'Chichele College': the remains of the medieval college of Higham Ferrers


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013829

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 01-Jul-1996


Ordnance survey map of 'Chichele College': the remains of the medieval college of Higham Ferrers
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Northamptonshire

District: East Northamptonshire (District Authority)

Parish: Higham Ferrers

National Grid Reference: SP 95990 68659


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The term college is used to describe a variety of different types of establishment whose communities of secular clergy shared a degree of common life less strictly controlled than that within a monastic order. Although some may date to as early as the tenth century, the majority of English colleges were founded in the 14th or 15th centuries. Most were subsequently closed down under the Chantries Act of 1547. Colleges of the prebendal or portional type were set up as secular chapters, both as an alternative to the structure of contemporary monastic houses and to provide positions for clerics whose services the monastic establishment wished to reward. Some barons followed suit by setting up colleges within their castles, while others were founded by the Crown for the canons who served royal free chapels. Foundations of this type were generally staffed by prebends or portioners (priests taking their income from the tithes, or other income deriving from a village or manor). After 1300, chantry colleges became more common. These were establishments of priests, financed from a common fund, whose prime concern was to offer masses for the souls of the patron and the patron's family. They may also have housed bedesmen (deserving poor and elderly) and provided an educational facility which in some cases eventually came to dominate their other activities. From historical sources it is known that approximately 300 separate colleges existed during the early medieval and medieval period; of these, 167 were in existence in 1509, made up of 71 prebendal or portional colleges, 64 chantry colleges and 32 whose function was primarily academic. In view of the importance of colleges in contributing to our understanding of ecclesiastical history, and given the rarity of known surviving examples, all identified colleges which retain surviving archaeological remains are considered to be nationally important.

The chantry college founded by Archbishop Chichele at Higham Ferrers is well documented and is known to have been closely associated with a number of other institutions in the town including the parish church, school and bedehouse. The remains of the college survive well, including standing buildings and building foundations which have been restored for public presentation; a variety of features are present which are thus both well understood and readily interpreted. Of particular interest amongst these is the rare walled garden, the layout of which is dated through documentary sources to 1425. Part excavation has demonstrated that post-medieval and modern activity on the site has caused limited damage to archaeological deposits of medieval date, which will tell us how the college functioned as a religious, domestic and economic unit. As a monument in the care of the Secretary of State, Chichele College also serves an important educational and recreational function.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the standing ruined and buried remains of Chichele College, the college of Higham Ferrers, which was founded in the early 15th century by Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1414 to 1443. Chichele was born in Higham Ferrers in about 1362 and in 1422 obtained a papal bull and a royal licence for the foundation of the college, the buildings of which were partly complete when the official foundation ceremony took place in 1425. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, St Thomas of Canterbury and St Edward the Confessor, the college of Higham Ferrers was a chantry college for eight secular canons, four clerks and six choristers. It was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1542 and parts of the south and east ranges were later adapted to form a smaller, L-shaped building which in the 18th century served as an inn; by the early 20th century it was further reduced to a single farm cottage with attached granary. The north and west ranges were progressively dismantled and overlain by farmbuildings. In 1948 the site passed into the guardianship of the Ministry of Works, the farmbuildings were cleared and the remains of the college restored. Now in the care of the Secretary of State it is maintained as a monument open to the public.

Chichele College is situated in the centre of the town of Higham Ferrers about 150m north west of the parish church. The remains include a series of standing structures and exposed building foundations, Listed Grade I and II, representing four ranges around a quadrangular courtyard. In the south eastern corner of the monument is a rectangular building about 20m long and 7m wide constructed of coursed, roughly-dressed limestone and roofed with Collyweston slate; this building represents the standing remains of the college's south range. The interior is open to the roof with a projecting first floor gallery at the western end, resting on a single-storey stone wall which divides the building into two parts: the larger part, to the east, represents the college chapel; the smaller part, to the west, represents an adjacent two-storey accommodation block which formerly extended further to the west.

In the upper part of the east wall of this range is the south jamb of a large, blocked window and, built into it on both the interior and exterior faces, a projecting corbel carved in the form of a human head. The position of the former north jamb of the original window is marked by two similar corbels in corresponding positions to the north. Also in the north part of the wall is a blocked ground-floor doorway of post-medieval date, the wooden lintel of which marks the approximate height of the sill of the original window, which can thus be seen to have occupied most of the wall. After the suppression of the college, the chapel was divided into two storeys and the large east window replaced by the present window, a reused opening of two lights in the Perpendicular style of the 15th century. The top of the window was altered both internally, by the insertion of a ceiling since removed, and externally by the provision of a crocketed hoodmould reused from the earlier window. Also at this time the gable was rebuilt, the decorative corbels were placed in their present positions, and a projecting string-course was added on the exterior as a continuation of that on the adjacent east range. In the adjacent part of the north wall of the building is a blocked first-floor doorway which, in the post-medieval period, linked an upper room with further accommodation in part of the east wing. The central part of the north wall, which includes four ventilation slits, was partly rebuilt in the early 20th century incorporating earlier fragments of dressed stone. In the western part of the north wall, adjacent to the internal west wall of the chapel, is a pointed ground-floor doorway with a rectangular projecting hoodmould with square label stops; through this door the chapel was reached from the quadrangle. Above the doorway and adjacent to the east of it are two rectangular windows, indicating the eastern extent of the farm cottage which occupied part of the building from the early 20th century. In the south wall of the chapel are a number of post-medieval features, including the remains of three ground-floor doorways, three upper windows and part of a chimney flue; these date from the post-medieval and later use of the building on two storeys. In the eastern part of the wall is one two-light window in the Perpendicular style which dates from the use of the building as a chapel, having, like the doorway, a rectangular projecting hoodmould with square label stops.

