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Bradshaw’s Guide


Northampton is a borough town, standing on the banks of the river Nene, on the left of the line. It is memorable in the annals of political and local history, for the number of synods and councils held within its walls, its formidable castle and provincial earls, its numerous monastic foundations, military events, and last, not least, for the many important improvements which it has undergone within the last half century.

The capital of Northamptonshire, one of the chief towns in the Midland counties, and a parliamentary borough, returning two members, with an industrious population of 32,813, some thousands of whom are engaged in the boot and shoe manufacture, which has been noted here for centuries. The trade indeed is so flourishing, that there is a saying, “You may know when you are within a mile of Northampton by the sound of the cobler’s lapstone.” Formerly it was celebrated for its leather bottles, so that St. Crispin has always been its patron saint. The George Inn was given by the Drydeus towards the support of their blue-coat school. It was one of two important hamptons in Saxon times, which since the Doomsday survey, have been called Northampton and Southampton, and are still prosperous and increasing towns. It is on the river Nene, and the Northampton and Peterborough Railway, 67 miles from London, via Blisworth, on the North Western. From 1138, in Henry I.’s reign, to 1380, as many as 20 parliaments were held here, showing its preeminence at that period. One of the most important as regards our constitutional progress, was that called by Henry II., in 1179, when the towns were ordered to send burgesses for the first time. One held five years before, confirmed the Constitution of Clarendon, which subjected clergy to the common laws, and led to à Becket’s rebellion. On another occasion, when disputes occurred at Oxford, the University was moved hither, but only for a time. A great fire in 1675 destroyed 500 houses. It is a clean, neatly built town, on a gentle slope, with houses of reddish stone. The most bustling quarters are the Drapery, and the large open Market Place near it, round which All Saints Church, the Corn Exchange, Town Hall, Bank, George and Peacock Hotels, &c., are grouped.

All Saints, close to George Row, is a modern building, except the tower, which was built in the 13th century. Above the Grecian portico is the statue of Charles II., in a Roman toga, and a French wig. It contains a painting by Thornhill, Chantrey’s statue of Spencer Perceval, the premier who was assassinated by Bellingham in the House of Commons’ lobby, in 1812 a well carved screen and pulpit, one of Hill’s large organs (3,000 pipes), and part of the old crypt; an ancient conduit stood at one corner of the churchyard. In the north aisle is the figure of a charity girl, executed by S. Cox, to whom Cowper refers in his letters. When the parish clerk applied for verses to affix to the bills of mortality, the poet told him,. “there is a namesake of yours, Cox the statuary, who everybody knows is a first-rate maker of verses; he surely is the man for your purpose.” “Ah, Sir,” says the clerk, “I have heretofore borrowed his help, but he is a gentleman of so much reading that the people of our town cannot understand him.” It was from calculations founded on these annual bills that Dr. Price derived his tables, which are in use at some of the Old Life Assurance Offices. They are, however, much less in favour of the assurers than subsequent tables. In St John’s Lane, near Bridge, is the old Hospital of St. John, first founded about 1170, by the St. Liz family. The cotton mill near this now occupied by a miller, was first designed for spinning cotton. Close to South Gate is another old hospital, founded in 1450, in honour of à Becket; it is now replaced by a new house in St. Giles Street.

St. Giles Street leads to St. Giles Church, formerly a Norman cross, of which the door remains; there arc signs of later styles, and of three roofs preceding the one in existence. The old east gate of the town stood near this; and beyond are the Union Workhouse, the new Cemetery (opened in 1846), and the County Asylum, a plain but striking building of great size, on a site of 24 acres, built in 1836, of Bath stone. There is a good view from it of Delapre Abbey, &c., to the South.

The Town Hall, at Wood Hill Corner, contains a portrait of Perceval (who once resided here), by Joseph. At the corner of Market Square, adjoining Newland, is an old house, with shields on the front, in which are the arms borne by the Meredyths and other Welsh families, the motto Heb dhuw (or dyw) heb dyw, Dhuw a digon, i.e “without God, without everything; God, and enough”—a truly noble sentiment, the essence of Christian philosophy. The County Gaol, built by Milne, on the model system, was opened in 1846, for 160 prisoners; it adjoins the Shire Hall (which contains portraits of sovereigns from William III.), and the judges’ lodgings, in the Grecian style. There is a good library at the Religious and Useful Knowledge Society’s Rooms, in Gold Street, also at the Mechanics’ Institute, at the new Corn Exchange.

In the new Corn Exchange, built in 1851, by Alexander, is a noble hall, 140 feet long; here the Athenseum and Library are placed, In Sheep Street, opposite the Ram Inn, stood the famous nonconformist academy, carried on by Doddridge, which, upon his death at Lisbon, was moved to Daventry, in 1752. There is a monument of this excellent man at Castle Hill Chapel, where he was minister for the last 22 years of his life. The General Library, established in 1800, is close to the Mercury office, a paper started by the Dicey family, as far back as 1720.

