Northampton - Encyclopedia

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NORTHAMPTON, a municipal, county and parliamentary borough and the county town of Northamptonshire, England, 66 m. N.W. by N. from London by the London & North Western railway; served also by a branch of the Midland railway. Pop. (1891) 75,075, (1901) 87,021. It lies in a slightly undulating district mainly on the north bank of the river Nene. The main roads converging upon the town meet near the centre in a spacious market-place, where stands a fountain on the site of the ancient cross destroyed by the fire of 1675 which levelled a great part of the town. There were formerly seven ancient parish churches, but only four remain. Of these All Saints church was rebuilt after the fire of 1675, but retains its Decorated embattled tower, with which the style of the later building scarcely harmonizes, the principal feature being the fine Ionic portico. The church of St Giles was originally a cruciform structure of the beginning of the 12th century, but has been greatly changed, and besides a rich Norman doorway contains specimens of Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular work. St Peter's, near the site of the ancient castle, is supposed to be of the same date with it, and its interior is a fine specimen of Norman architecture. St Sepulchre's, one of the four round churches still remaining in England, may have been built by the Knights Templars at the close of the i rth century. There are several modern parish churches. Northampton is the seat of a Roman Catholic bishop, and there is a pro-cathedral, designed by A. W. Pugin (1864). In the neighbourhood of the town there were a Cluniac priory of St Andrew, a house (Delapre) for nuns of the same order, and one for Augustinian canons dedicated to St James; but the first has disappeared, the site of the second is occupied by a modern mansion, and of the third there are only slight fragments. Some portions of the castle were re-erected on a new site after their destruction when the Castle station was built by the London & North Western Railway Company. In the populous parish of Hardingstone, S. of the town, is one of the original Eleanor crosses, of which only three remain out of twelve erected by Edward I. to mark the restingplaces of his queen's body on its way from Harby (Nottinghamshire) to burial at Westminster. The chief public buildings of Northampton are a town hall, county hall, county council room, corn exchange, antiquarian and geological museum, free library and barracks. The free grammar school was founded in 1552; the Northampton and county modern and technical schools were incorporated with it in 1894. There are a Roman Catholic convent with schools, and various charity schools. The charitable foundations include St John's hospital, founded in the 12th century; St Thomas's hospital, founded in 1450 in honour of Thomas a Becket, an infirmary, asylum, dispensary, &c. There is a race-course north of the town. The staple trade is the manufacture of boots and shoes, which is very large. There are also considerable currying and tanning works, breweries, iron foundries, and brick and tile works. The cattle market is extensive. The county borough was created in 1888. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 8 aldermen and 24 councillors. Area, 3469 acres.

British and Roman remains have been discovered near Northampton (Hamtune, Northantone), and it became the chief settlement of the Angle tribes who pushed their way up the Nen in the early part of the 6th century. It was occupied by the Danes in the reign of Edward the Elder and is said to have been burnt by Sweyn in Ioio. In the reign of Edward the Confessor there were 60 burgesses in his demesne, and, although the number had decreased to 47 in 1086, a new borough containing 40 burgesses had been formed. The burgesses rendered yearly to the sheriff £30, 10s. "which belonged to his farm," and was probably the beginning of the fee farm which they were allowed to pay directly to the king in 1185 and which was then increased from £ioo to £ 120. Forty marks of this farm were pardoned by Richard III. in 1484 because "the town had come to such ruin" that the bailiffs had to pay more than £S3 from their own goods. The mayor was the chief officer in the 13th century, and Henry VI. granted the incorporation charter in 1460 under the title of mayor, bailiffs and burgesses. The town has been represented by two members since 1395. Tanning was an industry of Northampton in the time of Edward I. and in 1675 a law was made by the corporation forbidding strangers to purchase hides in the town except on fair-days. Boots and shoes are known to have been made here in the reigns of John and Edward I., although probably only for the use of the townspeople, and by the 17th century Northampton was one of the most noted places in England for their manufacture.

Northampton has been the meeting-place of several important councils and parliaments. In the wars between John and his barons the castle withstood a siege by the latter, but in 1264 it was occupied by the barons under the earl of Leicester. In the Wars of the Roses it was the scene of the battle in which Henry VI. was defeated and taken prisoner in 1460. During the Civil Wars of the 17th century it was held for the parliament by Lord Brooke. In 1675 the town suffered severely by fire, 600 houses being destroyed.

See Victoria County History, Northampton; C. H. Hartshorn, Historical Memorials of Northampton (1848).

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