THE DEVELOPMENT OF NORTHAMPTON
Introduction and Sources
The area covered by the present volume, the modern District or Borough of Northampton,
comprises a large part of the Upper Nene basin (Maps 1, 3). It is in many ways archaeologically and
historically an artificially small area, yet it has been a focus for several thousand years for the
surrounding countryside and the restricted geographical area of study perhaps concentrates
attention on the theme of the continuity of a preferred location. Northampton is possibly one of the
least recognised of English historical centres. It was ravaged by fires in the medieval and
post-medieval periods, its town walls were largely demolished in the 17th century and what
remained of its castle was almost totally destroyed for railway improvements in the late 19th
century. In the 12th and early 13th centuries, however, it was one of the foremost centres of the
kingdom and can now be seen to have been an important royal centre in Saxon times with
antecedents stretching back still further.
Sources for the history and archaeology of Northampton are relatively numerous. Original
documents relating to Northampton's history are preserved in the Public Record Office, the British
Library, Northamptonshire Record Office and elsewhere and many have been published, although
much was presumably lost in the fires referred to above. John Bridges' county history, compiled
before his death in 1724 but not published until 1791, still provides a fundamental grounding in the
documentary evidence. The guides to Northampton by Whellan (1849; 1874) and Wetton (1849)
seem to have gained a time-honoured authenticity yet, while they contain useful information, must
be treated with the utmost caution. In the late 19th century a number of local personages, intensely
interested in the local heritage, made 'rescue' observations in advance of and during the destruction
of the interior of the Iron Age hill fort at Hunsbury, the Romano-British small town at Duston,
Northampton Castle and various medieval religious houses and other structures in the town.
Prominent among such people were Sir Henry Dryden, Samuel S. Sharp and Edmund Law.
Edmund Law, who practiced as an architect, was also responsible for the restoration of some of the
medieval churches in the area and Sir Henry Dryden was instrumental in establishing Northampton
Museum, opened in 1866. A fine collection of local antiquities was housed and subsequently much
developed by Thomas J. George, curator between 1884 and 1920 (cf. Moore 1979–81, parts 4 and 5;
also Dryden 1873–4, 1875–6, 1885–6 and Dryden collections in NPL and NM; Sharp 1861–2, 1871a,
1871b, 1875, 1881–2; Law 1879–80; George 1903–4a, 1903–4b, 1903–4c, 1904, 1915–18, 1919). This
early archaeological work was essentially concerned with collecting artefacts except where
structural remains were patently obvious. While immense gratitude is due to these archaeological
pioneers for what they salvaged, the inadequacies, by modern standards, of their records, the
somewhat random selectivity of what was saved and erroneous identification of both artefacts and
structures has necessitated careful reappraisal of all the early sources.
The later 19th century also saw a general awakening of municipal pride and an interest in the
history of urban institutions. In 1898 the two volumes of the Records of the Borough of Northampton
by C.A. Markham and J.C. Cox were published (Cox 1898; Markham 1898), bringing together,
albeit with some errors and prejudices, much useful basic material for the town. At about the same
time the Rev. R.M. Serjeantson published a fine series of works on the history of Northampton's
castle, its churches and religious houses (Cox and Serjeantson 1897; Serjeantson 1901, 1904,
1905–6a, 1905–6b, 1908, 1909a, 1909b, 1909–10, 1909–12, 1911, 1911–12a, 1911–12b, 1911–14,
1913, 1915–16). His work remains a formidable body of evidence although the architectural analysis
of the churches of Northampton by his collaborators was not always totally accurate.
Helen Cam's masterly study of the history of the town, published in 1930 in volume III of
Northamptonshire of the Victoria History of the Counties of England, fully surveyed Northampton
from the Norman Conquest onwards. It is particularly informative on constitutional aspects but,
lacking the benefit of modern archaeological investigations, failed to appreciate both the importance
of Northampton's pre-Conquest origins and the town's overall topographical development. This
latter problem was tackled in a seminal paper by Alderman Frank Lee (1954) in which he used the
surviving evidence of the street grid to postulate a model for the development of the town which
appears to have been validated by subsequent research. Lee published little but his copious and
valuable notes in Northamptonshire Record Office illustrate his insight into aspects of the town's
Some limited archaeological excavation was undertaken in and around the town from the 1950's
but the establishment of an archaeological unit by Northampton Development Corporation in 1970
brought about, in a 'rescue' situation, a coordinated research programme into Northampton's past
which has continued for more than a decade and has provided a framework within which earlier
work can be assessed.
Much has been published in recent years on Northampton, mainly as excavation reports and
studies of aspects of its history (in particular Williams 1979, 1982a, 1982b, forthcoming; Williams
and Shaw 1981, forthcoming). This survey does not seek to retread such ground in all-embracing
detail but rather attempts to draw out themes relating to the history of the area as manifested by its
physical remains. Finds and records of archaeological material from the Northampton area are
comprehensively listed in the Inventory. The main sources are publications, material deposited in
Northampton Museum and the records of Northampton Development Corporation's Archaeological Unit and of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. Fuller discussion and further
detail may be sought through the comprehensive bibliography. Medieval constitutional and
political history is only discussed as a background to the study. Since the Church figured
prominently in medieval Northampton the standing medieval churches within Northampton have
been surveyed; their architectural significance is discussed below and they are described in the
Inventory. Surviving medieval and later secular buildings, however, fall outside the scope of the
Relief and Geology (Maps 1, 2)
The Upper Nene basin comprises a broad valley bottom between 50 metres and 60 metres above sea
level with ground rising gradually on either side to a maximum of c. 125 metres above sea level; a
number of tributary streams cut the higher ground to join the Nene itself. The alluvial flood plain is
damp but the surrounding land is well-drained with extensive deposits of gravel and Northampton
Sands as well as other Jurassic strata and would have been attractive for settlement.
The Prehistoric Period
Palaeolithic Remains (Map 4)
The evidence concerning palaeolithic material in the Northampton region, as elsewhere, is of a
different order from that for later periods of prehistory, not least because it is largely derived from
geologically disturbed and insecurely dated deposits such as river gravels. It is, therefore,
considered here separately before discussion of the rest of the prehistoric period.
Palaeolithic tools and pleistocene faunal remains have been found quite frequently, principally
during gravel extraction along the Nene valley. Hand axes are the most commonly discovered
implements; two from Northampton (fiche, p. 321) are dated to the early Acheulean period while
one from Great Billing (1) is middle to late Acheulean. The only site to have received any detailed
analysis is a gravel pit at Great Billing (1) where remains of woolly rhinoceros, horse and mammoth
were collected along with some palaeolithic flints, including a small Levallois flake, and a date
within an interstadial of the Devensian glaciation (c. 40000–35000 BC) is possible. Organic silts
interbedded with the gravels in the same pit produced more detailed evidence of flora and fauna and
yielded a radiocarbon date of 28225 ± 330 BP.
Mesolithic to Iron Age Remains and Settlements (Maps 4,5)
The number of sites and isolated finds of mesolithic to Iron Age date recorded within the
boundaries of the greater Northampton area is considerable. Since such boundaries are irrelevant to
the pattern of prehistoric settlement, the distribution maps can be understood only by reference to a
much wider area.
The density of known sites in Northampton and in parishes immediately beyond its boundaries,
especially to the north and east, is high compared to Northamptonshire as a whole. Taken at face
value this suggests that the area was a focus of settlement from at least the neolithic period onwards,
an impression reinforced by the presence of a causewayed enclosure on Briar Hill (Hardingstone (7);
Fig. 1). Nevertheless, the known distribution is almost certainly a distorted reflection of the actual
pattern of settlement at any given period.
The evidence for prehistoric occupation is of several different types:
1. Chance finds. In built-up areas of the town where sites may be undetectable by other means
objects discovered by chance constitute an important part of the record. Only the most distinctive
types are likely to have been recognised.
2. Finds and sites discovered in the course of quarrying or construction work.
3. Information and material recovered in archaeological surveys prior to development or in
4. Cropmarks. These have been noted within the area on land recently or still under cultivation.
The majority cannot be dated but they certainly include features of neolithic and Bronze Age date.
5. Excavated sites.
Circumstances have especially favoured the recovery of all these types of evidence in the
Northampton area. The comparatively large numbers of isolated finds of artefacts, especially stone
and flint axes, may have as much to do with the high density of the population in recent times as
with that of prehistoric peoples (cf. RCHM Archaeological Atlas, 2).
Large collections of worked flints from Duston (2) and around Hunsbury (Hardingstone (7))
were accumulated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a direct consequence of ironstone
quarrying on two major multi-period sites. More recently, many lesser surface scatters have been
located by field-walking. A programme of fieldwork and rescue excavation carried out since 1970
during the planned expansion of Northampton has led to the discovery of further mesolithic and
neolithic sites and to the intensive investigation of the neolithic causewayed enclosure on Briar Hill
Cropmarks develop best on light, well-drained soils and in this region are generally confined to
those overlying the Northampton Sands, Jurassic Limestone and gravels (RCHM Archaeological
Atlas, map 4). Northampton itself and the extensive complexes of cropmarks around it, notably at
Dallington (1–4) (Fig. 2; Plate 1) and the Bramptons (RCHM Northamptonshire III, 17ff), are on the
largest outcrop of the Northampton Sands in the county and on gravels of the Nene valley. It is
possible that these lighter soils were preferred by neolithic and Bronze Age farmers, but surface
scatters of worked flints on heavier clay soils, as at Brafield-on-the-Green, south-east of the town
(RCHM Northamptonshire II, 5ff), demonstrate the existence of a much more extensive pattern of
settlement not detected by aerial photography.
Many of the recorded sites, including the majority of cropmarks, are not precisely dateable.
None of the surface flint assemblages has yet been analysed in detail and only those which contain
clearly diagnostic elements have been assigned here to specific periods. Nevertheless, in the light of
the combined evidence, there can be no doubt that the Northampton area was densely settled in
neolithic and Bronze Age times. What is in question is the significance of the apparent contrast
between this and other parts of the county, where the range and intensity of fieldwork has been
Mesolithic Period (Map 4)
Most of the major surface collections of worked flints, including those from Duston and the
Hunsbury area, contain some microliths, blades and cores of mesolithic type and demonstrate the
presence of mesolithic hunter-gatherers along this part of the Nene valley. Only one site of the
period has been excavated, at Chalk Lane (Northampton (1a)), where an assemblage of microliths,
small blades and cores was found in possible association with a series of pits and hollows in the
subsoil. None of these finds can be dated precisely, but the majority of the microliths are
typologically early in form. In this respect they resemble the only other major collection of
mesolithic flints from the county, that from Honey Hill, Elkington, about 20 km. to the north-west
(Saville 1981). A few of the later geometric forms such as triangles, rhomboids and rods are present,
however, in the Duston assemblage and in at least one of the surface collections from Chapel
Brampton (RCHM Northamptonshire III, Chapel Brampton (4)).
Earlier Neolithic Period
The clearance and settlement of the area by neolithic farmers in the first half of the fifth millennium
BC are indicated by three radiocarbon dates centred between 3700–3500 BC (calibrated to 4600–4400
BC) from the neolithic causewayed enclosure on Briar Hill (Figs. 1, 3; Hardingstone (7)). These
dates apparently refer to the original construction of the earthwork, implying that by the mid fifth
millennium the neolithic population of the area was sufficiently numerous, economically secure and
well organised to undertake a communal project such as the construction of this large monument. It
encompasses more than three hectares and required the initial expenditure of an estimated
6000–7000 man hours. Further radiocarbon dates, together with the stratigraphy of the ditch fills,
indicate that the earthwork was maintained or periodically reinstated over a period of
approximately 1000 years until c. 2700–2600 BC (calibrated to c. 3500–3250 BC). This span alone
suggests the continuing importance of the site to the population of the area throughout the greater
part of the early and middle neolithic period and, judging by the evidence recovered in excavation,
the site probably had symbolic and ceremonial functions as well as being the scene of domestic
activity. It does not seem to have been designed or used for defensive purposes. As a focal point in
the neolithic landscape it may perhaps have served as an expression of social and territorial identity.
A second interrupted ditched enclosure, slightly larger in size, known only as a cropmark but
probably also of neolithic date, is located at Dallington, 4.5 km. north of Briar Hill across the Nene
valley (Fig. 2; Plate 1; Dallington (2)). The relationship between the two is uncertain and they may
have served different functions within the same territory. Alternatively, they could have been the
work of two different social groups between which the River Nene marked both a boundary and a
meeting point. This would accord with Bradley's suggestion (1978, 103) that causewayed
enclosures were often placed near the edges of territories.
No unenclosed settlements of this period have been identified with certainty but most of the
principal known surface concentrations of worked flints could mark the locations of such sites.
Most appear to include material of earlier neolithic type.
Fig. 1 Hardingstone (7) Briar Hill neolithic causewayed enclosure.
Fig. 2 Dallington (1) Enclosures, pit alignments, ring ditch; (2) Causewayed enclosure (?),
henge (?), pit alignments; (3) Enclosures, trackway (?); (4) Enclosures, ring ditches, pit alignments,
The exact provenance of the flints from the Hunsbury area was rarely recorded, but many were
probably collected from the vicinity of the Briar Hill site and the fields to the south of it. The very
large collection from Duston (2) presumably marks an important settlement on the north side of the
River Nene, immediately opposite Briar Hill and lying between it and the Dallington site. Other,
apparently large, settlements lay further north of the town (RCHM Northamptonshire III, Chapel
Brampton (1, 4, 9, 11), Brixworth (1–11)). The site at Kislingbury (3) and the finds in the area of
Weston Favell (fiche, p.413) and Great and Little Billing (fiche pp. 213, 225) may mark the locations
of smaller settlements to the west and east of Northampton, as may those at Little Houghton and
Brafield-on-the-Green to the south-east (RCHM Northamptonshire II, 5ff, 85ff). Some of the
worked flints excavated as residual finds on various sites in the town centre (Northampton (1b, c))
could also be of this period and indicate former settlements there.
No earlier neolithic burials are known other than a cremation interred in one of the ditch
segments at Briar Hill and in the acidic soils of the Northampton Sands it is unlikely that
inhumations unmarked by a monument would have survived in recognisable form. A long mound
at Upton may possibly be a neolithic long barrow (Upton (2)).