The western part of the present building represents a two-storey unit of accommodation adjacent to, and contemporary with, the college chapel. In the north wall are three Perpendicular windows with rectangular projecting hoodmoulds and square label stops matching those of the chapel. The west wall is post-medieval in date and includes two three-light, rectangular-headed windows with stone mouldings dated 1914. In the south west corner of each floor is a brick fireplace. In the south wall is a ground-floor doorway with external stone porch, also with 1914 datestone, which partly conceals a blocked first-floor doorway; the window adjacent to the east of each doorway was also part of the 20th century cottage.

To the north and west of the present building is an area of exposed building foundations and stone walls including the remains of the western part of the south range and other college buildings. The foundations are constructed of coursed rubble and reach a height of up to 0.5m. Extending nearly 11m to the west of the present building are the foundations of the western part of the college's south range. These foundations are partly overlain by a Grade II Listed stable building and adjacent walling which are are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included. Running northwards at right-angles from these foundations, and set back approximately 5.8m from the end of the south range, are the remains of the west range of the college. The foundations define a building smaller and wider than the south range, about 7m x 13.5m internally, which is believed to have housed the hall of the college. Parallel with and of roughly the same dimensions as the south range, are the remains of the north range. The west wall of the north range, and parts of the adjacent north and south walls project westwards beyond the west range and survive to a height of over 4m. These are constructed of coursed roughly-dressed limestone on a chamfered plinth. In the west wall is a ground- floor window with a rectangular projecting hoodmould and square label stops; above it, at first-floor level, is the lower part of a similar window. Further building foundations adjacent to the north of the north range are believed to represent the original, wider, north range which was planned in the early 15th century but never completed.

The remains of the east range include exposed building foundations and, incorporated in the perimeter wall which runs along the street frontage, the standing remains of the east wall. This wall extends approximately 11m northwards from the south range and includes, at what was the centre of the east range, the principal entrance gateway of the college. This opening takes the form of a Perpendicular arch with a rectangular hoodmould and circular label stops, ornamented with quatrefoil panels set with blank shields. Above the gateway are the remains of three reused canopied niches, formerly with pedestals supporting statues, which were placed in this position in the post-medieval period. Above the niches is a three-light Perpendicular window with a rectangular hoodmould and there is a similar, two-light window to the south. Running along the wall at sill level, interrupted by the niches, is a chamfered string-course. Further openings at ground-floor level include a single-light medieval window and a blocked post-medieval doorway.

In the north eastern corner of the monument, directly abutting the remains of the east range's east wall, is a stone wall approximately 2.5m in height which includes a wide blocked opening. This wall represents the remains of a stone barn which was built in the late-18th to early-19th century overlying parts of the north and east ranges. The standing north and east walls of the barn are incorporated in the perimeter wall which bounds the monument on the east, north, west and south west sides. In the north eastern part of the monument, adjacent to the remains of the college's north range, the perimeter wall is largely made up of the remains of post-medieval and modern farm buildings, and includes blocked openings of that date; in the western part of the monument it is medieval and later in date and represents the remains of the original perimeter wall which was built around the college garden in the early 15th century. On the western edge of the monument the wall includes a pointed arched gateway with moulded jambs which gave access from the college garden to further property to the west. This part of the perimeter wall encloses a level, grassed area which represents the remains of the college garden which is known through documentary sources to have been laid out in 1425.

The Grade II Listed stable building and adjacent walling are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 22702

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
History of Higham Ferrers, (1807)
Guide, (1970)
Buck, S, N, , The East View of Higham-Ferrers-College, in the County of N, (1729)
Cole, J, The History and Antiquities of Higham Ferrers, (1838)
Groome, N, Borough of Higham Ferrers: The College
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire, (1930), 265-266
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire, (1930), 177-179
Hamilton Thompson, A , 'Visitations of Religious Houses' in Record Of Visitations Held By William Alnwick Bishop Of Lincoln, , Vol. 14 pt i, (1918), 135
Thompson, MW, 'Medieval Archaeology' in A Contraction in Plan at Archbishop Chichele's College in Higham, , Vol. XI, (1967), 255-257
Ancient Monuments Terrier, (1984)
Colbeck, J, (1737)
letter to M.W. Thompson, Groome, Norman, (1969)
NMR Record, SP 96 NE 2,
Notes on file at HPG Midlands,
Title: Source Date: 1591 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing