620 Ferrar, with Sir Edwin Sandys, undertook the case against the annulment of the company's charter which was being heard by the Privy Council. Although the company was eventually sacrificed to please the Spaniards, all, even the king, admired Ferrar's dignity, honesty and eloquence in arguing the points in its favour. In 1624, the fate of the Virginia Company being sealed, Ferrar consented to his election as member of parliament for Lymington. Again he joined with Sir Edwin Sandys in the impeachment of the Earl of Middlesex, their enemy about the affairs of the Virginia Company, a matter that raised vindictive feelings in Ferrar's mind, which afterwards gave him cause for remorse.

In the midst of his growing fame and popularity Nicholas Ferrar, the scholar, courtier and politician, suddenly abandoned all worldly advancement to take up that life of religious retirement and devotion for which his soul had craved from his youth up. He had had serious thoughts of going to Virginia as a missionary to the 'infidels' or North American Indians, for the conversion of whom his father had left money. His mother, however, a woman of great piety for whom he had the tenderest regard, warmly supported his design for a family community, living ' in as strict a way according to the gospel of Christ' as good rules could devise. (fn. 4) A suitable site was soon found. A house at Hertford belonging to Mrs. Ferrar had not sufficient privacy, but another belonging to their relative Thomas Sheppard at Little Gidding seemed to offer the desired advantages and was purchased in 1624. The parish of Little Gidding had become depopulated and had been deserted for some time. The large house had been the seat of the Drewells and was sold by them in 1596 to Sir Gervase Clifton of Leighton Bromswold. He probably allowed it to remain unoccupied and thus to fall into disrepair.

The move to Gidding was precipitated by the outbreak of the plague in London. Nicholas got his family away from the city. His brother John went to prepare the house at Little Gidding while he remained to arrange matters in London, after which he joined his brother. Within three days of his arrival at Little Gidding, his mother, aged seventy-three years, rode over from the Collets' house at Bourne, some fifteen miles, so anxious was she to begin her new life. She was horrified to find the church had been converted into a hay-barn and hog-sty and insisted on all the men then working on the house being employed in cleaning it out. She energetically superintended the restoration of both the church and the house so that the family were able to take up their residence in the early part of the autumn of 1625. The whole party, however, returned to London after Easter, 1626, to sell the house and their belongings there. Whilst in London, to the surprise of his family and friends, Ferrar was ordained deacon by Laud on Trinity Sunday in Henry Seventh's chapel, Westminster. After his ordination he read to his family a solemn vow he had made to devote himself to God's service as an act of thanksgiving for his preservation in so many dangers of soul and body and the deliverance of his family from the brink of ruin.

On their return to Gidding, the family began that life of devotion which Nicholas Ferrar had marked out. The house was necessarily large, as it had to accommodate between thirty and forty persons. It was apparently of two stories. In the middle of the upper story was the great chamber or oratory which formed a centre for the whole household. On one side of this room was Nicholas Ferrar's chamber and study, with the men's sleeping quarters and their separate oratory, and on the other side the women's quarters and their oratory. On the ground floor were the great dining room and reception rooms for guests and for persons seeking help and advice. Here also were the almshouses for poor widows and an infirmary and dispensary. A large dovecot in the grounds was converted into a school room. The house was simply and plainly furnished and on the walls were painted texts to ' excite the reader to a thought of piety.' Inscribed on a brass plate on the outer door was the text ' Flee from evil and do good and dwell for evermore.'

