Friends of Little Gidding

Nicholas Ferrar and his community are remembered as an example of the family piety espoused by the reformed Church of England in the seventeenth century.

Little Gidding church fell into decline during the first half of the 20th century, although people continued to visit. In the summer of 1946 Alan and Enid Maycock and some friends from Cambridge visited the church and found it in a sad state and resolved to form a group of Friends to support the Vicar in his care for the church.

The inaugural meeting was held at Jesus College, Cambridge, on Wednesday July 31st 1946, in the rooms of Dr Frederick Brittain. The Bishop of Ely, Edward Wynn, presided. All of those present were members or associates of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, which had been founded at Little Gidding in 1913. At this meeting the Society of the Friends of Little Gidding was formally inaugurated. The Bishop accepted the presidency of the society and Canon J.W.P. Jones, Vicar of Great Gidding, took office as Warden. T.S. Eliot agreed to be a vice-president: he was an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, and had made his journey to Little Gidding while visiting the College in 1936.

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Objectives of the Friends of Little Gidding

  1. to give thanks to Almighty God for the holy lives and examples of Nicholas Ferrar and those who shared his life at Little Gidding
  2. to venerate his memory and to honour those ideals of Christian family life of which Little Gidding provided so perfect a pattern
  3. to take a practical and active interest in the care, upkeep and adornment of the church of Little Gidding and its precincts
  4. to arrange, as occasion provides, for visits and pilgrimages to Little Gidding and, in other ways that may be deemed fitting, to preserve the sense of Little Gidding as a holy place, from which the sanctity can never depart.

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Annual Report, 1948–9

Little Gidding Church interior

The following is a summarised schedule of the work now completed, for which the Friends of Little Gidding are directly responsible:

  1. The north-east corner of the chancel walls has been strengthened and made secure by continuing the underpinning along the east wall and for some twelve feet along the north wall. New brickwork has been inserted, as necessary, both below and above ground level.
  2. The chancel floor has been taken up and a new floor of Ketton stone put down in its place. The older floor, with its incongruous colour and glazed finish, has long been considered unfitting; the new floor restores a proper harmony and continues the design of the nave.
  3. All ironwork has been cleaned, primed and painted black. The interior woodwork has been cleaned, repaired and polished; wormholes in certain parts of the panelling have been treated.
  4. The insciption over the west door way has been repainted on a black ground, the lettering finished in gold leaf on a sienna ground.The roof really needs completely renewing and this will cost some £250, of which only about £60 is available from our present funds. It was pointed out that the matter should obviously be attended to before the winter… Therefore we appeal urgently to the generosity of all Friends of Little Gidding for donations towards the provision of the new roof. It has been a joy and an inspiration to do for the Church what we have already done; we are assured that the building, with the repairs already carried out and with the roof re-laid, will be in thoroughly satisfactory structural condition.

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Annual Report, 1950–1

A pilgrimage possibly 1949. Bishop of Ely Rt Rev Harold Wynn, Alan Maycock holding the wreath to be placed on Nicholas Ferrar’s tomb.

Membership continues to increase steadily and is now well past the 200 mark. The quiet, spontaneous growth of the Society during the five years of its existence has been impressive and also encouraging; for we have never sought publicity or attempted any active canvassing.

On the question of pilgrimages, we seem to have arrived at the holding of our annual pilgrimage in July, an afternoon ceremony beginning with a procession to the church and ending with evensong.

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Annual Report, 1969–70

Little Gidding aerial view

Many Friends are aware that the Church at Little Gidding has become very isolated now that the farmhouse is empty. It is of great concern to the Warden and his helpers, none of which live in sight of the Church, and we share his interest in the newly formed Little Gidding Fellowship of which the Revd Tony Hodgson writes.

At the Annual General Meeting, held in November, it was agreed that in future, the annual meeting will be held on the 3rd Wednesday in November. The annual pilgrimage is held on the 2nd Saturday in July so that the two events will have a regular date on the calendar.

We are pleased to announce that the Rt Revd the Lord Bishop of London will be preaching at Evensong on Saturday, July 10th 1971 and the Venerable D.F. Page, Archdeacon of Huntingdon, will lead the Annual Pilgrimage that day.

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Little Gidding Fellowship

Tony and Judith Hodgson outside Ferrar House (circa 2005)

Friends of Little Gidding may like to know that over the past few months a Little Gidding Fellowship has been formed with these main objects:
Firstly, to help your Warden with the intercessory work of Little Gidding;
Secondly, to investigate how the needs of pilgrims and visitors to Little Gidding may best be served;
Thirdly, to think and pray about the possibility of forming some kind of community at or near Little Gidding.

