Little Gidding

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For the poem "Little Gidding" from the Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot, see Little Gidding (poem).
The Church of Saint John the Evangelist, erected in 1714 to replace an earlier church at the site
Little Gidding
Little Gidding is located in Cambridgeshire
Little Gidding
Little Gidding
 Little Gidding shown within Cambridgeshire
Population 362 (with Great Gidding and Steeple Gidding)[1]
OS grid reference TL131819
Shire county Cambridgeshire
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district PE28
Dialling code 01832
Police Cambridgeshire
Fire Cambridgeshire
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
List of places

Coordinates: 52°25′N 0°20′W / 52.42°N 0.33°W / 52.42; -0.33

Little Gidding is a parish and small village located in the Huntingdonshire district[2] of Cambridgeshire, England near Sawtry. A small parish of 724 acres (293 hectares), Little Gidding recorded a population of 22 residents in the 1991 British Census. With the neighbouring villages of Great Gidding and Steeple Gidding, the total population is 362.[1] Two miles away is Leighton Bromswold, where poet George Herbert served as a prebend and restored the Church of St Mary. The driving distance between Little Gidding and Cambridge, to the south-east, is 30 miles.

Mary Ferrar had a tablet placed in the family’s parlour. Sir Thomas Hetley requested a copy, so, although the original has long been lost, the wording and the arrangement of the original text was preserved. Here it is as published in The Life and Times of Nicholas Ferrar by H. P. K. Skipton.[3]

Little Gidding was the home of an Anglican religious community established in 1626 by Nicholas Ferrar, two of his siblings and their extended families. This small community was founded around strict adherence to Christian worship in accordance the Book of Common Prayer and the High Church (or Catholic) heritage of the Church of England. Charles I visited Little Gidding three times. The community continued for 20 years after Ferrar's death, until after the deaths of his brother and sister in 1657.

In the 20th century, American-British poet T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) was inspired by the legacy of Little Gidding. He incorporated historical elements and symbols of it into his long poem, Little Gidding, as part of his collection Four Quartets (1945).


Early history[edit]

At the time of the Domesday Book, the only entry for this area was Geddinge, indicating that the three parishes of Little Gidding, Great Gidding and Steeple Gidding were separated later. Gidding, then owned by William Engaine, passed to his grandson, who gave Little Gidding to his younger son, Warner Engaine, in around 1166. At that time the manor was known as Gidding Warner, later becoming Gidding Engaine and by the 13th century Gydding Parva or Little Gidding.[4]

The name Gidding means "settlement of the family or followers of a man called Gydda".[5] Little Gidding is notable in the 21st century as the home of a Church of England lay religious community established by the Ferrar family in 1626.

Nicholas Ferrar's community[edit]

St John the Evangelist Church, East end

In 1620, Esmé Stewart, the Earl of March (1579–1624) and Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdonshire (later, briefly, the 3rd Duke of Lennox), sold the manor of Little Gidding to Thomas Sheppard. Population had declined in this rural area. Sheppard sold the property to Nicholas Ferrar (1592–1637) and his cousin Arthur Wodenoth (or Woodnoth) (1590?–1650?) in 1625 as trustees for Ferrar's mother, Mary Ferrar (née Wodenoth). The Ferrars and Wodenoths were investors in the Virginia Company[6] and other colonial projects.

With the collapse of the Virginia Company and a large portion of their fortune, the Ferrar family retreated to Little Gidding to take on a humble, spiritual life of prayer, eschewing material, worldly life. The following year, in 1626, Nicholas Ferrar was ordained as a Deacon by William Laud (1573–1645) then Bishop of St David's and later Archbishop of Canterbury.[7]

The extended Ferrar family transformed their holdings at Little Gidding into a humble Anglican religious community. When they purchased it, the property consisted of a decayed manor house and a medieval church associated with the Knights Templar. The Ferrars began repairing the site.[7] Nicholas Ferrar was joined by his brother John Ferrar and his family, and their sister Susanna (Ferrar) Collett and her family. The community was never a formal religious community, as with a monastery or convent. They did not have an official Rule (such as the Rule of Saint Benedict), no vows were required, and no enclosure. The Ferrar household lived a Christian life according to High Church principles and the Book of Common Prayer. They engaged in tending to the health and education of local children, and in bookbinding.