Later Neolithic to Early Bronze Age Period (Map 4)
Archaeological and environmental evidence found throughout Britain indicates that some kind of
disruption or change in social and economic life occurred in the mid third millennium BC (the
second half of the fourth millenium BC) (Whittle 1978; Bradley 1978, 105ff). Such a change can be
detected on the Briar Hill site where, following the final recutting of the enclosure ditches towards
the end of the earlier neolithic period (c. 2700–2600 BC), activity continued, or was resumed, after a
different fashion (Fig. 1). This is evidenced by a series of pits and structures within the southern half
of the inner enclosure, without parallel in the earlier phases and dated between 2400 and 2000 BC
A final phase of use, marked by the digging of pits into the then silted ditches and associated with
later neolithic Mortlake and Fengate impressed wares and Beaker pottery, lasted until c. 1600 BC
(c. 2070 BC). At Dallington a large ring ditch with possible single entrance within the interrupted
ditched enclosure could be a small 'henge' monument (Fig. 2; Plate 1; Dallington (2)).
Elsewhere, slight evidence of settlement sites has been found. In Chalk Lane in Northampton
(Northampton (1a)), flint implements of later neolithic type were associated with pottery including
Beaker sherds; at Weston Favell a pit contained Grooved Ware sherds and flints (Weston Favell (2)).
A later neolithic occupation site on the gravels south of the River Nene at Ecton, just east of
Northampton, should also be noted (RCHM Northamptonshire II, Ecton (1)). Flints and other
artefacts of later neolithic and early Bronze Age type from Duston and other major multi-period
surface collections already mentioned indicate that there was no marked shift in the pattern of
No fields or other enclosures of this period have yet been identified at Northampton but it is
possible that some of the cropmarks here include such remains, particularly in view of the fact that
late neolithic ditched field systems have now been discovered at Fengate near Peterborough (Pryor
1978), and that some pit alignments have been demonstrated to be of similar date (Harding 1981,
115ff; Miket 1981).
The Bronze Age (Map 4)
The later neolithic and early Bronze Age period in Britain was essentially one of cultural continuity,
but some degree of social change is implied by events such as the ultimate abandonment of the Briar
Hill enclosure. Most of the finds which can with certainty be dated to the early and middle Bronze
Age in the district are associated with graves. On the other hand, many of the presumed settlement
sites marked by concentrations of worked flints probably continued to be occupied and some
cropmark enclosures in the same areas could be contemporary. Firm evidence for later Bronze Age
occupation is, however, very sparse indeed.
Early to middle Bronze Age finds with probable funerary associations include a small collared
urn found in a hollow in the subsoil at St. Peter's Street (fiche p. 322). This was possibly an
accessory vessel from a cremation burial, disturbed by later activity. The curving, flat-bottomed
ditch excavated on St. Peter's Street approximately 40 m. west of the urn (Northampton (1c)) could
perhaps have been part of a Bronze Age ring ditch. Other collared urns have been recorded a few
miles away at Brixworth (RCHM Northamptonshire III, 27f). Two 'pygmy cups' from Hunsbury
may be of similar date (fiche p. 273).
A flat cemetery, probably slightly later, was found on the west side of the Briar Hill enclosure
(Hardingstone (7)), although the siting itself could be coincidental. It consisted of up to 25
cremation burials in shallow pits (Fig. 1). One of four cremations contained in badly decayed and
damaged bucket-shaped urns gave a date of 1230 ± 70 BC (c. 1500 BC) which compares closely with
the date for the similar cemetery excavated north of the river at Chapel Brampton (RCHM
Northamptonshire III, Chapel Brampton (10)).
A number of possible round barrow sites include both visible mounds, such as the one at Upton
(Upton (2)) and the 'tumuli' recorded in 1904 at Duston (Duston (3)), and ring ditches as at
Abington and Little Billing (Abington (1), Little Billing (2)). These must be seen in relation to the
barrows and possible barrow sites on the gravels further down the Nene valley to the east at Ecton,
Earls Barton and Grendon (RCHM Northamptonshire II, Ecton (6–8), Earls Barton (2), Grendon
No early Bronze Age metalwork has been recorded in the Northampton area, but a few isolated
bronze tools suggest middle Bronze Age activity. They include a flanged axe from Billing (fiche p.
213) and two side-looped spearheads from Northampton (fiche p. 322) and Upton (fiche p. 401)
respectively which are probably roughly contemporary with the flat cemetery on Briar Hill.
No settlements or graves of the later Bronze Age are known in this area. Surface flint scatters
cannot be used as a method of locating sites of this period and pottery, even if identifiable, is not
likely to have survived ploughing. A small quantity of possibly late Bronze Age sherds from
Hunsbury (Hardingstone (14)) perhaps suggests that occupation of the hilltop may have begun
during this time. A later Bronze Age presence is indicated by bronze implements such as the
unlooped palstave from within Northampton (fiche p. 322) and the socketed axe from Dallington
(fiche p. 240).
The Iron Age (Map 5)
For the Iron age the settlement pattern in the Upper Nene basin is rather more intelligible, since
although casual finds of material are less widespread than the flint scatters and isolated flints of
earlier periods, several sites have been excavated. The evidence from these excavations, from air
photographs and from casual finds shows that the area was fairly densely populated by small,
perhaps single-family, communities. The most dominant feature, and a focus for the region, is
Hunsbury, one of only four possible hill forts in the whole county (Figs. 3, 4; Plate 2; Hardingstone
(14)). This hill fort, covering some 1.6 hectares, stands on a prominent hill that affords extensive
views over the whole of the Upper Nene valley. It consists of a roughly circular area bounded by an
inner rampart and a ditch, with an outer rampart on the north, north-east and north-west sides; an
initial timber-laced rampart was replaced by one of glacis form. The interior was largely quarried
for ironstone in the late 19th century, at which time were recovered the finds of metal, pottery,
glass and bone for which the site is notable, in particular, Hunsbury gave its name to the florid
curvilinear style of decoration found on globular bowls of the later Iron Age. The pottery as a
whole suggests a limited chronology. Although the presence of vessels decorated with applied
cordons, extensive finger-tipping and incised geometric decoration may indicate some minor late
Bronze Age or early Iron Age activity here, it is probably more reasonable to regard it as broadly
contemporary with the bulk of the pottery from the site which is dated no earlier than the 5th
century BC and which suggests that the hill fort itself was first constructed about that time.
Fig. 3 Hardingstone (6) Enclosure; (7) Neolithic causewayed enclosure; (8) Pit alignment;
(9) Iron Age settlement; (10) Iron Age enclosure; (11) Pit alignment; (12) Iron Age settlement; (13)
Iron Age ditch; (14) Iron Age hill fort; (15) Roman kiln; (16) Roman settlement and kiln; (17, 19)
Roman settlements; (21, 22) Saxon settlements. WOOTTON (4) Ring ditches and enclosures; (8)
Other pre-Belgic Iron Age settlements are altogether on a smaller scale and lack the apparent
wealth of Hunsbury. Occupation remains have been excavated at Blackthorn (Great Billing (4)),
Moulton Park (1), Briar Hill (Fig. 3; Hardingstone (9)), Hardingstone (4a) and Upton (3). Great
Billing (4) is a particularly fine example of a double-ditched enclosure of single-family size (fiche
Fig. 21). It had an internal area of 0.1 hectare with an oval house in the south-east corner and was
occupied for some time within the period c. 200 BC to c. AD 25. The site at Moulton Park is
important for its situation on Boulder Clay (cf. Draughton, some 11 kilometres to the north:
Grimes 1961, 21–23; RCHM Northamptonshire III, Draughton (8)); it tends to confirm that
settlement was not entirely confined to the gravel terraces and well-drained sandy soils (cf. RCHM
Archaeological Atlas, 4f). Some 3rd to 2nd-century BC pottery was found at Upton and a 2nd to
1st-century group at Hardingstone village. Similar Iron Age pottery was associated with ditched
enclosures on the site of the neolithic causewayed camp at Briar Hill (Hardingstone (7)), but the
small quantity from the square double-ditched enclosure some 150 metres to the south-east
(Hardingstone (10); Plate 1)) could not be precisely dated. Casual finds come from several other
locations (see Map 5) and presumably some of the undated cropmarks also belong to this period. A
single sherd of late Bronze Age to early Iron Age pottery is reported from Weston Favell (fiche
p. 413), but the lack of early Iron Age material is particularly noticeable. The true significance of
this is not clear, but it would appear that elsewhere in the county finds of such material are also
uncommon (RCHM Northamptonshire II, xiii).
At the end of the 1st century BC or the beginning of the 1st century AD the Nene valley came
under Belgic influence and the distribution of British coins suggests that it fell within
Catuvellaunian territory; the boundary between the Catuvellauni and the more northerly Coritani
seems to have lain somewhere in the uplands between the rivers Nene and Welland. Belgic pottery
has been found in several places, the most important collections having come from Hardingstone
(4a), Moulton Park (1) and Duston (5). At both Hardingstone and Moulton Park there appears to
have been increased activity on sites that were already occupied, but no pre-Belgic Iron Age
material has so far been recovered from Duston. The chronology and indeed the significance of
Belgic culture in the region is difficult to assess. Belgic pottery forms continued throughout most of
the 1st century AD (cf. e.g. the Camp Hill kilns (Hardingstone (15, 16))) and it could even be
argued that these new forms did not penetrate the area until the Roman conquest; this is
improbable, however, since late Augustan Gallo-Belgic wares are known at Leicester (pers. comm.
V. Rigby). Although the Hardingstone and Moulton Park pottery, and most of that from Duston,
is fairly finely made and typical of the middle of the 1st century AD, two sherds from Duston are
similar to material from Wheathampstead (Wheeler and Wheeler 1936, 194ff) and, more locally,
from Irchester (Hall and Nickerson 1968, 80) and Rushden, and probably date to before 1 BC.
While the few earlier Belgic sherds from Northamptonshire are probably best interpreted as outliers
from the main area of Belgic influence to the south, the evidence of the British coins from Duston
certainly suggests later pre-Conquest Belgic occupation. At least 20 such coins have been found:
Catuvellaunian coins predominate, with five of Tasciovanus (c. 20 BC–AD 10) and at least nine of
Cunobelinus (c. AD 10–40), together with two of Andoco (c. AD 5–15, apparently ruler of an
unnamed tribe on their north-west border); four Dobunnic coins were also found. Evidence from
hoards in East Anglia indicates that Icenian coinage continued in use up to AD 60 and perhaps
beyond but it is suggested that this may have been due to the special conditions prevailing in the
East Anglian area with the Iceni as a client kingdom (Allen 1970, 15–19). It seems unreasonable to
argue that all the Duston coinage, ranging back to Tasciovanus, was deposited after AD 43, and it
would appear most likely that a settlement was beginning to grow up there by about AD 25. The
absence of Belgic material from Hunsbury, suggesting its abandonment by about the same time,
supports the idea that a new focus for the Upper Nene basin was growing up, most probably at
Fig. 4 Hardingstone (14) Hunsbury hill fort.
The distribution of British coinage in Northamptonshire is of some interest in this argument (cf.
Allen 1961; Gunstone 1971; Haselgrove 1978 and some more recent discoveries). Of 70 or so coins
found at least 20 are from Duston, one from St. James End, and three from Northampton, these last
all being of the earlier Gallo-Belgic type. Although the extensive ironstone quarrying may have
provided an increased chance of discovering such coins, Duston does seem to be marked as a centre
of some importance. Although the sample size is very small and details of provenance are often very
imprecise, it may also be significant that many of the find-spots where more than one coin has been
recorded (Duston at least 20, Irchester 2, Kettering 3, Oundle 8, Thrapston 2, Towcester 2) were
located in or near Romano-British urban centres. Such continuity of nucleated and semi-nucleated
settlements from the Iron Age to the Roman period has also been noted in Lincolnshire (May 1976)
and Essex (Rodwell 1976, 325). Caution must be exercised, and further research is clearly necessary,
but the limited evidence appears to suggest that there was perhaps some move towards nucleated
settlement in the first half of the 1st century AD and that this developed further with the arrival of
the Roman army.
The Roman Period (Map 5)
Northamptonshire has never been regarded as one of the most prosperous areas of Roman Britain.
It does not include a civitas capital or major urban centre and few high quality villas, such as are
found in the Cotswolds, the Chilterns and elsewhere (cf. Rivet. 1969, 213, Fig. 5.7), have been
located in the area. Yet extensive fieldwork, particularly in recent years, has revealed that the
overall settlement pattern in this area was extremely dense and this is evident in the region around
Northampton: no less than 31 sites are here recorded, as well as numerous individual find-spots.
The extent to which the Upper Nene valley was caught up in the initial Roman military advance
after AD 43 and its influence on the development of settlement is not clear. It would seem
reasonable to suppose that Duston may have been an element in the early network of forts, along
with Bannaventa (RCHM Northamptonshire III, Norton (4)), Towcester (RCHM Northamptonshire
IV, Towcester (3)) and Irchester (RCHM Northamptonshire II, Irchester (7)), but evidence for this
has not yet been discovered at Bannaventa and Towcester and even at Irchester the argument relies
on the alignment of the surviving earthworks and possible ditches identified on air photographs
(RCHM Northamptonshire II, 91). Duston is similarly enigmatic and will probably remain so, since
so much was destroyed during ironstone quarrying in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Finds
recovered at that time and subsequently, however, throw some interesting light on the problem.
There are no structures or artefacts to prove a military presence but at least 20 British coins suggest
a pre-Conquest Belgic occupation (see Iron Age, above) and some brooches and Belgic-style
pottery belong to the Conquest period. With or without such a military stimulus, a settlement grew
up here in the 1st century AD.
The nature of this settlement is somewhat difficult to define. Occupation seems to have extended
over at least 8 hectares and evidence of Romanised buildings was discovered both during the
quarrying and by limited excavation in the 1970's. The fragmentary stone structures found to the
south of the Weedon Road between 1974 and 1976, which appear to respect a road running roughly
north-south across the site, seem to belong to the latter half of the 3rd century, with earlier
occupation consisting of timber buildings associated with ditched enclosures. Whether this is
typical of the whole of the settlement is uncertain, but it would appear to be consistent with the
sequence in other lesser towns, such as Water Newton, Ancaster, Margidunum, Thorpe-by-Newark, Alcester, and Wanborough (Wacher 1978, 101ff). The settlement seems to have survived
in some form into the 5th century, for the coin series includes examples of Arcadius and Honorius
and two buckles of similar date have also been found.
