Our heritage 

Help us to preserve it

The Friends of St. Mary’s is a Registered Charity whose members are dedicated to the preservation of the magnificent Grade 1 listed buildings that have dominated the life of Higham Ferrers for 800 years: 

• St Marys Church

• Chantry Chapel

• Bede House.

The Friends are a secular organisation; you do not have to belong to any church or denomination to become a member of ‘the Friends’. You just need to share our desire to preserve this wonderful heritage.

All funds raised through membership and any other fund raising activity, are for the specific purpose of supporting the exterior preservation, repair, maintenance and restoration of these buildings, and the churchyard in which they are situated. 

What's new?


Old friends, artist Ophelia Redpath and author Artem Mozgovoy, met up again at the Higham Ferrers Arts Weekend.

PICTURE: Robert Barnatt


Victoria Wicks, right, who gave a talk about her famous grandfather, author H.E. Bates, is congratulated by Brenda Lofthouse, chair of the Friends of St Mary’s, with Thomas Jefferies, part of the Family At War  group of wartime re-enactors, completing the picture.

Peregrines, pilots and a paperback

And a varied programme for the Higham Ferrers Arts Weekend

PRIZE-winning artist Ophelia Redpath knew exactly what she was going to paint to celebrate living in Higham Ferrers for two years. Now, having returned to the town for the day, she has just unveiled her latest work which features two peregrine falcons which had made a home at the St Mary’s Church spire during her time in Higham Ferrers.

“This work is a tribute to living in Higham Ferrers. It is really a lovely place to have a home,” Ophelia told the audience at the Chantry Chapel, next to the church.

Ophelia, the 2021 Sky Landscape Artist of the Year, put the final touches to her peregrine painting just before leaving from her new home in Norfolk for Higham Ferrers and the town’s first Arts Weekend, where she was one of the VIP speakers.

The special weekend, which featured several events, was organised by The Friends of St Mary’s – a secular group dedicated to the preservation of the exterior of the town’s Grade 1 listed buildings (the Church, the Chantry Chapel and the Bede House).

The afternoon with Ophelia and a friend – author Artem Mozgovoy - was organised by Higham Ferrers Tourism, which partnered with The Friends of St Mary’s for the inaugural Arts Weekend.

Ophelia plans to put a photograph of the peregrines on her website and will sell prints of the birds, with a percentage of the proceeds going towards the costs for the restoration of St Mary’s bellcote.

Ophelia started her talk at the Bede House before everyone moved across to the nearby Chantry Chapel where her peregrine painting had been under wraps.

She spoke about her life as an artist and the various styles and techniques which had influenced her, including those of her grandparents, who were both acclaimed painters.

When Artem – a prize-winning writer and journalist from Siberia – took over the microphone, it was to tell the audience that he had written his book Spring in Siberia 10 years ago, but it was only after Sir Stephen Fry had read the manuscript that he finally found an agent and a publisher. Sir Stephen has hailed the book as “touching and…genuinely compelling.” Launched in London a year ago, Spring in Siberia, is labelled as a novel, but Artem said it was more a family story.  

Artem moved to Europe in 2011 when Russia began legalising its persecution of gay people and he had a series of jobs – including being a magician’s assistant - before settling in Brussels, Belgium.

He read extracts from his book and afterwards, he was kept busy selling – and signing – copies.

Artem volunteers at the Ukranian Refugee Centre in Belgium and his next book, which will be published in September, is based on the stories he had collected in his diary while volunteering.

The Arts Weekend also included “An evening with the Wellingborough Community Gospel Choir” and a talk by Victoria Wicks, grand-daughter of the prolific author, H.E. Bates, CBE, which focused on his time as an RAF officer.

Victoria recounted how H.E. Bates had written under the pseudonym of Flying Officer X and had produced 24 stories portraying the lives of bomber and fighter pilots.

In keeping with the wartime theme, several people in the audience were dressed in 1940s-era clothing. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Ria Jefferies and her mother, Jane Chambers, part of the wartime re-enactment group Family At War, were preparing to serve WW11 fare, corned beef and cheese and onion pies, and other delights. They had already baked dozens of Spitfire-shaped biscuits.