The Ferrar household was criticised by Puritans and denounced as a "Protestant Nunnery" and as Arminian heresy; in 1641 it was attacked in a pamphlet entitled "The Arminian Nunnery". The fame of the Ferrars and the Little Gidding community spread and they attracted visitors. King Charles I visited Little Gidding three times, including on 2 May 1646 seeking refuge after the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby.

When the matriarch Mary Ferrar died in 1634, she bequeathed Little Gidding to her son Nicholas.[4] In December 1637 Nicholas Ferrar died, but the community continued under the leadership of his brother, John Ferrar, until 1657, when he and his sister Susanna Collett died within a month of each other.[8]

During a period of local unrest in the Civil War, John Ferrar and some of his family went to Holland, but they returned by 1646.[9] The religious community ended with the death of John Ferrar and Susanna Collett in 1657.[8] There have been successive allegations of ransacking of the church and the estate during the Civil War but recent research disproves it.[9] Kate E. Riley's 2007 University of Western Australia English Ph. D. dissertation, The Good Old Way Revisited: The Ferrar Family of Little Gidding, c. 1625–1637, examined anew the community and challenged many long-held assumptions.[10]

The Ferrar community conformed to the Anglican ethos. (Bishop Francis Turner composed a memoir of Nicholas Ferrar prior to his death in 1700.)[11]

But it was not until the mid-19th century, with the Catholic Revival or Oxford Movement and the revival of Anglican religious orders, that the average Anglican parishioner become aware of this period of Little Gidding. It featured prominently in the popular 1881 historical novel John Inglesant by Joseph Henry Shorthouse. Since that time, interest in the community has grown beyond members of the Anglican Communion. According to ascetical theologian Martin Thornton, Nicholas Ferrar and the Little Gidding community exemplified an appeal based in a lack of rigidity (representing the best Anglicanism's via media can offer) and ″common-sense simplicity″ coupled with ″pastoral warmth″ related to Christian origins.[12]

The Friends of Little Gidding was founded in 1946 by Alan Maycock, with support from poet T. S. Eliot, to maintain and adorn the church, and to honour the life of Nicholas Ferrar and his family and their life at Little Gidding. Inspired by the example of Ferrar, the Community of Christ the Sower was founded at Little Gidding in the 1970s but that community ended in 1998.

St John's Church[edit]

The parish church of St John the Evangelist is a Grade I listed building.[13] The present church was restored and rebuilt in 1714 to replace a much earlier church on the site[4] and restored and altered in 1853. It is brick with a Ketton stone (a form of limestone) facing and a Collyweston stone slate roof.

The nave is 13.66 feet (4.16 m) wide and 32.75 feet (9.98 m) in length and fewer than 30 people can be accommodated in the stalls lining the wall of the nave. The chancel is 12 feet (3.7 m) wide and 22.75 feet (6.93 m) in width. On the south side of the chancel is a late 19th-century vestry which is a little larger than one half the width of the chancel.[14] Also on this side of the chancel is the only surviving oak "wainscoting" with which Mrs Ferrar had the church panelled. The nave is currently 8 feet (2.4 m) shorter than it was in the Ferrars' time. This area was evidently unsalvageable when the church was rebuilt in 1714. The nave in the Ferrars added a west gallery and in March 1631/2 installed an organ. Neither is in evidence today.[15]

Some of the fittings date from the period of the Ferrars; the brass font of c.1625, and 15th-century brass lectern with eagle desk, were given by Mrs Ferrar. The cedar communion table also dates from their occupancy.[15] Although photographs take during the 1900s show an organ within the church, a 1999 survey for the National Pipe Organ Register stated that as of 1999, there was no pipe organ in this church.[16]

