Aug 282019

Squares through time

Over the years Northampton has lost a number of its squares, some completely and remembered only in street name, others have shrunk to a size significantly less than their former extent and others have succumbed to traffic thoroughfares.

The public square has been important through history, and we can trace its origins from at least the Roman city forum. Squares either evolved due to the convergence of a number of key roads or were created as part of a wider town or city plan. It more recent times because squares are more for the benefit and meeting of people they have conflicted with the needs of the automobile. When a square is allowed to remain it either becomes isolated by perimeter roads or transected into multiple parts by new roads.

Over time squares also suffer from shrinkage due to fill-in or encroachment from the sides. We can see examples of all of these situations in the present state of Northampton’s squares.

Where are the squares?

This is not a comprehensive list of squares and does not include some of the smaller ones that were once peaceful islands in an otherwise compact Victorian residential street scene. These are the examples we will visit:

  • Abington Square
  • Campbell Square
  • St Giles Square
  • Grafton Square
  • Regents Square
  • The Green
  • Mayorhold
  • Market Square

Figure 1: The locations of a selection of Northampton’s squares

The first group of squares: Abington Square, Campbell Square and St Giles Square all emerged as a convergence of roads and became significant meeting places for trade, entertainment or stallholders social gathering. Abington Square lies at the junction of the Kettering and Wellingborough Roads, where at the western end they join the extended medieval high street which we know as Abington Street. When the town walls were enlarged to their medieval extent Abington Square was immediately outside the western gate.

Figure 2: Regents, Campbell and St Giles Squares – Speed 1611 map

Campbell Square lies on the Mounts at the summit of the hill that overlooks the old town and immediately beyond the perimeter of Holy Sepulchre churchyard. It was the convergence of Campbell Street, Upper Mounts and Church Lane. St Giles Square is a much smaller square today than earlier times and lies at the junction of Derngate, Guildhall Road and St Giles Street and like Campbell Square lies beyond the perimeter of a churchyard, in this case, All Saints. Speed’s 1611 map suggests that this square was much wider in the 17th century with the buildings on the south side lying further south on their plots. It is also likely that both of these locations were in former times were used for livestock sales. On Speed’s 1611 map Campbell Square shows what appear to be sheep hurdles similar to one also appearing in Cow Meadow. All three squares remained important meeting places and centres of entertainment in the late 19th century as they were for a time all venues of visiting circuses and even “attractions” like bear-baiting.

Figure 3: Grafton Square at the entrance to St Andrew’s Priory – Speed 1611 map

Grafton Square and Regents Square both lay on the north side of the medieval town adjacent to the north wall. Regents Square was immediately inside the North Gate where Sheep Street and Broad Street converge. This area was formerly known as North End and appears as such on Noble and Butlin’s 1746 map. Grafton Square was at the junction of Crane Hill, Todds Lane (both later together known as Grafton Street) and St Andrews Street alongside the internal alignment of the north town wall. The square was the area immediately in front of the entrance to St Andrews Priory rather than being an exit point from the town. Many of the buildings and the intact boundary wall of the priory can still be seen on the 1611 map, the priory having been dissolved in 1538.

Figure 4: Regents Square – Law 1847 map

Figure 5: The Green – Noble & Butlin 1747 map

The final group of “squares”: The Green, Mayorhold and Market Square have one thing in common. They were at one time the main focal point of the town, but each was succeeded by the next as the town expanded further eastwards. The Green, now completely lost under a car park was the Saxon town’s green, close by St Peter’s Church. It remained as a street name until St Peters Way was constructed. 18thcentury maps show that the area had already been encroached upon and by 1746 was probably less than half its original size.

Figure 6: Mayorhold – Noble & Butlin 1747 map

The Mayorhold replaced The Green in importance in the early medieval period when the medieval walls were built to enclose the enlarged town. It lay near the north-south alignment of Horsemarket where it passed through the earlier town defences. Speed’s 1611 map shows the Marhold (Mayorhold) as a key focal point of the road network with no fewer than eight thoroughfares converging at this point. Nearby the town’s first town hall is known to have stood in Scarletwell Street[1]. For those that were born or lived in the streets radiating from the Mayorhold, and known locally as “The Boroughs”, it was their square. The Mayorhold retained its importance in some respects until the 1970s and prior to its final disappearance under a dual-carriageway, it was a secondary departure point for a number bus and coach operators serving the town.

