Northampton is a large town and local government district in the East Midlands region of England. It is the county town of Northamptonshire with an estimated population of 212,100 (2011 census), making it 35th largest urban area in the United Kingdom. Situated about north-west of London and around south-east of Birmingham, Northampton stands on the River Nene.
Original human settlement in the area dates back to the 6th century. During the Middle Ages, the town was home to Northampton Castle and the first University of Northampton, and was the site of two major English battles. By the 18th century, Northampton had become a major centre of footwear and leather manufacture. Its population grew rapidly following the creation of the Grand Union Canal and arrival of the railways in the 19th century, and Northampton became an industrial centre, particularly noted for its manufacture of boots and shoes.
Following the Second World War, growth was limited until its designation as a New Town in the early 1970s. Northampton is now the most populous district in England that is not a unitary authority, a status it failed to obtain in the 1990s local government reform. The population is still expanding and plans for the regeneration of its town centre and borough are under way. In common with much of the United Kingdom, industrial employment has fallen, with new jobs tending to be in public administration, financial services and distribution.
Present-day Northampton is the result of a series of settlements that date back from remains found in the local area from the Bronze Age, particularly where present-day district Hunsbury is now located. Farming settlement probably began around the 7th century AD. In the 8th century it is believed Northampton was a site of some significance in the kingdom of Mercia, possibly as an administrative and/or religious centre.
Northampton began life as a pre-Norman village known as Hamm tun (which means either the village by the well-watered meadow (by the River Nene)or (as Ekwall states), 'hamtun' meaning the 'main settlement' as opposed to outlying settlements) and was only ca.. The settlement was later called North Hamm tun, possibly to distinguish it from Southampton; this gradually evolved into Northampton. The name Northampton first appeared in writing in 914. A large hall was discovered just west of St. Peter's church that is estimated to be 8–9th century.
During the Danish occupation of Eastern England in the late 9th century, Northampton was turned into a stronghold called a burh. A ditch was dug around the settlement and it was fortified with earth ramparts. Within the settlement, Northampton was a place of trade where craftsmen worked and where goods were bought and sold at a market. In 1010, Northampton was captured and burned by the Danes, but it soon recovered and by the time of the Domesday Book (1086), the town had a population of about 1500 residents, living in 300 houses.
Following the arrival of the Normans in the 11th century, Northampton grew rapidly in the 12th and 13th centuries. Under the stewardship of the first Earl of Northampton, Simon de Senlis, the Church of the Sepulchure was built in addition to his fortification of Northampton by building stone walls around it. The Earl also built Northampton Castle to safeguard the town. The original defence line of the walls is preserved in today's street pattern (Bridge St, The Drapery, Bearward St and Scarletwell Street). Being located in the centre of England, Northampton and its castle became an important royal establishment, with the Parliament of England, trials (including that of Thomas Becket in 1164), tournaments and feasts being held there. Other buildings like St Andrews Priory (in 1100) and Delamere Abbey (in 1145) were also erected.
The town was originally controlled by officials acting for the King who collected taxes and upheld the law. This changed in 1189 when King Richard I gave Northampton its first charter, granting the townspeople certain rights. 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 the town join him as a council to assist him' . In 1176, the Assize of Northampton laid down new powers for dealing with law breakers. Northampton had a large Jewish population in the 13th century, centred around Gold Street. In 1277, Jewish residents in Northampton were executed and the Jewish community driven out of town. Archaeological sites include a medieval Jewish cemetery and the Northampton Medieval Synagogue.
In the 13th century, Northampton had weekly markets held in the present-day Market Place. There were also annual fairs in Northampton, attracting buyers and sellers from all over the region. The main industry in Northampton was making wool, where it was woven and dyed. The importance of the wool industry is shown by street names such Mercers Row (a mercer was a dealer in fine cloth), The Drapery and Woolmonger Street.
A university was established in 1261 by scholars from the University of Cambridge. It briefly flourished, but was dissolved by Henry III in 1265 apparently as it posed a threat to the University of Oxford.
The first Battle of Northampton took place at the site of Northampton Castle in 1264 – when the forces of Henry III overran the supporters of Simon de Montfort. In 1460, a second Battle of Northampton took place in the grounds of Delapré Abbey – and was a decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, and King Henry VI was captured in the town by the Yorkists.
