Nicholas Ferrar

December 4 is the commemoration in the Anglican Calendar of Nicholas Ferrar. Founder of the religious community of Little Gidding.
“Nicholas Ferrar (22 February 1592 – 4 December 1637) was an English scholar, courtier, businessman and man of religion. Ordained deacon in the Church of England, he retreated with his extended family to the manor of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, where he lived the rest of his life. The Metaphysical poet Rev. George Herbert (1593–33), on his deathbed, sent Ferrar the manuscript of The Temple, telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul”, and if not, to burn them. Fortunately, Ferrar decided to publish them and Herbert’s poetry has remained in print ever since….
In 1626 Nicholas Ferrar and his extended family left London and moved to the deserted village of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire. The household was centred on the Ferrar family: Nicholas’s mother, his brother John Ferrar (with his wife Bathsheba and their children), and his sister Susanna (and her husband John Collett and their children). They bought the manor of Little Gidding and restored the abandoned little church for their use. The household always had someone at prayer and had a strict routine. They tended to the health and education of local children, and Nicholas and his family produced harmonies of the gospels that survive today as some of the finest in Britain. Many of the family also learned the art of bookbinding, apparently from the daughter of a Cambridge bookbinder, which style they worked in. Nicholas Ferrar died on 4 December 1637, but the family continued their way of life without him, and the religious life only ended in 1657 on the deaths, within a month, of John Ferrar and Susanna Collett.
The life of the Ferrar household was much criticised by Puritans, and they were denounced as Arminians, and their life attacked as a ‘Protestant Nunnery’. However, the Ferrars never lived a formal religious life: there was no Rule, vows were not taken, and there was no enclosure. In this sense there was no ‘community’ at Little Gidding, but rather a family living a Christian life in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer according to High Church principles.”
little gidding
“During the span of the reign of King Charles I in a little village in Huntingdonshire, not too far from Cambridge, lived a family, the Ferrar family. Here mother, sons and daughter, and grandchildren showed how to live the Gospel by prayer, fasting, almsgiving, forgiveness and love. Litte Gidding breathed a quasi-monastic life a century after the monastic life had expired in England under Cromwell and Henry VIII.”

Nicholas Ferrar (1593-1637) was the guiding light of one of the most remarkable experiments in Christian community living in the history of Anglicanism. An English academic, courtier and businessman, he gave up his successful careers, was ordained a deacon and retreated with his extended family to the manor of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire), where they lived in community.

See further
See also “The Web of Friendship. Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding” by Joyce Ransome (2011)


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