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Lost churches: St Bartholomew and St Lawrence

One church or two? There is an outstanding mystery about the location of this lost church and whether it was two separate churches or just one. Let’s examine the evidence. Although scanty, there is enough historical evidence to identify one of the sites.

Traces of a medieval church

There are two descriptions of the remains of the church dedicated to St Bartholomew.

In 1533-4 Henry VIII sent his librarian, John Leland, on a tour of inspection of Religious Houses throughout England. He came to Northampton, probably in 1538, and in his itinerary mentions seven parish churches within the walls and two in the suburbs, but he also says, that he “saw the ruins of a large chapel without the north gate”1. This is likely to have been the church of St. Bartholomew, or (as it was later known) St. Lawrence.

In the early 18th century Northamptonshire was fortunate to have John Bridges (1666–1724) as historian and topographer. Bridges was born in Barton Seagrave near Kettering and was trained in law, practising at Lincoln’s Inn. He collated almost 40 handwritten volumes on the history of Northamptonshire with particular emphasis on its churches.

It is worth quoting his full description of St Bartholomew:

Without the north gate, on the east side of the road leading to Kingsthorp, was the church dedicated to S. Bartholomew. It appears to have been given by Simon de S: Liz to the convent of S. Andrew, and was confirmed to them by Hugh Wells bishop of Lincoln. I find no mention of this church in any of the valors of ecclesiastical benefices. At what time it was demolished doth not appear, but the parish is now united to S. Sepulcbre’s. The churchyard, walled in and converted to a close, is at present called Lawless church-yard, a corruption from S. Laurence’s church-yard, by which name it seems to have been known in later times, and is so mentioned in the Liber Valorum published by Mr. Ecton.



Priory & Convent St. Andrew  

Joh. de Duston, 1232.


Thomas …


Elias de Bereford, Oct. 1268.


Adam de Drauton, Jun. 1300.


Henr. deDuston, Apr. 1319.


Will. de Creton, 1350.


Galfrid. de Quenton, Feb. 1354.


Joh. deSywell.


Tho. deSywell, Aug. 1361.


Will. Pitte, Jan. 1384.

Priory & Convent St. Andrew

Joh. Botheby, Mar. 1402.


Joh. Martyn, Apr. 1413.


Joh. Smyth, Jul. 1450.


Mag. Tho. Robyns, Sept. 1461.


Dom. Joh. Grenborough, Aug. 1475.


Dom. Joh. Chauncey, Jul. 1478.

Edm. Hasylwood de Northampton

Dom.Tho. Skere, alias York, Mar. 1509.

From henceforward we meet with no further presentations to this Church, which appears shortly after to have fallen to decay2.

We are fortunate that diligent record-keeping by Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln, 1209 until 1235 tells us more about the first incumbent, John of Duston:

John of Dustone, chaplain, presented by the prior and convent of St Andrew’s, Northampton, to the church of St Bartholomew, Northampton, inquiry having been first made by John, archdeacon of Northampton, by which etc. was admitted to the same etc. …And the said John was ordered to attend Northampton school and learn, and that at the end of a year he should return to the archdeacon to show how he had got on in it3.

Apart from having a probably a complete list of incumbents from 1232 to 1509, it can be concluded from Leland’s description in the early 1530s that the church had already been pulled down or fallen into ruin by the time of his visit, just 20 years after the appointment of the last incumbent.

A further glimpse of the medieval churches in Northampton is contained in the will of John Weederhind, dated 1489.

Also I leave to the king’s highway without the north gate of the town of Northampton, leading to the chapel of St. Bartholomew the apostle 40s4.

It is widely accepted that the effect of the Black Death on England’s population was catastrophic; between 1347 and 1351 it is likely that between one third and one half lost their lives. The population continued to decline through most of the 15th century. It would not be surprising to find that this was felt in Northampton by and abandonment of the outlying suburbs and merging of parishes. During this period St Bartholomew was not the only parish to feel the impact as five other parishes disappeared from the town’s landscape (St Mary, St Gregory, St Edmund, St Michael, St Margaret and chapels of St Catherine and St Martin).

