Northampton is a large town, borough, non-metropolitan district and the county town of Northamptonshire in the East Midlands region of England. It lies on the River Nene, situated about north-west of London and around south-east of Birmingham. With a population of 212,100 recorded in the 2011 census, Northampton is one of the largest urban centres in the UK without city status and is the most populous non-metropolitan district of England.
Archaeological evidence of settlement in the area dates back to the Bronze Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods. During the Middle Ages, the town rose to national significance with the establishment of Northampton Castle, which was an occasional royal residence and regularly hosted the Parliament of England. Medieval Northampton had many churches, monasteries and the University of Northampton, which were all enclosed by the town walls. It was granted its first town charter by King Richard I in 1189 and its first mayor was appointed by King John in 1215. The town is also the site of two medieval battles; the Battle of Northampton (1264) and the second in 1460.
Northampton's royal connection languished in the modern period; the town supported Parliament (the Roundheads) in the English Civil War, which culminated in King Charles II ordering the destruction of the town walls and most of the castle. The town also suffered the Great Fire of Northampton (1675) which destroyed most of the town. It was soon rebuilt and grew rapidly with the industrial development of the 18th century. Northampton continued to grow following the creation of the Grand Union Canal and the arrival of the railways in the 19th century, becoming an industrial centre for footwear and leather manufacture.
After the World Wars, Northampton's growth was limited until it was designated as a New Town in 1968, accelerating development in the town. Northampton unsuccessfully applied for unitary status in 1996 and city status in 2000; the town continues to expand with many areas undergoing urban renewal.
The earliest reference to Northampton in writing occurred in 914 under the name of Ham tune. The prefix "North" was added to distinguish it from other towns called "Hampton". The Domesday Book (1086) records the town as Northantone, which evolved into Norhamptone by the 13th century and later Northampton by the 17th century.
Present-day Northampton is the latest in a series of settlements that began in the Bronze Age. Remains found in the Briar Hill district show evidence of a Neolithic encampment within a large circular earthwork where local farmers assembled for tribal ceremonies and seasonal events from approximately 3500 BC to 2000 BC.
During the British Iron Age, people typically lived in protected hill forts. Present-day Hunsbury Hill is an example of this settlement; a circular ditch and a bank faced with a wall of timber and enclosing an area of which dates to around 400 BC. In the Roman period, a small rural settlement is thought to have existed in the present-day district of Duston; remains of Roman pottery were found there.
Following Danish invasion, the central area of the town was turned into a stronghold called a burh and became the base for one of the Danish armies in 850. A ditch was dug around the settlement and it was fortified with earth ramparts. Having conquered Mercia, the Danes turned the settlement into a centre for military and administrative purposes, which was part of the Danelaw. By 918, it had an earl and an army dependent upon it, whose territory extended to the River Welland.
The settlement was recovered by Edward the Elder the same year, turning it into the centre of one of the new shires, which prospered as a river port and trading centre. In 940, it successfully resisted the invading forces of Danish opposition in Northumbria, but was burnt in 1010 by a Danish army, and again in 1065 by the rebellious northern earls Edwin and Morcar. Despite this, the Domesday Book records Northantone as possessing 316 houses with a population of 2000 people, ranking between Warwick and Leicester in size.
With the Norman conquest of England, the town rose to national significance: its geographical location in the centre of England made Northampton a valuable strategical point for government and as a convenient meeting place for political, social, ecclesiastical and military events.
Northampton Castle is thought to have been built by Simon de Senlis, who became the first Earl of Northampton, circa 1084. It was originally an earth and timber stockaded construction which was later rebuilt in stone. The castle became an occasional royal residence from the reign of King Henry I in 1130 until that of King Richard II. King John regularly stayed at the castle and moved The Treasury there in 1205. Many Parliaments, ncluding the Parliament of England, were held there. The last Parliament at Northampton was held in 1380. Significant events in the castle's history include the trial of Thomas Becket in 1164, the publication of the Assize of Northampton in 1176, the declaration of peace with Scotland in the Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton, the passage of the Statute of Northampton in 1328 and the imposition of poll tax in 1380. Royal tournaments and feasts were also held at the castle.