Of the remaining sites in the Inventory area two can be classified as villas, from the evidence of
hypocausts, mosaics and painted wall plaster, and also because of the size of the buildings. The site
of the one at Moulton (1) is largely built over and it is known chiefly from finds made in the gardens
of houses in the area. The other, at Hunsbury (fiche Fig. 38; Plate 3; Wootton (8)), is better known,
as various small-scale excavations were carried out on the site between 1973 and 1981, but the
details are as yet unpublished and any conclusions must be recognised as tentative. Timber features
and boundary ditches, apparently of the 1st century AD, were replaced, probably in the 2nd
century, by a rectangular block of stone-built rooms which was subsequently extended. Later still,
probably in the 3rd or 4th century, the villa was further enlarged by the addition of a bath-house
which was connected to the original building by a corridor.
The interdependence of urban and villa economies has been discussed (Rivet 1969, passim; Todd
1978, passim) and is demonstrated by the presence within a 10 kilometre radius of Duston of other
villas: Wootton (8), Moulton (1), Gayton (RCHM Northamptonshire IV, Gayton (1)), Harpole
(RCHM Northamptonshire IV, Harpole (6)), Stoke Bruerne (RCHM Northamptonshire IV, Stoke
Bruerne (4)) and Hackleton (RCHM Northamptonshire II, Hackleton (11)). There are further possible
villas at Harpole (RCHM Northamptonshire IV, Harpole (3)), Little Houghton (RCHM Northamptonshire II, Little Houghton (6)), Hackleton (RCHM Northamptonshire II, Hackleton (22)),
Harlestone (RCHM Northamptonshire III, Harlestone (19)) and Kingsthorpe (5). Taken with the
other evidence for settlement, this suggests a comparatively dynamic and prosperous economy in
the Upper Nene basin and while villas are indeed found over the whole of Northamptonshire they
do appear to have been mainly concentrated in the Nene valley.
Two smaller sites, perhaps best described as Romanised farms, have also been excavated at
Thorplands (Plate 3; Moulton (2)) and Overstone (2). At both the evidence for Iron Age occupation
is insubstantial and the first structural phase to be identified, dating to somewhere between the late
1st and mid 3rd century, was the construction of a circular timber building. Towards the end of the
3rd century timber buildings were replaced, again on both sites, by circular stone buildings.
Enclosures of Roman date south of the Overstone farm (Great Billing (11)), probably demarcate the
fields of the settlement. The proximity of the Thorplands farm to the villa at Moulton (700 metres
south-west of it) has led to the suggestion that it may have formed a unit within a large complex
controlled from Moulton, and the similarity of the structural sequences at Thorplands and
Overstone might further hint that both were controlled by the same authority. The Moulton villa
would then have acted as an estate centre, but this is no more than speculation.
Many small Romano-British rural sites, presumably similar to the Thorplands and Overstone
farms, have been found either by fieldwork or during modern development, but precise evidence as
to their nature is lacking. A concentration of sites and pottery finds in the north of Great Billing
parish shows, in this area at least, a pattern of settlements at intervals of about 700 metres. Many of
the cropmark sites noted on air photographs are likely to be of Roman date, but as yet the only ones
to be securely identified as such are those to the south of Overstone farm (Great Billing (11)).
Evidence of industrial activity is limited to iron-working at Thorplands farm and a large number
of pottery-producing sites of the 1st century AD. So far seven kiln sites have been identified in the
Northampton area, at Abington (2), Dallington (5), Hardingstone (4a, 4b, 15, 16), and Weston
Favell (6), and seven places with portable kiln furniture at Great Billing (9, 10), Great Houghton (4,
5, 7), Hardingstone (18) and Wootton (8). Similar establishments have been found elsewhere along
the Upper Nene valley, their ubiquity and limited life-span leading to the suggestion that they were
supplying the Roman army (Webster 1973, 2–3; Woods 1969, 9; 1974, 278).
The only known Roman road in the area is that running north-west from Duston to join Watling
Street at Bannaventa, but a further road, running east from Duston through Northampton and
along the north side of the Nene valley towards Irchester, has also been suggested (Williams 1979,
4). The distribution map of Roman finds (Map 5) strongly supports this, for there is a notable
concentration of them along the line of Marefair-Gold Street and Billing Road. Surprisingly, there
is as yet no evidence for any road running southwards from Duston.
The Saxon Period (Map 6)
There are considerable problems in defining the development of settlement patterns in the Saxon
period in Northampton, as elsewhere, but the intensive work at the west end of the town, in the
area around St. Peter's Church, has yielded most important results. A major middle Saxon palace
complex has been uncovered and fairly extensive settlement remains relating to the late Saxon town
have been investigated. All this, however, needs to be incorporated within a single framework. For
the purposes of discussion, the Saxon period has been divided into early (c. AD 400–650), middle
(c. AD 650–850) and late (c. AD 850–1066) phases.
Chronology presents a major problem. By far the most common artefact on early to middle
Saxon sites in the area is black gritty pottery. This shows no variation in fabric or form over more
than four centuries except for the stamped and decorated sherds which are identified as coming
from pagan, early Saxon vessels of funerary type. Only about 30 such sherds, however, have been
found outside the cemeteries themselves. Some greater chronological precision for the development
sequence of the settlement on the site of Northampton itself has been provided by the Northampton
sequence of radio-carbon dates allied to the relative stratigraphy of the excavated sites.
There is some limited evidence for continuity from the Roman period. The two late buckles and
coins of Honorius and Arcadius from Duston have already been noted. It may also be relevant that
the early Saxon cemetery at Duston (7), apparently the most extensive in the Upper Nene basin, lay
immediately adjacent to, if not partly over, the Romano-British small town. The presumed
location of the cemetery lies between the main settlement area of the town and a site where
4th-century ditches have been excavated. Furthermore, a Roman lead coffin was recovered from
the middle of the cemetery in c. 1903. The date range of the grave goods lies mainly between AD
450 and 550 although there is some later material. Further evidence for continuity is provided by the
discovery of eight early to middle Saxon sherds on the site of the Wootton Hill Farm villa (Wootton
(8)). It should be noted that the nucleus of early to middle Saxon activity at Northampton itself lay
astride the postulated Roman road from Duston to Irchester in an area where there is a scatter of
sherds and coins of Roman date but no contemporary structural remains (see Maps 5, 6 and fiche
The character of the early Saxon settlement, the precursor of the middle Saxon palace complex
and late Saxon town, was in no way out of the ordinary. The excavated remains, lying on a ridge
above the probably marshy valley of the Nene are typical only of a small rural site. Four simple
sunken-featured buildings probably belonged to this period (Northampton (8, 38)) and some of the
post-hole structures associated with the early to middle Saxon pottery were probably of a similar
Other settlement and cemetery sites were scattered over the Upper Nene basin and failed to
respect directly earlier Romano-British sites although pottery found at Hunsbury suggests that the
Iron Age hill fort was being reused at some time between 400 and 850. Remains of early Saxon
cemeteries and burials have been found at Cow Meadow, St. Andrew's Hospital (Northampton (3,
4)) and Hardingstone (23, 24) and traces of domestic occupation have been excavated at
Hardingstone (21) and Upton (5) and early to middle Saxon pottery has been recovered at
Hardingstone (22) and Weston Favell (8). While not individually impressive, taken together the
sites indicate more intensive settlement than over the county as a whole. This apparent distribution
may partly be a result of development activity in the area from the 19th century onwards and the
intensive archaeological study of the last decade but it also seems to demonstrate that the Upper
Nene basin was a continuing focus for settlement after the fall of Roman Britain.
Definite evidence for middle Saxon activity outside Northampton itself has not been found but
the few sites where either the pottery assemblages lack distinctively early Saxon wares or which for
other reasons can only be assigned to the general period AD 400–850 (e.g. Hardingstone (22) and
Weston Favell (8)) may be middle as opposed to early Saxon in date. There is, however, a total
absence of middle Saxon Christian cemeteries, a phenomenon paralleled in many other places.
Negative evidence must be treated with caution and indeed the extent to which rights of burial and
the location of cemeteries were formally determined at this time is little understood but it is possible
that cemeteries of this date should be sought on the sites of later burial grounds which lie within the
medieval and modern villages. It may well be that the framework for the modern settlement pattern
was beginning to be established at some time during the middle Saxon period. Indeed, late Saxon
pottery has not been found outside Northampton itself, tending to confirm that modern villages
cover settlements of that date.
Extensive remains of the middle Saxon period have, however, been found in the area around St.
Peter's Church, Northampton (Fig. 5; Frontispiece; Plate 4). Probably in the later 7th century a
large timber hall was erected (Northampton (8)). This hall measured, to the centre lines of its wall
trenches, c. 29.4 metres (96.4 feet) by 8.35 metres (27.4 feet) and comprised a rectangular unit
c. 16.7 metres (54.8 feet) by 8.35 metres (27.4 feet) with central opposing doorways in the long sides
and attached annexes 6.35 metres (20.8 feet) square at each end. The unit of measure in laying out
the structure resembled very closely the modern foot and it would appear that the building was laid
out as a double square 54 'feet' by 27 'feet' with 21 'foot' square annexes at each end. Posts had been
set in continuous trenches c. 3 feet deep and 3 feet across. Such massive foundation trenches were
needed to support the roof which apparently covered the building in a single span. The form of
construction was highly sophisticated with accurately surveyed pairs of posts matching each other
across the hall and there is some evidence to suggest that the main hall was divided into nine bays 6
'feet' in length. The site was badly disturbed by later pits and few contemporary artefacts survived.
A further large timber structure at least 16 metres by 8.75 metres and with foundation trenches
c. 0.75 metres deep lay to the west. Other timber, mainly post-in-trench, buildings on a much more
modest scale were located immediately to the north and south-west. There may have been further
contemporary structures at Black Lion Hill and in Chalk Lane (Northampton (46, 38)).
The large timber hall by its very nature marks the site out as a major centre of its period and
indeed in plan the building most resembles Edwin's royal hall at Yeavering in Northumbria
(Hope-Taylor 1977), the postulated palace at Atcham near Shrewsbury (St Joseph 1975, 293–4) and
a structure within an impressive complex at Malmesbury in Wiltshire (Hampton 1981, 316–21).
At about the beginning of the 8th century the large timber hall was replaced by an even more
massive one of stone. Initially this comprised a large rectangle measuring 37.5 metres by 11.5
metres with walls 1.2 metres wide and foundations 0.6 metres deep. Subsequently, but again in the
first half of the 8th century, two smaller rooms were attached to the west end of the building,
thereby increasing its length to 43.5 metres. Only short lengths of walls survived, most of the plan
being represented by robber trenches; floor levels had similarly been eroded away.
Fig. 5 Northampton (8) Saxon Palace Complex.
To the west of this building the extreme east end of a further stone structure, which extended
back under the present St. Peter's Church, was uncovered. The east wall of the structure measured
6.5 metres north to south and was 0.8 metres thick. Two courses of wall survived showing that it
had been rendered on its inner face. It is thought that the building was an antecedent of the present
church contemporary with the large stone hall.
Associated with the two buildings were five mechanical mortar mixers (Plate 4). These
comprised bowls between 2 metres and 3 metres in diameter, generally cut down into the ground
but in one case raised above it. Mortar was mixed in them by paddles suspended from a beam
rotating round a central pivot in a horizontal plane. Such mixers have been found, generally on high
status sites, in Switzerland, West Germany, Poland and Belgium (Gutscher 1981) and a single
example has been excavated at Monk wearmouth in Northumberland (Cramp 1969, 32–6 and pl. 3).
Some 50 metres to the east of the large stone hall, four orientated burials were excavated in
Gregory Street (Northampton (42)). Radio-carbon dates suggest that these also belonged to the
middle Saxon period. The site lay 15 metres south of the site of St. Gregory's Church, first recorded
in the 12th century (Northampton (27)) but the early dedication and the presence of the graves
suggest that there may have been a church or chapel on the site contemporary with the large stone
hall. Other timber structures associated with the early to middle Saxon pottery (cf. Northampton
(45, 46)) may have been contemporary with the 8th-century complex.
Archaeologically the stone hall is totally without parallel in England although similar buildings
presumably existed at major royal centres (cf. Williams forthcoming). The considerable medieval
and later disturbance and erosion of the middle Saxon levels at Northampton demonstrate that it is
likely that such complexes, where they existed in towns with intensive medieval and later
development, may have been almost totally destroyed; indeed they will probably only be
recognised where a sufficiently large area is studied. On the Continent similar structures have been
recognised in the Carolingian palace complexes at Paderborn and Frankfurt in West Germany and
the Lindenhof at Zurich in Switzerland (see Williams forthcoming). Paderborn and Frankfurt are
particularly relevant in that the complexes also contain a major church and thus provide a direct
parallel to Northampton. On all the continental palace sites, including such lavish and resplendent
examples as Aachen and Ingelheim, the hall is a main feature of the architectural composition.
What then was the precise status of the Northampton complex whose main elements were a large
stone hall, possibly two church sites and further ancillary buildings? The name 'Hamtun',
Northampton's earliest designation, is regarded as signifying a central residence as contrasted with
outlying and dependent holdings (Gover et al 1933, xvii-xviii). This possible estate structure is
further evidenced by the local ecclesiastical organisation. St. Peter's Church, at the centre of
Northampton archdeaconry, was a mother church with dependencies at Kingsthorpe up to 1850
and Upton up to modern times (Sergeantson 1904, passim; Williams 1982). The manors of
Kingsthorpe and Upton were in the King's hands at the time of the Domesday Inquest and
subsequently in the medieval period were hundredal manors for Spelhoe and Nobottle Grove
hundreds respectively (Cam 1963, 67, 69). The evidence seems to indicate the fragmentation of a
substantial middle Saxon royal estate and minster organisation centred on Northampton, elements
of which survived for some considerable time. At the caput of this estate were to be found the royal
hall or 'palace' and the seat of ecclesiastical authority, the old minster church of St. Peter.
The scale and precision of the successive timber and stone halls, the lack of comparable examples
in England and the continental parallels mark Northampton out as a major seat of authority at least
as early as the later 7th century. It is tempting to look further back and see in the presence of the
Saxon palaces the continuation of a Romano-British area of authority based on Duston. Although
areas of influence may well have changed through time this would seem to give Roman Duston a
rather more formal status than the excavated remains might suggest.
