A December Pilgrimage: Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar

This description of a visit to Little Gidding was written in November 1993, and has been reproduced and much plagiarized elsewhere. This version corrects one or two minor factual and punctuation errors. For further information see below.

A December Pilgrimage

You drive out of Cambridge, north-west up the busy A604 dual carriageway, passing by Saint Ives. Over the A1 (the ‘Great North Road’) onto the brand-new A14. After a few miles turn off north and drive a few hundred yards to Leighton Bromswold, where George Herbert was prebendary. Then on, further north, down narrow country lanes, hardly wide enough for two cars to pass. Now you’re out of the flat East Anglian fens and into the Huntingdonshire Wolds, where the land rises gently and is lightly wooded. A few more turnings, through Steeple Gidding, and on towards Great Gidding. Finally, a little signpost points down a single-lane track: ‘Little Gidding’.

Down this muddy road for a few hundred yards and you reach a small group of simple brick houses clustered around a large old farm house. A sign proclaims ‘The Community of Christ the Sower’ in a circle around four ears of wheat arranged as a cross, and points to a small car park off to the left – it’s just another muddy field. Out of the car the cold, damp, misty December air hits you: you sniff, button up your coat, and wish you’d worn wellingtons.

panoramic view of the house, path and church at Little Gidding
picture © Paul Crank

A footpath leads from the car park alongside the garden of the big house, and brings you to a small churchyard, tidily kept, with several tombs. A small church, with a weird eighteenth-century façade, stands in the middle of the churchyard, a small door in the middle of the west front. Before the door stands an altar-tomb, a couple of feet high: this is the grave of Nicholas Ferrar.

Little Gidding Church

Inside the church it’s dark, and still bitterly cold and damp. It’s just a single aisle, say thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide, with a small chancel beyond. There are no pews or seats, just seventeenth-century collegiate-style stalls around the west, north and south walls. Brightly-coloured nineteenth-century stained glass windows depict the coats of arms of Nicholas Ferrar (incorrectly), King Charles I, and the nineteenth-century restorer. A brass font with a battered crown stands like a standard candlestick at the north side of the sanctuary step. On the south side, a low doorway leads to the tiny vestry, about eight feet square, with a disused fireplace, and an old cupboard piled with dusty hymn and prayer books. Back out into the church again. At the west end is a small display of guide books, postcards, and copies of Four Quartets and other Eliot works. You turn round to the east and say a prayer.

Then back out into the fast-fading December afternoon light and look around. You’re standing on a hill looking south across the rolling countryside and bare ploughed fields. There is no sound except for a few birds calling overhead, and the occasional distant gunshot. It’s hard to believe you’re only four or five miles from the A1, one of the country’s busiest roads. It’s easy to believe that this was the peace and quiet which drew Nicholas Ferrar and his family from the busy world of London commerce to establish the only community in the Church of England in the three hundred years between the dissolution of the monasteries and the Oxford Movement. It’s easy to see what draws Christians of all denominations to this simple shrine, to remember the example of Nicholas Ferrar, and to live in a community at this place.

You walk round to the farm house, in through the front door. In the hall is a small display of Ferrar and Gidding memorabilia, and you turn left into a decent-sized room labelled the Parlour. In the corner a lady looks up from her reading, smiles and welcomes you, ‘Would you like some tea? Cake?’ ‘Yes, please.’ She disappears. Around the walls are more Ferrar pictures, and photographs of Little Gidding and members of the Community. It’s lovely and warm and you undo your coat and look with dismay at your mud-spattered trousers. A notice tells you that the tables and chairs in the room were made by a member of the community and that you can buy similar furniture. Your host returns and you gratefully sit down to eat and drink, noting the books on the bookstall. Further conversation, then it’s time to drive home in the dark, pledging to return someday, and pondering the advantages of community life.

POSTSCRIPT (December 1994): The font has now been removed from the Church, where it was becoming damaged. It is to be displayed in the Parlour, and a new font made by local craftsmen. The small vestry has been restored as a small, heated, side chapel or oratory.

A December Pilgrimage is copyright © 1993, 2006 Simon Kershaw, All Rights Reserved. A December Pilgrimage and this accompanying website on Nicholas Ferrar are reproduced by permission of Simon Kershaw.

There are several copies of this page floating around on the internet (many of them unattributed, as e.g. sample essays for students!) and a whole lot more email versions of A December Pilgrimage. It was written in December 1993 in response to a brief biographical note on Nicholas Ferrar, posted by James Kiefer.

I am content for the text of A December Pilgrimage to be reproduced for non-commercial use provided that it is properly attributed, and carries a copyright notice of the form: ‘A December Pilgrimage is copyright © 1993, 2006 Simon Kershaw, All Rights Reserved. Reproduced by Permission.’ Any reproduction for commercial use is prohibited without my prior written consent.

Some of the information contained on this page may be out of date. No attempt has been made to update the description of Little Gidding in the early 1990s. For up to date information see the rest of this site and the Little Gidding and Ferrar House websites.


Nicholas ferrar window 
Nicholas Ferrar
Bishop Williams window 
John Williams
Bishop of Lincoln
Charles I window 
Charles I
Hopkinson window
William Hopkinson

The Friends of Little Gidding

Founded in 1946 by Alan Maycock, the Friends of Little Gidding organized for over thirty years an annual pilgrimage and raised funds for the maintenance of the church at Little Gidding. One of the original members was T.S. Eliot, whose poem entitled Little Gidding helped to renew interest in the place and its history. Alan Maycock looked forward to community life being restored to Little Gidding.

In the 1970s a trust was founded to buy the farm house as the start of a new community and as a place of retreat. This community grew to become the Society of Christ the Sower. The Society was an ecumenical religious community for married and single people. Its members followed a simple Rule of life, committing them to daily prayer, shared ministry, careful stewardship of resources, and evangelism. At its height there were approximately fifteen members plus their children living at Little Gidding itself. Other members lived elsewhere, including Leighton Bromswold, four miles south of Little Gidding, where George Herbert, poet and friend of Nicholas Ferrar, was incumbent. The Friends became attached to the Society of Christ the Sower.

The community was dissolved in 1998, and for a while the Friends fell into abeyance, having lost their administration.

Now the Friends of Little Gidding has been re-established. Ferrar House is owned by the Little Gidding Trust, and the Church is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council. The Friends co-operate with these two bodies in maintaining and enhancing the buildings and use of Little Gidding, and the life of Nicholas Ferrar and his successors.

For more information on Little Gidding, the Friends of Little Gidding and Ferrar House see www.littlegiddingchurch.org.uk and www.ferrarhouse.co.uk.

Before his death Nicholas Ferrar said to his community: ‘It is the right, good old way you are in; keep in it.’ These words remain the aspirations of the Friends of Little Gidding, and all those who love the place.