Northampton

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Northampton (/nɔrˈθæmptən/) is a large market town and local government district in the East Midlands region of England. Situated about 67 miles (108 km) north-west of London and around 50 miles (80 km) south-east of Birmingham, Northampton lies on the River Nene and is the county town of Northamptonshire. The demonym of Northampton is Northamptonian.

Original settlements in Northampton date back to the 6th century. Its modern development is largely due to its rapid population increase since the 1960s after a planned expansion occurred under the New Towns Commission in the early 1970s. In 2001, its urban area population was 197,199 while its town population was 189,474, making Northampton the 27th largest settlement in England, and the UK’s 3rd largest town without official city status after Reading and Dudley. Northampton is the most populous district in England that is not a unitary authority, a status it failed to obtain in the 1990s local government reform.

Northampton has a history of the manufacture of boots and shoes yet engineering has taken over as a modern key industry; other industries include food processing, brewing, and the manufacture of shoe machinery, cosmetics, leather goods, and car accessories. At present, the major employers are public administration, financial services, and the distribution trade.

Remains found here date from the Bronze Age.Farming settlement probably began around the 7th century AD. In the 8th century it was an administrative and/or religiouscentre for the kingdom of Mercia. The pre-Norman town was known as Hamtun and was only ca.0.60 acres (2,400 m2).

A large hall was discovered just west of St. Peter’s church that is estimated to be 8–9th century.

The town became significant in the 11th century, when the Normans built town walls and a large castle under the stewardship of the Norman earl, Simon de Senlis. The original defence line of the walls is preserved in today’s street pattern (Bridge St, The Drapery, Bearward St and Scarletwell Street). The town grew rapidly after the Normans arrived, and beyond the early defences. By the time of the Domesday Book, the town had a population of about 1500 residents, living in 300 houses.

The town and its castle were important in the early 12th century and the King often held Court in the town. During his famous fallout with Henry II, Thomas Becket at one time escaped from Northampton Castle through the unguarded Northern gate to flee the country.

Northampton had a large Jewish population in the 13th century, centred around Gold Street. In 1277 300 Jews were executed,allegedly for clipping the King’s coin, and the Jews of Northampton were driven out of the town. Archaeological sites include a medieval Jewish cemetery and the Northampton Medieval Synagogue.

The town was originally controlled by officials acting for the King who collected taxes and upheld the law. In 1189 King Richard I gave the town its first charter. In 1215 King John authorised the appointment of William Tilly as the town’s first Mayor and ordered that: ‘twelve of the better and more discreet residents of the town join him as a council to assist him’ . In 1176 the Assize of Northampton laid down new powers for dealing with law breakers.

A university was established in 1261 by scholars from the University of Cambridge. It briefly flourished, but was dissolved by Henry III in 1265 apparently as it posed a threat to the University of Oxford.

The first Battle of Northampton took place at the site of Northampton Castle in 1264 – when the forces of Henry III overran the supporters of Simon de Montfort. In 1460, a second Battle of Northampton took place in the grounds of Delapré Abbey – and was a decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, and King Henry VI was captured in the town by the Yorkists.

In May 1328 the Treaty of Northampton was signed – being a peace treaty between the English and the Scots in which Edward III recognised the authority of Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland and betrothed Bruce’s still infant son to the king’s sister Joanna.

A large network of medieval tunnels remains under the centre around All Saints church.

Northampton supported the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. For this reason the town walls and castle were later torn down on the orders of King Charles II as punishment. The railway station in Northampton stands on the site of the former castle, and used to be called “Northampton Castle Station”.

The town was destroyed by fire in both 1516 and 1675 (for the latter see Great Fire of Northampton), and was rebuilt as a spacious and well-planned town. In the 18th century Northampton became a major centre of footwear and leather manufacture. The prosperity of the town was greatly aided by demand for footwear caused by the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In his 18th century “Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain”, Daniel Defoe described Northampton as, “…the handsomest town in all this part of England.”

Northampton’s growth was accelerated in the 19th century, first by the Grand Union Canal, which reached the town in 1815 and later the coming of the railways. The first railway to be built into Northampton was a branch from the main London-Birmingham line at Blisworth to Peterborough through Northampton which opened in 1845. This was followed by lines to Market Harborough (1859) and Bedford (1872). The Northampton loop of the West Coast Main Line was built in the late 1870s. After 1850 the town grew beyond the old town walls. In 1800 the population was round 7,000 and was 87,000 a century later. In the 19th century Northampton acquired a reputation for political radicalism when radical non-conformist Charles Bradlaugh was elected as the town’s Member of Parliament.

Growth after 1900 slowed until the 1960s. The shoe industry declined and other employment was slow to arrive. In the 1920s and 30s, council houses were built in the east of the town at Headlands; north at St. David’s; and south in Far Cotton. The Borough boundary, first extended in 1900, expanded again in 1932. From the 1920s until 1975 the town had its own power station supplying electricity to areas as far away as Wolverton.

