A great fire destroyed the county town of Northampton in 1675. It was rebuilt in such a capacious and open-planned manner that Daniel Defoe described it as "the handsomest and best built town in all this part of England".

Northampton Guildhall

Northampton's Gothic Guildhall © TAB

The rebuilding of Northampton following the fire took place around an extensive market square, one of the biggest in the country at the time. The main streets that radiate from it reflect some the town's old medieval trades, such as Sheep Street, Silver Street and Gold Street.

Several fine churches survived the fire. Including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built in 1110 to imitate the original in Jerusalem. It is one of only four such round churches in the country. Two non-religious buildings to survive include Haselrigg House (1662) and Welsh House (1595), both built by wealthy Welsh drovers who sold their cattle at Northampton market. It is said that Cromwell spent the night at Haselrigg before the Battle of Naseby in 1645.

Many of the important offices were rebuilt after the fire, including Sessions House (1690); a beautiful old stone-built courthouse, with adjacent judges lodgings. It is now home to the tourist information centre.

The glorious 19th-c Gothic Guildhall, on St Giles Square, was built by Edward Godwin. Statues of royals and dignitaries stand between the arched windows on the first floor. Carved within the arches of each ground floor window are scenes of historical events that took place in the town and across the county. The Guildhall was originally built as a centre for civic administration, with law courts, council chambers and a police station. Today its function rooms are used for private and corporate events, including music and theatre. The hall is open to the public on heritage days and for guided tours.

The boot, shoe and leather trade thrived in Northampton from the late 17th century onwards. Although manufacturing went into decline in the 20th-c, the county still continues to be the home of many international brands. The remains of the industry's heyday can still be seen to the north east of the town, where boot and shoe factories once proliferated. Although many have since gone, some of the more finer buildings have been restored and are now Grade listed. The importance of the footwear trade is reflected in the Central Museum and Art Gallery, which displays shoes from Roman times to Queen Victoria's slippers and David Beckham's football boots.

DNA Sculpture

Francis Crick DNA Sculpture © TAB

In Abington Street stands a modern sculpture commemorating the life of Francis Crick who, with James D Watson, discovered the structure of DNA in 1953.

The town's origins date back to the Norman Conquest when Simon de Senlis built a defensive castle here. Work on the castle and town walls began around 1072 and by 1130 Northampton became a Royal Palace and seat of power. King John was besieged here by his rebel Barons in 1215. The Barons later commandeered the fortress to ensure that John remained true to the Magna Carta. Sadly, the castle was virtually destroyed during the Second Barons' wars of 1264. An embroidered panel celebrating the first Northampton Charter can be seen in the Guildhall.

Just outside of Northampton, on the A428, is Althorp House. The final resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales, who spent most of her childhood here. The house and grounds are open to the public during the summer months.

Places of Interest to Visit in Northampton

Abington Park

Set in the grounds of the former medieval village of Abington on the edge of the town. The extensive parklands include ornamental gardens, tree-lined pathways, lakes and play areas. The Abington Park Museum and the Regimental Museum occupy a medieval manor house in the park, where Shakespeare's granddaughter once lived.

Beckets ParkBecket's Park

Located south of the town near the River Nene, the grounds were developed as a public park in 1783. The grounds follows the curves of the river and have become a popular outdoor recreational area for the town.

Central Museum and Art Gallery

Museum and Art Gallery

Home of the World Famous Shoe Collection has now been reopened after a major redevelopment project.

Opening times: - see website for details
Location: 4-6 Guildhall Rd, Northampton NN1 1DP
Tel: 01604 838111
Website: northamptonmuseums.com

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh House & Galleries

Mackintosh House

The award-winning historic house at 78 Derngate (near the town centre), was remodeled by artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1917. The interior of the brash art deco style property displays many of his original concepts and designs.

Opening times: Tue to Sun: 10am to 5pm - Admission Charge
Location: 78 Derngate, Northampton NN1 1UH
Tel: 01604 603407
Website: 78derngate.org.uk

Map of Northampton

The Midlands

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Towns and Villages in Northamptonshire

Corby, Daventry, Fotheringhay, Higham Ferrers, Kettering, Nassington, Northampton, Oundle, Rockingham, Stoke Bruerne, Towcester, Wansford, Wellingborough, Yarwell

Attractions in Northamptonshire


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