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Cow Meadow and Roundabout

Between 1920-21, James Ward (1847-1925), a Northampton nonconformist, social campaigner and journalist wrote a series of six articles for the Northampton Daily Echo describing life growing up in the town in the 1850s and 60s.

In my last note, I forgot to mention the Nine Springs Well or fountain which was situated on the Billing Road about opposite to the bottom of Cyril Street. To reach the water you had to descend some twenty or more steps. It was this well that gave the name to Nine Springs Villa. Its origin I do not know, or why it was placed there when there were no houses near. Mr. Beeby Thompson is the county authority on springs and other water supplies, and perhaps he could enlighten your readers on the following questions.

I heard years ago that the water supplying Nine Springs came from the same source as that supplying St. Thomas a Becket’s Well. The legend story told when I was a boy was that St. Thomas, having had an interview with King Henry II in the Castle, and fearing the consequence, escaped by night through the Dern (or postern) Gate, which was in the walls of the town, at the bottom of Water-loo. Being thirsty, he struck a rock after the manner of the prophet of old and obtained the desired liquid. And the spring has flowed ever since! I hear someone say, “Pass the salt, please!’’ But. right or wrong, someone should preserve and pass along these old stories for the information of future generations of Northamptonians.

Being close to the Cow Meadow, I pass into the Walk; but first may I mention the old pump (now a lamp standard) which stands on the little mound at the end of Cheyne Walk. It may be interesting to the younger generation to know that it used to stand on the centre of the Market Square, where Isaacs’ Fountain now stands. As for the Walk at that time — 1864 there were no railings, but quick-set hedges between the trees. How we got the railings opens up another memory that may be of interest, for it relates to some privileges Northampton people possess under one of the old charters.

At one time there was a firm of solicitors in the town trading as — and — One of the partners got into trouble, was committed for trial, and allowed out on bail, I think in £400. He took French leave, and the recognisances were estreated. This money, so we were told, was used by the Corporation to provide the railings. The “Mercury” of the period contains a report of the Town Council debate on the question.

Standing at the top of the Walk may I try to picture the scene which met my view in 1854 or 1855.

The Cow Meadow was a broad expanse — no embankment by the riverside, no trees, no Midland Railway, no Cattle Market, and consequently no Cattle Market Road. We could see the comparatively few trains pass on the North Western Railway. We could see Adkins’ Mill, now Westley’s, and much larger than then. (It may interest some members of the police force to know that the late Sergeant Chaplin was employed there about that time.) We also had a fairly good view of Delapre Abbey, and, with the silvery Nene flowing its placid course through the meadow, the scene then presented was one of sylvan beauty. There being no embankment, it was a common occurrence for the Cow and Midsummer Meadows to be flooded. In 1854 we had a severe winter, and the river was almost one solid block of ice. I can see sleighing in the Midsummer Meadow with sports upon the ice to raise funds for the benefit of the unemployed.

To return to Cow Meadow. Perhaps I may be allowed to make a brief reference to the great battle fought on that ground and just beyond it on July 10th, 1460, during the War of the Roses; for part of my object in writing these notes is to arouse in the minds of the younger generation a sense of the important part played in English history by the old County Borough. More than once have I tried, standing in the Meadow, to picture the scene presented on that memorable occasion. I could see the two armies closing in deadly encounter – knights and squires, pikemen and bowmen; and the townsfolk watching the battle from the Town walls which, I understand, ran down by the side of the Meadow from the top of what is now the Victoria Walk to Bridge- Street. It used to be said that small portions of the wall existed at the back of All Saints* Vicarage grounds.

Henry VI was taken prisoner; and if young readers would like to know what I consider the final result of the battle of Northampton, I would advise them to read Shakespeare’s play of Henry VI, part 3, scene 6 — a room in the Tower of London and the interview between Henry and the Duke of Gloucester, afterward Richard III.

Further, with reference to the Meadow, may I call attention to an archway in the Midland Railway embankment? How many can remember- what it was constructed for? I remember it as the out-fall for the town sewage, which I cannot say flowed (it was too dense), but was forced into the river through a comparatively narrow channel just in front of the locks. I draw a veil over the state of the river and wonder what Dr Milligan or Dr Cogan would say if such a state of things existed in these days Happily it was not allowed to continue. An injunction was obtained against the Corporation, and this led to the construction of the Sewage Works on the Houghton Road, to which the sewage was conveyed by culvert. This led to the raising of the level of the Cow Meadow and Midsummer Meadow and the embankment by the riverside.

I now make my way to the South Bridge along the path by the riverside, which was then known as The Leaps. I wonder how many there are living who remember Northampton dock or docks for the building or repair of barges. I can still see the boats on the slipways. There used to be a channel through the embankment crossed by a wooden bridge, which could be raised at will like an ancient drawbridge.

The last time I saw the river I was sorry to see the neglected state into which it had fallen. In the days of which I am writing barges full of merchandise were continually passing along it. Why not now? At the time of the Crimean War much of the coal used in the town came by barge. (So scarce was coal then, by the way, that the price rose to 4s. per cwt.).

James Ward
19 February 1921

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