An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 5, Archaeology and Churches in Northampton. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1985.
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The former parish lies immediately E. of Northampton and N. of the R. Nene. Prior to various re-organizations of the early 20th century (VCH Northamptonshire IV, 65), which resulted from the encroachment of an expanding Northampton, the parish was a rectangular block of land covering 437 hectares and extending S. from its boundary with Moulton Park at 106 m. above OD across a gentle slope to a frontage on to the R. Nene at 53 m. above OD. Most of the parish lies on Northampton Sands with the various deposits of the Estuarine Series and Great Oolite Limestone to the N. and Upper Lias Clay, fluvial gravel and alluvium to the S. A stream rises in the N. of Abington Park and runs S.E. through the parish.
The parish contains no outstanding archaeological remains and has now been largely swallowed up by the expansion of Northampton. The village of Abington was situated within what is now Abington Park but was cleared for emparking in the 18th century.
Prehistoric and Roman
A single flint scraper was found before 1914 (c. SP 774607; White 1914, 11; NDC P22). An Iron Age coin (Gallo-Belgic E type) has been recovered from Fullingdale Road (c. SP 780629; NDC P215). Roman finds recorded are: pottery from three locations (SP 78556106; unknown quantity; OS Record Cards; NDC R42. c. SP 775606; single sherd, perhaps a waster; NM; NDC R77. c. SP 781605; strap handle, previously identified as medieval; NM; NDC R230); a coin (SP 77696206; unidentified; BNFAS 8 (1973), 8; NDC R139) and a horseshoe, discovered in 1950 and said to be Roman, which, however, cannot now be traced (SP 78416103; OS Record Cards; NDC R37).
(1) Ring Ditch and Enclosures (?) (c. SP 776609), are visible on air photographs (NCC SP 7760/3) on the Old Northamptonians Sports Ground, on Northampton Sands, at 86 m. above OD. The ring ditch is about 30 m. in diameter and other rectangular features, perhaps enclosures, are detectable in the surrounding area (Northamptonshire Archaeol 15 (1980), 177; NDC A65).
(2) Roman Settlement, Kilns and Burials (centred on SP 778608), in and around Rushmere Avenue, on Northampton Sands, at 76 m. above OD. A kiln containing at least 25 pots was discovered during building work in 1933 (J Northamptonshire Nat Hist Soc Fld Club 29 (1938–40), 92; NDC R31). Further building work in the area during 1960 is said to have destroyed a kiln or kilns though no details are recorded (Johnston 1969, 93). Human remains and Roman pottery were found earlier, a little to the S. in Cranmere Avenue (c. SP 778606; J Northamptonshire Nat Hist Soc Fld Club 27 (1933–4), 91; NDC R193).
Medieval and Later
Medieval pottery has been recovered from five locations within the parish (c. SP 775607; NM; NDC M50. c. SP 782616; early medieval; NM; Kennett 1968, 6; NDC M262. c. SP 770636; late medieval; NM; NDC M321. c. SP 781605; Potterspury type ware strap handle; NDC M424. c. SP 775616; single sherd; NM; NDC M433).
