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Lost Churches : St Edmund

This church is first mentioned by name in the late 12th century (Mon Angl V, 191). It had incumbents until 1535 (Valor Ecclesiasticus, 316). The church seems to have fallen out of use in the mid 16th century and absorbed into St. Giles’ parish (National Archives: E 134/40and41Eliz/Mich6) by 1598.

No illustrations survive of the first St Edmund church in Northampton. This church should not be confused with the later Victorian church, which has also been demolished and stood in nearby St Edmund’s Road. The first church of St Edmund stood on what is now known as Abington Square in the junction between the Kettering and Wellingborough Roads. The area occupied by the church was probably that bounded by the memorial garden and extended eastwards to the former Unitarian Church. Until the late 19th century the area today called Abington Square was known as St Edmund’s End.

A clear description of its location is given in a History of Northampton published in 1831:

The church dedicated to St Edmund was situate without the east gate, between the roads leading to Wellingborough and Kettering. This church was also under the patronage of St. Andrew. The site and church-yard are now converted into an orchard. A row of houses, called St. Edmund’s End, was built on each side the way, from the church to the upper end of Abington-street, but most of them were pulled down in the time of the rebellion, and very few of them re-built.1

The church seems to have been built in the 12th century to cater for the expansion of the town beyond the medieval walls, but the population later declined during the 15th century and the church fell out of use.

There are a few glimpses of the church in the historical record and some archaeological discoveries have been made in the later 19th and 20th-centuries in connection with building works or road widening.

Probably the most significant document was located in the State Papers in the 19th century and reprinted in Northamptonshire Notes and Queries in 1894.2

This inventory was ordered by Robert Burgon (or Burgoyne) who was one of the commissioners for the suppression of monasteries. This inventory is not dated. It is in a different form to and earlier than those taken under the commission of 6 Edw. vi. (1553) The vicarage of S. Edmund was annexed to the rectory of St Michael in 1411. The rectory was appropriated to the priory of St Andrew. The vicarage was ordained by Bishop Hugh Wells circa 1220, “Vicarius habebit nomine vicarie sue totem ecclesiam illam solvendo predictis monachis (St Andrew) xxs de eadem et sustinendo omnia opera ejnsdem ecclesie debita et consucta.” Lib. Ant. The commission of 16 Maye, 6 Edw. vi. (1553), for taking the inventory of ohuroh goods of the town of Northampton is directed “To oure trostie and well beloved Edwarde Mountague Knight and to our well beloved the Mayour of the Towne of Northampton, Edward Saunders our Sergeaunt at Lawe, Edwarde Griffyn, Francys Morgan and Roberte Chauntrell esquyers.”

These be the goods that dyd belong to the church of Seynt Edmunds wtout the est gate of the towne of Northm̃pton praysyd3 at the commandement of mayst Robt Burgon by Antone Brand, Xstofore Baruarde, Thomas pemester and swrue upon a boke wt mr Samuell & syned by mr Burgon to make the prasment4 at John Bryggenson hows




It a chalis wayyng vij owncys delyvyrd to mr Burgon not praysyd




— the chales and lidd delivrd mr adams at



the oz

It a cope of blu saten5 praysyd at




It a vestement of darnyx6 praysyd at




It a vestyment of purpul say7 praysyd at




It a vestymeot of chabyrde8 fustean praysyd at




It iij olde surples praysyd at




It iij tanacles9 clothis praysyd at




It vi pelose praysyd at




It v candelstykys strãding afore the rode apon tymber praysyd at




It ix candelstyks praysyd at




It v gret bokys praysyd at




It vi smale bokys praysyd at




It a nolde10 vestement that lay to plege at John pychers praysyd at




It a nolde vestement there all so praysyd at




It v depeynted clothys praysyd at




It ij olde corpris11 cacys praysyd at




It v olde twells wt a kerchef praysyd at




Sm ijli xiiij iiij




It payde to the maystr of seynt Jones12 that was woss13 name ys Richard byrdsoll14 for the church off seynt edmunds wen he was colector of Kynggs mone for the tenths15




It payde for the ij vestments that lay at plege at John pychers layd by the churchewardens




