Higham Ferrers has been promised a present from the Palace as it celebrates Chichele College’s 600th anniversary – but exactly what it is will remain a secret until later in the year.
The Vice Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire Morcea Walker, MBE, mentioned the special gift in an interview during anniversary celebrations last month.
She said: “It is a mystery gift at this stage.
"All I can say is that it is a present from the Palace.”
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She alluded that ‘in Her Majesty’s special year certain things happen’ and it may be that she and the Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, James Saunders-Watson, ‘had been asked to look at certain parts of the county.’
She later said they had been given the opportunity to raise the profile of four places and Higham Ferrers was top of the list, adding: “We both love Higham Ferrers and its history.”
One reason Higham Ferrers had been chosen for the mystery gift was because of the volunteers who dedicated their time to tending the Chichele College garden, believed to be one of the oldest gardens in the country.
The Vice Lord Lieutenant and other VIP speakers sang the praises of the ‘wonderful’ Higham Ferrers-born Henry Chichele, an Archbishop of Canterbury, who founded Chichele College in 1422.
They raised a glass to his legacy at the celebrations organised by English Heritage and Higham Ferrers Tourism.
The Vice Lord Lieutenant said Archbishop Chichele had thought beyond his job and created something that still stood 600 years later.
Chichele College - a rare surviving example of a chantry college, despite being partially destroyed during Henry VIII’s reign - is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster.
It is a Scheduled Monument and part of the National Heritage Collection in the care of English Heritage.
Higham Ferrers Tourism care for the day-to-day management, via a local management agreement.
Archbishop Chichele also founded All Souls College, Oxford, as well as Bede House next to St Mary’s Church in Higham Ferrers, which is used for church activities, social events, fundraising and is available for hire.
Carol Fitzgerald, who is on the college management committee, told guests that the committee had recently learned that Archbishop Chichele was responsible for Saint George being the country’s patron saint.
She said the stories ‘keep on coming,’ before adding that an exhibition on the life of Henry Chichele was due to tour Higham Ferrers and Rushden Lakes.
Chichele College gardener Gwen Tobin said thousands of volunteer hours by local gardeners had gone into making the garden what it was.
She said: “Despite the current water limitations, what has been achieved is absolutely marvellous.”
A celebratory poem entitled ‘A Time to Dance’ marking the 600th anniversary was written and read out by local resident Susan Waters and local band 2 Steps 4 Words sang a tribute song, Chichele (600 years), which has been released on YouTube and Spotify.
There was also a celebratory cake.
Guests included several local Bedesmen, a unique group whose history dates to medieval times when Henry Chichele founded the Bede House.
They are the only Bedesmen in the country who carry out ceremonial civic duties.
A summer party followed and the next day, Higham Ferrers Tourism staged its Brass On The Grass event in St Mary’s churchyard.