18. 67 High Street
The Archbishop and the Enigma
Archbishop Chichele 1364–1443
This house is reputed to be where Henry Chichele was born. Henry’s father, Thomas, was a wealthy landowner in Higham, owning several houses. He married Agnes Pynchoun whose family had been significant participants in the City of London. They had three sons, of whom Henry was the youngest, and a daughter. Higham Ferrers was an important administrative unit in the Duchy of Lancaster and was in the hands of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III. All of Thomas’ sons prospered, but it is Henry as the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the most notable. Thomas is buried in St Mary’s Church, as is his son William, who is commemorated by a brass depicting him and his wife.
Henry was a very successful Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a churchman, lawyer and diplomat. Among his many achievements was securing St George as the patron saint of England following the success of the English army at the Battle of Agincourt, where it was believed that the intervention of St George helped the English to secure victory. Henry became exceptionally wealthy and used some of his resources to fund Chichele College and the Bede House in Higham Ferrers, and All Souls College, Oxford, whose name was chosen as remembrance of all those who had died in the Hundred Years War.
The Higham connections to the life and work of Henry Chichele have long held a fascination for historians. A paper read by the Rev. Henry Rose on the 8 May 1849 to the Architectural Society of Higham Ferrers referred to the work of William Camden (1551–1623) who wrote that “But the greatest ornament of this place [Higham Ferrers] was Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury”.
In this lecture Rev. Rose also referred to referred to Oliph Spencer’s biography of Chichele, published before 1783, who stated that “Although then very old and infirm, the pious founder came many times to Oxford to inspect the buildings of his new foundation, [All Souls College]".
The Northampton Mercury and Herald (Friday 24 June 1938) published a piece about Henry Chichele, illustrating it with photographs, although the portrait of Henry would seem to be a copy of the painted portrait but in reverse.
Rather than celebrate the birthplace of this esteemed Archbishop, on the 6 October 1950 it was reported in the Northampton Mercury and Herald that there was a proposal by Higham Ferrers Town Council to demolish the house. It was then that the Warden and Fellows of All Souls intervened and decided to restore the house, which had been listed as a building of historic interest. At that time the home had been lived in by the Pack family for over 150 years, since the end of the 1700s. Two celebrated features of the house were the solid oak staircase, and an immense fireplace in one of the ground floor rooms.
The proposal by the Town Council to demolish this historic home was abandoned, but not for the houses adjacent to the Henry’s home. On 1 April 1957 Clearance Orders were published to demolish homes 3, 4, 5, and 6 Bedford Row, amongst other properties. This affected the cottage previously joined to Henry’s home, as can be seen from the photograph taken in the latter part of the 19h century, and in the newspaper picture of 1938. All that is left now is the indication of a wall to the right of the present-day photograph.
One of the demolished cottages used to be lived in by Jane Litchfield, who was the toll gate keeper. The toll gate used to be across High Street, opposite the now demolished cottages, limiting access to the centre of Higham. The nearby road is called Tollbar in remembrance of those times.
Bletchley Park in World War II
Marjorie Evelyn Martin and the Enigma
The Martin family lived in the house where Henry Chichele was born for nearly 20 years from 1954 to 1974. The home had been saved from demolition by the intervention of All Souls College.
Marjorie Palmer as she then was, was born in 1920 and was recruited by the Foreign Office and deployed to work at Bletchley Park, the code breaking centre in World War II. Marjorie was in Hut 7. Hut 7 formed part of the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park. It was built early in 1940 to house the Hollerith Section headed by Freddie Freeborn of the British Tabulating Machine Company. The Hollerith machines tabulated information which was involved in Enigma code breaking. Marjorie worked there from April 1942 to December 1943. The shifts were 9am to 4pm / 4pm to 12 midnight / 12 midnight to 9am.
The Hollerith Section occupied Hut 7 until construction of Block C in November 1942. From December 1942 Hut 7 was occupied by the Cryptography section of the Naval section, joined by the Japanese Section in 1943. Marjorie left Bletchley Park in December 1943 to get married.
Recognition at last ...
In 2009 Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister, finally recognised the work that had been carried out at Bletchley Park, which until that time had not been formally acknowledged. Gordon Brown sought to rectify this omission and Marjorie received a certificate from the government and a medal.
As Marjorie had signed the Official Secrets Act her family were unaware for decades of her contribution to the allied victory, and it was only with the government’s recognition of the work of those at Bletchley Park, some six decades later, that they were able to join with the government in celebrating her.
The house was listed in 1950.
The citation states that it was reputedly C14 in origin but now was mainly late C17, altered C18 and C19. Reputedly the birthplace of Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury 1414–1443 and founder of Chichele College, School at Chantry Chapel of All Souls and Bede House.