If you ever get to come to the UK, I’d love to share some things in my home town. My home town is Northampton. It is the county town of Northamptonshire (the UK equivalent of states – but sooo much smaller) and is in the East Midlands. It lies halfway between London to the south and Birmingham to the north. In the early 1980s it was the fastest growing town in Europe and it has applied for city status on the last few occasions the applications were open. Today it has a population of around 212,000. It’s not my birthplace (that was Birmingham) but I have lived here on and off since 1985 and permanently since 1998. These are the things in my home town I’d show you around.
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The Market Square
Northampton is an old town, having gained its Royal Charter in 1189, although archaeological evidence proves settlement on the site right back in the Bronze Age. The hub of any medieval town was its market place and Northampton’s Market Square remains the center of town today. It was only 15 years or so ago that the old cobbles were ripped out and replaced with new ones. There’s also a water feature, but it’s turned off at the moment awaiting remodeling (thanks to water contamination). Canvas roofed stalls sit in the square and it is surrounded on three and three quarter sides by tall Victorian buildings (shops, offices and pubs). For the first time, in 2013, the square followed the fashion of becoming an urban beach! The Market Square remains one of the most important features and definitely on the list of things in my home town to see.
Northampton Shoe Museum
For centuries Northampton/Northants has been the centre of boot and shoemaking in the UK – the Doc Martin factory is 10 miles down the road and the famed English shoemakers Church’s and Jones are both still in the town. It’s only right, therefore, that one of the main attractions in Northampton is the Shoe Museum. Part of the Museum and Gallery of Art, the shoe collection is recognized as being historically and nationally significant. There are more than 12,000 shoes and a massive historical archive of 50,000 records.
As a large town, we need green space and there are quite a number. We have the old Racecourse – no racing now and the old pavilion is now a restaurant – Midsummer Meadow (more about that later), Delapre Park and Becket’s Park, but the best green space is definitely Abington Park. Whatever season, Abington Park is one of the loveliest sights of Northampton. As well as rolling green areas, there are huge chestnut and oak trees, a kid’s play area, lakes and aviaries. It’s also home to the Abington Park Museum, a glorious old house (a Grade I Listed building) telling the story of the town and a special permanent exhibition about the Northampton Regiment and Yeomanry through the two world wars.
Showcasing the town’s historical roots, Delapre Abbey was built in 1145 and is more properly known as Abbey of St Mary de la Pré (The Abbey of St Mary in the Meadow). It has played its part in English history as much as the town’s. One of Queen Eleanor’s Crosses (en.wikipedia.org) was erected on abbey grounds and the abbey was the site of the Battle of Northampton in 1460, one of the major engagements of the War of the Roses. King Henry VI was captured and held prisoner in the Abbey overnight. The Abbey suffered dissolution under Henry VIII and today stands as a testament to history rather than as a working abbey. The grounds are stunning and include a lovely formal garden.
I have to confess, that of all the things in my hometown, this is the most disappointing. I would love to live in a town with a castle but today, all I can show you is a postern (small gate) which was moved from its original position and built into the wall surrounding Northampton Railway Station. Exciting hey? It’s a shame the original has gone – it was demolished in 1662 by order of the king. Prior to this it had been one of the most important castles in England. It saw the trial of Thomas a Becket, it was used as a stronghold by the barons who opposed King John (Magna Carta) and through its years saw many changes of hands, councils of war, politics and intrigue. I’d love to have seen it still standing.
You may well be wondering about this, because after all I said that my home town is in the middle of England! Some of the best attractions of Northampton, however, are its water based leisure facilities. The River Nene runs through the town, as does the Grand Union Canal. To enjoy the water we have Billing Aquadrome, which is a holiday/leisure park with a lake and marina on the river and the walking paths along the canal. Nearby is a famous village on the canal – Stoke Bruerne – about 3 miles away, which is known for its canalside pubs and Canal and Barge Museum. There’s also a white water rafting centre on the riverside. Excitingly too, though, there is a brand new marina and leisure area currently under construction just off the town centre (in Midsummer Meadow), which will give us even more reason to get close to the water.
Wherever you go in the UK, ancient town means ancient churches and Northampton is no different. We have some really beautiful examples. All Saints is right in the town centre and sits not far from the stunning Gothic Guildhall. It has a paved forecourt where us townsfolk love to gather in fine weather. We also have a cathedral (which allows us to qualify as a city should we ever get the honor) and then there’s St. Peters. Near the railway station, St. Peter’s is described as one of the country’s finest Norman churches and is 900+ years old. It stands of the site of a buried Saxon palace and is filled with amazing stone carvings. It isn’t the town’s oldest church though. That is the Holy Sepulchre, dating back to 1100AD, and this church is the town’s oldest standing building. It is also one of only 9 known churches in England to have been built with a circular nave.
There you have it – the things in my home town I would show visitors. Of course, there’s more, but well, that’s for another day. What do you love about your home town? Where do you take visitors first?
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