"Two ancient churches and a bargain!" Top 5 Page for this destination Northampton by leics
Northampton Travel Guide: 57 reviews and 197 photos
Northampton, set on gentle slopes above the River Nene, was the second of my visits to 'places nearby to which I have never been': a project for enlivening my weekends (and making more VT pages), preferably using the train rather than driving.
Coventry was first on the list, and I knew Northampton would be more pleasant. It wasn't almost totally flattened by bombings during the Second World War and would therefore (hopefully) retain much of its original typical-English-market-town architecture.
I was right about that. Northampton has a very pleasant town centre, with lots of interesting buildings and its concrete-and-glass modernity largely tucked away out of sight or outside the centre (a very good thing, imo).
I had two specific reasons for wanting to visit Northampton:
1. I was still on my 'posh frock for not-very-much' hunt...and Northampton fulfilled that wonderfully, with a brand new Monsoon silk frock for £6.50. :-))
2. I knew it had one of the best-preserved round Templar churches in the country: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the original round church (dating from the 1000s) incorporated within the larger, later building.
Although the weather was dry it was exceptionally chilly for May, with a cold wind, so my few hours there were spent finding and ransacking the local charity (thrift) shops, finding and visiting the superb round church, having a warming bite to eat and general wandering...ending with a too-quick visit to a magnificent and very early Norman church (complete with superbly-carved Saxon gravestone) I spotted on the way back to the station.
A massive fire in 1675 destroyed much of the town centre, leaving thousands homeless. But that disaster resulted in a well-planned layout, with broad streets and a large market square making it a very enjoyable place to explore.
Many buildings in Northampton centre are built from the lovely yellow/orange local stone (ironstone, I think). They glow beautifully when the sun shines (see main photo). The stone seems to have resisted the blackening from smoke and pollution which is so often seen on our ancient buildings.
All Saints' Church is set in an imposing central square. It was largely destroyed in the 1675 fire, but contributions from Charles ll and from a chimney tax enabled it to be rebuilt. Its entrance now houses an excellent 'bistro' offering huge portions of basic meals at very good prices..and a very pleasant patio on which to sit outside if one wishes.
Northampton once has a very large Norman castle and the town itself was walled. The castle remains were destroyed when the station was built in the mid-1800s (oh, those modernising Victorians!!!) and the town walls are no longer visible. The town also had one of the largest Jewish populations in Medieval times: the remains of a Jewish cemetery and synagogue have been found in Gold Street.
Northampton has all the major chainstores (there are two large shopping centres tucked away, as well as a long, wide main shopping street). There are a good number of independent shops too, which makes a very pleasant change in modern England. Saturday morning was busy with shoppers and there were plenty of stalls operating in the market (fruit, veg, sausages, fabrics and probably anything else you can think of). Lots and lots of cafes. bars and restaurants as well..it's clearly a thriving town even in the present economic situation (probably helped by the fact that it is within commuting distance of London).
I should have explored more of Northampton really. I definitely should have visited 78 Derngate, which is a superbly-restored house decorated by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I'm cross that I didn't go there, but it was very cold and I was very tired.
Finding St Peter's on the way back to the station was a real plus. It's a truly ancient church (dating from 1100), only a few years 'younger' than Holy Sepulchre, and has the most magnificent carved capitals and arches inside (and rows of lovely carved heads tucked under the exterior roofline). They look incredibly fresh. The reason? Well, until fairly recently they were covered with plaster so no-one knew they were there, and the Puritans couldn't knock off noses and chip away at carvings as they did in so many of our ancient churches.
I was entranced by this place...more so, strangely, than by the round church. I love ancient carvings: they give us a glimpse into the minds of ordinary Medieval folk. Heads are portraits of real people: masons just carved the faces of people they knew, to be immortalised in stone forever. Look on their faces and you are looking at the face of someone who lived in Northampton almost 1000 years ago. That's special.
I always seek out the Green Man (pagan symbol of fertility and new life). He's there somewhere in almost all ancient churches, in mainland Europe as well as in the UK. He was exceptionally easy to find in this church because he stares out from a Saxon gravestone.
I didn't have time to properly explore St Peter's..I had a train to catch...but this is definitely somewhere to which I will return.
Northampton is, imo, well worth a visit if you are in the area. Even if you have no interest in its ancient churches it is a pleasant place to explore, with good shopping and eating and a variety of architectural styles to please the eye. I shall almost certainly go back, although I'll try to choose a warmer day next time! :-)
- Pros:Interesting ancient churches, good shopping, pleasant place.
- Cons:None that I came across.
- In a nutshell:Golden stone and ancient churches.
All Saints Bistro/coffeeshop/cafe is in the entrance and portico of All Saints Church, right in the heart of Northampton... more travel advice
St Peter's really is a stunning Norman (1100s) church, a wonderful example of the Romanesque style. It is 'the most... more travel advice
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