Northamptonshire

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Northamptonshire (/nɔrˈθæmptənʃər/ or /nɔrθˈhæmptənʃɪər/; archaically, the County of Northampton; abbreviated Northants. or N/hants) is a landlocked ceremonial county in the East Midlands region of England. Its population is 629,676 as at the 2001 census. It has boundaries with eight other ceremonial counties: Warwickshire to the west, Leicestershire and Rutland to the north, Cambridgeshire to the east, Bedfordshire to the south-east, Buckinghamshire to the south, Oxfordshire to the south-west and Lincolnshire to the north-east – England’s shortest county boundary at 19 metres (21 yd). The county seat is Northampton. Other large population centres include Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough, Rushden and Daventry.

Northamptonshire’s county flower is the cowslip.

Much of Northamptonshire’s countryside appears to have remained somewhat intractable with regards to early human occupation, resulting in an apparently sparse population and relatively few finds from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. In about 500 BC the Iron Age was introduced into the area by a continental people in the form of the Hallstatt culture, and over the next century a series of hill-forts were constructed at Arbury Camp, Rainsborough camp, Borough Hill, Castle Dykes, Guilsborough, Irthlingborough, and most notably of all, Hunsbury Hill. There are two more possible hill-forts at Arbury Hill (Badby) and Thenford.

In the 1st century BC, most of what later became Northamptonshire became part of the territory of the Catuvellauni, a Belgic tribe, the Northamptonshire area forming their most northerly possession. The Catuvellauni were in turn conquered by the Romans in 43 AD.

The Roman road of Watling Street passed through the county, and an important Roman settlement, Lactodorum, stood on the site of modern-day Towcester. There were other Roman settlements at Northampton, Kettering and along the Nene Valley near Raunds. A large fort was built at Longthorpe.

After the Romans left, the area eventually became part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, and Northampton functioned as an administrative centre. The Mercians converted to Christianity in 654 AD with the death of the pagan king Penda. From about 889 the area was conquered by the Danes (as at one point almost all of England was, except for Athelney marsh in Somerset) and became part of the Danelaw – with Watling Street serving as the boundary – until being recaptured by the English under the Wessex king Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, in 917. Northamptonshire was conquered again in 940, this time by the Vikings of York, who devastated the area, only for the county to be retaken by the English in 942. Consequently, it is one of the few counties in England to have both Saxon and Danish town-names and settlements.

The county was first recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1011), as Hamtunscire: the scire (shire) of Hamtun (the homestead). The “North” was added to distinguish Northampton from the other important Hamtun further south: Southampton – though the origins of the two names are in fact different.

Rockingham Castle was built for William the Conqueror and was used as a Royal fortress until Elizabethan times. The now-ruined Fotheringhay Castle was used to imprison Mary, Queen of Scots, before her execution. In 1460, during the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Northampton took place and King Henry VI was captured.

George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, was born into the Washington family who had migrated to America from Northamptonshire in 1656. George Washington’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Lawrence Washington, was Mayor of Northampton on several occasions and it was he who bought Sulgrave Manor from Henry VIII in 1539. It was George Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, who emigrated in 1656 from Northants to Virginia. Before Washington’s ancestors moved to Sulgrave, they lived in Warton, Lancashire.

During the English Civil War, Northamptonshire strongly supported the Parliamentarian cause, and the Royalist forces suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 in the north of the county. King Charles I was imprisoned at Holdenby House in 1647.

In 1823 Northamptonshire was said to “[enjoy] a very pure and wholesome air” because of its dryness and distance from the sea. Its livestock were celebrated: “Horned cattle, and other animals, are fed to extraordinary sizes: and many horses of the large black breed are reared.”

Nine years later, the county was described as “a county enjoying the reputation of being one of the healthiest and pleasantest parts of England” although the towns were “of small importance” with the exceptions of Peterborough and Northampton. In summer, the county hosted “a great number of wealthy families… country seats and villas are to be seen at every step.” Northamptonshire is still referred to as the county of “spires and squires” because of the numbers of stately homes and ancient churches.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, parts of Northamptonshire and the surrounding area became industrialised. The local specialisation was shoemaking and the leather industry and by the end of the 19th century it was almost definitively the boot and shoe making capital of the world.In the north of the county a large ironstone quarrying industry developed from 1850. During the 1930s, the town of Corby was established as a major centre of the steel industry. Much of Northamptonshire nevertheless remains largely rural.