Evidence from maps

Sadly no images of St Bartholomew have come down to us. The two earliest maps 1632 and 1778 show a cleared enclosure being used for grazing.

Marcus Pierce map of Northampton, 1632
Marcus Pierce produced this plan in 1632 to show those lands formerly possessions of St Andrew’s Priory. Pierce coloured the St Andrew lands in green on the plan. The former church site is an enclosure/close with a cow(?). The access road to the north side today corresponds to the entrance to the west entrance Racecourse and is a useful reference point mentioned in future property transactions.
Northampton Fields enclosure plan, 1778
A map produced in 1778 in preparation for enclosure of the open fields to the north and east of Northampton. The map, although faded, shows a rectangular close named as “St Lawrence Church Yard”. This is the same location as the close shown on the Marcus Pierce plan.

In none of these early documents do we find mention of St Bartholomew and St Lawrence together in the same document. The name St Lawrence is only used after the church has fallen out of use. We can therefore conclude that it is likely both names refer to the same site.

Re-use and rebuilding

After enclosure, as the town started to expand in the early 19th-century interest grew in potential building sites along the main roads radiating from the town, especially towards Kingsthorpe and Leicester. There was also some development of sand extraction and quarrying, even speculative coal mining along the road. The fields either side of the Kingsthorpe Road from the former North Gate (Regents Square) to Kingsthorpe were often advertised for sale or letting and give a glimpse of the former churchyard.

A selection of advertisements mentioning the former St Bartholomew/St Lawrence site follows:

Northampton Mercury – Saturday 14 September 1793

Lot 1. An old-inclosed Ground, with the Appurtenances, called St. Lawrence’s Church-Yard; in the several Occupations of Wm Smith and George Watson.

Northampton Mercury – Saturday 16 June 1798

ALL that CLOSE of PASTURE GROUND, situate in Parish of St. Sepulchre, NORTHAMPTON1; lying on the East side of the Road leading from thence to Kingsthorpe, and the Public Entrance into the Race Ground, 1ying on the North-side thereof, now, or hencetofore known by the Name of St. Lawrence’s Church Yard. and in the Occupation of Mr. John Lucas. Attorney at Law.
The Land is in excellent Condition, is enclosed with a substantial Stone Wall; and there are several choice young Fruit Trees growing thereon.
Possession will be given at Michaelmas next. Immediately after {he above sale, will be put up by Auction, the Growing Crop of Grass therein.

Northampton Mercury – Saturday 20 February 1808

Lot 1. A Valuable ORCHARD or GARDEN-GROUND (Freehold) adjoining the West Entrance of the Race-Ground, called St. Lawrence‘s Church-Yard, in the Parish of ST. SEPULCHRES, NORTHAMPTON, Containing two Acres (more or less), with immediate Possession.

La Belle Alliance

Sometime after 1815, a house was constructed in the grounds of the old churchyard. A newspaper advertisement from 1820 reads:

Household furniture and effects

On Wednesday the 27th Day of September, 1820. at
the BELL ALLIANCE Cottage, near the Race Ground, NORTHAMPTON;
CONSISTING 0f Bedsteads, mahogany, dining, Pembroke, and other Tables, mahogany Chest upon Chest. and single Chests of Drawers, and four Sets of ditto Drawers, wash-hand Stands, Chairs, oak Bureau. eight-day Clock, kitchen and scullery Utensils, in Copper, Brass, and Tin, Earthenware, China, and Glass, tea Trays, writing Desk, and Variety of other Articles.
Also. a complete Set of Tallow Chandler’s Fixtures and Utensils, Copper. tallow Press, dipping Mould, folding Arms and Rods, Scales, Weights, &c. &c5.

This is an interesting and helpful item as it names the new premises. The significance of “Bell Alliance” is that it was named after an inn in Belgium that was the meeting place of two victorious Field Marshalls, Prince Blücher of Prussia and the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. It also indicates that a business of candle-making had been carried on at the premises.

An earlier advertisement in 1817 refers to:

Cheese, Bacon, Ham. and Salt Butter Warehouse,
And Candle Manufactory and Soap Warehouse,
Opposite the Barracks, NORTHAMPTON67.

