1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Northamptonshire

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NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, an east midland county of England, bounded N. by Lincolnshire, N.W. by Rutland and Leicestershire, W. by Warwickshire, S.W. and S. by Oxfordshire, S.E. by Buckinghamshire, and E. by Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire. The area is 1003.1 sq. m. The surface is undulating and somewhat monotonous, notwithstanding that the country is richly cultivated and in some parts finely wooded. Elevations over 700 ft. are few. The most picturesque scenery is found in the western and south-western districts. For long Northamptonshire has been famed for its ash trees, and there are also some very old oaks, such as that associated with Cowper's posthumous poem “Yardley Oak,” in Yardley Chase near Northampton, as well as a few fine avenues of elm. The north-eastern extremity belongs to the great Fen district. The county forms the principal watershed of central England, nearly all the more important rivers of this region having their sources within its boundaries. The Avon, with a westward course, forms for some distance the northern boundary of the county, till near Lilbourne it passes into Warwickshire. The Nene passes southward past Northampton, whence it takes an easterly course, skirting the eastern boundary of the county. The Welland flows in an easterly direction forming the boundary of the county with Leicester, Rutland and Lincoln. The Cherwell, rising in a spring at Charwelton, where it is crossed by a very ancient bridge, passes into Oxfordshire, and there forms for a considerable distance the southernmost portion of the boundary of Northamptonshire with that county; the Leam forms a portion of the boundary with Warwickshire. The Ouse, which rises near Brackley, soon afterwards leaves the county, but again touches it near Stony Stratford, separating it for some distance from Buckinghamshire.

Geology.—With the exception of the superficial glacial and river deposits, all the rocks exposed in the county are of Jurassic age; they all dip in a general way towards the S.E., the strike of the outcrops being from south-west to north-east. The oldest rocks exposed belong to the Liassic formation; they come to the surface over a large area in the south-west and centre, around Banbury, Daventry and Market Harborough, and by the removal of the overlying Oolitic strata they are exposed along the rivers and stream courses near Towcester, Northampton, Wellingborough and Kettering. The Lower Lias, blue clay with limestone bands and cement stones, has few exposures; it has been cut through by the railways at Kilsby and Catesby, and at Braunston it is dug for brick-making. The Middle Lias consists of grey micaceous marls, sandstones and clays, often ferruginous; ironstone appears near King's Sutton; at the top is the marlstone or “rock bed,” used as a building stone and for road metal. The Upper Lias is again a blue argillaceous series of strata, with limestones and cement stones; it is employed for brick-making. Through the middle of the county from north-east to south-west is an elevated tract of Oolitic rocks which contrasts strongly with the low-lying grass-covered Liassic ground. The lowest subdivision of the Inferior Oolite, sands, sandstone and calcareous beds, is an important source of iron ore, with from 9 to 12 ft. of workable beds at Blisworth, Kettering, Northampton, Thrapstone, Towcester and Wellingborough. The flaggy sandstone of Duston (Duston slate) belongs to this series. The upper part of the Northampton sands is known as the Lower Estuarine Beds; these are white and reddish clays and sands. In the north-eastern part of the county from about Maidwell, the Lincolnshire Limestone is developed at the expense of the Northampton Sand; the well known building stone of Barnack (Barnack Rag) and Weldon belong to this horizon; a hard shelly variety is known as Weldon or Stamford marble. Locally at the base is a series of flaggy strata, the Collyweston slates. The Great Oolite series comprise the Upper Estuarine Beds, the Great Oolite Limestone, Great Oolite Clay, Forest Marble and Cornbrash (very fossiliferous at Rushden). On the south-east border a belt of Oxford Clay occupies the surface; good exposures occur in the brick-fields about Peterborough. Glacial sands and gravels, including the great Chalky Boulder Clay, occur in patches on the older rocks, as at Hillmorton, and fill up old channels of the rivers sometimes to a considerable depth, as in the old valley of the Ouse at Furtho, where the Boulder Clay is 100 ft. thick. Borings have revealed the existence of Rhaetic and Keuper rocks resting on an ancient quartz-porphyrite beneath the Lias at Orton; and at Gayton and Northampton the Carboniferous and possibly Old Red Sandstone strata have been proved, but no Coal Measures were encountered. The water-bearing strata of Northamptonshire include the marlstone of the Lias, the Lincolnshire Limestone, Collyweston beds and ironstone beds of the Inferior Oolite, and the Cornbrash and Great Oolite Limestone.