It payde at the commandement of mr Robte Burgon to Syr Thomas atterbere16 vekere of Dustune




by me Johe Bryggenson




The end had certainly come for St Edmund by 1548 when we read that ‘the Privy Council gives sanction for five loads of stone to be taken out of “the Steeple of St Edmunds in Northampton” for the repairing of the town walls and of the west bridge. It was further ordered that if this quantity of stone did not suffice, that as much as was required should be taken from “the Graunge of St Andrews.”’17

In 1533-4 Henry VIII sent his librarian, John Leland, 18 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. In John Bridges description of the destroyed churches of Northampton he provides a comprehensive list of incumbents19:

Joh. de Sancto Medardo, 1234.
Will. de Wodeford, 1285.
Phil. de Daylington, 1291.
Phil. de Rissenden.
Henr. de Alveston, 1317.
Henr. Gray, 1349.
Will de Thorp.
John de Medeburn, 1368.
Joh. Meres, 1388.
Joh. Spenser.
John Aunslat, 1390.
Dom. Thomas …
Joh. Sherman, 1411

Evidence of St Edmund from wills

Early wills can often provide indirect evidence of a church through the bequests. However, this is not the case with St Edmund. Either the church was already falling out of use or was less significant in the lives of the town residents than the four parish churches and the Priory of St Andrew. In a survey of early Northampton wills20, St Edmund is mentioned just twice.

Will of THOMAS BUKKE f26r 52, circa 1480

Item to the chapell of Saynt Edmund withowte est gate of Northampton iijs.iiijd. (3 shillings and 4 pence).

There were similar bequests to other hospitals and chapels around the town, e.g. St Thomas and St John.

Will of THOMAS SYMSON, Fuller fl23v 440, 3rd January 1500

In the name of God Amen the iij day of January the yere of our Lord God mccccc I Thomas Symson of Saynt Edmunds Ende fuller hole of mynde make my testament in tills manner Fyrst I bequethe my soule to Almyghty God etcetera my body to be buryed in tin chyrche of Saynd Edmond and thyrefor I bequeth to makyng of the same chyrche iijs.iiijd. (3 shillings and 4 pence).

Whilst 3 shillings and 4 pence may not seem a generous amount, at the time it represented about five days labour for a skilled tradesman.21

Evidence from maps

Sadly no images of St Edmund have come down to us. The two earliest maps 1632 shows a cleared enclosure. Marcus Pierce22 who produced this plan to show those lands formerly possessions of St Andrew’s Priory coloured the Priory lands in green on the plan. This is the same indication that is used for the site of the church of St Bartholomew, also demolished by this time.

St Edmund church site from Marcus Pierce’s map of 1632

In 1867 a report in the Northampton Mercury tells of the accidental discovery of coffins and skeletons on the north side of the Wellingborough Road:

The workmen who are making the culvert in the Wellingborough road, and connecting with it drains from the houses in the left-hand row, have come upon innumerable skeletons — not in the line of the road, but beneath the houses and the gardens in their rear. The ground is the site of the old churchyard of St. Edmund’s, the church having stood in the fork at the junction of the Wellingborough and Kettering roads. The vicarage was ordained by Hugh Wells, Bishop of Lincoln, who confirmed it to the Priory of St. Andrew. Its earliest incumbent appears to have been John de Sancto Medardo, who was instituted in 1234. About the beginning of the fifteenth century, the church was annexed to the rectory of St. Michael. St. Michael’s Church stood at the corner of Abington street and Wood street, which was then called St. Michael’s lane, and afterwards Cock lane, from an inn which stood at the corner. The first incumbent was William de Northampton, who was instituted in 1229, and the last of whom there is any record was Thomas Parnall, who was instituted in 1493. At what time these two churches were demolished does not appear, but they probably fell with the dissolution of the Priory of St. Andrew. After the demolition of St. Edmund’s Church, the churchyard was converted into a cherry orchard, which seems to have been the ordinary purpose to which disused churchyards were in the olden time applied. St. Gregory’s and St. Katherine’s (which was the burial place of persons who died of the plague) both became cherry orchards. The skeletons discovered are numerous, and in good preservation, though they have lain there probably over three centuries. Traces of the coffins have in some instances has been found. 23