Corby was designated a new town in 1950 and Northampton followed in 1968. As of 2005 the government is encouraging development in the South Midlands area, including Northamptonshire.

The Soke of Peterborough was historically associated with and considered part of Northamptonshire, as the county diocese is focused upon the cathedral there. However, Peterborough had its own county council, and in 1965 was merged with the neighbouring small county of Huntingdonshire. Under the Local Government Act 1972 the city of Peterborough became a district of Cambridgeshire.

Northamptonshire is a landlocked county located in the southern part of the East Midlands region which is sometimes known as the South Midlands. The county contains the watershed between the River Severn and The Wash while several important rivers have their sources in the north-west of the county, including the River Nene, which flows north-eastwards to The Wash, and the “Warwickshire Avon”, which flows south-west to the Severn. In 1830 it was boasted that “not a single brook, however insignificant, flows into it from any other district”. The highest point in the county is Arbury Hill at 225 metres (738 ft).

There are several towns in the county with Northampton being the largest and most populous. At the time of the 2008 estimates, a population of 685,000 lived in the county with 205,200 living in Northampton. The table below shows all towns with over 9,000 inhabitants.

Rank Town Population Borough/District council
1 Northampton 205,200 (2008) Northampton Borough Council
2 Kettering 51,063 (2001) Kettering Borough Council
3 Corby 49,222 (2001) Corby Borough Council
4 Wellingborough 46,959 (2001) Borough Council of Wellingborough
5 Rushden 25,849 (2001) East Northamptonshire District Council
6 Daventry 22,367 (2001) Daventry District Council
7 Brackley 13,331 (2001) South Northamptonshire District Council

As of 2010 there are 16 settlements in Northamptonshire with a town charter:

  • Brackley, Burton Latimer, Corby, Daventry, Desborough, Higham Ferrers, Irthlingborough, Kettering, Northampton, Oundle, Raunds, Rothwell, Rushden, Towcester, Thrapston and Wellingborough.

Northamptonshire, like most English counties, is divided into a number of local authorities. The seven borough/district councils cover 15 towns and hundreds of villages. The county has a two-tier structure of local government and an elected county council based in Northampton, and is also divided into seven districts each with their own district or borough councils:

Council Where based
Corby Borough Council Corby
Daventry District Council Daventry
East Northamptonshire District Council Thrapston
Kettering Borough Council Kettering
Northampton Borough Council Northampton
South Northamptonshire District Council Towcester
Borough Council of Wellingborough Wellingborough

Northampton itself is the most populous urban district in England not to be administered as a unitary authority (even though several smaller districts are unitary). During the 1990s local government reform, Northampton Borough Council petitioned strongly for unitary status, which led to fractured relations with the County Council.

Before 1974, the Soke of Peterborough was considered geographically part of Northamptonshire, although it had had a separate county council since the late 19th Century and separate Quarter Sessions courts before then. Now part of Cambridgeshire, the city of Peterborough became a unitary authority in 1998, but it continues to form part of that county for ceremonial purposes.

Northamptonshire returns seven members of Parliament.

From 1993 until 2005, Northamptonshire County Council, for which each of the 73 electoral divisions in the county elect a single councillor, had been held by the Labour Party; previously it had been under no overall control since 1981. The councils of the rural districts – Daventry, East Northamptonshire, and South Northamptonshire – are strongly Conservative, whereas the political composition of the urban districts is more mixed. At the 2003 local elections, Labour lost control of Kettering, Northampton, and Wellingborough, retaining only Corby. Elections for the entire County Council are held every four years – the last were held on 5 May 2005 when control of the County Council changed from the Labour Party to the Conservatives. The County Council uses a leader and cabinet executive system and abolished its area committees in April 2006.