Climate and Agriculture.—The climate of Northamptonshire is mild and genial, while the absence of lofty hills renders it much drier than many other inland districts. The mean annual rainfall at Wellingborough is 27.2 ins. The prevailing soil is a rich brown but light and crumbling mould, sometimes with a rocky subsoil. The richest soil is the black mould of the fen district, which is specially suited for grass, as are all the heavier soils. Nearly all the land is capable of cultivation, although there is some stiff wet soil on the slopes of the hills. Nearly nine-tenths of the total area, a high proportion, is under cultivation, and of this considerably over three-fifths is in permanent pasture, the acreage devoted to this use increasing steadily. Less than one-fifth is under grain crops, and the area decreases. Wheat and barley are the principal grain crops. The fattening of cattle is the chief occupation of the Northamptonshire farmer. The favourite stock for breeding purposes is the shorthorn, but the most common custom is to buy in Hereford, Scotch, Welsh and Irish cattle in the spring and fatten them on the rich pastures, a few being retained and fed for the Christmas market. In autumn additional cattle are bought in to eat the coarse grass off the pastures, and these are usually retained during winter. The most common breed of sheep on the rich pastures is the improved Leicester, which is preferred on account of its length of wool; but the Southdown, on account of its superior flesh, is also largely kept.

Manufactures.—The iron industry is of considerable importance, though only a small proportion of the metal is smelted in the county. The industry is carried on in the central part of the county, as in the Kettering, Wellingborough and Thrapston districts, and in the north near Stamford. But Northamptonshire is more famous for its manufacture of boots and shoes, which is chiefly prosecuted in the towns and villages of the central and southern districts, and along the eastern border. This trade occupies some three-quarters of the total number of hands employed in factories in the county.

Communications.—The main line of the London & North Western railway passes through the south-western portion of the county, with an alternative route to Northampton, and branches to Peterborough and elsewhere. With it are connected at Blisworth junction the East and West Junction railway to Towcester, Woodford and Stratford-on-Avon, and the Northampton and Banbury Junction railway. The Great Central main line, crossing the county in the south, has connexion with the Great Westen railway at Banbury from Woodford. The Midland railway serves Wellingborough, Kettering and Northampton, and an important junction of systems is effected at Peterborough, which is on the main line of the Great Northern railway. Branch lines of this and the Midland system complete the railway communications of the county. The Grand Junction Canal, which is connected with the Oxford Canal, enters the county at Braunston on the borders of Warwickshire, and passes by Daventry and Blisworth into Buckinghamshire, a branch connecting it with Northampton. The Grand Union Canal unites with the Grand junction near Daventry, and runs north until it joins the Leicester Canal at Foxton, branches passing to Welford and Market Harborough.