An Order in Council published in the London Gazette on 13 March 1923, combined the United Benefice of Great Gidding with Little Gidding with the Benefice of Steeple Gidding.[17]

T. S. Eliot and Four Quartets[edit]

Main article: Little Gidding (poem)

The legacy of the Anglican community at Little Gidding inspired American-English poet, T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) in his poem entitled Little Gidding, the final of four long poems that comprise the collection Four Quartets (1945). Eliot, a convert to Anglicanism who identified as an Anglo-Catholic and was a life member of the Society of King Charles the Martyr,[18][19] visited the Little Gidding church on 25 May 1936. This was six years before he published his poem.[20] Eliot, a noted critic, supposedly had been asked to read a play regarding Charles I visiting the community.[21]

In the poem named after this site, Eliot combined the image of fire and Pentecostal fire to emphasise the need for purification and purgation, saying humanity's flawed understanding of life and turning away from God leads to a cycle of warfare. Eliot intends to portray this suffering as restorative — that it was necessary to experience catastrophic pain before life can be renewed and begin anew. Humanity's errors in thought that led to this suffering can be overcome by recognizing the lessons of the past and focusing on the unity of past, present, and future — a unity that Eliot asserts is necessary for salvation.[22] Eliot draws imagery from the history of the Little Gidding community and its role in the Civil War and the fall of Charles I (whom Eliot calls the "broken King"), relating this past to a present in which Britain was struggling with the devastation of The Blitz during World War II.

Annual events at Little Gidding[edit]

During the summer a Little Gidding Pilgrimage is held, sponsored by the Friends of Little Gidding. The format in recent years has been Holy Communion at Leighton Bromswold, followed by dinner. Then the pilgrims walk the five miles to Little Gidding. Along the way, there are rest stops where prayers and meditation occur. Upon reaching Nicholas Ferrar's grave, prayers are offered followed by Choral Evensong in St John's Church.[23]

On the Saturday closest to the anniversary of Nicholas Ferrar's death on 4 December 1637, a commemorative service is held at St John's Church. The Friends of Little Gidding hold their Annual General Meeting at that time.[24]

An annual T. S. Eliot Festival is organised by the Friends of Little Gidding and the T. S. Eliot Society.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cambridge County Council Research Group. 2001 Census Profile: Great Gidding, Little Gidding and Steeple Gidding Parishes - Huntingtdonshire from 2001 Census Key Statistics for Local Authorities (Published: October 2003). Retrieved 5 January 2013. Note: These three parishes are combined because one of them, Little Gidding, is too small to be enumerated separately in accordance with British privacy laws.
  2. ^ Note: Huntingdonshire is a historical county, but has been reclassified as a district within Cambridgeshire and administered as a "non-metropolitan district" since 1974 in accordance with Local Government Act 1972.
  3. ^ The Life and Times of Nicholas Ferrar by H. P. K. Skipton (London: A. R Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1907), p. 136 taken from a copy in the creator’s collection.
  4. ^ a b c A History of the County of Huntingdon (Victoria County History, 1936) III:53–57
  5. ^ A. D. Mills (2003). "A Dictionary of British Place-Names". 
  6. ^  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1900). "Wodenoth, Arthur". Dictionary of National Biography 62. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  7. ^ a b "A brief history of Little Gidding" (The Official Website of St John's Church, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, England). Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  8. ^ a b A History of the County of Huntingdon 1. Victoria County History. 1926. pp. 399–406. 
  9. ^ a b Alleged Ransacking of Little Gidding Church 1646
  10. ^ Riley, Kate E. The Good Old Way Revisited: The Ferrar Family of Little Gidding, c. 1625–1637. A 2007 dissertation from Australia (265 pdfs in length).
  11. ^ MacDonogh, Rev. T. M. (Terence Michael), ed. Brief Memoirs of Nicholas Ferrar: founder of a Protestant religious establishment at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire. Chiefly collected from a Narrative by the Right Rev. Dr, Turner, Formerly Lord Bishop of Ely; And now edited, with Additions. Second Edition. London: Jacob Nisbet, 1837. (Note: The original of this important source is now lost.) Internet Archive downloadable pdf Google Books downloadable pdf.
  12. ^ Thornton, Martin. English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology according to the English Pastoral Tradition. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1963. Reprint with new introduction by Cowley Publications, 1986, pp. 46-47, 116, 226.
  13. ^ English Heritage listing text
  14. ^ 'Gidding, Little', An inventory of the historical monuments in Huntingdonshire (1926), pp. 101-102. URL: [1]. This website includes detailed information about St John's Church and a floor plan. Date accessed: 23 May 2013
  15. ^ a b Maycock 1938, pages 130, 140, 142-144
  16. ^ National Pipe Organ Register. Enter "Little Gidding" in the search box and press send
  17. ^ The London Gazetter, Issue No. 32805 (13 March 1923), pp. 1981-1982.
  18. ^ Plaque on interior wall of Saint Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London.
  19. ^ Obituary notice in Church and King, Vol. XVII, No. 4, 28 February 1965, p. 3.
  20. ^ Ackroyd, Peter. T.S. Eliot: A Life. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 263-266.
  21. ^ T.S. Eliot and Little Gidding – The Friends of Little Gidding (official website). Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  22. ^ Pinion, F. B. A T. S. Eliot Companion (London: MacMillan, 1986), pp. 229–34.
  23. ^ The 2013 Little Gidding Pilgrimage
  24. ^ 2012 Nicholas Ferrar Day
  25. ^ Eliot Festival

