Friday, August 27, 2010

Northampton, England:My Kinda Town:


By Derek Andrews

And by the by, its Old England not New England we're talking about here !

NORTHAMPTON, Northamptonshire, UK

Northampton has been around since the Iron Ages when it was just a few dwellings. Fast forward to the 11th century and it was a thriving town with a castle, market square and a Multi-Plex. No, I made that last bit up to check you're paying attention. The market square with its market every day except Sunday still thrives today and is one of the largest and oldest in the country. Way back in the early 12th century, Thomas Beckett (of whom  The Young King Henry in exasperation plead "Will no-one free me of this turbulent priest ?") was briefly imprisoned at the castle but escaped to London and then to the continent. Cue famous English joke based on truth about "Fog in Channel. Continent cut off". Brits an insular race? Heaven forbid.Later he was assassinated by several Knights in Canterbury Cathedral. Becketts Park is one of several noble parks in the town. The castle sadly has long gone. Strange that many castles in the UK are still standing proud but some have disappeared. I guess you got rogue builders even then.

NORTHAMPTON, Northamptonshire, UK

In the middle-ages Northampton became a major centre for the shoe-making industry and at its hey-day supplied boots to the Kings army. I believe the King got his especially from Nieman Marcus though. The shoe trade has to all intents also collapsed though the Doc Marten factory is still here and several specialist shops such as Churchs. There is another small factory close to where I live that attracts even Italians, who know a thing or two about footwear. Recently Roberto Mancini, the manager of Premier League soccer club Manchester City (known as the noisy neighbours by supporters such as myself who worship at the Theatre of Dreams aka Old Trafford, home of Manchester United)was seen visiting there. My own street (well I don't actually own it, but you know what I mean) consists of terraced houses all of which were built in the 19th century for the out-workers of the shoe-trade. The local soccer team is affectionately known as the Cobblers. My house was built in 1888, the very year Jack the Ripper was doing his thing in Whitechapel. Kinda creepy association.

There was a Battle of Northampton in  1264 when King Henry 111 finished as the winner and the runners up mainly killed. A second Battle of Northampton was fought in 1460 at Delapre Abbey and King Henry V1 was captured. I expect he wished for some V1 rockets to aid him. The Civil War was fought in the mid 1600's between the army of King Charles 1 and the forces of  Oliver Cromwell. The defining battle of the conflict was at Naseby, just 12 miles from Northampton. The end of the end so to speak for the King came after being tried by Parliament and beheaded at the Banqueting House in London's Whitehall. Oh well, they say you can't take it with you.

Equidistant from the town are the grounds of Althorp House, the family home of the Spencers and where the late, much-missed Princess Diana is buried on an island in a lake. The day of her funeral brought the country to a halt, not least in Northampton where the market traders unanimously decided not to open their stalls on that emotional Saturday. For them to pay their respects in such a way, on their busiest day and for the first time in over 800 years, says much about Diana's place in the public psyche. Truly the Peoples Princess.

During the 1960's many of Britain's older  buildings were pulled down  and replaced with hideous concrete slabbed buildings. A decade when Britain gave so much to the world (well OK the Beatles and Carnaby Street) but destroyed a lot of its heritage. Sad and it will surely not happen again.

More recently the town is proud to be the home-town of Francis Crick, one of the two scientists who discovered the double-helix, leading to the realisation by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys of the properties and potential of DNA. Leicester University, where he worked is also very close to Northampton.

Major large companies who are headquartered in Northampton include Barclaycard, Carlsberg Brewery, Avon Products, Coca-Cola and Texas Instruments.

The population is about 200,000 but growing fast. In fact it will increase by two next May when my American wife and our cat arrive as permanent residents. My wife and I married at Northamptons Victorian Guildhall in November 2008.I think she will be the second most famous American to be associated with the town as Judy Carne has is permanently back in the UK and living here in Northampton, her home town.

.NOTE BY Mike Burt:

Northampton also has some personal meanings for me:  I have some direct ancestors from the mid-second millennium who also hailed from Northampton in the UK, and when my wife and I honeymooned in NEW England, we spent a couple days at Northampton, Mass.  While strolling about, we encountered a memorial to the last man to be killed by Indians in the valley wherein Northampton, Mass, rests.  His name was Bartlett, and as it happens he was descended from the UK Northampton family.  At the time, I didn’t know this – it wasn’t for another ten years that I would learn that the man memorialized was a great (x9) grandfather on my father’s side of the family.  I hope one day to spend some meaningful time in old Northampton!  - MB

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