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Memories of Northampton circa 1856

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.

I commence from [the castle], where I see the remains of the walls with the little postern gate (which now stands in the wall on Black Lion Hill) with the river alongside. I remember being taken to see the foundation of the present West Bridge and the site for the present Castle Station, and the pathway through the fields and gardens to Dallington. St. James’ End was then practically confined to the main road, having only two establishments of importance, Stenson’s foundry and Wetherell and Neepe’s tannery. Toll gates stood at the junction of the Duston and Dallington roads. I remember more than once seeing the fields now crowded with houses and factories covered with water; on one occasion I saw a large flock of sheep in the floods. Collier’s (now Franklin’s) Gardens came later.

St. Andrew’s-Road has been open about forty years. It practically follows the route of the Nene before the stream was diverted, to Monks’ Pond-street. I remember the pond (or, at least, part of it) which originally formed part of the grounds of St. Andrew’s Priory. Perhaps I may secure the interest of my old friend Mr Beeby Thompson1 by saying that on our way we pass by what I used to hear my mother talk about as Maberley’s Rookery. Mr Maberlev,2 I understood, was a Radical candidate who contested the borough some 80 or 90 years ago. His Rookery formed part of what we knew later as the West Ward Scarletwell Street, Compton Street, etc. Where the tannery now stands at the bottom of Crane Street was a field. And so the road continued to St. Andrew’s Mill, field on the right, meadow on the left, with no Spencer Bridge Road as now to St. James’ End. The way to Semilong, or Soumelong, and Kingsthorpe Hollow was then a rough road through gardens which are now covered with houses, in the Hollow there were just a few houses, Ireson’s brickyard, and the Halfway House.

Returning to the town, there were the houses we know as Primrose Hill as far as the old Catholic Cathedral, then gardens to Adelaide-terrace. On the other side the Freehold-street estate was developed by the Freehold Land and Building Society, then under the guidance of the late Alderman Joseph Gurney. I well remember the site of Langham Place being a garden. The Barracks were then occupied by cavalry or artillery, and over the gateway was hung an oil lamp probably the last public oil lamp used in Northampton.

Turning up St. Lawrence Street, I well remember at the Bailiff Street end walking through growing corn. To the left we walked by fields and gardens to the Racecourse not one house all the way.

On the Prison side of Bailiff Street was garden ground. From the Bailiff Street entrance to the Racecourse as far as the grandstand there was no promenade and not one house, only fields right through to the Kettering Road. On that main road there was a brickyard and about six houses known as Mount Pleasant, where Brockhall Parade and the chapel stand. No Kingsley Park! On that side of Kettering Road down to where the Primitive Methodist Chapel now stands there was not another building of any kind.

Off the other side of the Kettering-Road East Park Parade is a lasting monument to the wisdom of the directors of the Land Society of the past. The beneficent influence of the Society on the development of thrift and social improvement among the inhabitants of Northampton deserves to be told by a capable historian. Many will still remember Mr. Dan Robinson who for years was a member of the Board of Guardians, and who used to reside westward. One day I met him in the east. When he told me he had removed I asked, “Why?” “Oh,” said he, “I was happy enough, but you see the children have grown up and wanted better surroundings, which they have now found.”

James Ward
2 February 1921

  1. Beeby Thompson (1849-1931) was a founder member of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society, the first Principal of Northampton College of Science and Technology, and inspired Walter Crick to study science. He was Northamptonshire’s foremost geologist, curator of fossils at Northampton Museum, and prospected for oil in Peru, Angola, Brazil, and the Caribbean.
  2. The Mr. Maberley he mentions first appeared in Northampton just before the election of 1818. He was then a very young man and hoped to come of age before Parliament was dissolved, but in this he was disappointed and so though he had a large number of enthusiastic supporters, he could not go to the poll. Two years later there was another election, and Mr Maberley defeated Earl Compton, one of the retiring members. Six years later he was re-elected. At both these elections Sir George Robinson headed the poll. Mr Maberley being second. In 1826, Sir Robert H. Gunning, financially assisted by the Corporation, came forward in the Tory interest and was placed at the bottom of the poll.

© Copyright : Graham Ward. All rights reserved.