Mrs. Ferrar took an especial interest in the restoration of the church, which, with the repairs to the house, took over two years. The church was beautified according to the sober standard of the time. It was wainscoted and fitted up like a college chapel with stalls running east and west, (fn. 5) those on the north, for the women and those on the south for the men. At the entrance to the chancel stood the pulpit on the north side and reading desk on the south, both of the same height to symbolise the equality of prayer and preaching, an arrangement adopted by George Herbert at Leighton Bromswold. Between them was a brass lectern. (fn. 6) On the east wall were the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments on brass tablets. An organ was later placed in a gallery at the west end. The cedar wood communion table stood lengthwise and was furnished with silver chalice and paten, candlesticks, and a green silk cloth for ordinary use and a cloth of blue silk embroidered with gold for festivals. The church was lit by wax tapers and was ' fairly and sweetly adorned' with herbs and flowers, some natural and others artificial. (fn. 7)

The community consisted of Nicholas Ferrar and his mother, who were the ruling spirits; John Ferrar and his wife and two children; his sister, Mrs. Collet, and her husband and sixteen children besides grandchildren, of very varying ages, from manhood and womanhood to the new born babe; three schoolmasters, almswomen and servants. Such a community, disturbed by courtships and marriages, births and deaths, could not be held to an unyielding rule. It is clear that its members were free to choose the married or single life, and six of the eight daughters of Mrs. Collet married and left Little Gidding. In the light, however, of the profession of virginity and other documents found among the Ferrar papers there is no room for doubt that Mary and Anna Collet held themselves pledged to the virgin state. (fn. 8) What was aimed at was the devout life of a Christian family for all, and a life of abstinence and devotion, and later of ceaseless prayer and praise for a few. Some part of the rule of life practised at Gidding, such as the dispensing with vows, the discussions and love of music seem to have been influenced by the teaching of St. Philip Neri and the Oratorians.

It was the custom for the whole household to rise at 4 a.m. in summer and 5 a.m. in winter (fn. 9) and to assemble in the great chamber where the younger members repeated hymns and portions of scripture which they had been set to learn. At 6.30 a.m., 10 a.m., and 4 p.m. the household attended daily at church for Matins, Litany and Evensong respectively, which were read by Nicholas Ferrar. For each of these services the family assembled in the great chamber and went in procession, first the three schoolmasters with their pupils in black gowns and Monmouth caps, then John Ferrar and John Collet, Nicholas Ferrar and his mother, Mrs. John Ferrar and Mrs. Collet, followed by their daughters dressed in black with veils on their heads, and the rest of the household. At the other hours, (fn. 10) an office was said in the great chamber to which the household was summoned by ringing a bell. The office lasted about a quarter of an hour and consisted of psalms with a portion of the Harmony of the Gospels, compiled by Nicholas Ferrar, and a hymn, all repeated from memory. Mrs. Ferrar apparently attended all the services, but the other members of the household were responsible for particular offices and went to the others as their duties permitted them. Later, at the suggestion of George Herbert, a constant night watch was kept from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. Ferrar himself watched two nights a week and on the other nights the watching was done by two men or two women of the community in their respective oratories. The watchers spent their time in reciting the psalms and occasionally by gentle singing with low music so as not to disturb the household.

On Sundays Nicholas Ferrar read Matins in church at 9 a.m.; and at 10.30 the vicar of Steeple Gidding, with his parishioners, came over to Little Gidding, when Nicholas read the Ante-Communion service and the vicar preached. On the first Sunday in the month and on great festivals the Communion was administered after Matins. Every Sunday afternoon the family attended Evensong at Steeple Gidding at 2 p.m. Ferrar was far in advance of his time in religious education among the poor. He established a Sunday school which became very popular and had a strong influence for good throughout the neighbouring parishes. Each child was rewarded with a penny for every psalm learnt and a good mid-day meal was provided for the scholars, numbering at one time over a hundred.