In May 1328 the Treaty of Northampton was signed – being a peace treaty between the English and the Scots in which Edward III recognised the authority of Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland and betrothed Bruce's still infant son to the king's sister Joanna.
Civil War to 1900
Northampton supported the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. For this reason the town walls and castle were later torn down on the orders of King Charles II as punishment. The railway station in Northampton stands on the site of the former castle, and used to be called "Northampton Castle Station".
The town was destroyed by fire in both 1516 and 1675 (for the latter see Great Fire of Northampton), and was rebuilt as a spacious and well-planned town. In the 18th century Northampton became a major centre of footwear and leather manufacture. The prosperity of the town was greatly aided by demand for footwear caused by the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In his 18th century "Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain", Daniel Defoe described Northampton as, "...the handsomest town in all this part of England."
Northampton's growth was accelerated in the 19th century, first by the Grand Union Canal, which reached the town in 1815 and later the coming of the railways. 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. This was followed by lines to Market Harborough (1859) and Bedford (1872). The Northampton loop of the West Coast Main Line was built in the late 1870s. After 1850 the town grew beyond the old town walls. In 1800 the population was round 7,000 and was 87,000 a century later. In the 19th century Northampton acquired a reputation for political radicalism when radical non-conformist Charles Bradlaugh was elected as the town's Member of Parliament.
Growth after 1900 slowed until the 1960s. The shoe industry declined and other employment was slow to arrive. In the 1920s and 30s, council houses were built in the east of the town at Headlands; north at St. David's; and south in Far Cotton. The Borough boundary, first extended in 1900, expanded again in 1932. From the 1920s until 1975 the town had its own power station supplying electricity to areas as far away as Wolverton.
In the 1960s The Deco was an ABC cinema. The Beatles appeared there twice on stage in 1963, on Wednesday, 27 March as part of the Tommy Roe/Chris Montez Tour. Montez commented "Who are these guys The Beatles? I try to keep up with the British scene, but I don't know their work". The Beatles were back on Wednesday, 6 November, in their own right and on their own tour.
Northampton was designated a New Town in 1968, and the Northampton Development Corporation (NDC) was set up to almost double the size of the town, with a population target of 230,000 by 1981, rising to 260,000 in later years. In 1959 the M1 motorway was opened nearby. Growth was slower than planned. The 1960s and 70s saw the town centre change with development of a new bus station, the Grosvenor Shopping Centre, flats and hotels.
The population grew to 100,000 by 1961, and 130,000 by 1971. When NDC wound up after 20 years, another 40,000 residents and 20,000 houses had been added. The borough boundaries changed in 1974 with the abolition of Northampton county borough and its reconstitution as a non-metropolitan district also covering areas outside the former borough boundaries but inside the designated New Town.
The rail link and busy M1 motorway to London helped the growth as a commuter town for London. Northampton's housing expansion was east with the 1970s eastern district estates built mainly for the London overflow population and more recently, in the west at Upton and south near M1 junction 15 at Grange Park, initially of 1,500 houses actually in South Northants Council area.
Current projections (February 2008) are that the district's population will grow to 226,400 by 2016 and to 261,300 by 2026. Northampton pleaded, unsuccessfully, for city status as a part of the 'millennium cities' scheme. The University of Northampton was established in 2005 after several years as a University College and before that being Nene College.
In 2006 Northampton became a government expansion zone with new growth promoted by West Northamptonshire Development Corporation (WNDC) an unelected quango. Expansion began in 2007 at Upton and St Crispins spreading west towards junction 16 of the M1. The other major projected area was south-east of the town enveloping villages such as Little and Great Houghton, Quinton, Hackleton and Cogenhoe though as at 2011 nothing had happened. Some expansion will be on brownfield sites such as Ransome Road, Far Cotton, an inner suburb, and in existing borough boundaries.
A series of ambitious regeneration schemes are currently taking place 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. Some are well underway, and some are on the horizon. These exciting projects include a redevelopment of the railway station, landmark waterside offices, a new and improved shopping centre and a new bus interchange.