8. The Town Hall
The First Town Hall?
Following the creation of a 91 free men and women, who bought their freedom from the Earl of Ferrers in 1251, there were two administrative systems in Higham, one implemented by officials under the egis of the Duchy of Lancaster, the other organised by the newly enfranchised free men and women, the Borough officials. It is possible that the two administrations had different “offices” perhaps the Duchy officials working from the castle and the Borough officials working from a different building. This building might have been in the centre of Higham as shown on the 1591 map, where a substantial building with outside steps to an upper floor can be seen in the middle of the town. Similar buildings still exist in Market Harborough (The Old Grammar School built in 1607) and Peterborough (The Old Guild Hall rebuilt in 1671).
The Second Town Hall?
The Borough officials were paid a salary, and Thomas Chichele (father of Henry who later became Archbishop of Canterbury) was paid four marks for his labours in office and his expenses when he was Mayor of Higham in 1381.
Fire was a constant hazard and it is conceivable that this building was destroyed by the 17th century. If so, it is possible that the Borough offices were moved to Wood Street in the Tudor building which later became a coffee tavern and reading room. This building, now demolished, was built in the 17th century, and on the front it was decorated with a long strapwork plaster panel.
The final Town Hall
By the beginning of the 19th century, it was decided that the Town needed a new and purpose-built Town Hall. This final Georgian version was constructed in 1808 at a cost of £755. To create space for the new build, buildings on and adjacent to the Market Square were taken down, including the town bakehouse.
To the rear of the Town Hall is a small lock-up for apprehended criminals. At the time of the construction of the Town Hall there was much lawlessness, with bands of displaced people roaming the countryside as a result of enclosures and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, stealing sheep, cattle and poultry, and maiming horses. Prosecution was always a private matter, and expensive, so groups of farmers and tradesmen banded together to pay for policing the parish, and sharing the costs of prosecuting captured felons (held overnight in the lock-up.) The Higham Ferrers Association for the Apprehension and Prosecution of Felons was founded in 1810 for this purpose, and continues to meet annually.
The Common Seal
A copy of this is on the front of the Town Hall, and on the ground before it. It shows a hand in apparent blessing over 9, or in some versions, 10 heads. It is suggested that it dates from close to the date of the original charter in 1251, and one reading of its meaning is that God offers His blessing on the whole community— God bless us, everyone.