In the 1960s The Deco was an ABC cinema. The Beatles appeared there twice on stage in 1963, on Wednesday, 27 March as part of the Tommy Roe/Chris Montez Tour. Montez commented “Who are these guys The Beatles? I try to keep up with the British scene, but I don’t know their work”. The Beatles were back on Wednesday, 6 November, in their own right and on their own tour.

Northampton was designated a New Town in 1968, and the Northampton Development Corporation (NDC) was set up to almost double the size of the town, with a population target of 230,000 by 1981, rising to 260,000 in later years. In 1959 the M1 motorway was opened nearby. Growth was slower than planned. The 1960s and 70s saw the town centre change with development of a new bus station, the Grosvenor Shopping Centre, flats and hotels.

The population grew to 100,000 by 1961, and 130,000 by 1971. When NDC wound up after 20 years, another 40,000 residents and 20,000 houses had been added. The borough boundaries changed in 1974 with the abolition of Northampton county borough and its reconstitution as a non-metropolitan district also covering areas outside the former borough boundaries but inside the designated New Town.

The rail link and busy M1 motorway to London helped the growth as a commuter town for London. Northampton’s housing expansion was east with the 1970s eastern district estates built mainly for the London overflow population and more recently, in the west at Upton and south near M1 junction 15 at Grange Park, initially of 1,500 houses actually in South Northants Council area.

Current projections (February 2008) are that the district’s population will grow to 226,400 by 2016 and to 261,300 by 2026. Northampton asked, unsuccessfully, for city status as a part of the ‘millennium cities’ scheme. The University of Northampton was established in 2005 after several years as a University College and before that being Nene College.

In 2006 Northampton became a government expansion zone with new growth by West Northamptonshire Development Corporation (WNDC) an unelected quango. Expansion began in 2007 at Upton and St Crispins spreading west towards junction 16 of the M1. The other major projected area was south-east of the town enveloping villages such as Little and Great Houghton, Quinton, Hackleton and Cogenhoe though as at 2011 nothing had happened.Some expansion will be on brownfield sites such as Ransome Road, Far Cotton, an inner suburb, and in existing borough boundaries.

Northampton is administered by both Northampton Borough Council, and also Northamptonshire County Council.

Northampton was a major centre of shoemaking and other leather industries, although only specialist shoemaking companies such as Edward Green Shoes, Crockett & Jones, Church’s and Trickers, formerly located in nearby Earls Barton, survive. A large number of old shoe factories remain, mostly now converted to offices or accommodation, some of which are surrounded by terraced houses built for factory workers. Northampton’s main private-sector employers are now in distribution and finance rather than manufacturing, and include Avon Products, Barclaycard, Blacks Leisure Group, Nationwide Building Society, Panasonic, Travis Perkins, Coca Cola, Schweppes, National Grid, Texas Instruments and Carlsberg. The University of Northampton is also a major employer, as is St Andrew’s Healthcare, a national mental health charity whose St Andrew’s Hospital campus in Northampton is by far the UK’s largest psychiatric hosptial.

Anglia Building Society was formed by amalgamation of Northampton Town and County Building Society with Leicestershire Building Society in 1966 and subsequently merged with Nationwide Building Society in 1987.

Northampton is near junctions 15, 15a and 16 of the M1 London to North Yorkshire motorway. The A45 and A43 can be accessed by a partially completed ring road. The A14 is close by to the north.

Northampton railway station is on the Northampton Loop of the West Coast Main Line, and has regular services to London and Birmingham provided by London Midland. Virgin Trains provide one commuter service to London and a departure from Birmingham New Street late at night. These two Virgin Train services are scheduled to be Pendolinos.

Northampton is the terminus of an arm of the Grand Union Canal. The arm connects to the River Nene and from that to the River Great Ouse and the North Sea. No longer used for freight, the waterway is now popular with anglers and narrowboaters. Principal outlying villages on the canal include Gayton, Blisworth, Braunston and Stoke Bruerne.

Northampton had a horse-drawn tramway which opened in 1881. The system was extended in stages and taken over by the council in 1897 and named Northampton Corporation Tramways. It was electrified in 1904, but closed in 1934 mainly as a result of competition from motor buses which were introduced in 1929. Two of the original tram shelters are preserved: one at the Racecourse park and another in Kingsthorpe opposite the Cock Hotel.

Formal parks include: Abington Park; The Racecourse, which used to be home in summer to the Balloon Festival and originally used for horse-racing until 1904 and also used as a cricket ground between 1844–1885; Delapré Park; Bradlaugh Fields; Becket’s Park, named after Thomas Becket as are nearby Becket’s Well and Thomas á Becket pub. There is a park around an Iron Age fort in West Hunsbury.