Hereafter, Tony and Judith Hodgson bought the farmhouse and adjoining land and buildings, and with some others began to restore and rebuild the properties. Ownership was vested in a charitable trust. After some years, management of this trust and the community was taken over by Robert van de Weyer; the community continued to grow, and undertook all the care and maintenance of the Church. This Community of Christ the Sower also took over the running of the Friends, and communicated with them by a quarterly newsletter ‘Seeds’. The annual pilgrimages led by the Bishop of Ely, ceased.

An essential feature of the link between the Community and the Friends was the Prayer Calendar, published quarterly, and sent along with the newsletter “Seeds” and a book of daily readings. In this way, one member of the Community was prayed for every day, and two members of the Friends, in a continuous rhythm.

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Seeds no 10 Nov. 1986

Little Gidding Church and pigsties

This issue of Seeds marks a new phase in the history of the Friends of Little Gidding – and in the development of the Community of Christ the Sower.

In the 40 years since the Friends was founded, much of the original vision has been realised, thanks largely to your dedication and your prayers. Interest in Nicholas Ferrar and the first community has been revitalised, the church at Little Gidding has been renovated and is back in regular use, and during the last few years a new community has grown up which is once again committed to the Ferrar ideals.

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End of the Community, 1998

Service at St John’s Little Gidding circa 2004

The Community dispersed at the end of 1997, since when the Giddings PCC has taken up the care and maintenance of the church, and to hold regular services there, of Evening Prayer on 5th Sundays when they occur, and a Eucharist on the morning of the Feast of Nicholas Ferrar on 4th December every year.

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Friends of Little Gidding – An update

Susanna Ferrar, descendant of John Ferrar.

Font in memory of Christine Smith, a Friend of Little Gidding, 1995.

The Society of the Friends of Little Gidding was founded in 1946 by Alan Maycock and others in Cambridge for the purpose of helping the Vicar of the parish in the work of caring for and maintaining the church. The poet T.S. Eliot was a Patron: it is his poem in the Four Quartets which has brought many people to this place.
It was in a sad state of neglect at that time, and over the years the Friends brought about a transformation, with many fund-raising campaigns, work-parties, services, and an annual pilgrimage in mid-July led by the Bishops of Ely and other Bishops.

In the early 1970s a community was established at Little Gidding in the former farmhouse, and its attendant buildings. Over time this community took over the practical management of the church from the Friends, and developed their own relationship with its members. After the community dispersed in 1998 this link was lost, and the Friends had very little news of the re-organisations which were taking place under the Little Gidding Trust, which now owned the former community estate.

The Society of the Friends of Little Gidding has been re-founded, is registered with the Charity Commission, and has begun its independent existence. The Little Gidding Trust administers Ferrar House though its Wardens, the Parochial Church Council is responsible for the Church and its services: these three bodies co-operate on many joyful celebrations as well as with the practical tasks of maintenance.

Join the Friends, and the PCC of Little Gidding Church, and the Wardens of Ferrar House in welcoming visitors to this special place.

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Little Gidding Church interior and lectern

Nicholas Ferrar wrote to advise his cousin Arthur Woodnoth on a matter of business on 10th May 1630, warning him not to interrupt “…that web of friendship which I hope might otherwise prove a pattern in an age that needs patterns”
The Web of Friendship, described by Bernard Blackstone, led him to accompany TS Eliot on his one visit to Little Gidding, and to Eliot writing the poem which has drawn so many others to this place.

The Society of the Friends of Little Gidding
The Charity’s objects are:
  1. the advancement of religion, and in particular:-
    (i) to give thanks to almighty God for the holy lives and examples of Nicholas Ferrar and those who shared his life at Little Gidding,
    (ii) to venerate his memory and to honour those ideals of Christian family life of which Little Gidding formed so perfect a pattern,
    (iii) to take a practical and active interest in the care, upkeep and adornment of the church at Little Gidding and its precincts,
    (iv) to arrange, as occasion provides, for visits and pilgrimages to Little Gidding, and in any other ways that may be deemed fitting, to preserve the sense of Little Gidding as a holy place, from which the sanctity can never depart,
    (v) to assist and support the provision of accommodation and facilities for pilgrims and other visitors to come to, visit, or stay at Little Gidding.
  2. to advance the education of the public in the life of Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding and also the connection of T.S. Eliot with Little Gidding.
The Society of the Friends of Little Gidding

Join the Friends of Little Gidding and connect to this living, historic, dispersed but connected community.

Contact: Membership Secretary
Friends of Little Gidding
Ferrar House, Little Gidding, PE28 5RJ