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Higham Ferrers Borough Council by kind permission of the Town Clerk,
From the archive of Moyra Simmons
Transcribed and presented by Greville Watson 2012

Souvenir of the 700th Anniversary of the
First Borough Charter
and of the Festival of Britain 1951

Ancient Tenement, Wood Street

Coffee Tavern & Old Post Office, Wood Street
The Coffee Tavern and Old Post Office in Wood Street

Professor A. E. Richardson, R.A., has furnished the under-mentioned particulars concerning the Coffee Tavern and the adjacent buildings which are being renovated and adapted as Council offices, etc., by the generosity of John White, Esq.

Investigation of the plan and structural features of this Mediaeval tenement disclosed facts hitherto unknown.

The older parts of the building, more particularly the original portion of the house to the South, date from the time of Chaucer.  Additions were made in the 15th and 16th centuries, for example the frontage facing Wood Street.  In the reign of Queen Elizabeth further alterations were made including the plasterwork on the main front, as well as new chimney stacks and leaded windows.  In the 17th century little seems to have been done.  During the 18th century the building was again altered, certain rooms being divided and new fireplaces formed.  In the later 19th century the house was divided into three tenements and a shop was added at the North to accommodate the local post-office.

The chief interest of this remarkable building, however, lies in the fact that the ornament on the North front belongs to the early period of the Renaissance in England.  The introduction of small columns on the façade, purely for effect, is unique.  This can be related to the 1562 edition of John Shute’s “ChiefeGroundes.”

The repairs now proposed retain all historical features.  The work is to be carried out by expert craftsmen accustomed to the traditions of Northamptonshire.  Consultation with the Historical Monuments Inspectorate, a branch of His Majesty’s Ministry of Works, is now taking place.

Mr. John White’s most generous benefaction will ensure the preservation of a house already scheduled as of historical and artistic merit.  The works are under the guidance of Professor Richardson, R.A.

In a letter to the council, dated the 6th March, 1950, Mr. John White, the Chairman and Managing Director of Messrs. John White Footwear, Ltd., of Higham Ferrers, intimated that he was immediately making plans to restore this property at his own expense and that Professor A. E. Richardson, R.A., who would supervise the work, had made a survey and had given an indication as to what would be necessary to put the property into a fitting state of repair to be used for Council purposes.

The Council have expressed their thanks and gratitude for this very generous offer, and have informed Mr. White that everyone in the Town will be delighted to know that through his generosity this ancient building is to come into the possession and keeping of the Council.

The original portion of the building will comprise two large rooms, of which the ground floor room will be used as a combined Mayor’s Parlour and Committee Room, and the first floor room as the Town Clerk’s Office.

On the first floor, overlooking Wood Street, rooms have been allocated for the Borough Surveyor’s Office, Town Clerk’s General Office, Audit and Records Rooms, and Cloakroom.

At such time as the repairs are completed, the Higham Ferrers Local Library, which has been accommodated in the School hall, will be superseded by a Part-Time Branch of the County Library, with a stock of approximately 3,000 books.  The Library will be open on two days weekly, from 2.30 to 5.0 p.m., and 5.30 to 7.30 p.m., and it is proposed that on one day each week a trained assistant will be in charge.

The Library will be accommodated in the room on the right-hand side of the main Wood Street entrance, and the room to the left of this entrance will be used as a Hall or Reception Room.  Also on the ground floor will be the Collector’s Office, with an entrance door on the East side of the building.

Existing Plan of Coffee Tavern
As Existing

Proposed Plan of Coffee Tavern
As Proposed

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