A very frugal board was kept. ' Their bread was coarse, their drink small and of ill relish to the taste, that it was sure they strived for nothing that a dainty appetite might long for.' (fn. 11) The older members of the community contented themselves with two meals a day, a simple dinner at 11.15 a.m. and supper at 6 p.m. in summer and 5 p.m. in winter. At dinner a book on history or travels was read aloud by one of the younger members. While supper was being prepared a hymn was sung, and during the meal a chapter from the Bible was read followed by a story from the Book of Martyrs. The schoolmasters and the younger people had in addition a breakfast after Matins and before beginning school. ' Their dress was as plain as their board. It had nothing in it of fashion but that which was common yet plain, much of it from linen and woollen spun at home; such as modest Christians thought to be the best habit.' (fn. 12)

Ferrar paid particular attention to the education of the children under his charge. The three schoolmasters taught respectively English and Latin, arithmetic and writing, and music, the last subject being one in which the whole household took part. Ferrar himself devoted several hours each day to instructing in the higher branches of education, and no doubt taught modern languages, in which one of his nephews became, like him, very proficient. Although the life was perhaps a hard one for children, they were encouraged in such sports as running, vaulting and archery, to which Thursday and Saturday afternoons were devoted. There were other times at which they were free to do as they wished. The four elder Collet girls looked after the housekeeping and were engaged in needlework and embroidery. They were also taught by Ferrar, an expert physician, how to dress wounds and prepare ointments, to dispense medicine and tend the sick in the neighbourhood. The girls were also formed into a society called the Little Academy, each member of which took a distinctive name. Mrs. Ferrar was the founder, grandmother or mother, her place being taken in 1632 by Mary Collet; John Ferrar was guardian and Nicholas the visitor; Susannah Collet, who married Joshua Mapletoft, being the goodwife. The other members were divided into ' the first combination or four maiden sisters ' comprising Mary Collet the chief; Anna Collet the patient; Margaret and Elizabeth Collet being the cheerful and affectionate. The second combination was composed of Mrs. Susannah Collet, the moderator, and two of the three younger Collet sisters called the obedient and ' sub-miss'; to whom was added later little Annie Mapletoft, called the humble. At the meetings of the Academy stories such as those of Pyrrhus, the humility and moderation of Charles V. and other similar subjects were related by one of the members, upon which ' conversations' or discussions followed, each member speaking in turn. The stories which have been preserved are somewhat heavy but are typical of the time. The discussions, however, show an independence of thought and an unexpected freedom of ideas. (fn. 13)

The most characteristic works of the community were the Harmonies or Concordances which were compiled by the members of both sexes in a room specially allotted to the purpose. The method was to bring together the various Bible narratives so as to form one consecutive story. Thus in the Harmony of the four Gospels, as described by Mr. J. E. Acland-Troyte, (fn. 14) by the use of the letters A, B, C, D and two kinds of type, each Gospel could be read separately or in one continuous story. ' By keeping to one type and omitting the other, all the actions and doctrines of Our Lord, by whomsoever related, could be read in one complete narrative; and by reading only those passages marked by the same initial letter, independent of the type used, any Gospel could be taken in its entirety.' Of the eleven books of the Little Gidding Harmonies which are known to have survived, seven are of the four Gospels, one of the Books of Kings and Chronicles, two of the five Books of Moses and one of the Acts of the Apostles. The work was probably begun after the family had settled down at Little Gidding in 1626. Ferrar had had the idea of compiling these books in his mind for a long time, and during his travels had collected a large number of engravings to be used in the work. The teaching of caligraphy was especially practised for this purpose and an expert binder, daughter of a Cambridge bookbinder, (fn. 15) was resident at Gidding for a year to instruct the inmates in bookbinding, gilding and laying in the text and illustrations. The first book was completed in 1630 and was much admired by Charles I, who commanded that the volume on the Books of Kings and Chronicles should be compiled for him. He also had other volumes, whilst the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and others accepted further copies.