A further clue can be gained from a sale as a consequence of bankruptcy:

By order of the Assignees of RICHARD HOLMES, Grocer, Cheesemonger, and Chandler, a Bankrupt.
On Monday, 3d day of January, 1820.

The advertisement goes on to list the household items that were later offered for auction at Bell Alliance. It goes on to detail the Candle Manufactory:


North End was the name of the Barrack Road from approximately Regents Square towards the Barracks.

A boarding school

Belle Alliance Cottage as it was now known comes into the news again in 1834:

WM. BRAND, Author of “An Essay on Moral Tuition”, Principal.
Cards, containing Terms, &c. may be obtained at Mr. Birdsall’s. Drapery; Mr. Abel’s. Parade.

This appears to have been a short-lived venture, as in 1839, a Mr Hallam was advertising for “Clickers”10 from Belle Alliance Cottage11.

Early graves

A significant archaeological discovery was reported in 1841, by the chance uncovering of some early graves at the rear of the site. This may have been as a consequence of sand extraction.

A number of human skeletons have lately been dug out of the sand-pit in the rear of Belle Alliance Cottage, Kingsthorpe-road. They are well-preserved adult skeletons, and are found at a few feet below the surface. The pit is said to be situated in what was once the parochial church-yard of St. Lawrence, which has been desecrated ages since. The spot is known to old inhabitants as “Lawless’ (Lawrence’s) Church-yard, and is so mentioned in Bridges, and in the Liber Valorum. The church to which it pertained is stated by the same writer to have been dedicated to St. Bartholomew, and to have stood “Without the north gate, on the east side of the road leading to Kingsthorp.” It appears to have been been given by Simon de St. Liz to the convent of St. Andrew. The latest known presentation is dated March 26, 1509, after which time the Church probably fell to decay, Leland alluding to it, says: “I saw the ruines of a large chapelle without the north gate.”12

Wetton’s Guidebook of 1847 adds:

A few years since the cemetery was disturbed in digging for gravel, when many of the bodies were found buried in the Cist style, that is, with a few stones laid round the sides of the grave13

In 1847 we have a good street plan of the town as it was which clearly shows the La Belle Alliance Cottage.

Law's plan of Northampton, 1847
“La Belle Alliance Cottage”, from W. W. Law’s map of Northampton 1847.

This plan of the site shows the cottage and coach-house built against the northern boundary. To the south, it appears to be laid to lawn with surrounding trees. The area to the rear of the site (east of the garden) appears to be an orchard.

It would be reasonable to assume that the house and garden occupied the site of the former church building of St Bartholomew. And the orchard area was the adjoining grave-yard. This would also fit with the description of the location of the graves found in 1841. This may also explain why the property is located hard against the northern boundary rather than front and centre on the site.

Changes in ownership and tenants

Like many town houses there has been a steady process of change of ownership as the home no longer met the needs of its occupants. This is not a comprehensive history of the property, but more of a glimpse of some of the owners. In 1849 it was for sale with a sitting tenant.

Lot 15. All that Freehold MESSUAGE or Tenement, with the large garden. stabling, coach-house, and premises thereunto belonging, situate near the Race-course, now in the occupation of Mr. Samuel Parker. and known by the name of La Belle Alliance Cottage, and containing one acre and a quarter or thereabouts.
This Lot is subject to an agreement for a lease to Mr. Parker, dated the 3d of August, 1844, for seven years, at £47 per annum14.

Samuel Parker was shoe manufacturer in the town but became bankrupt in 1862. By 1863 he had left the property and it was for sale again:


On Wednesday, the 12th day of MARCH, 1863, at Seven for Eight o’clock in the evening precisely,
A Comfortable RESIDENCE, with excellent Stabling, Coach-house, Garden, and Paddock, known as Belle Alliance Cottage, adjoining to the entrance of the Race Course, on the Kingsthorpe road, lately in the occupation of Mr. Samuel Parker, but now untenanted.
The site of the house, and ground attached to it, comprises 63,552 feet, and is admirably situated either for the residence of a small family, or for sites for Villa residences.
Immediate possession will be given.
Further particulars may be obtained of Messrs. Markham; and of Mr. Britten, Solicitors; or of the Auctioneer, Northampton15.