Population and Administration.—The area of the county is 641,992 acres, with a population in 1891 of 302,183 and in 1901 of 338,088. The area of the administrative county of Northampton is 585,148 acres, and that of the administrative county of the soke of Peterborough 53,464 acres. In Domesday the county is mentioned as containing 30 hundreds, but it then included a considerable part of Rutland. These divisions were first reduced to 28, and in the reign of Henry II. to 20, their present number. The administrative counties include four municipal boroughs, namely, Brackley (pop. 2467), Daventry (3780), Higham Ferrets (2540) and Peterborough (30,872), together with the municipal and county borough of Northampton (87,021). The urban districts are: Desborough (3573), Finedon (4129), Irthlingborough (4314), Kettering (28,653), Oundle (2404), Raunds (3811), Rothwell (4193), Rushden (12,453), Wellingborough (18,412). There are one court of quarter sessions and nine petty sessional divisions. The borough of Northampton and the liberty of the soke of Peterborough have each a separate court of quarter sessions and a separate commission of the peace. The total number of civil parishes is 346, of which 33 are in the soke of Peterborough. The ancient county contains 297 entire ecclesiastical parishes or districts, wholly or in part, most of them being in the diocese of Peterborough; but small parts of the county fall within the dioceses of Oxford, Ely and Worcester. For parliamentary purposes the county is divided into four divisions (Northern, Eastern, Mid and Southern), and includes the parliamentary borough of Northampton, and part of the parliamentary borough of Peterborough, each returning one member, except the borough of Northampton, which returns two members.

History.—At some time in the 7th century the district which is now Northamptonshire suffered a simultaneous invasion by the West Saxons from the south and the Anglian tribes from the north, and relics discovered in the county testify to a mingling of races, at the same time showing that West Saxon influence never spread farther north than a line from Daventry to Warwick, and with the extension of the Mercian kingdom under Penda and the conversion of the midland districts ceased altogether. The abbey at Medehamstede (now Peterborough) was begun by Peada in 655, and about the same time foundations were established at Peakirk, Weedon Beck, Castor and Oundle. In 870 the district was overrun by the Danes, and Northampton was one of the five Danish boroughs, until in 921 it was recovered by Edward the Elder, who fortified Towcester in that year. In the 11th century Northamptonshire was included in Tostig's northern earldom; but in 1065, together with Huntingdonshire it was detached from Northumbria and bestowed on Waltheof. The only monastic foundation which survived the Conquest was Peterborough. Norman castles existed at Rockingham, Barnwell, Lilbourne and Northampton.

As a shire Northamptonshire was probably of Danish origin, representing in the 10th century the area which owed allegiance to Northampton as a political and administrative centre. In 921 this area extended to the Welland, the present northern limit of the county, and at the time of the Domesday Survey the boundaries were approximately those of the present day. Northamptonshire is first mentioned by name in the Historia Eliensis, in connexion with events which occurred at the close of the 10th century.

The Geld roll of the time of William I. and the Domesday Survey of 1086 mention 28 hundreds in Northamptonshire, and part of Rutland is assessed under this county. By 1316 the divisions had undergone considerable changes, both in name and in extent, and had been reduced to their present number, 20, since which date they have remained practically unaltered. The names of the hundreds point to primitive meeting-places gradually superseded by villages and towns, and the court for Fawsley hundred met under a large beech tree in Fawsley Park until the beginning of the 18th century, when it was transferred to Everdon. The shire-court originally met at Northampton.

Northamptonshire was originally included in the diocese of Lincoln. The archdeaconry of Northampton is mentioned in the 12th century, and in 1291 included the deaneries of Peterborough, Northampton, Brackley, Oundle, Higham, Daventry, Preston, Weldon, Rothwell and Haddon. The diocese of Peterborough was created in 1541, and in 1875 the archdeaconry of Oakham was formed and included in this county the first and second deaneries of Peterborough and the deaneries of Oundle, Weldon and Higham Ferrers. Northampton archdeaconry now includes the first, second and third deaneries of Brackwell and Rothwell; the first and second deaneries of Haddon and Preston, and the deaneries of Daventry, Northampton and Weldon.

At the time of the Domesday Survey the chief lay-tenant in Northamptonshire was Robert, earl of Mortain, whose fief escheated to the crown in 1106. The estates of William Peverel founder of the abbey of St James at Northampton, also escheated to the crown in the 12th century. Holdenby House was built by Sir Christopher Hatton, privy councillor to Queen Elizabeth, and Yardley Hastings was named from the Hastings, formerly earls of Pembroke. Higham Ferrers was the seat of the Ferrers family; Braybrook Castle was built by Robert de Braybrook, a favourite of King John; and Burghley House gave the title of baron to William Cecil.