Thus passed the quiet, busy days at Little Gidding. Although the Ferrars neither gave nor received any formal hospitality, there was a certain amount of intercourse with the neighbouring squires. Some of the gentry sent their sons to be educated by Nicholas Ferrar, others consulted him on various matters, such as the restoration of the neighbouring church of Leighton Bromswold in the patronage of George Herbert. Sir Robert Cotton of Conington was also apparently on friendly terms, as he appears to have received a copy of the Harmonies of the Gospels. The neighbouring parsons and hard-worked clergy from afar came to refresh themselves at this house of retreat, sharing its devotions and becoming for a time a part of its happy society. Numerous visitors, undergraduates and others such as Barnabas Oley and Peter Gunning, the divines, and Richard Crashaw the poet (fn. 16) came over from Cambridge, while strangers attracted by curiosity or otherwise to see the Protestant Nunnery, as the people called it, paid visits to Gidding. John Ferrar relates that ' not hundreds but some thousands, it may be said, at one time or other came to Gidding, and many were the best in the land both of men and women, persons of great quality and other men of eminent learning.' (fn. 17) To all these Ferrar gave a courteous welcome. He offered refreshment to all, but visitors were not encouraged to join the family at their meals nor to remain the night. (fn. 18) Perhaps Ferrar's most intimate friendship was with George Herbert. They had seldom met, but their correspondence brought them so closely together that Herbert seriously considered the idea of leaving Bemerton and taking a living in Hunts to be near his friend; and at his death left Ferrar discretionary powers as to the publication. of a volume of verses which appeared as The Temple in 1633.

Although a man of different views from Nicholas Ferrar, John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, in whose diocese Gidding lay, was a frequent visitor at Little Gidding ' where he found a congregation of saints not walking after the flesh but after the spirit.' (fn. 19) Ferrar and he had begun a friendship long ago over the negotiations relating to the Virginia Company, while Williams was Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. When the Bishop stayed at Buckden, the country seat of the Bishops of Lincoln, as he often did, he would ride over to Gidding and have a game of ' storying' or capping stories, in which he had to own he was no match for Ferrar. When Mrs. Ferrar restored the glebe lands to the church of Little Gidding, the bishop, in honour of the occasion, held a confirmation and preached in the church, the choir of Peterborough Cathedral being brought over to assist in the service.

In May 1633, Charles I on his way to Scotland visited Little Gidding. The family went out to meet him at a field which has ever since been known as the King's Close and then, in procession, took him to their church. He made many inquiries about their life and work and departed. In the following year he asked for the loan of a copy of the Harmonies of the Gospels, with which he was so pleased that in returning it he begged Ferrar to compile a Harmony on the Kings and Chronicles. He was equally delighted with this work when Ferrar sent it, saying it was a fit mirror for a king's daily inspection.

Mrs. Ferrar died in the spring of 1634 at the age of eighty-three years. Although two years previously she had been compelled by infirmities of age to give up much of the work of the community, yet her influence remained. She it was who kept in restraint any tendency to excessive austerity, maintaining that the health of the community must suffer by it. After her death, however, Ferrar increased the rigour of his devotions. He had been accustomed on the nights he did not watch to go to bed from 9 p.m. to I a.m., at which latter hour the watchers awakened him that he might spend the rest of the night in prayer and meditation. Afterwards instead of going to bed he merely wrapped himself in a great black frieze gown and lay on a bearskin on the floor. (fn. 20) Ferrar declared that the more austere his life, the better his health; but there can be no doubt that the severity of his living told upon his constitution, which was never strong. When he visited Bishop Williams in the Tower in July 1637, the bishop saw the change that had taken place and looked upon him as a dying man. Ferrar continued to lose ground and on the 2nd December of the same year he peacefully passed away. Just before his death he ordered that some hampers of books of secular plays and poems should be burnt on the site of his grave that the remnants of his worldly life might be destroyed.

The death of both Nicholas Ferrar and his mother within so short a time doubtless made a great difference to the community. It must have been a difficult task for Mary Collet to preside over the women's side with her mother and aunt forming a part of the household. John Ferrar, Nicholas' elder brother, who succeeded him, had not the character, enthusiasm and personality of Nicholas, and was not in holy orders. He was ably seconded by his son Nicholas, a youth of great promise, the favourite nephew of Nicholas the founder. He resembled his uncle in his facility in acquiring languages, and had a scheme for translating the New Testament into fifty languages. He took the place of his uncle in superintending the work on the Harmonies and completed among others the Harmony of the New Testament in twenty-four languages. This wonderful volume and another he presented to the king and prince in 1640. While in London he was taken ill and died there at the age of twenty-one years.