The geographical extent of Northampton's influence in the middle Saxon period is also a matter
of some uncertainty. With the evidence now available the shire town of the late Saxon and medieval
periods can readily be identified as the progeny of the earlier estate centre; Domesday Book and
other sources, however, show that places such as King's Sutton, Fawsley, Rothwell and Finedon
were all heads of substantial royal estates and traces of minster organisations for King's Sutton and
Fawsley have survived (Williams forthcoming). It seems unlikely that there were complexes similar
to that at Northampton at all these places but if there were not then it must be accepted that
Northampton had assumed a pre-eminence within the surrounding countryside at a relatively early
date in the Saxon period. In the absence of a Romano-British civitas capital or major centre, unless
the interpretation of Duston is incorrect, this is particularly significant.
During the recognisable history of the palace complex Northampton appears to have been within
Mercia. Originally within the area defined as Outer Mercia or Middle Anglia it seems to have been
subsumed by Penda into Mercia in the 7th century and to have remained under Mercian control.
There are some allusions to a connection with East Anglia, in particular the presence at St. Peter's
Church of a cult of St. Ragener, the nephew of Edmund of East Anglia, king and martyr, but there
is no evidence to suggest that territorially Northampton was ever under East Anglian control. It is
most likely that the remains of Ragener were translated to Northampton in the 10th century
Towards the end of the 9th century Northampton was taken over by the Danish armies and
incorporated within the Danelaw. It is probably about this time, and almost certainly in the period
875–975, that the palace fell into disrepair and was destroyed and that the walls were subsequently
robbed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 913 records 'the [Danish] army from Northampton' and in
917 it relates how 'Earl Thurferth and the holds submitted to him [Edward] and so did all the army
which belonged to Northampton as far north as the Welland' (Whitelock 1965, 62, 66). This seems
to mark Northampton out as a major administrative centre within the Danelaw and the 'heres
gemote', present in Northampton at the time of Aethelred II, can be seen as a survival of a Danish
legal or administrative system (CS: 1130). The presence, however, in the medieval period in
Northampton of a town court known by the Scandinavian name 'hustings' is not necessarily
informative, for King Richard's charter to Northampton in 1189, in which the right to hold the
court of hustings was formally granted (Markham 1898, 25–29), was clearly copying the London
charter of 1155 (Ballard 1913, cxliii and passim) and the court itself or its name may have been
derived from this London model and been introduced into Northampton at a comparatively late
date. There are a few place names with Scandinavian elements in the hundreds of Spelhoe,
Wymersley and Nobottle Grove, which surround Northampton, but nothing to suggest strong
Scandinavianisation. This is in contrast to those hundreds further to the north-east where such
influence is strong. The pattern of the evidence probably reflects Northampton's frontier position
on the boundary of the Danelaw (Gover et al 1933, xxi-xxix).
The archaeological evidence is similarly difficult to interpret. A total of ten St. Edmund
Memorial pennies found on the site of Northampton, several in well-stratified contexts, suggests
that some at least of the earliest late Saxon levels belong to the period before its capture by Edward
the Elder, although to distinguish between Danish and Saxon material culture is virtually
impossible at the present time.
It is possible, however, to see a general upsurge in economic activity in Northampton during the
late Saxon period. Pottery is far more prolific. Local wares predominate with St. Neots ware and
Northampton ware most common; the former was perhaps made in the immediate vicinity, and the
kiln for the latter has been identified in Horsemarket (Northampton (43)). Smaller quantities of
material were imported from Stamford, Leicester, East Anglia and continental Europe. There is
considerable evidence for metal-working with iron-smelting and/or smithing being practised in St.
Peter's Street, Gregory Street, Marefair and Chalk Lane (Northampton (51, 42, 45, 38)), copper
alloy working in Marefair and probably Chalk Lane (Northampton (45, 38)) and silver-working in
Chalk Lane and Marefair (Northampton (38, 45)). Antler and bone-working debris has been found
in St. Peter's Street and Chalk Lane (Northampton (51, 38)) and antler and bone tools themselves
and other artefacts indicate textile manufacture. Evidence of flax-retting was found at St. James'
Square (Northampton (50)). Contact with continental Europe is further evidenced by hones from
Eidsborg, Norway. More local trading in perishable foodstuffs is demonstrated by the
identification of a few sea-water fish bones.
Extensive structural remains have also been found. In St. Peter's Street the fragmentary traces of
a number of post-hole structures and five small sunken-featured buildings were discovered adjacent
to a rough metalled lane which perhaps meandered across the site. Metal-working was concentrated
towards the west (Northampton (51)). In Chalk Lane a complex was excavated which comprised a
building, a yard area, a concentration of pits and land given over to agricultural purposes. In its
initial phase the building consisted of a hall structure based on six posts with a small square cellar at
one end and a fairly deep sunken-featured building outside at the other end. These were replaced by
a further structure built with close-set posts (Northampton (38)). Two adjacent post-hole buildings
were uncovered in Gregory Street (Northampton (42)). Less complete structural traces have been
found in Marefair (Northampton (46)).
Fig. 6 Streets in Northampton.
The evidence from the individual sites needs to be related to the overall form of the late Saxon
settlement. Alderman Frank Lee in a seminal paper published in 1954 (Lee 1954) examined the
topography of Northampton's street plan which at the time, albeit with additions, largely preserved
the medieval one. Subsequently, however, redevelopment has destroyed essential elements of
medieval topography and these changes can be seen by comparing the series of maps up to 1847
reproduced in this volume (Fig. 8; Plates 7, 9, 10, 11; see also OS 1:2500, 1964) with the present
town plan represented in Fig. 6. Lee argued that Marefair and Gold Street on the one hand and
Horsemarket and Horseshoe Street on the other formed the main east-west and north-south axial
streets of the late Saxon town. The northern and eastern extent of the town was defined by parallel
lines of streets comprising Scarletwell Street, Bearward Street, the Drapery and Bridge Street on
the one hand and Bath Street, Silver Street, College Street and Kingswell Street on the other.
Between these lines of streets ran the late Saxon defences (Northampton (6)), presumably
comprising an earthen bank and ditch. These postulated defences have been investigated in a
number of places but definite archaeological confirmation of Lee's hypothesis is not yet
forthcoming. To the south and west the river probably formed the main defensive barrier.
Lee also suggested that the Marehold and All Saints originated as markets at the north and east
gates respectively and noted how the roads radiated outwards from the gates. The original route to
Leicester went due north and its line is still preserved in Semilong (cf. Wood and Law's map, Plate
11) but it was subsequently diverted with the establishment or expansion of St. Andrew's Priory.
The road leaving the north gate to the north-east led across Northampton Heath, subsequently
known as the Race Course, towards Kettering. At the east gate the roads diverged to
Wellingborough and Kettering, Billing and Bedford. The Saxon crossing of the Nene was due
south of and continued the line of Horseshoe Street. It can then be identified in Far Cotton as the
Lee's ideas are fundamental to the understanding of Northampton's topography but the major
problem remains as to the date when the defensive line was established. The most probable
alternatives are during the time of the Danish occupation of Northampton, under Edward the Elder
during the establishment of his burghal network, or later in the Saxon period. Certainly little late
Saxon material has been found outside the defensive circuit. Four sherds of late Saxon wares have
been recorded from watching briefs in Bridge Street (one sherd), the Drapery (two sherds) and
George Row (one sherd) (see fiche p. 384–7) and excavations in Derngate 300 metres east of the
presumed east gate have produced a further 14 sherds of late Saxon type but which are not
necessarily pre-Conquest in date (Northampton (39); see also Shaw forthcoming b).
The late Saxon defended area would appear to have covered about 24 hectares and to have been
divided into quadrants by the north-south and east-west axial streets. These continued as major
routeways beyond the line of the defences and there is no reason to see them as the skeleton of a
planned grid for the town. Other streets lying roughly parallel to the axial streets such as Castle
Street, King Street and St. Katherine's Street are more simply explained as roughly respecting the
lines established by the axial streets and the defences rather than as further elements of a planned
street lay-out. Within the overall framework formed by the streets, individual properties and
structures, while again basically respecting the main axes of the town, are fairly irregularly
disposed, perhaps in family or economic units.
The precise role of the church in the late Saxon borough is difficult to determine. In the reign of
Edward the Confessor St. Peter's again appears as a minster church whose priest Bruning 'multas
... inter provinciam regebat ecclesias' (Horstmann 1901, 727). Presumably the church had either
survived the Danish occupation or been reconstituted early in the 10th century and the same
development pattern perhaps applied to St. Gregory's. During the excavation of St. Mary's in 1962
(Northampton (28)) no evidence was found to suggest a Saxon origin but there may possibly have
been a pre-Conquest church or chapel on the site of St. Katherine's (Williams 1982b, 82). All Saints'
perhaps originated in the 10th or 11th century as a church in the market place at the east gate.
Certainly during the 10th century Northampton changed its character and assumed urban
characteristics. It had a mint at least from the time of Eadwig (Blunt and Dolley 1971) and in 1010
was referred to as a port (Whitelock 1965, 90). It may well be that the impetus towards urban status
was provided by the Danes whose trading instincts have been demonstrated elsewhere. This
development, however, can now be seen to have been less dramatic in that middle Saxon
Northampton, the seat of royal and ecclesiastical authority, probably attracted further administrative and trading functions and was presumably a rallying point in times of unrest. The step towards
becoming a town proper was but a small one.
Medieval Northampton (Maps 6, 7)
From 1066 to 1200
The period from the Norman Conquest up to the end of the 12th century was one of consolidation,
expansion and prosperity for Northampton. During this time it grew from a well-established yet
middling shire town into one of the great centres of England. In Domesday Book between 291 and
301 houses and 36 waste plots are listed (DB, f. 219a). Russell's estimate of 1032 for the population
(1948, 51) is probably too low and a figure nearer 1500 is more likely (cf. Baker 1976, 45). A fairly
wide variety of tenants in chief are recorded, including such notable people as the king was the
Mortain, the Bishop of Coutances, the Countess Judith and William Peverel, but the king was the
main landowner with 87 houses and 13 waste plots. Northampton's farm at £30 10s. was some way
below the £100 of York and Lincoln and the £300 of London but was roughly comparable with
those of towns such as Chichester, Derby, Guildford, Ipswich, Lewes, Nottingham, Torksey and
Worcester (Tait 1936, 154, 184). In a ranking based on these farms Northampton lay somewhere
between twentieth and thirtieth. By 1130 the town's farm had more than trebled to £100 (Tait 1936,
156) and it was further raised to £120 in 1184 (Tait 1936, 175, 184). At the end of the 12th century
the farm was only exceeded by those of London, Lincoln, Winchester and Dunwich (Biddle 1976,
500). Further evidence of the prosperity of Northampton at this time is provided by the aids and
tallages rendered to the king between 1158 and 1214. In rankings based on these figures
Northampton never fell below seventh position; in 1172 it was third to London and Lincoln and in
1176/7 it was second only to London (ibid, 501).
Northampton probably owed much of its growth to its geographical situtation in the middle of
the country and astride important routes. This strategic position was probably consolidated by the
marriage of Waltheof, the Saxon earl of Northampton, to King William's niece, the Countess
Judith. Waltheof was executed for treason in 1076 and Maud, the daughter of Waltheof and Judith,
married Simon de Senlis I, probably a cadet of the great Bouteillers family of Senlis, one of the most
powerful in France in the 12th and 13th centuries. Simon was probably granted the earldom and the
town of Northampton by William Rufus in 1089 and the Senlis family retained the earldom for the
next 100 years. Simon died sometime between 1111 and 1113 and the town reverted to the king.
Maud, however, married King David of Scotland in 1113 and there is some evidence that he was
granted the earldom. Simon de Senlis II, however, had obtained both the town and the earldom by
1138. He died in 1153 and his son Simon de Senlis III, who was still a minor at the time, did not
become earl until 1159. He remained earl up to his death in 1184 but never acquired the town which
on the death of Simon his father had reverted to the crown and remained a royal borough (VCH
Northamptonshire III, 3f; see also Serjeantson 1913 and Tait 1936, 155). Documentary sources are not
prolific for the Senlis family but what evidence there is suggests that the family displayed
considerable drive and initiative during Northampton's years of expansion after the Norman
Conquest (cf. Serjeantson 1913). Simon de Senlis I founded the Cluniac priory of St. Andrew
(Northampton (12)) and gave it substantial endowments and he is also attributed with the
construction of the town walls (Northampton (7)). Simon de Senlis II founded the Cluniac nunnery
at Delapré (Hardingstone (25)) just south of Northampton and it is probable that the Senlis family
was responsible for church building and other works in Northampton in the 12th century.
Northampton's strategic location also made it a regular and convenient meeting place for councils
and assemblies, secular and religious. Many parliaments and councils were held there from the time
of Henry I to Richard II and it received many royal visits, by John on no less than 30 occasions
(Markham 1898, 451; VCH Northamptonshire III, 2f). Detailed discussion of political events is
outside the scope of this book but the meeting between Henry I and Robert, duke of Normandy in
1106, the trial of Thomas Becket in 1164 and the Great Council of 1176, all held at Northampton,
serve to emphasise the town's central position in the affairs of state.
The prosperity of Northampton, however, was not based merely on an authoritarian presence
and political considerations for its geographical position helped to make it a major trading centre
and its markets and fairs were important. The first reference to a fair at Northampton occurs in the
time of Simon de Senlis II (BM Cott Vesp E xvii f. 3a) but Northampton may well have had a fair
before the Norman Conquest. Certainly in the Middle Ages its fair became one of the great fairs of
England and ranked alongside those of Winchester, St. Ives and Boston; large royal purchases of
furs and cloth are recorded during the reigns of John and Henry III (VCH Northamptonshire III, 24).
Little is known of the local economic base but the manufacture of cloth was probably important. In
1202 Northampton, Leicester and Winchester paid £10 to be free of the assize of cloth, a figure only
exceeded by York, Lincoln and Beverley (Pipe R 4 John, xx). At one point more than 300 weavers
from the town are recorded (Rot Parl 2, 85). Woolmonger Street (vicus lanatorum) and Fuller Street
(vicus fullonum) are recorded in the early 13th century (BL Cott Tib E v f. 153a, 176a). The few other
street names which are known witness before 1200 the presence and separation of the various
traders such as cordwainers, skinners, retailers and wimplers (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 129a; Luffield 2,
33; Mon Angl 5, 209; BL Cott Tib E v f. 173b; FEC 158).
