Friday, 12 July 2013

5 fun facts about (mostly north-west) Northamptonshire

Time for 5 fascinating (and fun!) facts about Northamptonshire, since it's my home county. All from an archaeological perspective, of course:

The county of Northamptonshire. The M1 runs through the centre, the M40 on the south west extremity. (Wikipedia)


The district of Daventry, with names of various villages (Northamptonshire County Council)

1. Known as the land of "spires and squires", for its association with the landed gentry, who still own plenty of land in the county (the Spencers, of Princess Diana fame, for example, own a rather large country house near Northampton), and for the numerous village churches with spires. A side effect is pretty, picuresque open spaces across vast swathes of the county; some of the first landscape painters in England used this unenclosed countryside of 18th century Northamptonshire as their backdrop; the term "landscape" incidentally comes from the Dutch "landschap" (Waites 2011). Incidentally, north-west Northanmptonshire has some of the best preserved traces of deserted medieval villages, and visible remains of ridge and furrow (the parallel "ridges" you see in some fields) in the whole country.

2. Northamptonshire sits right in the centre of Victorian and modern communication networks to and from London and the North! Two major canals (the Grand Union and the Oxford) have run through Braunston in north west Northamptonshire since the 18th century, which were superseded by several railways in the 19th century, which ran west-east originally, but then the Great Central Railway was built right at the end of th 19th century as a fast route from London to Sheffield (Hawkins 1991). These all intersect between Braunston, up to Crick to the north east, some 8 miles away, including the Kilsby railway tunnel, which is still in use. Only the West Coast Mainline is in service today; a reminder of the "railway mania" that once existed. Today, you also have the M1, the A45, A14 and the A5 all running through this small area too!

3. Along the A5 is a number of peculiar place names that can either be dated to the Roman period (e.g. Towcester), the Saxon period and the Viking period (usually names with "-by" on the end, meaning "hill"). The A5, originally a Roman road that connected London to North Wales/ the Irish Sea, was used as a border between King Alfred and the Vikings, seperating Danelaw from Wessex.

4. During the 17th century north-west Northamptonshire (and Warwickshire) became the focus of national attention. First, a man known as Guy Fawkes conspired with Robert Catesby and others at Robert's house in Ashby St. Ledgers on the Gunpowder plot in 1605. When the plot failed, most of them fled to Dunchurch, and then onwards towards Coombe Abbey, near Coventry. Then, the English Civil War is reputed to have started in Kilsby! Although the King's flag was raised at Nottingham in 1642 to signify the start of the war, apparently the first shots were fired opposite the modern site of the village school in Kilsby (Hatton 2013). Surprisingly, a large number of villages in this area still contain houses and landscapes from the 17th century whoch rarely recieve recognition to their significance.

5. Some famous brands made in the county include Weetabix, Doc Martens, Carlsberg (brewed in Northampton, based in Denmark), a number of Formula one teams (including Mercedes F1) and Cosworth, who have supplied Formula One engines since 1963.

Ok, so the last fact wasn't really archaeological, but it was still fun!


Hatton, G., 9/7/2013, personal communication concerning the medieval history of the village of Kilsby

Hawkins, M., 1991, The Great Central: Then and Now, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon

Waites, I., 2011, 'Extensive Fields of Our Forefathers': Some Prospect Drawings of Common Fields in Northamptonshire by Peter Tillemans, 1719-1721, Midland History, vol.36, no.1, pp.42-68

Wikipedia, last updated 05/07/2013,, last visited 12/07/2013


Map 1:

Map 2:

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