In the disturbed times which now followed, Gidding lay within the puritan influence of the eastern counties, and many looked upon the ' Protestant Nunnery' with suspicion. Bishop Williams, after his release from the Tower, called at Little Gidding and earnestly warned the inmates to discard any semblance of popery. He advised that certain texts and inscriptions should be removed, particularly an inscription in the great parlour in the form of a cross, welcoming visitors who desired to make the community better, but warning those who tried to disturb it that they were a burden, and those who were insincere in their approval that they violated the bonds of friendship. The inscription was taken down, but the advice was justified. A pamphlet was published by Thomas Underhill, a bookseller, in 1641, with the object of inciting the puritan party against the community. It is entitled The Arminian Nunnery, or, A Brief Description and Relation of the late erected Monasticall Place called the Arminian Nunnery at Little Gidding at Huntington-shire Humbly recommended to the wise consideration of the Present Parliament. The Foundation is by a Company of Farrars at Gidding. On the title page is the picture of a nun with a book in one hand and a rosary in the other, standing by a church. The pamphlet is based on a letter from Edward Lenton, a lawyer of Gray's Inn, to his friend Sergeant Hetley, and describes a visit which Lenton paid to Gidding some seven years or more before the publication of the pamphlet. Lenton, on being remonstrated with by John Ferrar, disclaimed all responsibility for the pamphlet and expressed great annoyance at the use which had been made of his letter. We have a copy of Lenton's letter which, indeed, shows that it contained little but praise for the community and their liberality to the poor. Lenton begins his letter with a brief description of the house, which he approached ' through a fine grove and sweet walks, letticed and gardened on both sides.' He was conducted into a fair spacious parlour where he met Nicholas Ferrar, ' a batchelor of a plain presence but of able speech and parts,' who entertained him very civilly. Later on he was introduced to Mrs. Ferrar, ' a tall, straight, clear-complexioned, grave matron of eighty years of age,' and to John Ferrar, ' a short, black complexioned man, his apparel and hair so fashioned as to make him shew priestlike.' After he had saluted the mother and her daughter, Mrs. Collet, ' not like nuns but as we use to salute other women,' they all sat round in a circle and Lenton explained what he had heard of the nuns of Gidding. He told them he had been informed how two of them watched and prayed all night; of their canonical hours; of their crosses on the outside and the inside of their chapel; of an altar richly decked with plate, tapestry and tapers; of their adorations and ' geniculations,' which ' I objected might savour of superstition and popery.' In reply, Nicholas Ferrar protested that he believed the pope to be anti-Christ; he denied that the place was a nunnery, but confessed that two of his nieces had lived for over thirty years as virgins and resolved to continue to give themselves to fasting and prayer, but had made no vows; he said the community usually prayed six times a day, namely, twice a day publicly in the chapel and four times a day more privately in the house. Lenton remarked that if they spent so much time in prayer, they would have little for preaching or for their weekly callings, vouching for this the text, ' He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination,' (fn. 21) and for the other ' six days shalt thou labour,' etc. Ferrar pointed out that they had sermons on Sundays, but that their calling was to serve God, which was the better way. Lenton rejoined that for men in health and of active bodies and parts to have no particular callings, or to quit their callings and betake themselves to fasting and prayer and a contemplative life, by some was thought to be little better than a serious kind of idleness. Ferrar contended that they had found divers perplexities, distractions and almost utter ruin in their callings, and if others knew what comfort and content God ministered to them since their sequestration and what incredible improvements of their livelihood, it might encourage them to take the like course. They then discussed the night watching, the use of crosses and I.H.S., and a description is given of the services in the chapel. Lenton concludes that the Ferrar community was ' extraordinary well reported of by their neighbours, viz., that they are very liberal to the poor; at great cost in preparing physic and surgery for the sick and sore (whom they visit often), and that some sixty or eighty poor people 'they task with catechetical questions' and reward them with meat and money. He found them full of humanity and humility, and others spoke much of their charity which he verily believed.