The second half of the 12th century also seems to have been marked by the rise of a prosperous
and politically aware burgess class. In 1185 the people of Northampton paid the king 200 marks for
the privilege of farming the town themselves, thereby in part freeing themselves from the
oppression and interference of the sheriff (Pipe R 31 Hen II, 46). From about this time the farm was
probably paid to the Exchequer by reeves elected by the people themselves and the privilege of
electing a reeve was certainly confirmed by Richard I's charter to Northampton in 1189 (Tait 1936,
175f; Markham 1898, 25–9; VCH Northamptonshire III, 4f). The charter of 1189 in which other
rights were also granted was very closely modelled on that of London of 1155 (Ballard 1913, clxii et
passim) and may have been to some extent a formalisation of existing arrangements. But in any case
the granting of the charter at this time was in itself a significant event. In King John's charter of 1200
the right to choose four coroners was also granted (Tait 1936, 175ff; Markham 1898, 30–3). The
first mayor seems to have been chosen in 1215 at which time the first record of a town council
To what extent the townspeople had been able to or had taken corporate action prior to the 1180's
is uncertain. A 'Gildhalle' existed almost certainly at what was the centre of the Saxon borough at
least from 1153, probably from 1138 and perhaps from pre-Conquest times (Northampton (10);
Williams 1983–4, 5ff) but there is no record of action by the guild or in fact of its exact nature. In the
1170's and early 1180's eminent townspeople such as Philip, son of Jordan, and William, son of
Reimund, are seen acting individually or in pairs undertaking royal assignments such as building
work on the castle and the gaol (Pipe R 28 Hen II, 129; 29 Hen II, 119; 31 Hen II, 46). Solidarity
within the burgess class is, however, perhaps best evidenced in Northampton's first customal
dating to the mid 1180's (Leges ville Norht). Although the codification of the customary law is of
considerable interest in itself it is the list of the 40 men who drew up the laws which sheds light on
the social status of the leading burgesses. There is nothing to indicate that the 40 men were a formal
council although the round number might suggest this. Many of them, whose careers can be traced
in the Pipe Rolls, cartularies and other documents, were clearly wealthy. Family groups can be seen
(e.g. Adam, Reginald and William, sons of Reimund and Robert and Ingram, sons of Henry) but
prominent by their absence were the leading members of the local landed aristocracy such as the
Gobion and fitz Sawin families. The 40 men thus appear to comprise a body whose wealth and
influence seem to have originated in the town itself.
Fig. 7 Sites and monuments in Northampton.
Against this social, economic and political background the topography of early medieval
Northampton can be examined (Fig. 7; Map 7). At the time of the Norman Conquest,
Northampton comprised the area within the Saxon defences with perhaps some linear development
outside the east, north and south gates though the evidence for this is limited (see above). Physical
expansion of the town, however, in the late 11th century seems to have gone hand in hand with its
economic growth and this is evidenced in a number of ways.
The early development of the castle (Northampton (9)) is problematical. It is not mentioned in
the Domesday survey but according to the 'Vita et passio Waldevi comitis' was constructed by
Simon de Senlis I (Giles 1854, 18). Otherwise the earliest documentary reference occurs in 1130
when the king paid 3s. 8d. for land taken into his castle; the first building works noted were in
1173–4. The castle was partly demolished in 1662 and most of what was left was destroyed in 1879.
Excavation in 1961–4 by Dr. J. Alexander on the part of the castle then remaining uncovered a
possible ditch predating the bailey bank of the later castle and this was tentatively identified as
belonging to an 11th-century earth and timber motte and bailey castle. The limited archaeological
evidence is consistent with an earth and timber castle dating to the time of Waltheof or Simon de
Senlis I with work on the great medieval castle probably commencing sometime after the death of
Simon de Senlis I and before the accession of Simon de Senlis II to the earldom of Northampton;
during part of this time at least the castle was in royal hands (Pipe R 31 Hen I, 135).
In the Domesday survey 40 burgesses are recorded in the 'novo burgo' (DB f. 219a). This new
borough should be equated with the area known as Newlands, lying outside the east gate of the
Saxon borough and recorded in 1201 as 'nova terra' (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 131). A William 'de nova
terra' (not necessarily at Northampton) is recorded in the Northamptonshire section of the Pipe
Rolls in 1177 (Pipe R 23 Hen II, 95). It seems originally to have been a district rather than an
individual street (cf. the modern Newlands) for early deeds indicate that properties described as in
'nova terra' actually lay in the modern Wood Street (RCHMs 1975, 1–11). An area on Speed's map
(Fig. 8) bounded by the modern Newlands, Lady's Lane, the Mounts and Abington Street seems to
be enclosed, except to the south-west, by a wall cut through by two streets, the modern Wood
Street and Wellington Street. Since the Greyfriars precinct only covered a small portion of this area
(cf. Williams 1978, 96–104, 116) it is tempting to interpret this apparent boundary wall as defining
the extent of the 'novus burgus' but excavations at Greyfriars and Abington Street (Northampton
(16, 37)) and watching briefs elsewhere within the area have produced no evidence of 11th-century
occupation although the sites investigated mainly lay away from the street frontages.
The medieval defences (Northampton (7)) pose a number of problems (cf. Williams 1982c).
Whellan (1874, 101) and Cox (1898, 427) ascribe the construction of the town walls to Simon de
Senlis I, Wetton (1849, 27) more cautiously 'supposed' the same and Cam (VCH Northamptonshire
III, 3) and the Ordnance Survey Record Cards refer to a tradition that Simon was responsible but no
actual sources are quoted by any of these authorities. The construction of the walls was a massive
undertaking which would have increased at an early date (cf. Turner 1971, 21ff) Northampton's
intra-mural area to some 100 hectares, an extent only exceeded at London and Norwich (Biddle et al
1973, 11). An Eastgate Street (probably Abington Street) and an Eastgate, almost certainly
belonging to the medieval defences, are recorded before c. 1166 (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 144b) and
between 1138 and 1154 Earl Simon de Senlis II granted to St. Andrew's Priory 16s. and 14d. rent in
exchange for rent lost 'propter murum et ballium quibus villa clauditur' (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 7a).
Although the 'murus' is not specified as being Northampton's the context makes this virtually
certain. This exchange perhaps suggests construction work at the time and parallels the situation
noted above regarding the castle. Charters relating to St. Andrew's Priory add some substance to
the tradition of the involvement of Simon de Senlis I in the erection of the town defences. The
priory (Northampton (12)) was probably founded in the late 11th century by Simon de Senlis I.
There is evidence that the house originally lay probably in Horsemarket and was subsequently
transferred to its later site (Cal Pat R 1348–80, 247) but the scope of the endowment by Simon (Mon
Angl 5, 190) suggests that it occupied the later site by c. 1100. Two further charters of Simon refer to
'hospites manentes extra vetus fossatum' (BL Cott Vesp E xvii f. 10b) and 'terra ... a fossa eorum
[monks of St. Andrew's] usque ad fossam burgi' (BL Cott Vesp E xvii f. 3a). The 'vetus fossatum'
in the first charter presumably refers to the Saxon defences but the interpretation of the
topographical details in the second is more difficult. According to the Pierce map of 1632 (Plate 7)
St. Andrew's Priory precinct did not extend as far south as the Saxon defensive line, although the
priory did hold some land before 1130 on the site of the medieval castle (Pipe R 31 Hen II, 135). In
the north and west boundaries of the medieval precinct are taken as the 'fossa burgi', that is as part
of the medieval defensive system (see Map 7) and the south boundary as the 'fossa corum' all
conditions are satisfied. Alternatively, 'fossa eorum' could be interpreted as the north and west
boundaries with 'fossa burgi' as the south boundary and perhaps an 11th-century defensive line
predating the priory. The use of 'fossa', possibly suggesting earthworks, contrasts with the 'murus'
of a slightly later date which seems to indicate a stone wall. Stone quarries, probably of
12th-century date have been identified in Derngate (Northampton (39)). With the medieval
defensive circuit largely covered by the modern road network it has not been possible to test
satisfactorily through excavation the date of the medieval defences and the few ditch sections cut
have produced extremely limited dating evidence. Sections of the wall and ditch survived up to the
19th century (see below p. 70 and fiche p. 330).
Fig. 8 Northampton in 1610 by John Speed. (Northamptonshire Libraries).
Within this general topographical framework so far established it is difficult to develop a detailed
picture for the period up to 1200. Eastgate Street (see above), Skinners Street (vico pellipariorum:
Mon Angl 5, 209) and the quarter of the retailers (regratorio: BL Cott Tib E v f. 173b) are known
from probably the third quarter of the 12th century. These few names were added to by about 1200
by Bridge Street (Brigestrete alternatively vico pontis: BL Cott Tib E v f. 171b, BL Royal 11 B ix f.
130b), Gold Street (Goldestrete: BL Cott Tib E v f. 171b), Abington Street (vico de Habinton: BL
Royal 11 B ix f. 130b) and Swinewell Street (Swinewelle Strete: de dominabus 22), the later Derngate,
all important streets within the town. Additionally the following names, whose locations are not
known, occurred at this time: rengo wimplariorum (FEC 158), rengo mercatorum (NRO NBR Private
Charter 6), vico larii BL Cott Tib E v f. 150b), lariestwychene (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 130b), porta de luth
(BL Royal 11 B ix, f. 129b), presumably the posterna de lurteborn recorded in the Rotuli Hundredorum
(2, 3) and cordwanerio (BL Royal 11 B ix f. 129a). After 1200 documentary references to street names
become much more common.
The early medieval market place appears to have been in and around the church and cemetery of
All Saints for the 'nundinis omnium sanctorum' are referred to (BL Royal 11 B ix, f. 128b) and the
church itself is recorded as the 'ecclesia de foro' (Serjeantson 1901, 14; see also Cal Close R 1234–7,
206–7). There is no reference at this time to the area of the Marehold being a separate market (see
above p. 52). Although suburbs appear to have grown up outside the north and east gates, served
respectively by the churches of St. Bartholomew and St. Edmund (see below), there may well have
been a considerable amount of waste ground within the town such as that subsequently occupied by
the friaries and the market place, described as waste in 1235 (Cal Close R 1234–7, 206–7).
The town's intra-mural area implies a substantial population. In 1746, with the town confined
within the line of the medieval walls and with large open areas there, the population was 5136
(Noble and Butlin map; Plate 9). Unless a largely rural area was enclosed and the defences were
established as a speculative venture to attract settlers and traders to a safe haven, the population in
the 12th century is hardly likely to have been smaller. It is estimated that Winchester, a town of
comparable wealth at this time (Biddle 1976, 501), had a mid 12th-century population of over 8000
Information regarding the architectural character of the early medieval town is limited for no
early secular buildings have survived and street frontages close to the centre of the medieval town
have not been excavated. The earliest stone building on the Marefair site (Northampton (45)) dates
to the 12th or 13th century. On St. Peter's Street (Northampton (51)) the building pattern seems to
have been formalised after the Norman Conquest when timber buildings were erected fronting the
street on either side of it. These did not, however, begin to be replaced by stone structures until the
13th century. Similarly on Gregory Street (Northampton (42)), the earliest stone structures belong
probably to the 14th century and perhaps the 13th century. Stone was, however, being quarried
south of Derngate in the 12th century, perhaps for use in the town walls (see above; also
The variety of religious institutions in Northampton in the early post-Conquest period reflects
the importance of the town. St. Andrew's Priory, a community of Cluniac monks, was founded by
Simon de Senlis I at the end of the 11th century (Northampton (12)) and the Augustinian priory of
St. James, later elevated to abbey status, was established probably before 1140 (Duston (8)). The
Cluniac nunnery at Delapré was founded by Simon de Senlis II c. 1145 (Hardingstone (25)). St.
Andrew's and St. James' in particular were to figure prominently in Northampton affairs. Hospitals
were established, dedicated to St. Leonard in the late 11th century (Hardingstone (27)), to St. John
in c. 1138 (Northampton (20)), and to the Holy Trinity in 1200 (Kingsthorpe (8)) and the chapel of
St. Mary Magdalene, in existence by 1138, was referred to as a hospital at that time (Northampton
(32)). Part of St. John's Hospital is still standing.
The parochial system in Northampton seems to have been fully developed by 1200 (Map 7).
Between 1186 and 1200 Hugh of Avalon, Bishop of Lincoln, confirmed to St. Andrew's Priory the
churches of All Saints, St. Giles, St. Michael, Holy Sepulchre, St. Mary, St. Gregory, St. Peter, St.
Edmund and St. Bartholomew and also the chapel of St. Thomas (Northampton (21–29); Mon
Angl, 5, 191). This chapel was regarded as a possible predecessor of St. Thomas's Hospital
(Northampton (19)) and accordingly located at the south bridge (Cox 1898, 341; VCH
Northamptonshire II, 161; followed by Williams 1982b, 76), but a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas is
recorded as existing within the precinct of St. Andrew's Priory (Northampton (12)) at this time (BL
Royal 11 B ix f. 131a). Also in existence were the chapel of St. Martin, recorded as the original
house of the Cluniac monks in Northampton before the founding of St. Andrew's Priory
(Northampton (31)), the chapel of St. Mary Magdalene which had guild associations (Northampton (32); see above) and possibly the chapel of St. Katherine (Northampton (30)). The 'novi
cimiterii' in which this chapel stood is mentioned as early as 1205–20. It lay centrally within the
north-east quadrant of the Saxon borough, an area which in medieval times can be identified as part
of the parish of All Saints, and it has been suggested that St. Katherine's may have developed on the
site of a pre-Conquest foundation and have been incorporated into All Saints' parish by c. 1200
(Williams 1982b, 82). Only St. Peter's, All Saints', Holy Sepulchre and St. Giles' still stand and are
in use. The south-west corner of St. Gregory's survives as a ruin.
Of the churches and chapel in bishop Hugh's confirmation, all except St. Thomas's were
regarded as of parochial status in medieval times but the precise chronological development is
obscure. In c. 1100 Simon de Senlis I granted to St. Andrew's Priory 'ipsam ecclesiam in qua
habitant et omnes alias eijusdem villae ecclesias cum appenditiis suis' (Mon Angl 5, 191; BL Cott
Vesp E xvii f. 1b) and this would seem to include all the churches mentioned in Bishop Hugh's
confirmation. The first specific mention of St. Gregory's, St. Michael's, St. Mary's, St.