Northampton was a favourite meeting-place of the councils and parliaments of the Norman and Plantagenet kings. In 1215 John was besieged in Northampton Castle by the barons, and in 1264 Henry III. captured the castle from the younger Simon de Montfort. During the Wars of the Roses Henry VI. was defeated at Northampton in 1460. In the Civil War of the 17th century the county declared almost unanimously for the parliament. A royalist garrison was placed at Towcester by Prince Rupert in 1644, but almost immediately withdrawn.

The iron-mines and stone-quarries of Northamptonshire were worked in Roman times, but the former were entirely neglected from the Plantagenet period until their rediscovery in 1850, while the two most famous quarries, those of Barnack and Stanion, were exhausted about the 16th century. The wool and leather industries flourished in Norman times. In the 17th century the weaving industry declined in the Northampton district, but became very flourishing about Kettering. Other early industries were charcoal-burning, brick and tile manufacture and brewing. The industries of whip-making, pipe-making, silk-weaving and paper-making were introduced in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 1290 Northamptonshire returned two members to parliament, and in 1295 Northampton also returned two members. In 1547 Brackley and Peterborough returned each two members, and in 1557 Higham Ferrers returned one member. Under the act of 1832 the county returned four members in two divisions, and Brackley and Higham Ferrers were disfranchised.

Antiquities.—Although Northamptonshire was rich in monastic foundations, remains, except of the abbey-church of Peterborough, afterwards the cathedral, are of small importance. At Geddington, and also at Hardingstone, near Northampton, there is an Eleanor cross, erected by Edward I. to the memory of his queen, in good preservation. For the architecture of its churches Northampton holds a place scarcely inferior to any other English county. To the Saxon period belong the tower of Earls Barton church, which stands on an eminence, probably the mound of an old English strong-house; the tower and other portions at Brigstock; the ground plan and other portions at Wittering; the remarkable tower at Barnack; and Brixworth church, constructed in part of Roman materials, and by some believed to include part of a Roman basilica. Of Norman, besides the cathedral of Peterborough, the finest examples are St Peter's and St Sepulchre's, Northampton, and the tower of Castor church. St Mary's church, Higham Ferrers, formerly collegiate, Early English and Decorated, is one of the finest churches in the county, and, as specially noteworthy among many beautiful buildings, there may be mentioned the churches at Irthlingborough and Lowick, with their lantern towers, Warmington, a very fine specimen of Early English work, Rushden, Finedon, Raunds and Fotheringhay. Of the church at Easton Maudit, Percy, author of the Reliques, and afterwards Bishop of Dromore, was rector.

A gateway at Rockingham, and earth-works at Higham Ferrers and Brackley are worthy of mention. Some castellated ruins remain of the castle at Fotheringhay, famous as the scene of the imprisonment, trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Barnwell Castle, founded by William the Conqueror, an interesting example of the defensive construction of the period, is still a fine ruin, which includes four of the round towers and an imposing gateway. Holdenby Manor House, where Sir Christopher Hatton (1540—1591) was born, and where Charles I. was staying when he was carried away by Cornet Joyce, is largely restored. Among ancient mansions are Castle Ashby, the seat of the Comptons, the oldest portion belonging to the reign of Henry VIII.; Althorp, the seat of the Spencers, of various dates; Drayton House, of the time of Henry VI.; the vast pile of Burghley House, Stamford, founded by Lord Burleigh (1553), but more than once altered and enlarged; and Kirby Hall, a beautiful Elizabethan building once the residence of Sir Christopher Hatton.

See Victoria County History, Northamptonshire; G. Baker, History and Antiquities of the County of Northampton (2 vols., London, 1822—1841); John Bridges, History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire, compiled by Rev. Peter Whalley (2 vols., Oxford, 1791); John Norden, Speculi Britanniae, pars attera, or A Delineation of Northamptonshire (London, 1720); Francis Whellan, History, Topography and Directory of Northamptonshire (2nd ed., London, 1874).