The church is of medieval origin but was extensively rebuilt c. 1823. The general plan appears still to be that of the medieval church although the dimensions given in Bridges do not correspond with those of the present building, the nave width, the chancel length and the interior dimensions of the tower all being less than in the building as it now stands (Bridges 1791 1, 402). A drawing of the church by Wright, dated 1720 on the mount but probably of c. 1800, shows the S. wall of the S. chapel lining through with that of the S. aisle. A N. aisle within the overall dimensions given by Bridges would have beeen impossibly narrow. The E. wall of the chancel, although rebuilt above sill level, appears to be of medieval origin and to retain 13th-century angle buttresses. The position of the sedilia also suggests that the E. wall of the church stands on medieval foundations. The earliest parts of the present fabric are the S. doorway, the tower arch and the lowest stages of the tower, which date from c. 1200. The only indications of an earlier building are the unusual shortness of the nave as compared with the chancel and the dedication. The fact that the church at neighbouring Weston Favell, which certainly has late Anglo-Saxon fabric, shares the dedication to St. Peter, hints that both churches may have originated as dependent chapels of St. Peter's Church, Northampton. The chancel is of c. 1250, but the E. end was rebuilt and perhaps lengthened in the late Middle Ages. The N. chancel chapel was added in the 14th century, possibly as early as c. 1300 if the double lancet in the N. wall is in situ. The S. chapel may be of c. 1400 on the evidence of the arch into the chancel and the S. window. The tower was heightened and probably the clearstorey was added at about the same period. The church appears to have been to some degree rebuilt in the late 17th century or early 18th century. There was a major re-construction in 1823, after damage by a storm in 1821. The nave arcades and clearstorey were removed and the arcade between chancel and N. chapel replaced by a single arch in a thinner wall. The three arches in the E. wall of the nave were rebuilt symmetrical to the nave, thus making the new chancel arch asymmetrical with the medieval chancel. (VCH Northamptonshire IV, 67–9)
There is no historical evidence for a church earlier than that of the surviving fabric (c. 1200). The first reference is to a presentation to the rectory in 1224 (Rot Welles II, 124, 211). The name Abington Abbey given to the Hall in the 19th century seems to have been a romantic archaism by the Thursbys; there is little likelihood of there having ever been any conventual establishment here, the single reference (NRO IL 186) being more properly concerned with Abingdon (Berks) (Cal Pap L I, 101).
The chancel, although of medieval origin, was much re-modelled in the 18th and early 19th centuries and preserves panelling and furnishings of these periods. The early 19th-century arch to the N. chapel, now obscured by the organ, has two continuous chamfered orders, the outer hollow-chamfered. There was formerly a two-bay arcade opening to the N. chapel (Baker 1822–34 I, 14). To the E. of the archway, the N. wall returns to its original thickness and contains a lancet window. At the E. end of the wall is a two-light window with trefoil heads to the lights. The E. window is of three lights with intersecting tracery of c. 1823. On the E. gable are stepped battlements of the 18th century. At the E. end of the S. wall is a window like its counterpart on the N.; below it is a piscina with a two-centred head. To the W. of the piscina are three Perpendicular sedilia, with moulded shafts and trefoil-headed recesses set in a straight-headed frame. The S.W. window is similar to the other side windows of the chancel. The arch to the S. chapel is similar to its counterpart on the N. but may be an original 14th-century feature. The chancel roof is ceiled.
North Chancel Chapel
The plinth of the chapel is distinct from that of the chancel. In the N. wall are a double lancet and, to the E., a window of three stepped, trefoil-headed lights under a four-centred head. The E. window is similar to the latter window but with a quatrefoil in its head. In the S. wall is the outer face of the lancet in the N. wall of the chancel. To the W. of it is the outline of the E. respond of the former two-bay arcade. The chapel roof is ceiled.
South Chancel Chapel
In the external face of the E. wall is visible the outline of a former window, blocked internally by a large monument by Samuel Cox to William Thursby (d. 1730); the monument retains its contemporary iron railing. The S. window, of three cinquefoil lights under a segmental head, is 19th-century, perhaps reproducing the medieval design. The roof is ceiled.
The nave was radically altered c. 1823 when the N. and S. arcades were removed and the resulting envelope rebuilt as a symmetrical hall. In the N. wall are three windows of c. 1823 with intersecting cast-iron tracery. The N. doorway is chamfered and has a two-centred head. In the E. wall, giving access to the chancel and to the N. and S. chapels, are three arches of the same design, symmetrically placed. The elaborate early 18th-century pulpit was reset to the S. of the chancel arch. The S. wall is the same as the N. except that the S. doorway has jambs of two chamfered orders with a simple impost moulding carrying a two-centred arch of three shallow unchamfered orders. The tower arch, obscured by a W. gallery, has chamfered jambs and a two-centred arch of two unchamfered orders. The gallery is of c. 1920 (NRO 1P/110). The ceiling of c. 1823 is coved and has a Gothic central rose.