Up Sheep Street, you come to the Royal Terrace, and the barracks, built in 1796. The large Race Ground (117 acres), is beyond. Here the Pytchley Hunt races are held in March, and the cricket club in summer. In this quarter also is the Roman Catholic chapel of St. Felix, built in 1844, by Pugin, in the Gothic style, “with a nunnery and bishop’s house attached. But the most noticeable building is the ancient, church of St. Sepulchre, one of the four remaining churches in England, built by the Knights Templars, on the plan of the Sepulchre at Jerusalem—that is, with a round body, which becomes octangular above the massive columns, with early and later English additions in the chancel and aisles, and a good later English spire. One of these Templar churches is at Cambridge (lately restored), another at the Temple Gardens, London, though much altered by repairs; and the fourth at Little Maplestead, Essex, which latter is on the model of the Holy Sepulchre, 70 feet long, with a circular body 30 feet in diameter, and timber-roofed.

The town gaol was built in 1846, for 80 prisoners, on the separate system.

Passing up Marefair, is the Grammar School (in Free School Lane), founded in 1556, in what was an oId chapel, and rebuilt in 1840. Hervey, who wrote Thern and Aspasia, and the Meditations among the Tombs, was educated here. Further on is a cottage (at the bottom of Black Lyon hill), with an arabesque carving in the lintel; and the west bridge, from which the remains ol the castle are seen to the north. This was built by Simon de St. Liz, at the Conquest, by the tenure ot shoeing the king’s horses, and afterwards held by de Montfort and the Barons, against Henry II., who, however, took it by stratagem. It was demolished in 1662, except a round tower, and a house built with the stones, lately occupied by Baker, the county historian. At St. Peter’s church, which was within the precincts, is some Norman work, and a display of grotesque heads and carvings Doddridge’s chapel is in this neighbourhood. In College Street, is the Baptist chapel, in which Dr. Ryland officiated for 30 years. Bones of an ichthyosaurus have been found in the lias, on the site of St. Andrew’s priory, in Francis Street. Here also urns have been discovered.

The Infirmary is near the Asylum; a substantial building, founded in 1747. Hereabouts is the new walk, or Victoria Promenade, as it is called, since the Queen passed through in 1844, when a Dispensary was also founded to commemorate that event. The Gothic vault over Becket’s well was rebuilt in 1843.

In the neighbourhood are various objects of notice. A series of Saxon and Danish camps on the hills around, as Hunsbury Hill, about 1½ mile from Northampton, in the parish of Hardingstone: in this parish is also Delapre Abbey, the seat of E. Bouverie, Esq., where was an old cluniac house. Rothersthorpe, Castledykcs, Clifford Hill, and (further off) Borough Hill, Guilsborough. Close to Delapre Abbey is a Gothic relic, in the shape of Queen Eleanor’s Cross, one of the many built by Edward I. to the affectionate memory of his excellent wife, at every spot where her body rested on its way to Westminster; it is octangular, in three stories, but was repaired for the worse about a century ago. Here poor Hemy VI. was defeated and made prisoner by Warwick, 1460, and “ten thousand tall Englishmen” killed. In Horton Church (near the seat of Sir R. Gunning, Bart.), is an effigy of Queen Catherine Parr’s uncle. Courteen Hall, Sir C. Wake, Bart. At Hartwell is a new church. All about Salcey to Pottersbury, Stoney Stratford, Whittlebury, &c., is Crown Forest, which supplied timber for the navy in the war. but is now to be disafforested, on account of its expense. Easton Neston, the Earl of Pomfret’s seat, was begun by Wren, and is close to Towcester (eight miles), a small town of shoe and lace makers, which was betrayed to Empson, the avaricious tool of Henry VII. The Talbot Inn is ancient. The Roman Watling Street runs through the town and the hills beyond, which are also traversed by two great modern works—the Grand Junction Canal and the North Western Railway—by means of tunnels at BLisworth and Crick. Fawsley is the fine Tudor seat of Sir C. Knightley, Bart., a tory and protectionist of the good old school. Althorp Park (five miles), the seat of Earl Spencer, contains a gallery of pictures, and a library of rare and valuable books, gathered together by the present peer’s father, a member of the Roxburghe Club; the family tombs are at Brington. Guilsborough, the seat of W. Ward, Esq., is near a camp on the hills, on the further slope of which, the Avon (Shakspeare’s Avon) rises. Overstone (4 miles), belongs to Lord Overstone (formerly S.J. Loyd), the banker, is partly Elizabethan, and partly in the renaissance style, by Inigo Jones. Cottesbrooke, Sir J. Langham Bart. At Barton Seagrave (seat of Mrs Tibbetts), Sanfoin was first grown by the father of Bridges, the county historian.

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