Works on Little Gidding and the Ferrars[edit]

Note: This listing is not limited to items cited in this article.

  • Acland, John Edward. Little Gidding and Its Inmates in the Time of King Charles I. with an Account of the Harmonies. Project Gutenburg Transcription
  • Alleged Ransacking of Little Gidding Church 1646, Little Gidding Church
  • A brief history of Little Gidding (The Official Website of St John's Church, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, England). Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  • Counsell, Michael. Every Pilgrim's Guide to England's Holy Places. Norwich, Norfolk: Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd, 2003, page 190.
  • A History of the County of Huntingdon (Victoria County History, 1936) III:53–57
  • An inventory of the historical monuments in Huntingdonshire see Royal commission on historical monuments (England).
  • MacDonogh, Rev. Terence Michael, ed. Brief Memoirs of Nicholas Ferrar: founder of a Protestant religious establishment at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire. Chiefly collected from a Narrative by the Right Rev. Dr, Turner, Formerly Lord Bishop of Ely; And now edited, with Additions. 2nd ed. London: Jacob Nisbet, 1837. (The original of this important source is now lost.) Internet Archive downloadable PDF Google Books downloadable PDF
  • Maycock, Alan Lawson. Chronicles of Little Gidding. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1954.
  • Maycock, Alan Lawson (1938), Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, London, New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Macmillan .
  • Mills, A. D. A Dictionary of British Place-Names (2003)
  • Moore, William W. The Little Church that Refused to Die. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1993.
  • Ransome, Joyce. The Web of Friendship : Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding. Cambridge, Eng: James Clarke & Co., 2011.
  • Riley, Kate E. The Good Old Way Revisited: The Ferrar Family of Little Gidding, c. 1625–1637. A 2007 dissertation from Australia (265 PDFs)
  • Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England). An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Huntingdonshire. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1926. xliii, 350 p. : ill. (incl. plans), plates, maps; 28 cm. 'Gidding, Little', pp. 101–102 and illustrations throughout the book. David Lindsay, Earl of Crawford (1871-1940) was chairman of this commission. The text of this article without any photographs may be found [2].
  • Skipton, Horace Pitt Kennedy. The Life and Times of Nicholas Ferrar. London: A. R Mowbray & Co, 1907. Internet Archive downloadable PDF
  • Turner, Francis see MacDonogh, Rev. T. M. (Terence Michael), ed.

External links[edit]