The purchaser appears to have been a Mr Henry Marshall as he applies to the Town Council in 1863 to re-align a boundary fence and take possession of a small piece of ground from the council. The council approves this and on payment of £1016 .

The Northampton Mercury included a descriptive piece covering the journey from Northampton along the road to Kingsthorpe, quite an idyllic place. It appears to be the first association of “Poplars” with the property, the name it later came to be known by.

Beyond “The Bull” indeed, at North End, you had bidden adieu to the town, and were fairly in the country. St. Andrew’s Terrace was not built nor the streets westward of it; Royal Terrace was of nothing like its present extent, and there was a considerable interval between the last house and the Barracks. Beyond the Barracks again there was another interval of hedge and field before you came to Leicester Terrace. On the east side there were a few houses, and only a few, with like intervals of hedgerow and garden ground. On that side the last house northward was the pretty “Belle Alliance Cottage” at the corner of the Race-course, scarcely a cottage ornée, and conspicuous chiefly by its row of noble poplars. Just beyond the last house in Leicester Terrace there was a gate Opening into a field, where the corncrake might be heard on a summer’s evening17.

The 1871 census shows that the property was now known as “The Poplars”. Henry Marshall was a somewhat more successful shoe manufacturer, Mayor and Magistrate. Henry was a member of Doddridge (Castle Hill) Congregational Church. He died in 1895 but his wife Charlotte continued to live at The Poplars. The gardens were frequently the venue for fund-raising events for the nonconformist churches in the town, especially the Congregationalist and the new Primrose Hill Congregational Church in particular.

“The Poplars”, as shown on 25” OS map, surveyed in 1883.

Comparison with Law’s 1847 map confirms that the property had been rebuilt, probably in 1865 after it was acquired by Henry Marshall. Note the ‘L’ shaped “cottage” and the square “villa” that can be seen today.

The house was sold again in 1915 to Mr. Thomas D. Wren of Wren and Co. another famous name in the footwear industry. Wren’s Super Wax Shoe Polish was one of the first wax polishes for shoes designed to create a high gloss finish.

“The Poplars”

In the 1950s, The Poplars became a Co-operative Funeral Home. Subsequently, a more modern building has been erected in what was the garden of the house whilst The Poplars itself remains. This site continues to be a resting place, albeit temporary, for the deceased.


We have found no evidence of two church sites along the short distance outside the town’s north gate (Regents Square towards the Barrack Road). There is however significant documentation that confirms the site of St Bartholomew’s Church which was in use between the early 12th century until probably 1520. Subsequently, the ground became known as St Lawrence which may have been from the dedication of one of its chapels. It was one of several parish churches that disappeared as a consequence of the Black Death and economic pressures on the town’s population.

  1. The Itinerary of John Leland the Antiquary, Vol 1 fol. 8
  2. Quoting: Leland, The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the Years 1535-1543, vol. 1 fol. 8
  3. Wells, Rotuli Hugonis de Welles, Episcopi Lincolniensis, A.D. MCCIX-MCCXXXV, 170.
  4. National Archives, PROB 11/8/362, Will of John Weederhind, Merchant of the Staple of Calais of Northampton, 4 July 1489
  5. Northampton Mercury, 23 September 1820
  6. Northampton Mercury, 6 December 1817
  7. Northampton Mercury, 6 December 1817
  8. Northampton Mercury 25 December 1819
  9. Northampton Mercury, 28 June 1834
  10. A person who cuts the uppers for boots or shoes
  11. Northampton Mercury, 14 September 1839
  12. Northampton Mercury, Saturday 24 April 1841
  13. Wetton, G. N.Wetton’s Visitor’s Guide-Book to Northampton: With an Historical and Descriptive Account of the Town.Northampton: G. N. Wetton, 1847.
  14. Northampton Mercury 25 August 1849
  15. Northampton Mercury, 28 February 1863
  16. Northampton Mercury, 8 August 1863
  17. Northampton Mercury, 25 July 1863

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