Historically, Northamptonshire’s main industry was the manufacture of boots and shoes. Many of the manufacturers closed down in the Thatcher era which in turn left many county people unemployed.Although R Griggs and Co Ltd, the manufacturer of Dr. Martens, still has its UK base in Wollaston near Wellingborough, the shoe industry in the county is now nearly gone. Large employers include the breakfast cereal manufacturers Weetabix, in Burton Latimer, the Carlsberg brewery in Northampton, Avon Products, Siemens, Barclaycard, Saxby Bros Ltd and Golden Wonder. In the west of the county is the Daventry International Railfreight Terminal; which is a major rail freight terminal located on the West Coast Main Line near Rugby. Wellingborough also has a smaller railfreight depot on Finedon Road, called Nelisons sidings.

This is a chart of trend of the regional gross value added of Northamptonshire at current basic prices in millions of British Pounds Sterling (correct on 21 December 2005):

Year Regional Gross Value Added Agriculture Industry Services
1995 6,139 112 2,157 3,870
2000 9,743 79 3,035 6,630
2003 10,901 90 3,260 7,551

The region of Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and the South Midlands has been described as “Motorsport Valley… a global hub” for the motor sport industry. The Mercedes GP and Force India Formula One teams have their bases at Brackley and Silverstone respectively, while Cosworth and Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines are also in the county at Northampton and Brixworth.

International motor racing takes place at Silverstone Circuit and Rockingham Motor Speedway; Santa Pod Raceway is just over the border in Bedfordshire but has a Northants postcode. A study commissioned by Northamptonshire Enterprise Ltd (NEL) reported that Northamptonshire’s motorsport sites attract more than 2.1 million visitors per year who spend a total of more than £131 million within the county.

Northamptonshire forms part of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands Growth area which also includes Milton Keynes, Aylesbury Vale and Bedfordshire. This area has been identified as an area which is due to have tens of thousands additional homes built between 2010-2020. In North Northamptonshire (Boroughs of Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and East Northants), over 52,000 homes are planned or newly-built and 47,000 new jobs are also planned. In West Northamptonshire (boroughs of Northampton, Daventry and South Northants), over 48,000 homes are planned or newly-built and 37,000 new jobs are planned. To overlook the planned developments, two urban regeneration companies have been created: North Northants Development Company (NNDC) and the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation. The NNDC launched a controversial campaign called North Londonshire to attract people from London to the county. There is also a county-wide tourism campaign with the slogan Northamptonshire, Let yourself grow.

Northamptonshire County Council operates a complete comprehensive system with 42 state secondary schools. The county’s music and performing arts service provides peripatetic music teaching to schools. It also supports 15 local Saturday morning music and performing arts centres around the county and provides a range of county-level music groups.

There are seven colleges across the county, with the Tresham College of Further and Higher Education having four campuses in three towns: Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough. Tresham provides further education and offers vocational courses, GCSEs and A Levels.[63] It also offers Higher Education options in conjunction with several universities. Other colleges in the county are: Fletton House, Knuston Hall, Moulton College, Northampton College, Northampton New College and The East Northamptonshire College.

Northamptonshire has one University, the University of Northampton. It has two campuses 2.5 miles (4.0 km) apart and 10,000 students. It offers courses for needs and interests from foundation and undergraduate level to postgraduate, professional and doctoral qualifications. Subjects include traditional arts, humanities and sciences subjects, as well as entrepreneurship, product design and advertising.

Northampton has several National Health Service branches, the main acute NHS hospitals in the county being Northampton and Kettering General Hospitals. In the south-west of the county, the town of Brackley and surrounding villages are serviced by the Horton General Hospital in Banbury in neighbouring Oxfordshire for acute medical needs. A similar arrangement is in place for the town of Oundle and nearby villages, served by Peterborough District Hospital.

In February 2011 a new satellite out-patient centre opened at Nene Park, Irthlingborough to provide over 40,000 appointments a year, as well as a minor injury unit to serve Eastern Northamptonshire. This was opened to relieve pressure off Kettering General Hospital, and has also replaced the dated Rushden Memorial Clinic which provided at the time about 8,000 appointments a year, when open.