Bartholomew's and St. Edmund's is in this confirmation and the evidence relating to the other
churches presents some difficulties. St. Peter's was established as the mother or minster church
probably in the 8th century and still held minster status at the time of Edward the Confessor.
Analysis of the fine 12th-century structure perhaps emphasises the continuity. The great western
arch and the lack of a significant division between the nave and chancel suggest a collegiate church
and perhaps indicate that the minster organisation was at least still partly present in the 12th
century. All Saints' has been identified as a possible late Saxon foundation (p. 46 above). It is first
mentioned by name in a charter of 1107 (Mon Angl 5, 191; BL Cott Vesp E xvii f. 2). Holy
Sepulchre and St. Giles' are more problematical. They are first mentioned in charters of 1109–1124
(BL Add Chart 57166, BL Royal 11 B ix, f. 18, 20–22; BL Cott Vesp E xvii, f. 13–15b). The single
charter of St. Giles' is virtually identical to one of the four of Holy Sepulchre and there would
appear to be some doubt as to the authenticity of the charters relating to Holy Sepulchre. Franklin
(1982, 94–8) in discussing the charters argues that neither the charters not the crusading legends
support an early 12th-century date for Holy Sepulchre and indeed the earliest surviving fabric there
dates to the second quarter of the 12th century (see below). This does not, however, exclude earlier
work on the site. It is unlikely that the suburban churches of St. Bartholomew and St. Edmund
would have predated Holy Sepulchre and St. Giles' respectively and if they are all excluded it is
open to question whether sufficient churches remain to constitute 'omnes alias eijusdem villae
ecclesias'. The absence of charters specifically mentioning the other churches perhaps supports the
hypothesis that Simon's charter was all-embracing but whether or not this was the case it seems
certain that all the parish churches of medieval Northampton were established by 1130 and that a
major period of church foundation in Northampton coincided with the great post-Conquest
economic expansion of the town.
A combination of documentary and topographical analysis has been employed in an attempt to
establish parish boundaries at this time and the tentative results are shown on Map 7 (after Williams
1982b, 82). The general pattern is one whereby the intra-mural area of the town was served by St.
Peter's, St. Gregory's, St. Mary's, All Saints', Holy Sepulchre, St. Michael's and St. Giles' with St.
Bartholomew's and St. Edmund's providing for the northern and eastern suburbs respectively.
Suburban expansion had also taken place to the south and west of the town into Hardingstone and
Duston parishes respectively. In the 13th century St. Leonard's Hospital was seen to have assumed
parochial rights and functions in respect of the southern suburb (Hardingstone (27); see also
Williams 1982b, 77) and St. Margaret's, a dependent chapel of Duston, was serving the western
suburb (Duston (9)). There is no positive evidence for these latter arrangements in the 12th century.
Of further interest is the small area within the town itself of St. Peter's parish which derived its
income from its dependent chapelries at Kingsthorpe and Upton and also the demesne lands of St.
Andrew's Priory. In c. 1100 Simon de Senlis I had granted to the priory 'terram trium carucarum et
tres dalos prati et unum hulmum' (Mon Angl 5, 191; BL Cott Vesp E xvii f. 1b). While accepting the
vagueness of the carucate as a unit of measure this is remarkably close to the 267 acres (108 hectares)
of arable and 77 acres (31.2 hectares) of meadow shown on the Marcus Pierce map of 1632 as the
former demesne land of St. Andrew's Priory, which tallies well with the 'book of Demaynes of the
late suppresside house of St. Andrewes—in the town of Northampton' dated 1538 (PRO E315 399,
pp. 245–69) which lists in detail all the priory's lands in the town fields (Map 7; Plate 7). This
demesne land remained extra-parochial into the 19th century and large areas of such land,
redistributed after Enclosure, can be seen on Wood and Law's map of 1847 (Plate 11). The existence
of this demesne land meant that large areas in the town fields within the boundaries of St. Giles' and
Holy Sepulchre parishes lay not within those parishes but tithed directly to St. Andrew's priory.
This partly parallels the situation noted by Maitland (1898, 116) at Cambridge where individual and
neighbouring strips tithed to separate churches and perhaps reflects a situation where land was
tithed through its owner rather than on account of its geographical location. The grant by Simon
also throws interesting light on his own demesne prior to this grant. It reflects a fragmented rather
than a consolidated holding, although it would appear that Earl Simon held at least another two
hides in the Northampton fields (Cal Chart R 1300–26, 477). His total demesne was a very
substantial estate indeed and, as a percentage of the town fields, contrasts very sharply with the
mere 16 houses held in Northampton by Countess Judith, Earl Waltheof's widow, at the time of the
In the 12th century Northampton had one of the largest jewries in the country (cf. Jacobs 1893,
164, 381). The Jews had a synagogue in Silver Street (Northampton (36)), probably the same as that
recorded under the heading 'Parmentry' in 1504 (NRO, Northampton 1504 Rental) and a cemetery
outside the north gate which was in use in the second half of the 13th century (Northampton (35)).
By c. 1200 Northampton had witnessed a considerable expansion from the Domesday borough.
It boasted a large intramural area and one of the major castles in the country. Its prosperity and
essential urban character were reflected in its religious life and developing governmental structure.
From 1200 to 1540
During the earlier part of the 13th century the town apparently continued to prosper. King John
frequently visited Northampton and the town's favoured position is reflected in the considerable
expenditure on the castle (Northampton (9)). The first murage grant for the town walls was made
in 1224 and further grants were made in 1251 and 1301, on the last occasion on such a scale as
perhaps to suggest rebuilding (VCH Northamptonshire III, 30; Williams 1982a, 60). The market and
the fair were transferred from the church and cemetery of All Saints' to the site of the present
Market Square, then an area of waste, in 1235 (Cal Close R 1234–7, 206–7). As a flourishing urban
centre Northampton attracted the Franciscan and Dominican friars soon after their arrival in
England and important houses were established in Northampton in c. 1230 (Northampton (16, 15)).
Within the next 50 years the Carmelites also settled in Northampton (Northampton (14)) as well as
the lesser orders of the Friars of the Sack and the Poor Clares (Northampton (17, 18)). The
Augustinian friars also founded a house either in the late 13th century or in 1323 (Northampton
(13)). The hospital at Wallbeck, midway between Northampton and Kingsthorpe was probably
also constructed in the 13th century (Kingsthorpe (9)). Excavations at Greyfriars (Williams 1978)
uncovered part of the church and one of the claustral ranges and limited trenching has been
undertaken on the site of the Carmelite friary.
Northampton could have become a permanent seat of learning. Scholars are known there as early
as 1176 (Richardson 1941) and migrations of students to Northampton subsequently occurred,
from Oxford in 1238 and 1264 and Cambridge in 1261 (Rashdall 1936, 86–9; Powicke 1947, 784–7).
In 1265, however, King Henry III ordered the removal of the students and university from
Northampton (Cal Close R 1264–8, 92–3). A 14th-century chronicle suggests that this was because
the students had sided with Simon de Montfort against the King at the siege of Northampton in
1264 (cf. Rashdall 1936, 87) but Powicke (1947, 784–7; cf. also Treharne 1955, 89) has argued that
contemporary sources indicate that the detrimental effect of a university at Northampton on the
borough of Oxford was the overriding reason.
By the end of the 13th century the town seems to have been in decline and by 1275 'fullers,
weavers, dyers, drapers, glovers, magizarii, skinners and other craftsmen of this sort have left
Northampton because they are too heavily tallaged' (Rot Hund 2, 3a). The population at about this
time was possibly 3000 or more (see below), but this was almost certainly a considerable reduction
from that at the height of Northampton's prosperity in the late 12th century. In 1334 the town's
contribution to the Lay Subsidy was not even among the 50 highest (Glassock 1976, 177ff).
Although the Subsidy can only be used as a rough guide for ranking purposes, this apparent further
worsening of the town's fortunes is confirmed in the same year in an unsuccessful petition to the
king for a reduction of its farm because of urban decay (Rot Parl 2, 85; VCH Northamptonshire III,
19). Russell (1948, 142) estimated a total of 2216 inhabitants in 1377, based on the Poll Tax return of
1477 taxable lay persons. While this is necessarily somewhat speculative and may be cautious (cf.
Baker 1976, 190; Beresford 1958, 275; Krause 1957, 425f) Northampton's population is unlikely to
have been much more than 2500. The Poll Tax returns rank Northampton twenty-eighth in terms
of the size of its population. During the next century and a half various remissions of the farm were
granted, in 1484 because Northampton 'hath fallen into so great desolation and ruin ... so that
almost half of the same town remains desolate and destroyed' (Markham 1898, 98). The farm was
finally reset at £98 in 1514 (VCH Northamptonshire III, 19). In 1524 the population appears to have
risen to perhaps between 2800 and 3200 (Dyer 1979, 73) and the town was probably ranked a little
below twentieth (Phythian-Adams 1979, 12). Thus, while Northampton's economic misfortunes in
the late Middle Ages should not be underestimated, they seem to have been part of a general malaise
affecting English towns of this period rather than being peculiar to itself.
Some information about the topography of the town in the late 13th century can be gleaned from
a royal rental dating to the time of Edward I (PRO SC 12/13/28). The rental, starting in Derngate,
progresses fairly systematically around the town. Some difficulty is caused in that individual streets
are not always named, properties sometimes being listed under more general headings such as the
'North Quarter' or 'St. Mary's parish'. Nonetheless the settled area can be seen essentially to have
comprised that within the town walls for very few suburban properties are listed. About 300
properties are recorded including seven stalls and 39 plots but a section of the rental relating to the
area around the market square is missing; in the subsequent 1504 rental a further 69 properties are
listed in that area, almost entirely shops and stalls. Additionally, urban estates are charged against
the capital message and not broken down, the most notable example being Gobion Manor which in
1301 is known to have comprised well over 40 properties (PRO C133/101/2). Again few properties
appear to belong to religious houses yet Delapré and St. James' Abbeys had clearly been acquiring
urban holdings (Mon Angl 5, 209; BL Cott Tib E v, passim) and at the time of the Dissolution St.
Andrew's Priory owned about 100 and St. James' Abbey over 60 properties within the town (PRO
E318 21/1098). This seems to indicate over 500 properties and a population of perhaps 3000 and
possibly rather more depending on the number of unrecorded properties. It is of interest that the
market square, about 50 years after its establishment, was then clearly built up.
Structural evidence from the 13th to 15th centuries is limited. A vaulted stone undercroft in
George Row, probably of 14th-century date, survives to the present day (Northampton (41)) and
similar structures were recorded at the corner of Gold Street and College Street (fiche p. 388) and in
the Drapery (Northampton (40)). The Guildhall at the corner of Wood Hill and Abington Street
(Northampton (11)) is again attributed to the 14th century. It is known mainly from illustrations of
its exterior and was demolished as recently as 1864 (see Plate 9). Excavation in St. Peter's Street
(Northampton (51) uncovered the remains of ten properties fronting on to the street (Plate 5). The
timber structures which date from soon after the Norman Conquest were replaced piecemeal by
stone houses during the 13th and 14th centuries and c. 1400 the whole street was rebuilt. The houses
measured 8 metres to 12 metres by 6 metres with their long sides fronting the street and were
divided into two rooms on the ground floor. These simple houses, with earth and clay floors, had
walls substantial enough to support an upper storey but the precise architectural arrangements are
unknown. Major building work in stone occurred in Gregory Street in the 14th century
(Northampton (42)). Documentary evidence has now firmly located Gobion Manor in the Riding
(cf. Northampton (49)). The large building marked in the area on Speed's map (Fig. 8) is
presumably the medieval manor. Excavations in 1981–2 within the manor precinct failed to locate
the manor itself but a large quantity of tile and two pieces of architectural moulding suggest a
medieval building of some pretensions.
The latter part of the Middle Ages saw changes in the religious structure of the town. St.
Thomas's hospital was possibly founded c. 1450 (Northampton (19)) and in 1460 the College of All
Saints was granted a foundation charter although it had been in existence for some years on a less
formal basis; this provided that the various guild chaplains of All Saints' might live together under a
definite rule (Northampton (33)). The parish structure as a whole, however, was beginning a
process of contraction. St. Bartholomew's appears to have lost its parochial status some time after
1232. It was referred to as the chapel of St. Bartholomew in 1490 and in the late 15th or early 16th
century its dedication seems to have been changed to St. Lawrence. By 1569 it appears to have
become purely the collecting point for tithe from the demesne lands of St. Andrew's Priory
(Williams 1982b, 81). St. Edmund's was annexed to the rectory of St. Michael in the early 15th
century and the church itself had probably gone out of use by c. 1540 when the vicars of St. Giles'
acquired the tithes. St. Michael's was absorbed into Holy Sepulchre parish (Williams 1982b, 75) and
St. Gregory's and St. Mary's were incorporated into All Saints' parish in 1556 and 1590 respectively
(Serjeantson 1901, 88, 97). All this evidence again points to a general decline in the town's fortunes
rather than being directly relatable to the effects of the Dissolution of the Monasteries which must,
however, have had a dramatic impact on Northampton. St. James' Abbey, St. Andrew's Priory and
Delapré Abbey and the four major friaries were all sold and demolished at least in part. The
substantial holdings in land and other property of the religious houses were also sold.
Speed's map (Fig. 8) shows some of the buildings of St. Andrew's Priory surviving as well as
buildings which may have been part of the Carmelite and Augustinian friaries. The buildings of St.
Andrew's Priory and the Carmelite friary are depicted more clearly on the Pierce map (Plate 7). Part
of the Carmelite friary may have been incorporated in the large urban house known as the
Fleetwood Mansion and shown on the prospects of Harris and Buck (Plate 8).
The town was in a fairly reduced state for, as Dr. London recorded in 1539, 'I see in
Northampton notable decay first of the houses, whereof part belonged to the religious houses
which were lately suppressed which were evil repairers of their lands and part to the gentlemen of
the country who extort as much rent as they can and leave all repairs to the tenants who now let
their housing fall in ruin to the great deformity of the town' (Cal LPFD Hen VIII, XIV pt 1, 21).
Thus the 16th century saw a marked change in the physical appearance of the town with the
disappearance of many of its religious institutions and with much property transferred from the
church into private ownership. Northampton, while still a parliamentary and corporate borough
and the county administrative centre, had already lost its former greatness and become a
medium-sized provincial market town.
