15. Former Parish Rooms
1A Midland Road
The new community hub
At the time of their construction in 1904 the new Parish Rooms incorporated several characteristic influences of the Arts and Crafts school of design prevalent at the turn of the century. Some of these features remain evident today.
Designed by Architects Talbot, Brown and Fisher of Wellingborough, the rooms gave facilities to the Church functions, Sunday school and youth clubs as well as Civic events, weddings and social evenings, in the elegant space with its arched alcoves, leaded windows.
The front of the building is dressed with Weldon and Ketton stone and the erection of the building was carried out by Marriott of Rushden and was expected to cost £2,500.
Too much frolicking in Higham?
The Parish Rooms were opened by The Bishop of Peterborough on the 7 October 1904. A shortened service was held in St Mary’s Church where the Bishop gave a sermon. He said that long after those in the congregation had passed away this new building would stand as a tower of strength for each succeeding generation. He concluded his remarks with the warning that all people seemed to think about was eating, drinking and clothing but they should be focused on preparing for the greater eternity hereafter.
Sadly November seems to have been absent on the day the picture was taken.1
The grand opening of the Parish Rooms
The inauguration of the Parish rooms was heralded by a celebratory “Grand Bazaar” held over the three days from the 20 to 22 October 1904. Lady Mary Glyn presided over the first day, Mrs. Pope the second and The Mayor the final day.
The programme (price 2d) recorded that the objective of the inauguration was to assist the raising of the sum of the £1,500 shortfall, still required to pay for the new building. The general committee appeal to “Friends and Neighbours” and thoughtfully subdivided this large balance as follows: “1,500 pounds or 30,000 shillings or 360,000 pennies.”
Among the entertainments provided was a “concert of vocal and instrumental music” and a ventriloquist, “Mr. Goddard (from Leicester),” A “Spelling Bee” and “Mental Arithmetic” (entry 3d), and a conjurer, “Mr. W. H. Moody”. There was an event described as “Cafe Chantant” (entry 6d), and a “Nail Driving” competition for Ladies and a “Darning” competition for Men. A season ticket for the three days festivities could be bought for two shillings and six pence, (approximately £12.00).
The impact of the First World War
By 1910 the peace and prosperity of the early Edwardian years were shadowed by the prospect of conflict, and numerous members of St. John Ambulance Brigade responded to the call for volunteers in case of war. During the first World War the Parish Rooms were converted to provide a 20-bed V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Hospital and treated 765 patients during the conflict. Higham Ferrers was one of 32 VAD Hospitals in the county, Mrs Cara Patenall MBE was Commandant and Bessie Paternall was Sister in Charge.
One soldier described the experience as “to come from the death and filth of the trenches is like being taken from hell to heaven and put among the angels” 1
Staffed by volunteers the VAD Hospital also provided a place for recreation, rest and respite for the patients. In the interim years leading up to 1939, the rooms were again used for their intended purpose until they were subsequently required for Ambulance Service provision in World War II.
The decline in the use of the rooms by the community
With the cessation of hostilities in Europe in 1945, the rooms reverted to providing venue for various clubs and societies, their social functions and events, such as the annual Civic Ball. Sadly, with the passage of time, the cost of maintaining the fabric of the building exceeded the revenue that hiring of the facilities provided.
A public library
Concerns were raised by the County Librarian (Miss Makepeace) who wrote to the council that keeping the town library in the school hall was limiting the provision of available books, due both to the limited amount of shelving and the need for the school to access the school stage. On 30 June 1949 figures were provided relating to the library stock.2
A purpose-built space for the community library
In 1967 Higham Ferrers Town Council tried to buy the building as a more suitable official space than the smaller Town Hall. However, Northamptonshire County Council’s offer was accepted by the Charity Commissioners and the building was opened as Higham Ferrers Public Library on 6 June 1968.
Before its acquisition there had been part of the building that had served as a small library for three days a week. Joy Farey-Wood provided librarian cover. Joy had memories of being “met by the caretaker or unlocking the building myself and making up a fire.” The front bay to the right of the building housed the library and Joy had to remove wooden covers hiding the bookcase shelving.
The end of the public library
In May 2021 the County Council sold the property to a private development company. The company currently offers the use of a meeting room to benefit local groups and societies and thus the community.
1 Higham Ferrers. A pictorial history. 1984
2 Higham Ferrers Town Hall Minutes, June 1949