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Things to do in Northampton, Northamptonshire

Northampton is a large market town of around 200,000 people, about 50 miles southeast of Birmingham.

Guildhall © Mark Baldwyn
Guildhall © Mark Baldwyn

It was initially a farming community around the 7th century and later became the centre of the ancient kingdom of Mercia.

Historically, Northampton was a centre for the leather industry and many former shoe factories have been converted into offices or apartments as the town has become more focused on banking and financial services rather than manufacturing.

The street names tell of the town's development; Bridge Street and Scarletwell Street were the original defence lines of the city walls and Gold Street was where the Jewish community plied their trade.

Present Day Northampton

Located close to the M1 and on the Northampton Loop of the West Coast Main Line, Northampton is within commuting distance of both London and Birmingham.

It is known for its "squires and spires" and is packed with old churches and monuments too many to mention.  Fortunately, many survived the Great Fire of 1675.

George St. © Mark Baldwyn
George St. © Mark Baldwyn

A tour of the town should definitely take in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sheep Street, one of the largest round churches in England which was built in 1100.

The splendid Gothic Guildhall was built in the 1860s and 78 Derngate, remodelled by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, now has some notable interiors.

The fine market square in the town centre dates back to 1235 but most retail shopping is found at the nearby Grosvenor Centre and the Weston Favell Centre.

The lovely Art Deco building, formerly the Cannon Centre is now enjoying a new lease of life as the Deco Theatre and the Old Fishmarket, newly renovated, now houses three art galleries, a studio and regular exhibitions and workshops.

One final landmark is the Express Lift Tower, locally dubbed the Cobbler's Needle or the Northampton Lighthouse.

It was actually built for testing lifts at the Express Lifts Factory which is now closed. The tower remains as a listed building.

Things to do in Northampton

Within the town there are many parks, green spaces and riverside walks.

The Grand Union Canal, once a major freight route, is now used for quieter pursuits such as walking along the towpath, fishing, kayaking and pleasure boating.

St Giles © Mark Baldwyn
St Giles © Mark Baldwyn

Trace the history of Northampton by visiting the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery which has an interesting collection of footwear and Italian artworks as well as local history.

The Billing Aquadome provides plenty of family fun with its marina, funfair, converted water mill and riverside restaurant.

Historic homes around Northampton include Althorp, the family home of the late Princess of Wales, the Menagerie with a notable 1750s rococo folly and Rushden Hall, one of the oldest domestic buildings in the area.

It dates back to the 14th century with an interesting mixture of period architectural styles.

During the 12th century the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was imprisoned at Northampton Castle, now little more than a gateway near the railway station.

Becket's Park, Becket's Well and the Thomas a Becket pub are all named after him.

Other celebrities with connections to Northampton are cricketer Graeme Swann, actress Joan Hickson and TV presenter Des O'Connor, who briefly played for Northampton Town FC after being evacuated there during WWII.

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