The Churches of Northampton
The historic churches of Northampton are an outstanding group of buildings. They are a tangible
record of the history of the town from its beginnings in the 8th century to the present day, and three
of them have an important place in the history of English ecclesiastical architecture. Four parish
churches, All Saints', St. Giles', Holy Sepulchre, and St. Peter's are still in use, but only fragments
of St. Gregory's exist. The religious houses, which were an important element of medieval
Northampton, have fared less well. No traces survive except for a small part of the Hospital of St.
John, now adapted as the Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist.
Excavation east of St. Peter's Church has shown that the area was probably occupied from the
late 7th to the late 9th century by a hall which has been identified as a major element of a palace
complex (Fig. 5; Frontispiece, Plate 4). It was first built in timber and later replaced in stone. At the
same level stone foundations were discovered just east of St. Peter's Church at about 1.2 metres
below the present ground surface. They formed the east end of a building, the major part of which
lies under the present church. This structure, probably built in the early 8th century, is likely to
have been a church. It is not known when this site was first used for religious purposes and whether
it remained in continuous use subsequently but the major 12th-century church which stands on it
suggests some degree of continuity. Two large carved stones of late Saxon date which had been
re-used in the 12th-century church were discovered during the restoration of 1850. This evidence,
coupled with the difference in level between the 8th and the 12th-century churches suggests that
there was at least one major re-building before the Conquest.
The site of St. Peter's was the nucleus around which the late Saxon town grew. Expansion was
limited by the river valley on the south and west and mainly took place to the north and east. After
the Norman Conquest the town enjoyed a period of great prosperity. The only standing buildings
which survive from this period are the parish churches.
St. Peter's Church (Northampton (24); Figs. 9, 10; Plates 12–15) dates largely from c. 1140 but
has been altered at both ends. The details of the fabric and evidence found during the restoration of
1850 suggest that the 12th-century church consisted of a long, rectangular main compartment,
structurally undivided but arranged in three distinct parts, the largest at the west and the smallest at
the east. The western and central areas were flanked by narrow aisles. At the west end was a tower
with a wide tower arch and a large west doorway. This tripartite arrangement within a single
compartment is quite unlike that of any parish church of the period, but similar to the arrangement
of a conventual church. Thus the eastern part may have accommodated a choir and sanctuary
flanked by chapels and the western part with the choir aisles may have been used for processions and
also have served as a parochial nave. This interpretation suggests that the church, although it had
some parochial functions, was built primarily for a small group of priests following a corporate
pattern of worship. Thus something of the organisation of a Saxon minster survived into the 12th
century. Documentary evidence seems to indicate that St. Peter's was at the centre of an extensive
parochial area in the Saxon period.
Fig. 9 Northampton (24) Parish Church of St. Peter.
Fig. 10 Northampton (24) Parish Church of St. Peter. Section through nave looking E.
Little is known of the circumstances of the re-building of St. Peter's Church in the 12th century
but the proximity of a royal castle and the unusual form and quality of the church suggest an
important lay patron, perhaps the Earl of Northampton or even the Crown. These factors appear to
indicate that the 12th-century administrative arrangements may have continued those established in
the Saxon period with the secular and ecclesiastical administration still closely associated. A
comparable situation exists in Leicester where St. Mary in Castro is adjacent to the castle and has a
similar undivided plan.
St. Peter's is decorated with much high quality carving. The tower arch, the former west
doorway and arcade arches carry rich architectural ornament and the arcade capitals are treated even
more ambitiously with vigorous carving of animals and foliage which shows some Lombardic
influences (Plates 14, 15).
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Northampton (22); Figs. 11, 12; Plates 16, 17) was probably
built at the same period as St. Peter's and also has a form unusual for a parish church. It is one of the
two remaining early 12th-century round churches in England; the other is at Cambridge.
Fig. 11 Northampton (22) Parish Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Fig. 12 Northampton (22) Parish Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Reconstruction of 12th-century church.
The dedication and shape of the church indicate the inspiration of the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre at Jerusalem, interest in which was stimulated by the Crusades, but the particular form of
the building was probably derived from the round churches and baptistries of Northern Italy. Holy
Sepulchre appears always to have been a parish church and this raises the two important issues of
why this form of building was chosen and how it was used. No clear evidence exists on either
point. The form of the church, its size and quality do, however, indicate that, like St. Peter's, it was
built for a powerful patron with cosmopolitan interests and considerable financial resources.
The 12th-century church had an un-aisled chancel and circular nave surrounded by an aisle and
entered by a large west doorway. The internal elevation of the nave can be re-constructed by
analogy with that of the round church at Cambridge which consists of a low arcade, gallery and
clearstorey. The aisle, like that at Cambridge, had a vault, traces of which survive on the outer wall.
It appears to have had transverse arches defining groin or rib-vaulted compartments, which had
two bays on the outer wall, some framing windows, to every one of the arcade. In the 14th century
the vault was removed and the upper part of the nave dismantled. The arcade piers were raised
using 12th-century masonry, presumably from the former gallery arcade and the original
12th-century capitals were re-used, some incorrectly. An octagonal drum was then constructed
with high pointed arches and conventional clearstorey windows. The west tower and porch were
added at this time.
The church of St. Giles (Northampton (23); Fig. 13, fiche Fig. 33; Plates 18, 19), which also dates
from this period, was more conventional, having a cruciform plan with a central tower. The
12th-century chancel was slightly smaller than the present one and the 12th-century transepts
occupied the position of the present compartments. The nave was 15 metres long and was entered
by a large west doorway; no evidence for aisles remains. The lower parts of the 12th-century tower
survive including at the north-east corner a large rectangular stair turret which was partly external.
This turret is certainly of the 12th century, although it may not have been part of the original
design. It contains a generous stair which gave access to a chamber above the crossing (cf. King's
Cliffe Church, RCHM Northamptonshire VI, King's Cliffe (1)). This feature, together with the large
chancel and the west doorway, suggest that St. Giles' was a church of some importance in the 12th
The tower of All Saints', which also dates from this period, is similar to that of St. Giles'. Both
have square plans of much the same size and wide openings in all four walls at ground level. The
12th-century church at All Saints' was probably therefore also cruciform.
These churches all contribute to a general picture of ambitious patronage, prosperity and
expansion in Northampton during the 11th and 12th centuries. St. Peter's and Holy Sepulchre are
outstanding in a national context and even St. Giles' is a church of considerable size and elaboration.
This picture is of course limited by the disappearance of the three monastic houses founded in the
later 11th and 12th centuries. The Cluniac Priory of St. Andrew lay in the north-west part of the
town and the Augustinian Abbey of St. James and the Cluniac nunnery at Delapré were outside the
walls to the west and the south. The most important of these monastic houses was St. Andrew's
which acquired the patronage of all the parish churches in the town.
Northampton continued to prosper until the latter part of the 13th century when it appears to
have suffered a decline. Although the decline was perhaps arrested in the later Middle Ages the
town never regained its 12th-century prominence. The plans of the 12th-century churches, with the
exception of All Saints', remained largely unaltered, the only significant area of growth being the
provision of space for additional altars in aisles and chapels. This can be contrasted with churches
elsewhere in the county, nearly all of which were enlarged and rebuilt between 1200 and 1450.
Fig. 13 Northampton (23) Parish Church of St. Giles.
Plan and reconstruction of chancel section.
There were no extensions at St. Peter's and new work was confined to repair and replacement. At
Holy Sepulchre chapels were built flanking the chancel during the 13th and 14th centuries, one on
the south and two on the north. During the 14th century the circular part of the church was
virtually rebuilt and a west tower and spire constructed. The situation at St. Giles' was much the
same. The 12th-century chancel was slightly enlarged and raised in height. Later in the same
century the tower was strengthened and there is some evidence to suggest that the nave had aisles
by that time. A chapel was added to the north of the chancel in the 14th century and another on the
south in the 15th.
Fig. 14 Northampton (21) Parish Church of All Saints.
Plan and details of crypt.
It was only at All Saints' that the 12th-century plan proved inadequate. Evidence for the growth
of the church is limited but the positions of the tower and the undercroft show that the 14th-century
chancel was about 28 metres long. The nave was presumably at least as long. Something of the scale
of the church can be judged by the height to which the crossing arches were raised. Indeed, it is
surprising that the 12th-century tower was considered worth retaining. An explanation for this
growth is that All Saints' became the central church after the expansion of the 12th century had
shifted the focus of the town from the castle and St. Peter's to the market area around All Saints'.
At the Dissolution all the religious houses except the Hospitals of St. John and St. Thomas were
surrendered and many of the monastic buildings were pulled down, thus leaving great voids in the
fabric of the town. St. John's Hospital, which had grown up during the 12th and 13th centuries into
a relatively large foundation apparently with a sizable church, had been re-organised in the 15th
century. The charity was diverted towards permanent pensioners rather than casual relief and parts
of the early medieval building were adapted to form a Master's House and an Almshouse. The
chapel at the north-east corner of the Almshouse seems to have replaced the former church.
During the 17th century the surviving parish churches were the subject of considerable attention.
At St. Peter's the sanctuary and its flanking chapels were demolished and a new east wall built in
line with the east responds of the arcades. At the west end the tower was dismantled and rebuilt one
bay to the east. The plan form of the tower appears to follow that of the original and much of the
12th-century ornament was re-used. This was not, however, simply an exercise in economy or
antiquarianism as the 12th-century work was incorporated in combination with other elements of
unusual form. Most notable of these are the triple-shaft buttresses which are unmistakably of the
17th century rather than imitations of Gothic or classical detail. It is a work of rare interest and great
Holy Sepulchre was reduced in size. The outer north chapel was removed and the chancel was
also probably shortened to line up with the east walls of the flanking chapels. At St. Giles' the
central tower fell in 1613 destroying the north side of the nave and much of the north aisle. The
church was immediately repaired following the lines of the medieval work. Later in the century All
Saints' was burnt down in the great fire of 1675 which destroyed the centre of Northampton. The
only medieval fabric to survive was the lower part of the tower and the undercroft below the east
end of the church. Rebuilding must have been swift as the church was re-opened in 1680. The new
church was almost certainly designed by Henry Bell who was employed as a 'manager' for the
rebuilding as well as being involved in the general reconstruction of the town. The plan form of a
Greek cross within a square may have been inspired by the church of St. Mary at Hill which was
rebuilt in that form by Wren between 1670 and 1676. The only other church known to have been
designed by Henry Bell, at North Runcton, near King's Lynn, was based on the same plan and
shares many details with All Saints', Northampton.
All Saints' is an outstanding church, which reflects ideas being developed at that time by Wren in
his London churches (Fig. 14; Plates 20, 21). Of contemporary churches outside London, only St.
Mary's Church at Warwick, rebuilt some 20 years later, is comparable. Both were important
medieval town churches destroyed by fire and rebuilt with large unified naves. At Warwick the
survival of the medieval chancel and Beauchamp Chapel led to the adoption of a Gothic style for the
new work, whereas at Northampton, where the surviving medieval fabric was less extensive, the
new building is uncompromisingly classical except for some details in the windows and tower. The
plan of the body of the church is based on a square in which four columns support a dome with
arches and pendentives. Barrel vaults running back from the arches define the Greek cross; the
corners have flat ceilings. The floor of the chancel is somewhat higher than that of the nave as it is
raised above the medieval undercroft. The base of the former central tower was incorporated within
a new west tower and flanked by large vestibules. A portico two bays deep and seven bays wide was
built across the west front. This splendid feature, which is based on the west portico added by Inigo
Jones to old St. Paul's Cathedral, London, was not completed until 1701 but appears to have been
part of Henry Bell's design. Much of the original plasterwork and furniture survive, notably the
pulpit, font and altar rails and the Mayor's chair which is dated 1680.
Fig. 15 Northampton (20) Former Hospital of St. John.
Fig. 16 Northampton (20) Former Hospital of St. John. Plan of hospital in c. 1870.
Northampton expanded rapidly during the first half of the 19th century, the population growing
from 7020 in 1801 to 32813 in 1861. A number of new churches were built between 1841 and the
end of the century outside the area of the medieval town. In the centre the rise in population was
accommodated by enlarging the medieval parish churches. At All Saints' large galleries extending
to the four central columns were introduced in the early 19th century. These galleries were later
reduced in size.
Most of the enlargements were carried out around the middle of the century by two architects,
G.G. Scott, whose brother was curate of St. Giles', and E.F. Law, a local man who was also an
antiquarian and a cartographer (cf. p. 27; Law 1879–80; Plate 11). Scott made a survey of St. Giles'
in 1840 and was later responsible for the restoration of St. Peter's in 1850 and of Holy Sepulchre in
1860–4. Law restored St. Giles' in 1853, and also re-ordered the chancel of All Saints' in 1888.
At St. Peter's the east end was rebuilt following the lines of the 12th-century foundations. St.
Giles' was greatly enlarged, the nave and aisles being extended and an outer north aisle added. At
Holy Sepulchre a new chancel, north and south chapels and a vestry were built on the east. The
former chancel and chapels were themselves extended and turned into a nave and aisles. The outer
north chapel was rebuilt as an aisle following the earlier foundations. The chancels of all the
churches were refurbished in contemporary taste, the most outstanding being the apsidal sanctuary
at Holy Sepulchre.
The only direct link between the churches of the town of Northampton and those of the villages
around was the sprawling extra-mural parish of St. Peter's which included the churches of
Kingsthorpe and Upton as dependent chapels. Possibly these were the surviving fragments of a
large Saxon minster parochia centred on St. Peter's.
Kingsthorpe (fiche Fig. 31; Plates 30, 31, 36) is unusually large for a dependent chapel and indeed
its worshippers resented their subordination to St. Peter's; it did not become an independent parish
until 1850. Restoration of the church in 1863 revealed substantial remains of Romanesque fabric
showing that the church was already of some size by c. 1100. Unfortunately the drastic restoration,
in which the church was virtually demolished except for the arcades and side walls, destroyed much
of the evidence. The first Romanesque church consisted of an un-aisled nave and chancel. In the
mid-12th century aisles were added on both sides of the nave and on the north side of the chancel. In
the 13th century the chancel was lengthened and given a south chapel. An unusual development,
probably of c. 1400, was that the chancel was further extended over the crypt, the west part of the
Romanesque chancel incorporated into the nave and a new chancel arch built on the line of the
chancel arcade piers.
