1 May 1646 shortly after the disaster at Naseby and not long before his final arrest at Stamford in Lincolnshire. Ferrer was ordained as a deacon in 1626 by Archbishop Thomas Laud, no less.
Ferrer’s mother found the original church, of which we know next to nothing, in a state of disrepair and used, amongst other things, for storing hay! You have to bear in mind that both Great Gidding and Steeple Gidding also had churches. She set to work clearing and restoring it to use. It is known that it was much larger than the existing chapel.
In 1641 the community became the subject of a pamphlet that represented the community reasonably accurately but which via its commentary implied Catholic influences despite Ferrer’s himself regarding the Pope as “the Anti-Christ”. Bishop Wlliams himself advised Ferrer on the removal of artefacts that night have given rise to misunderstanding. Charles I visited the community in 1642 and it seems that even he needed – and received - proof that the allegations were false.
Sadly, in 1646, in the fevered atmosphere following the execution of Charles and the triumph of Puritanism, the unfortunate community was declared to be “Popish” and the whole community was sacked. I don’t suppose the support they had received from Charles I and Laud helped their cause much. With friends like those they had no need of enemies, it seems! It was all over by the sixteen fifties.
In 1714, however, John and Thomas Ferrer rebuilt the church as we see it today. It is much smaller than the original church on which site it was built. It has only a nave and chancel. You arrive via a stone fašade at the west end. Pevsner suggests that the style is perhaps reminiscent of Hawksmoor. The rest of the church is brick. Onec inside the big surprise if the orientation of the seating – there are rows of benches facing each other across the breadth of the nave. We don’t know if this tradition goes back to Nicholas Ferrer’s time because, as Pevsner observes, we don’t know the dimensions of the church at that time.
The walls are panelled in wood. Everything seems to be of wood, in fact, apart from the brass chandeliers and lectern. The latter is the only mediaeval survivor: Pevsner says it is of an East Anglian type and that the same moulds were used to cast lecterns at other places including Urbino Cathedral.
Overall, this is a fascinating place. Historically it informs us of a time when new religious ideas were emerging on all sides, sometimes to the peril of those that embraced them. Physically, it is unique and an antidote to Mediaeval Church Fatigue that even the most ardent church crawler must feel sometimes – myself included! It is a place of which the Arts & Crafts Movement would, I feel, have heartily approved two hundred years later.