Northamptonshire History – Overview

This page will take you on a very brief tour of Northamptonshire through the ages. We have broken down the county history into periods which are listed below. The dates and groupings could be debated but we hope this gives you a good start point.

  1. Early Northamptonshire (Pre 43 AD)
  2. The Romans (43 AD – 410 AD)
  3. The Saxons (410 AD – 1066)
  4. The Danes (793 – 1042)
  5. The Normans (1066 – 1154)
  6. The Middle Ages (1154 – 1485)
  7. The Tudors (1485 – 1603)
  8. The Stuarts (1603 – 1714)
  9. The Hanovers (1714 – 1901)
  10. The Windsors (1901 – Today)

Each section has a brief description below with links to find out more. We will continually update these sections so please feel free to comment on them and guide their evolution.

Early Northamptonshire (Pre 43 AD)

This era is often referred to as pre-history as documented details of this period are rare. Northampton settlements can be dated back to 4000 BC where evidence of a circular earth work has been found at Briar Hill.

Circa 2000 BC Bronze age settlements are in evidence with pottery and light weapons being found scattered in various areas of the county in the form of arrowheads and axes.

Quite sizable farm settlements from the 1000 BC also appear throughout the southern valley areas of the county.

During the Iron Age at around 400 BC there is also evidence of a fortification at Hunsbury which consisted of a mound of defensible earth whose shape can still be made out to this day. It is thought that this settlement was used until around 20AD with pots and tools being found during this time period.

The area at this time largely consists of woodland and rich farmland which post 500 BC was occupied by the the Catuvellauni tribe. A well organised tribe with military might which put up a very strong fight against the probing Romans (led by Julius Caesar) with their then leader Cassivellaunus who was finally forced to surrender in 54 BC.

Click here to read more about Early Northamptonshire.
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The Romans (43 AD – 410 AD)

Northamptonshire was not perhaps as important a military Roman location as, for example, nearby Leicestershire as the two main roads from the South pass just inside the left and right boundaries. These two roads are today’s A5 known as Watling Street and today’s A1 which was known as Ermine Street.

There were three main Roman centers within the county Towcester (The Roman named ‘Lactodorum’), Irchester and the main area of commerce and the most populated location Water Newton (then referred to as Durobrivae and now falls outside of the county boundary). Durobrivae was in actual fact one of the richest of the smaller Roman towns in England. This is largely due to the very successful potteries at Castor and the growth of some very large villas nearby. Much of this wealth came from the sale of the pottery around the Roman Empire.

There are an increasing number of Roman settlements are being found across the county including one of the more recent at Nether Heyford known as the ‘Whitehall Farm’ Roman Villa.
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The Saxons (410 AD – 1066)

The Saxons controlled the area from around the time the Romans left (410 AD) till the Normans arrived in 1066. The Saxons left their mark on Northamptonshire leaving behind a legacy of Saxon village names as well as the monuments such as the Saxon church tower which still stands at Earls Barton.

A Great Hall is said to have been constructed next to St. Peter’s Church in Marefair between Gold St and the Railway Station.  Evidence of this was uncovered by archeolists during the 1990′s during redevelopment of what is now called ‘Saxon Rise’.  This was reputed to be the home of a prince and was originally constructed of timber around 750 AD and was rebuilt from stone and made much larger 70 years later.

During the later period of the Saxon reign the people were troubled by the Danes (Vikings or Norseman) who co-existed with the Saxons for a time although it was by no means a comfortable existance (see The Danes below).

Notes to be expanded:

  • Was St Patrick (? – 493) born near Roman Norton (Bannaventa)?
  • St. Cadoc died on January 24, 580 – Possibly died near Roman Norton (Bannaventa)

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The Danes (793 – 1042)

Just before the Normans arrived, towards the end of the 9th century there was a a period in which the Danish invasion led to the occupation of Northamptonshire and specifically Northampton. The Saxon King Alfred reluctantly agreed an uneasy peace with these interlopers and England was partitioned between them.

The Danes ruled Northampton, North East of the line of Watling Street whilst the Saxons retained all to the South West of the Roman built road. These Danish areas fell under what is known as Danelaw which meant that Danish rules were to be followed in these areas.

Due to the border location this area was likely to be home to a strong fighting force and it during this time the foundations for Northampton Castle would have appeared in the form of early fortifications. After much fighting Northampton was subsequently re-conquered by Alfred’s grandson Aethelstan, son of Edward the Elder. The town would likely have suffered tremendously during this conflict with the population and prosperity straining to survive.
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The Normans (1066 – 1154)

The Normans truly left their mark on Northampton building some of the more robust and splendid structures that are still visible today. The Normans were famous for their Churches but they also created Northampton Castle which was likely built on a wooden Saxon stronghold and became a strong center for trade and government.

Simon de Senlis (de St. Lis) was appointed the Earl of Northampton and under his control Northampton began to flourish and embarked on its journey to becoming the 3rd largest town in the country. De Senlis built the Castle and a number of the churches including the church of the Holy Sepulchre which has a circular nave not common to holy buildings. It was built in 1100 and was based on the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where De Senlis had been during the first crusade. It is one of only 4 of the UK’s surviving round churches.

Rockingham Castle was built during the early part of this period with the new King William ordering the construction of this stronghold overlooking the Welland Valley. This Castle fortunately survives to this day and is a modern tourist attraction with events and weddings still held here.

