Skip to content

George Baker and the Bakers of Hazelrigg House

Many present-day residents of Northampton will know of Hazelrigg House in Marefair. It’s likely though they will know little of the house’s former residents. It is sometimes called Cromwell House based on a tenuous and undocumented connection with Oliver Cromwell. The Hesilrige (later Hazelrigg) family lived there from at least 1667 until 1817. After standing empty some years, number 33 Marefair as it was then known, was sold in 1831 to Mr George Baker a local historian and antiquarian.

33 Marefair was to be home of George Baker until 1851 and his sister Ann Elizabeth Baker until 1861. Why does it matter? The Bakers were a couple devoted to the history, culture and heritage of the town and county. There were several dimensions to their lives as we shall see.

George Baker (1781-1851)

© The Trustees of the British Museum

George and Ann were children of Richard and Ann Baker. Evidence suggests his father originated from nearby Harpole1. Richard and Ann were married in 1777 in Barby, Ann’s home parish. They had at least four children, George born in 1781, Ann Elizabeth in 1786, Richard in 1792 who died in 1793 and Ester who is mentioned in her father’s will in 18062.

The Baker family

It is worth noting the chapels in Northampton where the Baker children were christened. George was christened at the Kings Head Lane (later King Street) Independent chapel, but five years later Ann was christened at Castle Hill Independent. When it was time for George’s younger brother Richard to be christened the family went back to Kings Head Lane. There had been a major rift in the church at Castle Hill in the 1770s resulting in a court case and the departure of the then minister, William Hextall, with many church members to form a new church in Kings Head Lane. There had been tensions within the Castle Hill church for some years over issues such as Calvinism and Arminianism, and the principles of the congregational structure of the church. Things settled somewhat with the appointment of a new minister, John Horsey, who remained in that role for almost 51 years. During this time relations between Castle Hill Independent and College Street Baptist3 were cordial, evidenced by a sharing of buildings, joint Sunday Schools and preaching in each other’s chapels. Horsey was between 1789 and 1799 principal of Doddridge’s Academy (Theological) but in later years more than half the students leaving were either Arian or Unitarian. 4

Some Northampton Nonconformist chapels associated with the Bakers

These theological trends were important even at a local level as George and Ann Baker were to later become Unitarians themselves. They would have actually “crossed the road” in King street when they moved from King Street Independent to Kings Street Unitarian.

On 30 March 1851, the same year that George Baker died a national census of attendance at places of worship was taken. Tis gives us a snapshot of the attendance at these chapels and the overall strenght of the nonconformist as a whole.



Total Morning Attendance
30 March 1851
(General Congregation & Sunday School)

College Street Baptist



Castle Hill Independent



King Street (Kings Head Lane) Independent



King Street (Kings Head Lane) Unitarian



St Peter



By his father’s will in 1806 George, aged 25, was the major beneficiary of two substantial properties in Northampton in St Catherines and College Lane including his father’s wool-stapling business and a further property in Harpole leased to his uncle.

Much of what we know about George Baker comes from two obituaries one that appeared in the local newspapers5 and another from the Gentleman’s Magazine6.

At the early age of thirteen whilst he was a pupil of Mr Cornfield in Horsemarket, Northampton he had produced, in manuscript, a Life of Dr John Hinchcliffe (d. 1794), Bishop of Peterborough, 7 and a history of Northampton8. After leaving school George became a wool-stapler like his father9. He followed his antiquarian interests in his spare time, notably by assisting John Britton (1771-1857) with the Northamptonshire section of The Beauties of England and Wales. 10.

George’s first printed work, A Catalogue of Books, Poems, Tracts, and Small Detached Pieces, produced in an edition of just 20 copies appeared in 1810 11.

Whether these activities inspired him to do something better or purely fired his interest we do not know, but in 1815, aged 34, he issued proposals for his county history.

The first part was published in 1822, the second in 1826, and the third, completing the first volume, in 1830. This volume contains the hundreds of Spelho, Newbottle Grove, Fawsley, Wardon, and Sutton. The fourth part, containing the hundreds of Norton and Cleley, appeared in 1836, and about one-third of a fifth part, containing the hundred of Towcester, in 1841. At this point, when the work had not proceeded to more than a quarter of its intended extent, it was unfortunately destined to terminate abruptly.

It seems likely that Baker had underestimated the size of his planned undertaking. From the beginning, his method was to send out printed questionnaires to parish clergy seeking information on local agricultural conditions, geology, natural history, manors, antiquities, charities, and worthies. This was not his sole method of research planning a personal visit to every parish. The time and cost involved must have been significant despite him assuring John Britton ‘I travel very economically’.

Taking almost twenty years to publish just one-quarter of the county tested the patience and funds of the subscribers and at this point more than half had fallen away.

It was not from the lack of diligence on his part, of talent, or of pecuniary means to the extent of his ability, that the work had been delayed. It was rather to be attributed to the reverse of these requisites: to the pursuit of a laborious, and scrupulous, and often expensive minuteness; and to anxiety to avail himself of all the accessory materials which were continually arising from the various publications of the Record Commission, at that time numerous: an unwillingness to be in any degree incomplete or inaccurate, mixed perhaps with some blindness to the inevitable shortness of human life, and the shortcomings to which all human strength and all human exertions are continually liable. From these causes and occasional illness, he appears to have had a presentiment that the work would not receive its accomplishment from his hands.