North West Vestry and South Porch
The tower rises unbuttressed in four stages of which the two lower have shallow set-backs. The W. doorway has a four-centred head with a keystone probably of c. 1650. The W. window has two trefoil-headed lights with a quatrefoil above. On the S. wall is a single-light window with cinquefoil tracery and a blocked straight-headed window above. On the N., S. and E. faces of the third stage are blocked openings with two-centred heads; on the W. is a large 18th-century sundial. A change in the masonry above these indicates the height of the original tower. On the the E. face is the line of an earlier roof, probably that replaced in 1823. The belfry openings are of two transomed lights with a quatrefoil in their heads. The parapet is battlemented with gargoyles at the angles.
(4) Saxon Burial (?) (SP 77276105), near Ardington Road, on Northampton Sands, at 90 m. above OD. In 1933 a skeleton associated with a knife, then said to be of 7th-century date, was discovered (J Northamptonshire Nat Hist Soc Fld Club 27 (1933–4), 90; Meaney 1964, 193; Northampton Chronicle and Echo, 7 Jan. 1933; NDC AS18). The knife is now lost. The burial has been connected with the mound (5) nearby but this is unlikely.
(5) Windmill Mound (?) (SP 77396130), now destroyed, lay at the N. end of Ardington Road, on Northampton Sands, at 89 m. above OD. It was first recorded as a 'tumulus' in the middle of the 19th century (Wetton 1849, 116) and is marked as such on a map of 1853 (Archaeologia 35 (1853), 394; George 1904, 10).
It had certainly been destroyed by 1949 (OS Record Cards) but by then was said to be of Saxon date. The adjacent Saxon burial (4) may have led to this identification though there are three sherds of early Saxon pottery (in NM) recorded as coming from this mound. The earliest map of Abington parish, of 1671 (NRO), though not depicting the mound, shows that the area immediately to the S. was then known as 'The Open Field beneath Windmill Hill'. This suggests that the mound may have been the site of a medieval windmill, though it could have been an earlier barrow reused (NDC P1; AS5)
Abington is first mentioned in Domesday Book with a recorded population of 18 (VCH Northamptonshire 1, 35). In 1334 its inhabitants paid 51s. 3¼d. in tax (PRO E179/155/3), a relatively small amount for the area. Little is known of its subsequent size until the 17th century but the manor of Abington passed to the Bernard family in 1415 and remained in their hands until 1669 (VCH Northamptonshire IV, 65–7). It was the Bernards who erected the manor house, which later became known as Abington Abbey and which is now a museum. It is also likely that the Bernards laid out the srr all walled park and garden containing a group of fishponds (7) which lay to the E. of the manor house by 1671 (fiche Fig. 20). This park was certainly in existence by 1665 (NRO, Clayton (2)) and its creation may have involved the removal of houses along its W. and S. sides.
In 1669 the manor was purchased by a William Thursby, a lawyer of the Middle Temple (VCH Northamptonshire IV, 67) and a map of 1671 (NRO; fiche Fig. 20) shows the village soon afterwards. Abington was then set around a staggered cross-roads and a small rectangular green with the church and manor house in the N.W. quadrant. Twenty-four houses are depicted as well as another four buildings which may also have been dwellings though they have no chimneys. The existence of four empty closes as well as the ground evidence of at least one building site at the N. end of the main N.-S. street suggests that the village may once have been somewhat larger.
The 1674 Hearth Tax returns (PRO E179/254/14) list 33 householders in the village, a figure which agrees with the 1671 map. Bridges also described Abington as a 'village of 33 houses' (Bridges 1791 I, 400). Before this, however, William Thursby had begun emparking the area of the village. This initially involved the enlargement of the existing park and the lawn eastwards across the valley and the erection of a tower, actually a dovecote and well-head, dated 1678, which still stands there. In addition the late 17th-century cottages connected by an arch (now Archway Cottages) seem to have been designed as a formal entrance into the village. At the same time Thursby extensively altered the manor house.