The pamphlet gives generally a true account of the life at Gidding as set out by Lenton, but it is expressed in such a form and with such interjections and arguments that the truth, as John Ferrar expressed it, was so mangled and misrepresented as to answer the vilest ends of falsehood. It finally appeals to the archbishops and bishops not to permit this innovation and conniving ' at such canting betwixt the bark and the tree in the matter of religion.' ' For,' it adds, ' Arminianism is a bridge to popery over which some have passed and had not God undermined the chief arches of that bridge causing them to fall into the river of confusion, the greater part of the land would have followed.'

The malicious object of the author of the pamphlet was not at the time realised. The community continued as before. It was again visited by the king in March 1642 when he was on his way to Newmarket and York with the Elector Palatine, Prince Charles and a train of noblemen. The family, hearing of his approach, as previously, went to meet him at the parish boundary, kneeling down and praying God to bless him and protect him from the fury of his enemies. Then each one kissed first the hand of the king and then that of the prince. On the way to the house they visited the church, and the king remembering the pamphlet, asked to be shown the images and crosses. When it was pointed out there were none, he said he knew it was a malicious invention. The king then went to see the volume of Harmonies in preparation for the prince and was greatly pleased with it, spending much time in examining it while the prince and his companions roamed over the house and regaled themselves with apple pies and cheese cakes. The repose of Little Gidding seemed to have a fascination for the harassed monarch, who had to be roused from a reverie by the Palsgrave. On leaving he remarked that Little Gidding was a happy place and that he was glad he had seen it. When the little community prayed God to bless and defend him, he exclaimed, ' Pray, pray for my speedy and safe return.'

During the troublous times that followed, the work at Gidding was carried on with a dimini shed hou sehold. The school was given up and straitened circumstances necessitated the abandonment of other activities. The compilation of the Harmonies was, however, continued, John Ferrar being anxious probably to carry out the idea of his son to compile a Polyglott Concordance.

Just four years after his visit to Gidding, in 1642, Charles I was a homeless wanderer and in the darkness of the night of 1 May 1646, attended only by his chaplain, Dr. Hudson, and Mr. Ashburnham, went to Little Gidding for shelter and concealment. He disclosed his identity to John Ferrar, who received him with all respect. Feeling, however, that the known loyalty of the family made their house a dangerous hiding place, Ferrar took the king to a house at Coppingford, where he remained until 3 May. From Coppingford the king went to Stamford and on the following day joined the Scottish army.

Possibly the fact of the king's visit leaked out, for in November of the same year the Ferrars' house was plundered by a party of Roundhead soldiers. Hearing of their approach the family fled. The soldiers entered the church and house. They broke up the organ, always an object of their dislike, and ransacked the house, carrying away anything of value and destroying many of Nicholas Ferrar's manuscripts, books and prints. The few remaining members of the family returned in July 1647. We know little of their life at this time. Probably they were unable to carry out the devotions to which they were accustomed, owing to the opposition of the puritans. John Ferrar completed the Polyglott Bible, the memorial of his son, and died shortly afterwards in September 1657. A month later Mrs. Collet died, and within a few days her daughter Susannah Chedley also died. Thus at the beginning of 1658 the family consisted only of John Ferrar, the younger, his wife and children, Virginia (fn. 22) his sister, Mary (fn. 23) and Anna Collet, their brother, Ferrar Collet, and the young Mapletofts, the children by her first husband of Susannah Chedley. With an impoverished income the house at Little Gidding could not be kept up, so that shortly after the Restoration John Ferrar and his family moved to Old Park, another house on the Ferrar estate.