Ria’s son, Thomas, 7, part of the Family At War group, was also there, and dressed as a wartime pilot. 

Ophelia Redpath website


The Wandering Minstrels
 Vice Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, Morcea Walker MBE

The Bede House was packed to the rafters for an evening of celebration to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Friends of St. Mary’s, generously sponsored by Wilson Browne Solicitors. In the presence of our special guest, the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, Morcea Walker MBE, the audience were treated to an evening of the biting wit and enchanting music of Gilbert and Sullivan by The Wandering Minstrels.

Decked out in period costume and with an array of props, the five singers, their pianist and lighting manager presented a programme from Gilbert and Sullivan’s famed comic operas. With words by W. S. Gilbert and music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, the programme featured songs from The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, The Yeoman of the Guard, Iolanthe, The Sorcerer and The Gondoliers.

It is the first time that The Wandering Minstrels have visited the town and it won’t be the last, given the obvious enjoyment of both the audience and the entertainers. Tim Hurst-Brown, the artistic director, commented that “everything went splendidly and I think the audience enjoyed themselves too, so a good time was had by all!”

Profits from this event go towards the restoration of the Bede House roof and our next exciting project, to restore the charming bell cot above the Bede House entrance and return the bell to working order. 

"A Gilbert and Sullivan Extravaganza" and it certainly was! Thank you to the Friends who staged a most wonderful evening presented by The Wandering Minstrels who were so entertaining. Hard not to join in the singing as my school days came rushing back to me but my feet were definitely tapping! Well done to everyone for putting together such a well-attended and joyful evening.”

Morcea Walker MBE, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire Heritage Awards 2023

Best Project by a Group or Society: Winner

The Friends of St. Mary’s, Higham Ferrers

Gateway to the 600-year history of the Bede House

The Friends of St Mary’s (FoSM) is a volunteer organisation, dedicated to supporting the preservation, restoration, improvement and ornamentation of the three medieval buildings. The gate project was organised from concept to completion by the volunteers, and involved fund raising, and liaison with the church authorities, the carpenter and stone masons.

This was an ambitious and complex project for a Friends group to accomplish. Whilst many professionals were involved, there is no doubt that the vision, persistence and energy of the Friends were instrumental in bringing this project to a very successful completion. It was clearly a great learning experience for them, and they raised over ten thousand pounds with every member being involved in some way.

To quote their entry, ‘the gates through the ancient site are more than a convenience, they offer a journey into the town’s fascinating past. Reaching to a wider audience leads to more stories being told to more people.’

The judges were impressed by both the ambition and the impact of this group.

The gateway to God … the Bede House … and beyond

Our ambitious project to open an off-limit entrance to The Bede House and St Mary’s churchyard  ─ and beyond ─ has been completed. 

Marian Knott, the town’s Bedeswoman, officially cut the ribbon and declared the new oak gate open, giving access from Midland Road.

See our Christmas newsletter for full details >>

First impressions ...

We are delighted to announce that the new church noticeboard, kindly funded by the Friends, is finally in place. 

The design was chosen to leave more space for communicating details of services and events as well as news from the Friends of St. Mary's.

Unique tapestry unveiled in Higham Ferrers

A unique tapestry which traces the life of one of Northamptonshire’s most famous historic figures, was unveiled in Higham Ferrers on Thursday 24 February 2022.

The tapestry honours the Higham Ferrers-born Henry Chichele who became one of the longest serving Archbishops of Canterbury, appointed by his close friend Henry V in the early fifteenth century just before the Battle of Agincourt. It shows scenes from his remarkable life of almost 80 years and celebrates his heritage in Higham.

The tapestry was the brainchild of retired art and design teacher Fay Caddick, who was the driving force behind two big projects.

See the full story here ...

Rewilding Project

We are delighted to announce that we have been given a Silver Award for our Rewilding Project by the Wildlife Trust in the Northamptonshire Churchyard Conservation Award Scheme.