In 1833 we find him writing to the Gentleman’s Magazine, in reply to a remonstrance against delay “Should it be left incomplete, it will be no trilling consolation to me, and may perhaps be satisfactory to my subscribers, to know that my Collections for the whole County are of such a nature, and in such a state, being all arranged and indexed, and will lay a substantial foundation for, and materially lighten, the labours of anyone who may undertake the continuation of my design.”12

In 1842 Mr Baker’s library was put up for sale being generally understood to be compelled by the unrewarded and expensive labours of their owner 13. Baker’s collection was deposited in the Bodleian Libray Oxford in 1958. 14

George Baker purchased Hazelrigg House in Marefair in 1831, this was a busy time for George and the pressure of work and other interests contributed to a decline in his health. There was hardly a benevolent or literary institution in the town of Northampton in the formation of which Mr Baker was not an active agent, or which was not deeply indebted to his personal services in after years. The British Schools in Northampton owed their existence entirely to his efforts, in connexion with the Mayor for the time being, Philip Constable and another excellent person, the late John Buxton. Mr Baker was an early promoter of the Northampton Savings Bank, of the General Library, of which he was the last original town subscriber, of the Artisans’ Society, and the Victoria Dispensary. He was also the originator, with the late Dr Mackness, of the Mechanics’ Institute15, of which he was constantly elected on the committee, and at the last general meeting Vice-President. In addition, he was appointed a magistrate of the borough of Northampton from the year 1836.16

George died on 12 October 1851 at his house in Marefair. The esteem to which George Baker was held by the many people and organisations with which he was associated is captured in the tribute paid by the Mechanics Institute of which he was Vice-Chairman.

“That this Committee have heard with deep regret of the decease of their Vice-President, George Baker, Esq.: that they wish to record on their minutes the respect in which they hold his memory as an upright magistrate, a distinguished antiquarian, and an unwearied philanthropist, and more especially to express their grateful sense of the assiduity with which he discharged his duties as a member of this committee, and of the lively interest he always evinced in the prosperity of the Institute. That the Chairman be requested to take the earliest convenient opportunity of communicating the above resolution to Miss Baker, with the assurance of the respectful sympathy of the Committee on account of her irreparable loss.”17


‘George Baker, Obituary’. Northampton Mercury, 18 October 1851.

‘George Baker, Esq.’ Gentleman’s Magazine, 2, 36 (1851): 551–52, 629

‘Miss Baker’ Gentleman’s Magazine, 3, 11 (1861): 209.

Currie, C. R. J. and C. P. Lewis, eds. English County Histories: A Guide. Far Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire ; Dover, NH: Alan Sutton, 1994. (Northamptonshire by Paul Stamper)

Druce, George Claridge. The Flora of Northamptonshire. Arbroath: T Buncle & Co, 1930, Ixxxvii-xc

An edited version of this post was published in Northamptonshire Heritage Forum’s journal Hindsight in April 2022.

  1. Richard Baker owned property in Harpole but was the residence of his brother William (The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1442) A Richard Baker was christened at Harpole on 30th October 1747 son of John and Elizabeth Baker. Northamptonshire Record Office; Northampton, England; Harpole Parish Registers; Reference: 154P/3
  2. The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1442
  3. College Street Baptist was ministered by John Collett Ryland and his son, also John Ryland held a Calvinist as opposed to an Arminian theology although for many years despite emphasising the importance of Adult Baptism retained Paedeo-Baptists among their membership
  4. From the early Christian era (325 CE) Arianism was considered a heresy by the ‘mainstream’ Christianity. Likewise, Unitarianism which denies the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) challenged the basis of beliefs of both Catholics and Protestants. Unitarians were also rejected by most Nonconformist denominations.
  5. ‘George Baker, Obituary’. Northampton Mercury, 18 October 1851.
  6. ‘George Baker, Esq.’ Gentleman’s Magazine, 2, 36 (1851): 551–52.
  7. Northants. Notes and Queries, vi (1896), 117.
  8. Murray, John. ‘The History and Antiquities of the County of Northampton, Etc’. The Quarterly Review 101, no. 201 (1857): 4.
  9. Northants. Local Hist. News, iv (Sept. 1979), 20.
  10. J. Britton and E. W. Brayley, Beauties of England and Wales, xi (1810); T. E. Jones, Descriptive Account of Literary Works of John Britton, pts. ii-iii (1849-50), appendix pp. 91—2.
  11. Baker, George, and Walpole, Horace. A Catalogue of Books, Poems, Tracts, and Small Detached Pieces, Printed at the Press at Strawberry-Hill, Belonging to the Late Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford. [The Introduction Signed: G. B., I.e. George Baker.]. 1810.
  12. ‘George Baker, Esq.’ Gentleman’s Magazine, 2, 36 (1851): 551–52.
  13. Sotheby, S.Leigh. Catalogue of the Valuable Historical Library of George Baker, Esq. the Historian of Northamptonshire : To Which Are Added, His Very Extensive Collections of Prints and Drawings, Illustrative of the County; Early…Also the Remaining Copies of Mr Baker’s History of the County,…Which Will Be Sold by Auction, in the Assembly Room of the George Hotel, Northampton, by Mr S.Leigh Sotheby. S.Leigh Sotheby, 1842. (Date of sale: Monday, October 24th, 1842 and five following days.)
  14. ’Northampton collections of George Baker (1781-1851), 18th-19th century’, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Phillipps-Robinson b. 52-66, c. 225-245, c. 248, d. 56-58, e. 188-216, e. 506-509, f. 33-35.
  15. Mechanics’ Institutes are educational establishments, originally formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men. Northampton’s Mechanics’ Institute opened in 1832 in George Row.
  16. ‘George Baker, Esq.’ Gentleman’s Magazine, 2, 36 (1851): 551–52.
  17. ’The late George Baker, Esq.’, Northampton Mercury, 18 October 1851

© Copyright : Graham Ward. All rights reserved.