Had not the Civil War intervened to disperse the community, from the nature of its constitution it could not have survived for long the deaths of its elder members. It was bound together by no vows nor recognised rule, the only bonds being the unity of purpose and the personality of the leaders of the movement. It left an example which has appealed to the imagination of many and has been imitated by a few. (fn. 24)


  • 1. The following works, which have been relied upon for this account, are generally based upon the two Lives of Nicholas Ferrar by his brother John Ferrar; they naturally repeat the same details, although there are some obvious discrepancies: G. P. Peckard, Memoirs of the Life of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar; Life of N. Ferrar in Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Biography, vol. iv; J. E. B. Mayor, Nicholas Ferrar, Two Lives; Nicholas Ferrar, His Household and his Friends, edited by Canon T. Carter; H. P. K. Skipton, The Life and Times of Nicholas Ferrar. The writer is indebted to Mr. Thomas Parkin, M.A., for allowing him to see his valuable collection of MS. notes on the Ferrars.
  • 2. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (3rd Ed.), 558.
  • 3. As to the authorship of this translation see Times Literary Supplement, 7 June, 28 June, 5 July 1917, pp. 273, 309, 321.
  • 4. John Hackett, Scrinia Reserata, 1693, ii, 50.
  • 5. This seems to be the arrangement shown in the view of the interior of the church in 1853 in The Limerick-Huntingdon Ferrars facing p. 4. It is unlikely that the arrangement would have been adopted at any time after Ferrar's date, and the details of the stalls appear to be of the 17th century.
  • 6. According to a letter dated 5 March 1742-3 among the Brett Papers there was then a brazen font standing next to the lectern.
  • 7. Meaning probably fresh and dried everlasting flowers.
  • 8. Nich. Ferrar, his Household and his Friends, ed. by Canon T. Carter, p. 141, and the whole chapter headed 'The Maiden Sisters.' Though at first Bishop Williams discouraged the desire of Mary and Anna Collet to make perpetual vows, he seems later to have given them his sanction (Ibid., pp. 144-5.).
  • 9. There are variations in the accounts of the daily life at Little Gidding; no doubt it differed from time to time. The account given here is mostly from Mayor, Nicholas Ferrar, Two Lives, Cambridge 1855, and the Life in Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Biography, IV.
  • 10. There is some confusion in the different ' Lives ' as to whether the canonical hours or hours of the clock were intended. Probably the former were used.
  • 11. John Hackett, Scrinia Reserata, ii, 50.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Some of these stories and discussions are printed by E. Cruwys Sharland in The Story Books of Little Gidding.
  • 14. Arch, li, 189-204; 455-8. See also notices of the Little Gidding bindings by Cyril Davenport, F.S.A., in Bibliographica, ii, 129; A Short Survey of 26 Counties in 1634, ed. by L. G. Wickham Legg, 1904; The Three Arts Journ. (1913).
  • 15. She is said to have been the daughter of Buck, the Cambridge University binder.
  • 16. As to the influence of Little Gidding on Crashaw see ' Richard Crashaw and Mary Collet' in Church Quarterly Review, lxxiii (Jan. 1912), 358385.
  • 17. Church Quarterly Review (1921), p. 62.
  • 18. Ibid., 62-3.
  • 19. John Hackett. Scrinia Reserata, ii, 50.
  • 20. For the inscription around his tomb, now gone, which is said to have been by Crashaw, see Church Quarterly Review (1921), pp. 59-60.
  • 21. Prov. xxviii. 9.
  • 22. Virginia Ferrar was buried at Little Gidding on 17 Jan. 1687-8 (see Parish Reg.).
  • 23. Mary Collet died in the parish of Maryleborne and was buried at Little Gidding on 9 Nov. 1680 aged four score years (see Parish Reg.).
  • 24. Among those who have contemplated the establishment of communities under rules similar to those adopted at Little Gidding were Lattice, Lady Falkland, Mary As tell, the Rev. Sir George Wheeler, rector of Houghton le Spring, William Law and, in more modern times, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson.