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Northampton in 1839

The county-town, Northampton, is locally in the hundred of Spolhoe, on the north bank of the Nene, 67 miles from London. Its origin is unknown. In the peace between Alfred and the Danes it is likely that Northampton was included in the Danish territory, and was one of the burghs, or a dependency of one of the burghs, which they formed in Mercia. In A.D. 918 or 919, and again in 921, the Danes of Northampton (or simply Hampton, Hamtonia, as Henry of Huntingdon calls it, though Florence of Worcester calls it Northamtun) with their earls Thurferth and Thurkytel, submitted to Edward the Elder. In the reign of Ethelred II Northampton was nearly ruined by the Danes (A.D, 1010), and about the close of the reign of Edward the Confessor it suffered from the Northumbrian army under Morcar, or from the king’s troops under Harold, which in consequence of civil dissensions met here. After the conquest, Simon de St. Liz, on whom the Conqueror conferred the earldom of Northampton, built a castle here : and in the following reigns several ecclesiastical councils and parliaments were held in this town. In the reigns of Richard I, John, and Henry III, there was a mint at Northampton. In the reign of Henry II (about A.D. 1174), the townsmen, who sided with the king against his children, were, with the royal troops, defeated by Anketil Mallore, a supporter of the young princes. In the civil wars of John, Northampton castle was held for the king, and besieged in vain by the barons (A.D. 1215). Toward the close of the king’s reign the castle was given to Fulke de Brent, and in a conflict between his soldiers and the townsmen a considerable part of the town was burnt. In the troubles of the close of the reign of Henry III, Northampton, held by the barons, was taken by the king (A.D. 1264). In 1265 Northampton was taken by the barons, but recovered by the king’s party. In the commencement of the war of the Roses, a great battle was fought near the town (10th July, 1460), in which the Lancastrians were defeated by the earl of March (afterwards Edward IV) and the earl of Warwick. The king, Henry VI, was taken ; and the queen and the young prince of Wales escaped with difficulty. In the civil war of Charles I, Northampton was taken by Lord Brooke and fortified for the parliament. In 1675 the town was nearly consumed by a fire.

The borough boundaries enclose an area of l,520 acres divided among the four parishes of All Saints (pop. 7,333), St. Giles (pop. 3,025), St. Peter (706), and St. Sepulchre (4,287). The borough limits extend beyond the town, and include a considerable quantity of agricultural land on the north and east. The town is pleasantly situated on a slope rising from the north bank of the Nene, over the two branches of which, within the limits of the borough, are three bridges. It consists of several streets irregularly laid out : the two principal lines of street, of which one is along the Carlisle and Manchester mail-road, intersect at right-angles. One of the bridges over the Nene, a handsome stone bridge of three arches, is at the south end of that street which runs along the Carlisle road, and at the entrance of the town from London. One of the other bridges is over the Northern water, at the western end of the other principal line of street. The houses are well built, chiefly of stone ; and the streets are paved, and lighted with gas. The market-place is a large open area in the centre of the town. Among the principal edifices are the shire-hall, a spacious building of elegant Grecian architecture ; the county gaol ; the town-hall, an ancient building ; the borough gaol ; the theatre, a building erected early in the present century ; the barracks ; and the infirmary, a handsome building on the east side of the town, erected and fitted up in 1793. All Saints church is in the centre of the town, at the intersection of the principal streets ; it was erected after the great fire of 1675 : it is a plain building of incongruous architecture, having in the centre a cupola supported on four Ionic columns. At the west end is the original embattled tower, which escaped the fire. St. Giles’s Church, near the east end of the town, is a large cross church with portions of various styles. The western doorway is Norman ; part of the chancel is early English, of very good composition ; the east window is of decorated English ; and several of the other windows are of perpendicular character. St. Peter’s, near the West bridge, is a remarkably fine and curious specimen of enriched Norman. It consists of a nave with side aisles, separated from it by piers and arches ; with a square western tower. The capitals of the piers in the nave are elaborately carved, and the arches have zigzag indentations running round them. Three of the piers have diamond shaped or spiral mouldings. The tower has some curious Norman ornaments on the outside, and opens into the nave by an arch richly ornamented with zigzag mouldings. This tower has some singular buttresses, apparently added when the belfry story, which is of later date, was built. There is a small arched crypt continued east of the present chancel, which has been probably shortened. St. Sepulchre’s is on the north side of the town : it was built probably about the beginning of the twelfth century, and is one of the few round churches : it has eight circular piers with Norman capitals, and plain pointed arches : there is a chancel with a north and south aisle on the east side of the round part, and a good tower and spire of perpendicular character on the west side. There are several dissenting meeting-houses ; among them is the Castle Hill meeting, which contains a mural tablet to the memory of Dr. Doddridge, who exercised his ministry and conducted an academy for the education of ministers in this town for more than twenty years. Northampton had once seven churches : two have quite disappeared ; a part of the third, St. Gregory’s, near St. Peter’s, is used as a school-house. Of the several religious houses which existed before the Reformation, the hospitals of St. Thomas and St. John yet remain. That of St. John, for infirm poor persons, consists of a chapel and a large hall, with apartments for the inmates ; that of St. Thomas is for twenty poor alms-women : both these buildings have portions of early English, decorated English, and perpendicular character. Of the castle, which was near the West bridge, there are only the earth-works ; and of the town walls there are no traces.

The principal branch of trade carried on in the town is boot and shoe making, in which upwards of 1,300 men are employed. The articles are sent to London and other parts of England, or are exported. Considerate business is done in currying leather ; some stockings and lace are made, but the lace-making has much declined since the introduction of machinery. There are three iron-foundries. The trade of the town is facilitated by the navigation of the Nene, and by the double railroad communicating with the Grand Junction Canal. The principal market-day is Saturday ; it is a large cattle-market ; there are two subordinate markets in the week ; there are eight yearly fairs, three of them large horse-fairs, three others for live-stock, another for general merchandise, and another for sheep and cheese.

The assizes for the county are held here, also the quarter-sessions for the division, and the court of election for members of parliament for the southern division of the county. There are races in spring and autumn, held on a course to the north of the town. Northampton is a borough by prescription ; it is mentioned as a borough in Domesday Book. The governing charter is of 36 George III. By the Municipal Reform Act the borough has been divided into three wards, and has six aldermen and eighteen councillors. The revenue of the corporation arising from lands, tolls, &c. is nearly £1,500 per annum. There are quarter-sessions for the borough held regularly ; and a Court of Record for civil suits, little used ; the expenses of the police and the administration of justice are defrayed by a town-rate. There are numerous charities.

Thee livings of All Saints, St. Giles, and St. Sepulchre are vicarages, of the clear yearly value of £350, £111 (with a glebe-house), and £149 (with a glebe-house), respectively ; that of St. Peter is a rectory -united with the perpetual curacies of Kingsthorpe and Upton, of the clear yearly value of £860, with a glebe-house.

There were in the borough, in 1833, two infant-schools, with 232 children ; six dame-schools, with 108 children ; four endowed schools, with about 170 children ; a central national day and Sunday school for the county, with 372 children in the week and 987 on Sunday ; a Lancasterian school, with 508 children ; twenty-seven other day-schools, with 629 children ; one day and boarding school, with 29 children ; and thirteen Sunday-schools, with 2,180 children. Three of the endowed schools are for boys and one for girls ; the boys are clothed as well as educated ; the girls are entirely supported.