The Development of Northampton

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1985

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27-71

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'The Development of Northampton', An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 5: Archaeology and Churches in Northampton (1985), pp. 27-71. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=126619 Date accessed: 30 September 2014.


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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 growth.

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 volume.

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 field-walking.

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 (Hardingstone (7)).

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 uneven.

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, trackways (?).

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 (3200–2500 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 settlement.

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 (3)).

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) Roman villa.

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 Duston.


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 p. 324).

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 date.

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 (Williams forthcoming).

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 Towcester Road.

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 occurs.

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 (ibid, 440).

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 Northampton (39)).

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 Domesday Survey.

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 century.

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 virtuosity.

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 not known.

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 economic units.

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 Northamptonshire.

Table I

Population of Northampton in the 19th century.

18017020
1811842720 per cent increase
18211079328 per cent increase
18311535142 per cent increase
18412124238 per cent increase
18512665725 per cent increase
18613281323 per cent increase
18714116825 per cent increase
188151881Not reliable as a guide because of growth of the suburbs outside the muncipal boundary.
189161012
190187021

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 become joined.

Between 1901 and the mid-1960's, Northampton's growth was not impressive (cf. Table 2).

Table 2

Population of Northampton 1901 to 1961

190187021
191190064
192190895
193192341
1941No census
1951104432
1961105421

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.



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