The Charters of a Borough are the title deeds of the Burgesses, and each Charter is the result of a series of historical events and marks the new phase of self government for the Town.
The first Charter of 1251 was the result of a deliberate act of a far sighted Lord of the Manor, William de Ferrers, who created the Borough in order to promote prosperous community at the gates of his castle, where people had begun to settle in numbers and to trade in the ancient market. It was very much to his advantage that he was able to attract men of business to the Town because this would add to his own income by increases in taxes from markets and fairs. The Charter did not set out specific rights of the Burgesses but theses can be deduced from the Burgess Court Rolls held at the County Record Office.
The second Charter was granted in 1556 following the accession of Mary Tudor. The resulting Charter greatly improved the powers of the Corporation and had political significance in providing for the election of a Member to Parliament. For many years the Town provided a safe seat for a supporter of the Crown nominated by the Duchy of Lancaster, the biggest land owner.
When James 1st came to the throne the opportunity was taken to obtain a confirmation and further extension of civic powers and liberties by the Charter of 1604. Again after the Restoration of Charles 2nd to the throne and the passing of the Corporations Act of 1662 the liberties were confirmed and extended but the King exacted a price for this in that the Corporation and all its' Officers must take oaths of Obedience and Supremacy , and that the Steward, his deputy and the Clerk must be approved by the Crown before taking office.
This was a sinister provision and when the King, by depriving the City of London of its' Charters and threatening others, had induced Higham Ferrers in common with the rest to surrender theirs, the terms of the new grant in 1684 were 'according to the new mode' and gave him the power to remove any of the Corporation or its' Officers.The power was used in many places but the death of the King and the Revolution in 1688 ensured the Borough from further use of the powers.
After the Municipal Corporations act of 1882 the modern Charter of Queen Victoria re-organised the composition of the Corporation on modern lines to conform to the pattern of local government laid down in that act. This Charter is the only one written in English, with all other versions being in Latin. The translations of those Charters provide a fascinating insight to how the rights and customs of the Town evolved, and copies are available from the Town Hall priced £1.00. Alternativley the texts, together with short notes regarding the content of the Charters, are available from this page.
Charter of 1251 (PDF, 6.9 Mb)
Charter of William De Ferrers 12th March 1251 (Henry III)
Charter of 1556 (PDF, 3.8 Mb)
Charter of 14th March 1556 (Philip and Mary)
Charter of 1604 (PDF, 2.1 Mb)
Charter of 9th July 1604 (James I)
Charter of 1664 (PDF, 2.6 Mb)
Charter of 4th August 1664 (Charles II)
Charter of 1684 (PDF, 3.9 Mb)
Charter of 18th February 1684 (Charles II)
Charter of 1886 (PDF, 2.7 Mb)
Charter of 16th July 1886 (Queen Victoria)
Conservation of the Charters
Higham Ferrers Town Council in association with Higham Ferrers Tourism, Business and Community Partnership received a Heritage Lottery Grant of £29,900 in 2018 to enable the conservation of the Charters and Byelaw.
The essential conservation work is nearing completion and the conserved Charters will soon be going for storage at Northampton Record Office. To allow the public to view them, digital images of the conserved Charters were taken. From the images full size prints of the Charters were framed, and alongside interpretative material, they have been part of a tour exhibition to share the importance of these Charters and their heritage value.
In addition to the conservation work the project incorporates an exciting educational programme being taken to schools, initially Higham Ferrers Junior School. A Charter week was held during May 2019 where the children took part in fun activities to raise their awareness and understanding of the Charters and their historical context within the town. The week incorporated the children writing a script, story boarding, filming, directing and starring in their own commemorative Charter film.
More information about the conservation work and the Heritage Lottery project can be seen by visiting the dedicated project website.