Brackley

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Brackley is a town in south Northamptonshire, England. It is about 19 miles (31 km) from Oxford and 22 miles (35 km) miles form Northampton. Historically a market town based on the wool and lace trade, it was built on the intersecting trade routes between London, Birmingham and the English Midlands and between Cambridge and Oxford.

Brackley, originally also known as Brachelai or Brackele, was held in 1086 by Earl Alberic. After this it passed to the Earl of Leicester, and to the families of De Quincy and Roland.

In the 11th and 12th centuries Brackley was in the Hundred of Odboldistow and in the Manor of Halse. Richard I (The Lionheart) named five official sites for jousting tournamentsso that such events could not be used as local wars, and Brackley was one of these. The tournament site is believed to be to the south of the castle where the A422 now passes.

Henry III attacked and destroyed the castle in 1173. The site was later granted to the Hospital of SS. James and John (see below).

The town was the site of a important meeting between the barons and representatives of the King in 1215, the year of Magna Carta. Magna Carta required King John to proclaim rights, respect laws and accept that the King’s wishes were subject to law. It explicitly protected certain rights of the King’s subjects, whether free or a prisoner — most notably allowing appeal against unlawful imprisonment. King John and the barons were to have signed Magna Carta at Brackley Castle, but they eventually did so at Runnymede.

Market day was on Sundays until 1218, when it was changed to Wednesdays.It is now on Friday mornings.

In 1597 the town was incorporated by James II. It had a mayor, six aldermen and 26 burgesses.

Over time the Brackley has been known for wool and lace-making.

In 1901 the population of the town was 2,467.

Brackley used the poor house at Culworth until 1834, when Parliament passed the Poor Law Amendment Act and as a result the Brackley Poor Law Union was founded. A workhouse for 250 people was built in 1836, southwest of the town on Banbury Road. It was demolished in the 1930s.

Brackley Castle was built soon after 1086. Its earthwork remains lie between Hinton Road and Tesco. It comprised a motte mound 10 feet (3.0 m) high and approximately 44 yards (40 m) in diameter with an outer bailey to the east. Archaeological excavation has revealed evidence of a ditch defining the perimeter of the bailey. Two fishponds originally lay outside the ditch but have subsequently been infilled – however south of St. James Lake may have formed a part of this. Brackley Castle may have gone out of use in 1147.It was destroyed in 1173.

The oldest part of the Church of England parish church of Saint Peter at the eastern end of the town centre is an 11th century Norman south doorway. Both the four-bay arcade of the south aisle and the west tower with its niches containing seated statues were added in the 13th century. Next the chancel was rebuilt, probably late in the 13th century. The north arcade and the windows in both the north and south aisles were probably added early in the 14th century, about the same time as the Decorated Gothic chapel was added to the chancel.

In about 1150 Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester founded the Hospital of St. James and St. John. Its master was a priest, assisted by a number of religious brothers. Its duties included providing accommodation and care for poor travellers. In the 15th century there were complaints that successive masters were absentees, holding other livings at the same time as being in charge of the hospital. The hospital was closed in 1423 for maladministration but re-established in 1425. In 1449 a master was appointed who seems to have continued the practice of non-residence while holding parish livings elsewhere. In 1484 the patron, Viscount Lovell granted control of the hospital to William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, citing its failure to give hospitality and alms.

Waynflete had founded Magdalen College, Oxford in 1458 and Magdalen College School, Oxford in 1480. He made the former hospital part of their property and by 1548 it was Magdalen College School, Brackley. St James’ chapel became the school chapel, in which use it remains today. It is the oldest building in Great Britain in continuous use by a school.

The oldest part of the chapel is the west doorway, which is late Norman. Most of its windows are slightly later, being Early English Gothic lancet windows. The trio of stepped lancets above the west doorway are late 13th century. The Gothic Revival architect Charles Buckeridge restored the chapel in 1869-70.

The Hospital of St. Leonard was a smaller institution, founded to care for lepers. It was ½ mile (800 m) from SS. James and John, apparently on the northern edge of Brackley. It was in existence by 1280. After 1417 it shared the same master as SS. James and John and thereafter there is no separate record of St. Leonard’s, so the larger hospital may have taken it over. No buildings of St. Leonard’s hospital have survived.

The almshouses were founded in 1633 by Sir Thomas Crewe of Steane. They have one storey plus attic dormers. They were originally six houses but by 1973 they had been converted into four apartments.

Brackley Manor House was also a 17th century Jacobean building that also originally had one storey plus attic dormers. In 1875-78 the Earl of Ellesmere had it rebuilt on a larger scale, in the same style but retaining only the doorway and one window of the original building. It is now Winchester House School, a coeducational preparatory school for children aged from 3-13. It used to be a Woodard School.

The town hall is Georgian, built in 1706 by the 4th Earl of Bridgewater. The ground floor was originally open but has since been enclosed. Market Place and Bridge Street feature number of other early 18th century houses and inns, mostly of brick and in several cases combining red and blue bricks in a chequer pattern.

The town park belongs to the National Trust.

Brackley is close to the A43 road, which now bypasses the town, linking it to Towcester and Northampton to the east and the M40 motorway to the west. The A422 links it to Banbury and Buckingham.

HS2 is planned to pass close to Brackley.

Brackley’s first station, known in its latter years as Brackley Town, opened in May 1850 as part of the Buckinghamshire Railway’s Buckingham and Brackley Junction line between Verney Junction and Banbury Merton Street via Buckingham. The London and North Western Railway operated the line from the beginning and absorbed the Buckinghamshire Railway Company in 1879. British Railways withdrew passenger trains from the line through Brackley Town station in January 1961 and closed the line to freight in 1966.

Brackley’s second station was Brackley Central, opened in March 1899 on the Great Central Main Line, which was the last main line to be built between northern England and London. The GC Main Line included Brackley Viaduct across the Ouse Valley southeast of the town, which was 255 yards (233 m) in length, 62 feet (19 m) high, had 20 brick arches and two girder spans. British Railways withdrew passenger trains from the line through Brackley Central in September 1966. Brackley Viaduct was demolished in sections early in 1978.

Chiltern Railways is said to want to restore services between London Marylebone and Rugby along the former Great Central Main Line. This would have Brackley Central railway station reopen with direct services to London, Aylesbury and Rugby. However, the Department for Transport has chosen the former Great Central route through Brackley as part of the new High Speed 2 line between London and Birmingham. Brackley Viaduct will need to be rebuilt if HS2 is built.

Brackley is close to the Silverstone motor racing circuit, and has some industry related to Formula One racing, notably Mercedes Grand Prix (formerly Brawn GP, Honda, British American Racing and Tyrrell) which is based in the town, and the Force India F1 team which operates a wind tunnel on the former site of the north railway station. On the east outskirts of the town is Bronnley, makers of hand-made soaps who hold Royal Warrants of Appointment for supplying Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales.

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