Billing Aquadrome leisure park is on the eastern outskirts with a caravan site, marina, funfair, bar, riverside restaurant and converted water mill with original workings. Other smaller ones are Thorntons Park and Victoria Park.

The main shopping centre is the Grosvenor Centre built in the 1970s. The town has one of Britain’s largest market squares, dating from 1235. Outside the centre the Weston Favell Centre built in the 1970s is in the eastern district together with various out of town retail and leisure parks.

The Derngate and Royal theatres are in Guildhall Road, opposite Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. They were renovated and reopened in 2006, at a cost of £15 million. The Deco is a 900-seat theatre/conference centre based on the Grade-II listed former Cannon Cinema, in Abington Square used mainly by the voluntary and charitable sector. It was restored by the Jesus Army as part of their Jesus Centre project.

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery has a world-class collection of historical footwear, and also Italian art, glass and ceramics, plus visiting exhibitions and local history. There is also a smaller historical museum in a former mansion within Abington Park.

The old Fishmarket opposite the market square, was renovated by the Northampton Arts Collective. It has three art gallery spaces, retail units, a café, and an arts studio and is host to exhibitions by leading artists and live music, community events and workshops.

An independent contemporary arts gallery and studios, The Sanctuary, self-funded and supported by the Arts Council has 16 studios. The Avenue Gallery is at the Avenue campus of Northampton University. Northamptonshire runs an annual county-wide Open Studios event in which artists’ studios are open to the public.

The university spent £3m on its Portfolio Innovation Centre, and in early 2011 it now houses around 60 creative freelancers, digital media developers, and designers.

 

  • Northampton’s oldest standing building, the Church of The Holy Sepulchre, is one of the largest and best-preserved round churches in England. It was built in 1100 on the orders of the first Earl of Northampton, Simon de Senlis, who had just returned from the first Crusade. It is based on a plan of the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
  • The current All Saints’ Church was built on the site of a great Norman church, All Hallows, which was almost completely destroyed by the Fire of Northampton in 1675. All that remained was the medieval tower and the fine vaulted crypt, but by 1680 All Saints had been rebuilt, with the help of donations from all over England, including 1,000 tons of timber from King Charles II, whose statue can be seen above the portico. Famously, the poet John Clare liked to sit beneath the portico of the church.
  • The Guildhall in Northampton (see picture at top) was constructed mostly in the 1860s in Victorian Gothic architecture, and extended in the 1990s. It is built on the site of the old town hall.
  • 78 Derngate is a Grade II* listed Georgian Town House remodelled by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke in 1916–17. It contains notable Mackintosh interiors (which have been restored) and is his only major domestic commission outside Scotland. It is open to the public.
  • The 127.45 m (418 ft 2 in) tall Express Lift Tower is a dominant feature and visible from most of the town. A Terry Wogan radio phone-in during the 1980s to came up with the name “Northampton Lighthouse” as Northampton is one of the furthest places from the sea. It is also known as the “Cobblers’ Needle”. It was built for testing new lifts at the Express Lifts factory, now closed. Though now redundant, it is a listed building.
  • Northampton Castle (now only remaining as a rebuilt postern gate in a wall outside the railway station and the hill on which it stood) was for many years one of the country’s most important castles. The country’s parliament sat here many times and Thomas Becket was imprisoned here until he escaped.
  • The Carlsberg UK brewery.
  • Delapre Abbey – former Cluniac nunnery, founded by Simon de Senlis – later the County Records Office and site of the second Battle of Northampton.
  • Queen Eleanor’s body rested here on its way to London – and the nearby Eleanor cross in Hardingstone, now part of the Delapre area of the town, commemorates this. Out of the twelve originally erected, this cross is one of only three left including others at Geddington and Waltham. The original top of the monument widely thought to have been an ornate cross has apparently been destroyed and replaced several times from as early as 1460. The last cross is reported to have been knocked off by a low flying aircraft from a nearby airfiled during WWII. However The Friends of Delapré Abbey charity is raising funds for the restoration of the cross in their tea room inside the abbey. The Cross is also referred to in Daniel Defoe’s a “Tour through the whole island of Great Britain” where he describes the Great Fire of Northampton, “…a townsman being at Queen’s Croos upon a hill on the south side of the town, about two miles off, saw the fire at one end of the town then newly begun, and that before he could get to the town it was burning at the remotest end, opposite where he first saw it.”
  • The 1970s Greyfriars Bus Station was built which replaced one in Derngate. In the 2000s it was featured on Channel 4’s Demolition programme as the ugliest transport station in the UK and worthy of demolition.
  • St Andrew’s Hospital, opened 1838, and its new building William Wake House, the largest neo-classical structure in England since the Ministry of Defence.
  • Northampton & County Club, established 1873, was the old county hospital before becoming a private members’ club; the cellars are medieval.
  • Holdenby House – a now privately owned 400 year old stately home on the outskirts of Northampton in the village of Holdenby.
Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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