Simon de Senlis is also thought to have built the medieval town walls, which enclosed about and had four main gates at the four compass points. Though demolished now, the circular pattern of the main roads surrounding the town centre marks the original position of the walls. de Senlis founded the Cluniac priory of St Andrew'swhere St Andrew's Hospital now standsand built The Church of the Holy Sepulchreone of four remaining round churches in Englandand All Hallows Church on the current site of All Saint's Church. His son, Simon II de Senlis, built St Peter's Church on a site between a former Anglo-Saxon palace and Northampton Castle. Simon II de Senlis also founded Delapré Abbeyanother Cluniac priorywhich still stands today. Other priories in medieval Northampton include St James' Abbey, Graye Friers, Blackfriars and Whitefriars. St. John's, a medieval hospital, was situated east of Bridge Street. A large network of medieval tunnels remains under the centre of Northampton around All Saint's Church; their purpose has been disputed.
The town was originally controlled by officials acting for the King who collected taxes and upheld the law. This changed on 18 November 1189 when King Richard I granted the town its first charter in exchange for money to fund his crusades. The charter allowed the townspeople certain rights and independence in legal and administrative matters. In 1215, King John authorised the appointment of William Tilly as the town's first Mayor and ordered that "twelve of the better and more discreet [residents] of your town" join him as a council to assist him. The importance of Northampton at this time is underlined by the fact that only London, York and King's Lynn had mayors by this date. The mayor later ruled with 24 councillors and 48 freemen in a closed body until 1835.
Markets and fairs were a key element in the town's economy in medieval times. The Market Square came to prominence in 1235 when Henry III ordered that the selling of goods in the churchyard of All Saint's should be relocated to the Market Square. Street names in the town give an indication of trades and market centres; Corn Hill, Malt Hill, Mercer Row, Gold Street, Sheep Street and Horse Market. Cloth and wool were very important but these industries declined. In the 13th century, Northampton had a large Jewish population centred around Gold Street. In 1277two years after Edward I passed the Statute of the Jewrysome Jewish residents were executed while the remainder were driven out of town. Archaeological sites include a medieval Jewish cemetery and the Northampton Medieval Synagogue.
The First Barons' War caused significant destruction to Northampton. The barons besieged Northampton Castle in protest at King John's oppression of his subjects. In retaliation, royalist forces destroyed a large part of the town. When the forces of King Henry III overran the supporters of Simon de Montfort, the Second Barons' War broke out. The first Battle of Northamptona battle in the second civil wartook place in 1264 at the site of Northampton Castle where King Henry III and his son Prince Edward attacked with a large army, pillaged the town and took prisoners.
In 1349, the Black Death pandemic killed more than half the population of Northampton. In 1377, the population was 2,200. The town was rapidly losing its wealth and its importance as a national centre. In 1460, the second Battle of Northampton took place during the War of the Roses in the meadows between the River Nene and Delapré Abbey. The Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians and King Henry VI was taken prisoner. In 1484, the Mayor declared that Northampton was "in great desolation and ruin". The dissolution of the monasteries in 1538 led to further destruction of what remained of the medieval town. Northampton was severely affected by Plague between March and September 1638 when 533 peoplea seventh of the populationdied.
The royal connection to Northampton Castle had became less significant, and by the time of the English Civil War, Northampton was decidedly pro-Parliament. Though Spencer Compton, Earl of Northampton, was a royalist (Cavalier) and backed King Charles I, the people of Northampton supported Parliament and Oliver Cromwell's republican Roundhead army. The town had a long history of religious dissent from the Lollards and Puritanism gained a strong hold on the town. The corporation of the town, having already refused to provide troops to the King in 1632 or to pay the notorious ship money tax in 1636, petitioned Parliament in 1642 against papists and bishops.
When war broke out in 1642, the town willingly became the main Parliamentarian garrison for the south-east Midlands area with the former royal castle as its headquarters. In 1643, Prince Rupert attacked Northampton with approximately 2,000 men, but was beaten back at the North Gate of the town. Oliver Cromwell visited in 1645 and General Fairfax marched from the town to Naseby, where Charles I's Royalist army was decisively defeated. Over 4,000 pairs of leather shoes and 600 pairs of cavalry jack-boots for the Parliamentary armies were manufactured in Northampton during the Civil War, and a further 2,000 for Cromwell's New Model Army in 1648. Until well into the 19th century, the shoe industry boomed in and around the town with small manufacturing workshops set up in the surrounding areas.