Upton church is a much smaller and simpler building (fiche Fig. 34; Plate 32). The Romanesque
nave and chancel, which together form a long rectangle with no dividing wall, perhaps date from
c. 1180. The original doorways survive and some of the windows. The nave was lengthened in the
13th century and a tower was later inserted into the extension perhaps replacing a bell-cote. The
tower is flanked by spaces which were floored to provide two chambers on each side. Their use is
The parish church of Duston (fiche Figs. 27, 28; Plate 27), which lies between Upton and
Northampton, was owned by St. James' Abbey. The early 12th-century church can be
reconstructed as having an un-aisled nave, central tower and chancel, a plan similar to that of
Barton Seagrave. By the end of the 12th century the nave was aisled. The building was radically
altered in the 14th century when the eastern part of the tower fell or was taken down and the chancel
extended. The central tower was rebuilt above roof level on a square plan.
Apart from these three churches which had direct links with Northampton, the other churches
within the present borough boundary are village churches, of a variety of types found elsewhere in
the county. The only Saxon remains outside the area of the medieval borough are to be found at
Weston Favell where the west doorway with irregular rubble voussoirs seems to date from the
mid-11th century and at Little Billing which preserves a tub font inscribed with the name of its
maker Wigberthus (Plate 35). The script places the inscription in the 11th century or possibly later.
Except at Kingsthorpe and Upton, Romanesque features are rare. The most common are
doorways in naves and chancels, with two simple unchamfered orders, as at Collingtree and
Dallington, and tower arches of three unchamfered orders as at Weston Favell and Hardingstone.
An enigmatic fragment of sculpture survives at Dallington (Plate 35). More impressive is the Early
English work at Great Billing (Plate 23) which has piers of complex shafting in the south arcade and
at Duston (Plate 27) where the west wall is pierced by three large lancets. As elsewhere in the
county the churches of the area were radically altered in the 14th and 15th centuries. One of the
most curious examples is Little Billing (Plate 24). The 13th-century church, which had a chancel,
nave and north aisle, was first extended in the 14th century by a north chancel chapel and then,
perhaps in c. 1500, the entire nave arcade was removed and the envelope of nave and north aisle
redesigned as a united space. Wootton (Plate 34) now appears to be a conventional Perpendicular
church with battlemented nave and chancel but its plan reveals a misalignment of tower and nave
which suggests that the tower survives from an earlier building phase on a different axis.
The churches were considerably altered in the 17th and 18th centuries. At Hardingstone a burial
chapel was added in the late 16th century at the east end of the south aisle and the chancel was
completely rebuilt in a classical style in the mid-18th century. At Great Billing (Plate 23) a chapel
and family vault were added to the north of the chancel in the late 17th century and, after the spire
was blown down in 1759, the north aisle was completely rebuilt. Nave and tower were later
ornamented by an Elizabethan pierced parapet allegedly from the former Billing Hall demolished in
1776. The medieval church of Great Houghton was taken down and replaced in 1754 by a classical
church designed by William and David Hiorne (Plate 29). The most radical alterations were those to
Abington church (Plate 22) in 1823, where, after a storm had damaged the church, the nave and
aisles were rebuilt as a square hall with cast-iron tracery in the windows and a Gothic ceiling rose.
The Victorian contribution followed the same pattern as elsewhere in the county. The drastic
restoration of Kingsthorpe in 1863 has already been mentioned; that of Dallington (Plate 26) in
1877–83 was almost as severe, with whole sections of the ancient fabric being replaced. In the late
19th and 20th centuries the villages have been gradually absorbed into Northampton and their
churches have in several cases been altered to accommodate growing populations. One example is
Weston Favell which has been progressively enlarged by the addition in 1881 of a north 'transept'
and the reinstatement of the north aisle, which had been removed c. 1726, and in 1972 by the
addition of a vestry/church room in the angle between chancel and 'transept'.
Medieval Rural Settlement
By late medieval times a pattern of a single nucleated settlement within each parish seems to have
been common in the Northampton area and even in the late 11th century Domesday Book appears
to indicate that this arrangement already existed. The origin of the parishes themselves is at the
present time unclear. The presence of Little and Great names (Billing and Houghton) and the close
tenurial and agricultural links between Collingtree and Milton Malsor suggest that some parishes
emerged from the break-up of earlier, larger estates, perhaps in late Saxon times. However, at
Hardingstone, at least, the evidence indicates that the present parishes were made up of two separate
The date at which these nucleated villages came into existence is equally problematical. Saxon
pottery is frequently found during field-walking and probable or certain settlements have been
noted at Upton (5), Weston Favell (8) and inside Hunsbury hill fort (Hardingstone (22)). At the
moment most of the pottery discovered can only be assigned to the general period AD 400–850.
This limited evidence may mean that up to the end of the middle Saxon period settlement was
dispersed and that the existing villages only appeared in late Saxon times. On the other hand the
lack of known middle Saxon, as opposed to early Saxon, cemeteries might indicate that the
establishment of nucleated villages began during middle Saxon times and that the modern
settlements cover both occupation and burial places of that period.
Only at Hardingstone is there evidence of more than one medieval settlement in the parish. There
the hamlet of Far Cotton is related to the Saxon crossing of the R. Nene and the hamlet of Cotton
End to the medieval crossing of the river.
Little can be deduced as to the original form of these presumably mid to late Saxon villages. Later
expansion and alteration have largely obscured their early layout. Hardingstone, on both
morphological grounds and from the evidence of its medieval field systems (Hall, 1980), was
probably once a poly-focal village, each of the two parts perhaps being the centre of a separate estate
or agricultural unit. At Upton (6) the earthworks of the deserted village may preserve in their plan a
layout close to the original form. If so, the regular appearance suggests an element of planning
which may be assigned to as late as the 12th century.
Elsewhere there is evidence, already noted over the rest of the county, of shrinkage or
re-alignment of villages. At Little Billing (7) archaeological work has indicated a reduction in size in
the later medieval period, and there is also a documented decline in the late 17th century. At Great
Houghton (10), Great Billing (15) and Weston Favell (9) there are other indications of shrinkage.
Two completely deserted villages lie within the area. That at Upton (6) seems to have been
removed in the late 15th century, perhaps for sheep farming (Fig. 17). Abington village was cleared
for imparking in the mid 18th century, though it had already declined in size before its final
abandonment. The earthworks of the village, although poorly preserved, are a remarkable survival
in an urban area (Abington (6); fiche Fig. 19).
Medieval and Later Earthworks
In addition to the village remains noted above, the area contains a number of other earthworks of
note. Fishponds, probably of medieval origin, exist at Abington (7), Dallington (8) (fiche Fig. 26)
and Great Billing (16), though all have been re-modelled as a result of imparking. Unaltered, but
damaged, medieval fishponds have been noted at Great Houghton (10) and Weston Favell (10)
(fiche Fig. 37) while the fishponds at Upton (8) (fiche Fig. 35) are well-preserved.
Little medieval and later ridge-and-furrow now survives, but that preserved in Abington Park
(Abington (8); fiche Fig. 19), Delapré Park (Hardingstone (30)) and especially in Upton Park
(Upton (9); Fig. 17) is of considerable interest. The boundary of the medieval Royal Deer Park at
Moulton Park (2) can still be traced for much of its perimeter (fiche Fig. 32). The site of one
post-medieval garden (Upton (7)) is recorded (Fig. 17).
After the Dissolution
This essay is primarily concerned with the topographical development of the Northampton area up
to c. 1540, although the architectural studies of the churches embrace all periods up to the present
day. The following few paragraphs attempt to outline the later development of the town.
After the Dissolution Northampton continued as a provincial market town into the 17th century
and the extent of the town in 1610 can be clearly seen on Speed's map (Fig. 8). Successive bouts of
plague considerably if temporarily reduced the population in the first half of the 17th century and a
further disaster occurred with the Great Fire of 1675 which destroyed the main part of the town
(Everitt 1972, 30f; VCH Northamptonshire III, 31; cf. Elliot 1862). The great rebuilding which
followed, while respecting the basic framework of the medieval streets, provided for the laying out
of the Market Square and All Saints' areas more spaciously. All Saints' church (Northampton (21)),
18 Market Square, the Sessions House in George Row, now part of the County Hall, and the
George Row Club bear witness to the reconstruction of the town, as a result of which Morton
could relate 'and since that dismal conflagration upon September the 20th, 1675, which desolated
and consum'd almost the whole town, it has been re-edified and nobly improved: and is now
universally own'd to be one of the neatest in the kingdom' (1712, 23). Defoe described
Northampton a little later as 'the handsomest and best built town in all this part of England' (Defoe:
Everyman 1966 II, 86).
Fig. 17 Upton (6) Deserted village; (7) garden remains.
In 1662 King Charles II, in response to Northampton's support of Parliament during the Civil
Wars, had given the order for the town walls to be slighted and the castle to be demolished apart
from what was necessary to house the justices on the bench (Brown 1915–16, 99ff; Cox 1898,
442–4). While efforts were made to accomplish this neither the town walls nor the castle totally
disappeared (Northampton (7, 9)). The line of the town walls is marked on Noble and Butlin's map
of 1746 (Plate 9) from the east gate at Abington Street round to the south gate at Bridge Street and
further possible lengths of wall are indicated to the north of Abington Street. The early
18th-century prospects of Northampton (Plate 8) also show ruined sections of the town wall at the
south of the town. The map of 1807 of Roper and Cole (Plate 10), differing in detail to that of Noble
and Butlin, depicts the old wall surviving with two bastions to the south of the town with the 'Old
Ditch' stretching round the east of the town. Similarly, parts of the bailey wall of the castle survived
into the 19th century but in 1879 the greater part of the castle site was quarried away to facilitate
improvements to the railway.
The shoe industry, the basis of Northampton's future wealth, was becoming important in the
second half of the 17th century and Thomas Fuller wrote 'the town of Northampton may be said to
stand chiefly on other men's legs; where (if not the best) the most and cheapest boots and stockings
are bought in England' (1662, 279).
In the 18th century, in contrast to the other important East Midland centres of Leicester, Derby,
Nottingham and Coventry, Northampton did not increase greatly in population. The absence of a
plentiful supply of cheap fuel was probably the chief factor limiting its growth. The establishment,
however, in 1742 of Edward Cave's cotton spinning mill at Northampton, stated to be the first of
its kind in England, was not a success (Thornton 1959). Northampton was still a market town with
a small shoe industry which spread out into the local villages yet it was also a major route centre
with its great inns a dominating feature. Defoe observed that the George Inn 'looks more like a
palace than an inn' (Defoe: Everyman 1966 II, 86). Noble and Butlin's map of 1746 (Plate 9) shows
that the town, apart from its walls and castle, was essentially the same as in 1610.
In 1779 the town fields were enclosed (NRO Inclosure Awards vol. E) and this had unanticipated
significance, for the new field boundaries largely determined the street pattern of the Victorian
town expansion. The extra-parochial lands, the former demesne lands of St. Andrew's Priory, not
being subject to the Poor Rate, were among the first to be exploited. The beginning of both these
processes can be seen on Wood and Law's map of 1847 (Plate 11).
The Grand Junction Canal was opened as far as Blisworth in 1796, thereby allowing plentiful
supplies of Midland coal to be borne by water to within four miles of the town. Initially it then had
to be transported to the town by road, but in 1805 a tramplate railway was built from Gayton
Wharf, Blisworth, to the River Nene near South Bridge, Northampton and in 1815 the branch
canal from Blisworth to Northampton was opened (see Hatley and Rajczonek 971, passim, and for
the next paragraphs).
Stimulated by the demand for service footwear, the Northampton shoe industry had expanded
considerably from about 1793, bringing about a parallel expansion of the population of
Northampton as a whole. The really dramatic growth, however, occurred only after 1815, when
the branch canal was completed (cf. Table 1). In the 1820's the growth of population was 42 per
cent, compared with 5 per cent at Wellingborough, the next largest producer of shoes in
Population of Northampton in the 19th century.
|1811||8427||20 per cent increase|
|1821||10793||28 per cent increase|
|1831||15351||42 per cent increase|
|1841||21242||38 per cent increase|
|1851||26657||25 per cent increase|
|1861||32813||23 per cent increase|
|1871||41168||25 per cent increase|
|1881||51881||Not reliable as a guide because of growth of the suburbs outside the muncipal boundary.|
The percentage of shoemakers among the adult male population increased from about 24 per cent
in 1818 to 34 per cent in 1831, 39 per cent in 1851 and 43 per cent in 1871. This was a higher
proportion of men employed in a single industry than in most other industrial towns.
The availability of cheap coal also helped the growth of other industries. Three iron foundries
were set up by the early 1830's and Phipps Brewery moved to Northampton from Towcester in
1819. Several large brickworks were established in or near the town in the 1820's; during this time
there was a 56 per cent increase in housing stock almost entirely constructed in brick. Welsh slate
was on sale in the town from the late 1790's. The railway first reached Northampton in 1845.
By 1883 (OS 1883, 1:2500) the town had expanded along the Kingsthorpe Road as far as
Kingsthorpe Hollow and the area between the Kingsthorpe Road and Kettering Road as far as the
Race Course was built up, as was that between the Wellingborough and Billing Roads as far as
Talbot Street and the General Cemetery. Yet the villages around Northampton, such as Abington,
Hardingstone, Kingsthorpe and Weston Favell, can be seen to have covered essentially the same
area as in late medieval times.
In 1900 the municipal boundaries were extended to include Far Cotton, with the exception of
some small agricultural areas, half of Kingsthorpe, the whole of St. James' End and a large part of
Abington, thereby increasing the area of the borough from 531 hectares (1311 acres) to 1373
hectares (3392 acres) (VCH Northamptonshire III, 33). By about the same time the built-up area had
spread almost as far as Abington village, and, with the growth and development of Semilong, the
Kingthorpe Hollow district and Queen's Park, Kingsthorpe and Northampton had more or less
Between 1901 and the mid-1960's, Northampton's growth was not impressive (cf. Table 2).
Population of Northampton 1901 to 1961
Little new building was undertaken in Northampton immediately after 1901. The stock of houses
only increased by 4 per cent between 1901 and 1911 and building on a substantial scale was only
resumed in the 1920's. All parts of the town were affected by interwar growth, but the main thrust
was in the eastern suburbs.
In 1968 Northampton was designated an area of considerable expansion under the New Towns
Act of 1965. The designated area, that of the present District and Borough, embraced 7948 hectares
and by 1984 the population had risen from 130000 in 1971 to 163000.