The gap in the hills at Watford Gap meant that many south-east to north-west routes passed through Northamptonshire. The Roman Road Watling Street (now part of the A5) passes through here, as did later canals, railways and major roads.

Major national roads including the M1 motorway (London to Leeds) and the A14 (Rugby to Ipswich), provide Northamptonshire with transport links, both north–south and east–west. The A43 joins the M1 to the M40 motorway, passing through the south of the county to the junction west of Brackley, and the A45 links Northampton with Wellingborough and Peterborough.

The county road network, managed by Northamptonshire County Council includes the A45 west of the M1 motorway, the A43 between Northampton and the county boundary near Stamford, the A361 between Kilsby and Banbury (Oxon) and all B, C and Unclassified Roads. Since 2009 these highways have been managed on behalf of the county council by MGWSP, a joint venture between May Gurney and WSP.

Two major canals – the Oxford and the Grand Union – join in the county at Braunston. Notable features include a flight of 17 locks on the Grand Union at Rothersthorpe, the canal museum at Stoke Bruerne, and a tunnel at Blisworth which, at 2,813 metres (3,076 yd), is the third-longest navigable canal tunnel on the UK canal network.

A branch of the Grand Union Canal connects to the River Nene in Northampton and has been upgraded to a “wide canal” in places and is known as the Nene Navigation. It is famous for its guillotine locks.

Two trunk railway routes, the Midland Main Line and the West Coast Main Line, cross the county. At its peak, Northamptonshire had 75 railway stations. It now has only six, at Northampton and Long Buckby on the West Coast Main Line, Kettering, Wellingborough and Corby on the Midland Main Line, along with King’s Sutton, which is a few metres from the boundary with Oxfordshire on the Chiltern Main Line.

Before nationalisation of the railways in 1948 and the creation of British Railways, three of the “Big Four” railway companies operated in Northamptonshire: the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, London and North Eastern Railway and Great Western Railway. Only the Southern Railway was not represented. As of 2010 it is served by Virgin Trains, London Midland, Chiltern Railways and East Midlands Trains.

Corby was described as the largest town in Britain without a railway station. The railway running through the town from Kettering to Oakham in Rutland was previously used only by freight traffic and occasional diverted passenger trains that did not stop at the station. The line through Corby was once part of a main line to Nottingham through Melton Mowbray, but the stretch between Melton and Nottingham was closed in 1968. In the 1980s, an experimental passenger shuttle service ran between Corby and Kettering but was withdrawn a few years later. On 23 February 2009, a new railway station opened, providing direct hourly access to London St Pancras. Following the opening of Corby Station, Rushden then became the largest town in the UK without a direct railway station.

Railway services in Northamptonshire were reduced by the Beeching Axe in the 1960s. Closure of the line connecting Northampton to Peterborough by way of Wellingborough, Thrapston, and Oundle left eastern Northamptonshire devoid of railways. Part of this route was reopened in 1977 as the Nene Valley Railway. A section of one of the closed lines, the Northampton to Market Harborough line, is now the Northampton & Lamport heritage railway, while the route as a whole forms a part of the National Cycle Network, as the Brampton Valley Way.

As early as 1897 Northamptonshire would have had its own Channel Tunnel rail link with the creation of the Great Central Railway, which was intended to connect to a tunnel under the English Channel. Although the complete project never came to fruition, the rail link through Northamptonshire was constructed, and had stations at Charwelton, Woodford Halse, Helmdon and Brackley. It became part of the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923 (and of British Railways in 1948) before its closure in 1966.

In June 2009 the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) recommended opening a new station on the former Irchester railway station site for Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Irchester, called Rushden Parkway. Network Rail is looking at electrifying the Midland Main Line north of Bedford. A open access company has approached Network Rail for services to Oakham in Rutland to London via the county.

The Rushden, Higham and Wellingborough Railway would like to see the railway fully reopen between Wellingborough and Higham Ferrers. As part of the government-proposed High Speed 2 railway line (between London and Birmingham), the High speed railway line will go through the southern part of the county but with no station built.

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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