10. Church House

9 Market Square

The longevity of Church House

Church House has been a home in Higham Ferrers for over 750 years and is easily identified because of its position in relation to St Mary’s Church. The first recorded mention is in 1251. The Earl of Ferrers enabled 91 people in Higham to buy their freedom and “Hugh at the Gate of the Church” was one of the beneficiaries. In 1526 William Gough owned the house but at his death in 1528 left it in his will to his Wife, Elizabeth. He described his abode as “my house next the Church Style with its backside in St Botolph’s yard” St Botolph’s yard is now College Street.

Following William Gough’s death his widow married Laurence Washington. Laurence was a wool merchant as had been Elizabeth’s first husband, and he became Mayor of Northampton in 1532, but his greater claim to fame is that he was George Washington’s five times great grandfather. Following the death of Elizabeth, Laurence married Amy Pargeter and they appear to have continued to live in Church House till about 1549.

On the John Norden map of Higham Ferrers in 1591 the house can be seen in line with the then Grammar School (now the Chantry Chapel). The gable end (or backside) would be facing the market square as described by William Gough. The front door to Church House remains adjacent to the church gate and does not face the Market Square.

1591 Norden map showing Church House behind the Chantry Chapel

The market and the collection of dues

Higham Ferrers has had a market for centuries and the traders who sold their wares were charged by the town officials for permission to sell. The official who took their fees lived in Church House. He worked downstairs and accessed his bedroom through a loft ladder. The loft opening in the ceiling is still present.

Church House in 1906
The front of the house is covered in ivy. At some point the front door had been moved to face the Market Square, seen here as the middle of the three canopies. Later the front door was restored to the side of the house, as described in 1528.

A few of the owners of Church House

In 1723 the house belonged to John and Henry Pulley of The Green Dragon and it was inhabited by John Page, a hatter. It continued to be occupied and in 1789 it was let to Captain Thomas S Sparkes.

More recently in 1900 the headmaster (Mr Alfred Vann) of the Grammar School occupied the house. It was well placed in relation to his work at the school. However, the school was inspected by HMI in 1901 and found to be wanting in all aspects, and it closed shortly after the death of Mr. Vann. After Mr Vann the Spong family lived in the house. They were prominent citizens of Higham and were regularly involved in local politics.

The 1949 house sale

In 1949 the house was up for auction. Described as a charming brick and stone-built residence, most pleasantly situated in the Market Square, containing a stone flagged and half paneled lounge, hall, drawing room. dining room, gun room. Four bedrooms ─ two with wash basins, bathroom, completed domestic offices, garage, small walled garden. The house has been carefully restored and is in excellent decorative order. It had been the residence of Mr. R Chamberlain and was sold with vacant possession.

In 1950 the building was listed as Grade II. The citation stated that it was probably late seventeenth century and was reconstructed in the early to mid-nineteen century. In 1990 the building was listed under the Planning Act for its special architectural and historic interest.