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Northamptonshire


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Is one of the quieter English counties, less affected by the industrial revolution than its western neighbours. It covered a great swathe of central England: Brackley in the west seems like a Cotswold town; Eye, east of Peterborough, a fenland village.

In Roman times the region belonged to the Coritani. Towcester on Watling Street was a small Roman town and the Nene valley at Castor, on Ermine Street, was an important pottery centre. In Saxon times the shire was part of the kingdom of Mercia. Peada, son of Penda, founded a great monastery about 657 at Peterborough, which survived sacking by the Danes in 870. The first mention of Northampton is when a Danish army seized it in 917. When the area was recovered by Edward the Elder a little later, the Danish territory seems to have been the basis for the emergent county.

In the medieval period the shire was fertile and prosperous. Northampton was a town of importance. Its charter dated from 1189 and parliaments were frequently summoned there. The county produced corn and cattle and, according to Camden, was ‘overrun with sheep’. Northampton horse fair was of national importance.

Although the industrial revolution came to Northamptonshire, it was gentler than elsewhere. Northampton was slow to tie into the growing canal network, but after the Grand Junction branch opened in 1815, it began to grow into a manufacturing town, specializing in boots. But the London to Birmingham railway bypassed it in 1838, and a loop line to Birmingham was only established in 1872. Peterborough, promoted to a bishopric in Henry VIII's reign, profited from the coming of the railways, became a major junction, and developed heavy engineering. Wellingborough, Kettering, and Rushden all profited from rail links to become boot centres. Corby, no more than a village in 1801, developed as a steel town, exploiting the local iron resources.

The county has suffered considerable boundary changes. In 1888 the soke of Peterborough, which retained special jurisdictions, was given its own county council, and in 1965 was merged with Huntingdonshire, before finding its way in 1972 into a substantially enlarged Cambridgeshire.

Subjects: British History.


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