History of Northampton
The Last Millenium
The key to Northampton’s importance as a regional centre lies in its strategic geographical location within the United Kingdom. The River Nene provided a ready means of access for settlers in prehistoric times and by the 8th century, Northampton had become a town of some importance within the ancient kingdom of Mercia; and 100 years later an administrative centre for the Danes.
Northampton’s position strengthened after the large and impressive Norman Castle was built. It was here in 1164 that Henry II brought the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket to trial, and it was from Northampton that Becket escaped to freedom and France dressed as a monk.
In the Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, Northampton is described a town of approximately 300 houses rendering £30 10/- ( thirty pounds, ten shillings or £30.50 in today’s currency) to the King. Forty years later, that levy had more than trebled and by the latter part of the 12th century, Northampton was clearly one of the most prosperous towns in the kingdom.
In 1189, Northampton was granted its first charter by Richard I in return for monies to finance his Third Crusade. This gave the town “all free custom and liberties” that the citizens of London enjoyed. The photo shows The Guildhall, the seat of local government in the town.
King John, who spent much of his reign in residence in Northampton, confirmed this charter in 1200 and gave the burgesses of Northampton the right to appoint a ceremonial mayor. Throughout the Middle Ages, Northampton continued to hold a significant position in the life and times of the country. The town’s castle was a favourite royal residence and a setting for parliaments and councils from Henry I to Richard II. However, by the 13th and 14th centuries, the town had fallen into a deep recession, hit first by high taxation and later by the Black Death.
Two centuries later, Northampton was a stronghold for Parliament in the Civil War and following the Restoration, Charles II ordered the demolition of the town’s castle and walls. Most of Northampton’s medieval timber buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1675. A new Northampton quickly grew from the ashes. With its handsome, wide streets planned around the Market Square, Northampton was described by Daniel Defore, famous author of ‘Robinson Crusoe’, as “the handsomest and best built town in all this part of England”.
The earliest known Northampton shoemaker was Peter the Cordwainer in 1202, and the first prestige client of the town’s embryonic shoe industry was King John. During the Civil War, Northampton’s shoemakers supplied the Parliamentary armies with 600 pairs of boots and 4000 pairs of shoes – for which they were never paid.
It was during the Industrial Revolution that Northampton’s reputation as the centre of the shoe industry grew world-wide. With the coming of the railways in 1845 and the modern roads, boot and shoe-making became the town’s principal industry. Individual shoemakers, who had through the centuries worked from small premises scattered across the town, began to join forces. Mechanisation intensified the industry; markets became more widespread and demand increased. Industrial growth led to rapid expansion and between 1800 and 1901, the town’s population increased from just a few thousand to 87,000.
Expanding into the 21st Century
Perhaps the most significant event in Northampton’s recent history was its designation as a New Town. The Northampton New Town (Designation) Order was issued in February 1968, and in September of the same year the Northampton Development Corporation was established to implement the expansion plans. The Corporation’s remit covered areas outside the Borough boundaries as they were at that time. Its programme included the development of the eastern and southern districts, including major roads such as Nene Valley Way, Lumbertubs Way and employment areas.
Northampton County Borough Council was carrying out its own parallel redevelopment programme to complement the work of the Development Corporation. In 1961, the population of Northampton had been 105,421. Just ten years later and three years into New Town status, this had grown to 133,800.
The Eastern District, the first area to be developed, was designed to provide housing for 45,000 people. Development included new estates, with shops, schools and employment areas, and the Weston Favell Centre, which became home to what was then Europe’s largest Tesco superstore.
The Southern District Expansion
In 1973, plans for the second phase of development – the Southern District – were unveiled. These covered land between the existing town and the then new M1 motorway to the south-west of the town. With the winding up of the Development Corporation in 1985, 18,000 new jobs, 35,000 more people, 42 miles of new roads and 20,000 new houses had been added to the town. Over 200 companies had moved to Northampton, both from Britain and abroad.
The original plans for the Southern District included the area which has become known as the South West District. When complete the South West District will include over 4,000 new homes and associated community facilities, up to 170 hectares of employment land and a new country park in the River Nene Valley.
Upper Nene Valley Park
Upper Nene Valley Park forms the centrepiece of the new South West District. This vast green lung will draw the countryside into the heart of the town, protecting the wildlife and special natural landscape qualities of the Nene Valley. As well as more traditional leisure and recreational facilities, the park will contain extensive water areas. These will include the River Nene, Grand Union Canal, and the new Duston Mill Reservoir and lagoons formed from former gravel workings, providing a wide range of opportunities both for leisure and wide scale nature conservation.
The new South West District will be a site for urban as well as nature conservation and contains Northampton’s newest urban conservation area. The St Crispin Conservation Area covers 44 hectares and encompasses the buildings, gardens and magnificent parkland of the former St Crispin Hospital, built during the 1870s.
As well as new residential development and leisure, the South West District will provide important opportunities for new employment in Northampton. Swan Valley Business Park next to the M1 is the largest area designated for employment, covering 80 hectares. Development is already well under way. Wells Soft Drinks opened their new headquarters and manufacturing and distribution plant in early 1998. Jeans manufacturers Levi Strauss UK Ltd have also elected to relocate their headquarteres and distribution centre within the Borough to the new development.
The Master Plan Nears Completion
Covering 868 hectares, the South West District is the last area of major development and will realise the completion of the original master plan for the expansion of Northampton.