In 1736 Richard Thursby, nephew of William, died without issue and the manor passed to John Harvey, son of a niece of William Thursby. Harvey took the family name Thursby and began a major process of alteration to the area. The manor house itself was again remodelled, probably by Francis Smith (Pevsner and Cherry 1973, 344), the park was greatly enlarged and landscaped and the village removed. A map of 1742 shows the process complete. All the houses shown on the 1671 map had been removed and replaced by parkland and only the manor house, church and a group of buildings S.E. of the manor house, probably a new stable block, remained. The park had been extended to the N., W. and E. and then covered some 38 hectares. A later map of 1798 (NRO) shows a further extension of the park to the S. and by the mid 19th century (OS 1st ed. 1 in. map, 1834) the park had been extended southwards as far as the Billing Road.
A number of outlying farms or lodges appeared in the parish in the late 18th or early 19th century but it remained largely empty of settlement until the late 19th century. In 1891 the population of the parish was still only 121. Since then the expansion of Northampton has resulted in almost the entire parish, except for the N. part of Abington Park, being built over.
The remains of the village of Abington are in poor condition, partly as a result of the way the village was cleared (RCHM Northamptonshire III, xlvi) and partly because of later alterations to the park and the manor house gardens. The most obvious feature is a length of hollow-way, up to 1.75 m. deep, which runs S.E. from the Archway Cottages and parallel to Park Avenue. This is the line of the original road running N. from the village. About half-way along its S.W. side is a well-marked rectangular platform, probably the site of a building, in an area devoid of any structures on the 1671 map. At its S.E. end the hollow-way fades out into an area of indeterminate scarps and banks with no coherent form, though the 1671 map certainly shows a number of buildings here. Further S.E. and S. of the modern playground are further low earthworks. These again appear to lie in an area which in 1671 was occupied by a group of houses and gardens though the earthworks have no apparent relation to the buildings or property boundaries depicted on the map. (RAF VAP V58–RAF-1122, 0185–7).
(7) Fishponds (SP 779616), lie in Abington Park, on Upper Lias Clay, at 76 m. above OD. There are now three ornamental ponds occupying a small S.E.-draining valley. Though these show no visible signs of antiquity, they are the direct successors to earlier ponds which were probably medieval in origin. A survey of Abington Manor of about 1669 (NRO ZA 1116) notes 'a fishpond with a store of carp'. A map of 1671 (NRO; fiche Fig. 20) shows a large rectangular pond in the valley bottom, as well as a group of small ponds called 'fish ponds' to the W. within 'The Parke'. The emparking and landscaping of 1736–42 resulted in the enlargement of the pond in the main valley and the replacement of the smaller fishponds by a group of ornamental rectangular ones. By 1798 (map in NRO) a string of ornamental ponds had been laid out down the valley but these in turn were altered to form only one large and one small pond by 1834 (OS 1st ed. 1 in. map; NDC M239).
(8) Cultivation Remains (fiche Fig. 19). The common fields of Abington are said to have been enclosed by agreement in 1659 (Baker 1822–34 1, 7). On a map of 1671 (NRO), however, though most of the parish is shown as enclosed, two large fields are depicted as apparently still open. One lay N. and N.E. of the village and was called 'The Open Field', the other lay S. of the village and was called 'The Open Field beneath Windmill Hill'. These fields may have been enclosed soon after 1671 for Bridges writing in about 1720 (Bridges 1791 1, 400) described Abington as 'an enclosed lordship'. Certainly the whole parish was enclosed by 1742 (map in NRO).
Ridge-and-furrow of these fields exists on the ground within Abington Park (c. SP 777618) where two curved furlongs extend downslope to a small S.E.-flowing stream. It also exists or can be seen on air photographs in a few other places in the former parish, for example in the S.E. corner of Abington Park (SP 780615), within Eastfield Park (SP 778633) and close to the R. Nene, S. of the Billing Road (SP 784608). (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1994, 1247–50; V58–RAF-1122, 0107–12, 0124–8, 0167–71, 0183–7, 0225–9, 0241–6; FSL 6565, 1917–8)