Delapre Abbey was constructed in 1145 by the second Earl of Northampton, the son of Simon de Senlis confusingly also named Simon.

William St. Clare, archdeacon of Northampton founds the St Johns Hospital around 1144.

The Domesday Book records that Northampton was resident to about 300 houses and just under 2000 inhabitants.

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The Middle Ages (1154 – 1485)

Without doubt, Northamptonshire was bucking the trend in this era as Northampton in particular was truly in it’s golden age as it rose to become one of the most important towns in the country. Unfortunately this success did not last till the end of the Middle Ages…

It was certainly a mix of fortunes for the folk of Northamptonshire as into this era saw prosperity and population growth. Many of the large houses in the county were built which encouraged visits from the Kings court for entertainment and sport. Much of the local woodland (e.g. Salcey, Silverstone etc.) was a popular hunting ground for nobles. Nearly 50 Town charters were issued by the various Kings which legitimised commerce at the markets and town centres, a sure sign of a prospering population. Amazingly Northampton becomes the third largest town in England.

Northampton Castle became host to Parliament (some form of committee leadership took place here since 1131 under the Normans) with Simon De Montfort establishing the very first democraticly elected Parliament in Britain in 1264.  Power moved between Crown and Parliament a number of times during this era, a dramatic account of where this all began can be found in our page on the <a herf=”/p=5″>Battle of Northampton 1264</a>.

It is hard to believe that this county and town were so prominent in the Kings standing and yet today Northamptonshire and the history of it are largely anonymous. The castle was also the site for many great tournaments and was truly an important place for the Kings court.  Perhaps this is the reason for the great trades which grew around the county’s popularity. Large groups of tailors, weavers and of course shoemakers appearing throughout the county and specifically in Northampton town itself.

Peter the Cordwainer (shoemaker) is noted as the earliest reference to the shoemaking trade in 1202. To find out more follow the link to Shoemaking in Northampton.

King Edward I travels through Northamptonshire with his beloved wife’s funeral prosession.  Returning from Lincoln where she died, the King marked the twelve resting places with an ornate cross.  2 of these lay within the county borders whilst the last is the famous Charing Cross in London.  Read more in our <href=”/?=100″>Queen Eleanors Cross</a> page.

A twist in fortunes is evident as a downward spiral begins with comments in historical texts to many villages being abandoned. Poor climate resulting in starvation and deprivation for the commonfolk is mentioned but also the Bubonic Plague (1348-50) took its toll along with other epidemics resulting in the county population being reduced by as much as 40 percent.  These scenes are not hard to imagine as it is this period that is commonly portrayed in the media with the likes of Robin Hood riding to the rescue of no doubt similar folk just some 50 miles North in Nottinghamshire.  Perhaps contrary to these scenes though, the sudden loss in the workforce resulted in local lords being forced to pay a good wage to the peasants and some certainly prospered in the latter years.

Notes to be expanded:

  • Jewish area (Gold Street)
  • Thomas a Becket trial and escape (the Well on Bedford Road)
  • William Tilly
  • Market Square
  • University (See some references in the Battle of Northampton 1264)
  • Battle of Northampton 1460 at Delapre
  • Fotheringhay Church and College

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The Tudors (1485 – 1603)

The fortunes of Northamptonshire continued to suffer into the Tudor era as King Henry VIII’s famous disagreement with Rome led to the dissolution of the Catholic Church in England. The monasteries, nunnaries and friaries were all victims as the land and wealth was stripped from what was reported to be an innocent and mostly poor collection of religous houses. Their main aim was religous contemplation and service to the poor.

The benefactors of this incredible act were of course the King’s treasury, but also the local nobles who were given the land and its bounty which included crops and livestock. One such noble was the elder Sir Thomas Tresham (Prior Tresham) [Interestingly whose family held secret catholic affinity].

Notes to be expanded:

  • The First Great Fire
  • Northampton School for Boys founded

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The Stuarts (1603 – 1714)

Notes to be expanded:

  • Civil War – Naseby
  • Northampton Castle Destroyed
  • Second Great Fire – 1675
  • King Charles II donation of wood to rebuild town

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The Hanovers (1714 – 1901)

Northamptonshire’s Tram System was built in 1881 with the last route expansion being in 1914. These trams operated until 1934

The Northampton Mercury Newspaper was first published in 1720 and is still being published today. This makes it the 10th longest running newspaper in the world!

Dr William Kerr (1738-1824), the prominent physician gathers investment and founds the General Hospital.

Notes to be expanded:

  • General Hospital (Billing Road)
  • Phillip Doddridge
  • Doddridge army
  • Cotton Water Mill
  • Culworth Gang
  • Spencer Percival Asassinated May 11th 1812
  • Bridge Street Station
  • Police Force
  • Charles Bradlaugh
  • Shoemaking Factories (strikes over new machinery)
  • Sir Moses Philip Manfield
  • Notre Dame School
  • Abington Park
  • Rugby, Cricket and Football clubs

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The Windsors (1901 – Today)

Notes to be expanded:

  • Notre Dame School Destroyed (under questionable legal circumstances)
  • General Hospital (Billing Road) Massively Expanded
  • General Hospital (Billing Road) William Kerr Education Building Opened (2005)
  • Princess Diana Funeral
  • Tram Lines Removed
  • New Market Square Fountain introduced to replace the one moved many years ago (May 2010)
  • Lots to go in here…. seperate page required

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