Local Historian Tells Rotarians The Story of Higham Park
That square mile of land which lies to the south of Rushden, and which is known as Higham Park, was the subject of an interesting address by Mr. A. Norman Groome, the well-known authority on local history, when he delved into the past at last Friday's Rotary luncheon, held at the Queen Victoria Hotel.
At the commencement of his address, Mr. Groome, who was introduced by Rotarian G. A. G. Slater, said that the locality he was to speak about should really by called "Rushden Park”, as it had lain chiefly within the parish of Rushden for many years. Anyone who wanted to get an idea of Rushden’s past had to study the Park first.
One of William the Conqueror's most prominent soldiers was William Peverel, who received a big grant of land which included a local tract with its centre at Higham, and including Rushden. The "head office" of his local estate was at Higham Castle, and just as nowadays large firms had sports grounds for their employees, so Higham Park was created as a "sports ground" for those who worked on the Peverel estate. Then, as so many of the nobility did, Peverel copied the King and established a deer park. This park was probably the oldest institution in Rushden as it was started soon after William the Conqueror's time.
The Peverels eventually forfeited their land and it went to the King, afterwards going to the Ferrers family. After it had been held by the Ferrers family the Park came into the possession of the Duchy of Lancaster, of which John 0'Gaunt was the most conspicuous figure.
Hunting And Hawking
John 0'Gaunt used to spend part of each summer living at Higham Castle and hunting and hawking at the Park. The local farmhouse was established at Higham Park, this farm serving the whole district, and consequently the Park and its surroundings were less desolate than might he imagined. Records showed that bees were kept there and there were also accounts of nut collecting. There were two men kept permanently at the Park, one a gamekeeper who had the princely wage of 4s. a year, and the other a hedger whose job it was to look after the fence which was 3½ miles long, and which could still be traced.
The Park itself was heavily wooded and it was thickly covered with undergrowth. There was certainly a good deal of timber there as records showed that it was used as a reservoir of timber, the market stalls and mill-race at Higham being made of timber from Higham Park.
Among the heavy undergrowth were little thatched hay racks for feeding the deer, and there was a big shelter for the deer. A stream ran through the Park and formed the main water supply, and there were one or two good ponds which still existed. The deer were there right from the very earliest times. The King helped to stock the park at the time when the Ferrers family were in the district, and the fact that there were plenty of deer I could be obtained from records which stated that when there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease 300 of the animals died. The deer were the real owners of the Park and their requirements came first. When hay was brought up from the meadows near Higham Wharf it was taken first to feed the deer, and the local animals were left with the remainder.
A Small Army
When John O'Gaunt visited Higham he brought with him a small army of huntsmen and servants. It was difficult to estimate what the cost was to him but it must have been enormous. Actually hawking was John 0'Gaunt's favourite sport and this was probably carried on down by the river as well as in the Park. The cost of men and hawks was about £900 in modern money.
There was a farmhouse on the edge of the Park and the shallow moat which surrounded it still existed. Some idea of the size of this building could be gained when they read that 10,000 slates were used to tile the roof of the great hall and of the chapel. There was a bakehouse and a brewhouse, about 5,000 gallons of ale being brewed each year. In the present farmhouse, which stood on the site of the original building, there was an oven of undoubted mediaeval origin, which was probably part of the old bakehouse.
After answering a number of questions Mr. Groome was thanked for his address by Rotarian J. Radburne.