The War ended with a Parliamentary victory, resulting in England becoming a Commonwealth, which lasted a decade. Following the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, he took revenge on the town by ordering the destruction of its walls and partial demolition of its castle in 1662, since it did not support his father Charles I and his cavaliers. From then on, the castle was used as a court and a gaol, but its physical condition worsened. The new council of the town had to pay £200 to have its charter renewed and also required all officials to swear the oath of allegiance and some confirmed by the Crown.
The devastation led to an Act of Parliament for the rebuilding the town. Local people and businesses helped to raise around £25,000 towards the rebuilding of the town centre based around the Market Square. Streets were widened and buildings made of brick and stone and tiled to prevent such devastation again. In an act of reconciliation, King Charles II donated timber from the royal forests of Salcey and Whittlebury to help with the rebuild. In 1678, the Sessions House and what is now County Hall were amongst the first buildings to be completed. A Georgian town with new houses, shops and workshops eventually grew out of the old medieval town destroyed by the fire. In 1741 Edward Cave opened Marvel's Mill, the world's first cotton mill to be driven by a water wheel.
By the end of the 18th century, Northampton had become a major centre of footwear and leather manufacture. In 1801, the population was 7,020; it more than doubled to 15,351 in 1831, attributed to the fact that there was great demand for footwear caused by the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A third of the adult males alone were shoemakers at the time. Northampton grew beyond the old town walls and industry grew rapidly with the mechanisation of factories by the middle of the 19th century.
The first railway to be built into Northampton was a branch from the main London-Birmingham line at Blisworth to Peterborough through Northampton which opened in 1845 alongside the town's first railway station, Bridge Street station. This was followed by the opening of Castle station in 1859 by the site of the historic Northampton Castle, and later St. John's Street station in 1872. The Northampton loop of the West Coast Main Line was built in the late 1870s. Castle station was rebuilt and expanded over the site of Northampton Castle, the remains of which were purchased and demolished in 1880 to make way for the goods shed. Both stations at Bridge Street and St John's Street closed in the mid-1900s, leaving only Castle station serving the town. It is now known simply as Northampton railway station.
Following World War I, the shoe industry was increasingly in decline, despite the town's factories supplying over 23 million pairs of boots to the armed forces. A total of 1,700 men from the town were lost from the 6,000 lost by the Northamptonshire Regiment. The town expanded further during the 1920s and saw the erection of Northampton Power Station, which supplied electricity to areas as far away as Wolverton, until its closure in 1975. Much council housing was also built largely to the east, north and south of the town, including Abington, Far Cotton, Kingsley, Kingsthorpe and Dallington – areas which had been incorporated within the borough's boundaries in 1901. However, the population growth slowed down as people moved beyond its boundaries. In 1901, the population had expanded to 90,923; in 1931, the population was 92,341.
When the NDC wound up in 1985 after 20 years, another 20,000 homes and 40,000 residents had been added to the town. The borough boundaries also changed following a split of the Northampton parliamentary constituency into Northampton North and Northampton South in 1974. Northampton was reconstituted as a non-metropolitan district which also covered areas outside the former borough boundaries but inside the designated New Town. The town tried for unitary status during the 1990s UK local government reform, but failed and remains a non-metropolitan district to this day, meaning it relies on a two-tier system of government. Northampton also applied for city status in 2000 during a competition for the grant of city status to mark the Millennium, but failed and remains a town. Northampton also suffered ill-fortune of severe flooding, particularly in the areas of Far Cotton and St James, on Good Friday 1998. Two people were killed and thousands of homes were affected.
Since the turn of the Millennium, Northampton has continued to expand. In 2006, Northampton became a government expansion zone with new growth promoted by West Northamptonshire Development Corporation (WNDC), an unelected quango, which has provoked a series of regeneration schemes across the town. Some have been completed, including the opening of the Radlands Plaza Northampton Skatepark and the development of Becket's Park Marina just south of Northampton's town centre as well as the improvement of the town's Market Square. Current projects include the building of a new bus interchange, redevelopment of the current railway station, improvement of Northampton's waterside and renovation of the Grosvenor Shopping Centre.