Law’s 1847 map of Northampton24 showing the probable line of the new culvert

In Rev R M Serjeantson’s history of St Giles parish he notes:

The Medieval Church of St. Edmund stood on the site of the present Abington Square Café. Numerous human bones were discovered in digging the foundations of the building. Lee in his History of Northampton, says: ‘‘St. Edmund’s Church was in ye corner close between ye two roads out of ye East Gate, ye one on ye left hand leading to Kettering; and ye other on ye right hand leading to Wellingborow.” (M.S. Top. Northants. C. 9, f. 99. Bodleian Library). 25

The prestigious building of the Peoples’ Cafe Company a teetotal establishment opened in 1883 and was their second cafe in the town. The first in Gold Street had opened in 1879. The Abington Square building was not so successful and was demolished in 1933-4.

25 inch, OS map of 1899

This map shows the relationship of the St Edmund site, the cafe and the later Victorian St Edmunds further along the Wellingborough Road. It too was demolished in about 1978.

  1. The History of Northampton and Its Vicinity; Brought down to the Present Time. vii, 152 p. Northampton: J. Birdsall, 1831. p 34
  2. Northamptonshire Notes & Queries, First Series, vol. 5, 1894, Item 762
  3. praysyd = appraised
  4. prasment = appraisement
  5. a liturgical vestment of blue satin
  6. Darnyx, or dorniz; a stout linen cloth with a diaper pattern, formerly much used for ohuroh vestments. Originally made at Dornick, a town in Belgium, now known as Touruai.
  7. Say, a kind of serge.
  8. Probably — Cambray. Priest robes were made of linen made at Cambray.
  9. Tanacle, or tunicle; a short tunic. Edw. vi., Book of Com. Prayer, 1549: “Priestes or Decons shall have upon them lykewise the vestures appointed for their ministery, that is to say Albes with tunacles.”
  10. Here the article loses the consonant. As a rule the article robs the noun. We say “an apron,” whereas the noun is “napron.”
  11. Corporis cloth; i.e., the linen cloth on which the host is laid.
  12. St John’s Hospital.
  13. whose
  14. Rector of St Michael’s in 1546; of St Peter’s in 1563.
  15. 26 Hen. viii. c. S. An Acte concerninge the paiment of Firste Fruites of all dignities & pmocyons spirituall; & also concerninge one annuell pencyon of the tenthe parte of all the possessions of the Churche, spiritnall and temporal, graunted to the Kinges Highnes & his heires: “Sec. 9. The King to have for the more augmentation & maintenance of the royal estate of his imperial crown and dignity of supreme head of the church of England united and knit to his imperial crown for ever one yearly rent or pension amounting to the value of the tenth part of all the profits belonging to any benifice, the said pension to be yerely paid for ever at the feast of the nativity of our Lord God and the first payment to be at Xmas 1535.”
  16. V. of Duston after 1535
  17. Rev. J. Charles Cox, Records of the Borough of Northampton Vol 2, Northampton, 1898, p 428
  18. The Itinerary of John Leland the Antiquary, Vol 1 fol. 8
  19. Bridges, John, and Whalley, Peter, Vicar of St. Sepulchre, Northampton. The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire. Compiled from the Manuscript Collections of the Late Learned Antiquary J. Bridges, Esq., by the Rev. Peter Whalley. 1791. p 449
  20. Edwards, Dorothy. Early Northampton Wills, Preserved in Northamptonshire Record Office. 1st Edition. Northampton: Northamptonshire Record Society, 2005.
  21. National Archives Currency Converter, 1270-2017
  22. ‘A true Plot and description of all the Ancient Demesne Lands belonginge to the Priorye of St Andrews’ in 1632 by Marcus Pierce. (Browne and Wells/NRO)
  23. Northampton Mercury, 20 April 1867, p 6
  24. Engraved by W W Law from a survey by J Wood and E F Law
  25. Serjeantson, R M, A history of the Church of St. Giles, Northampton, Northampton, 1911, p 287

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