Figure 7: Market Square – Speed 1611 map

Of course, for most residents of the town, the Market Square was and remains the central feature of the town. We know from an order made by the king in 1235[2] that the market was established on the open space to the north of All Saints, it had previously been the practice to hold markets in the churchyard and within All Saints itself. In the 15th century the square acquired a market cross which appears on Speed’s map but was lost during the 1675 fire. A water pump was added early in the 19th century but was moved to Cheyne Walk in 1863 when the square gained a cast-iron fountain which survived until one year short of its centenary. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the scene of many social and political gatherings, speeches, military musters and parades apart from its regular use for its primary purpose as an open market.

  1. Described by Henry Lee, town clerk of Northampton in “Collections of Henry Lee, Town Clerk of Northampton 1662–1715”, MS. Top. Northants, c.9. p. 94. (Bodl. Lib.)

  2. Calendar of Close Rolls 1234-7 p206-7 (Henry III)

© 2019, Graham Ward. All rights reserved.

Jul 292019

A “lost church” hidden in plain sight

In some streets in London today there are so many coffee shops of one particular chain that you can see the next one further down the same street. In earlier days the same was true of churches, chapels and mission rooms along some streets of Northampton. The St Michael’s Road area is a good example.

Figure 1: Plan of St Gabriel’s, St Michael’s Road, Northampton. Goad’s Insurance Plan, 1899
© British Library Board [Maps 145.b.12.(3.)]

The first question that needs to be addressed is why it is called St Michael’s Road when St Michael and All Angels church is some little distance away on the east side of the Kettering Road? The Church Extension society had purchased a plot of the north side of St Michael’s Road before the houses we built in the early 1880s. As a temporary arrangement an “iron church” was erected in Lower Mounts, presumed to be on the north side. However, the gift of a benefactor a Mrs Whitworth secured the site which became known as St Michael’s Mount and the church was erected there. The St Michael’s Road site was subsequently sold. This area of the town was rapidly expanding and by 1894 the parish had a population of 13,000 but its parish church had only 620 places. Not that the area was short of a Christian witness: Baptist churches in St Michael’s Road and Kettering Road, Primitive Methodists in Grove Road and Wesleyan Methodists in Queens Road. The Anglicans continued to be challenged by a lack of suitable premises in the area. A new site was acquired on the south side of St Michael’s Road, between the Baptist chapel and the Kettering Road at a cost of £1000. On it the “iron church” that had previously been home to St Matthew’s on Kingsley Park which was purchased and re-erected on the new site for £300. It could accommodate 350 worshippers. Remarkably this same building still stands today (2019) on the site, albeit in a rather sorry state of repair.

Figure 2: View of St Gabriel’s, hall and Sunday school
© Google Maps, 2019

The church was dedicated on Tuesday, 23rd October 1894 by the Bishop of Peterborough. The Rev. G C Day the senior curate of St Michael’s took charge of the new enterprise which remained part of the St Michael’s parish for all of its existence.

The Church Extension Society had been particularly effective in promoting and raising the funds for an ever-increasing need for an Anglican presence in the town and its annual reports provide snapshots of the society’s progress. By 1897 there was a discussion of the need for an additional presence in St Michael’s, St Edmund and Abington parishes, this was despite the work already completed at St Matthew’s and St Gabriel’s. The same report for 1897 records:

“From St Gabriel’s, a district formed out of St Michael’s, a loud cry for help is heard. The church officers, members of the congregation, and parents of scholars have sent in a memorial, showing what difficulty has ensued upon the success of the work in the district. The iron church, with its vestries, lobby, etc., are so crowded with school children that teachers are compelled to surrender their seats, while three children share two chairs between them. A few hundred pounds, in this case, would suffice to relieve the greater part of the stress.”[1]

Key to the early success was no doubt due to the leadership of the curate in charge, Rev. G C Day, but in November 1898 the planned depart of Rev. Day for South Africa was marked by a church tea in St Michael’s rooms in Magee Street [2].

Work at St Gabriel’s progressed as in 1899 the Church Extension Society allocated £100 towards the cost of acquiring a site for Sunday Schools in connection with the church.

No attempt here has been made to document a complete history of St Gabriel’s however after the First World War[3], the Anglican church like other churches was beginning to show signs of not having enough ordained clergy for all of its congregations. In 1925 it was reported at the annual parochial meeting for St Michael’s on 17th April, of which parish St Gabriel’s was still part, that there were difficulties in securing the services of a new curate after the departure of Rev. Hilary Waterworth[4]. The same report also gives us an insight into the finances of the two churches. Collections at St Michael’s were £442 and St Gabriel’s £130. St Michael’s showed a deficit for the year of £2 7s 1d (£2.35 = £141.69 in 2019 prices) and St Gabriel’s a surplus of £12 1s 7d (£12.08 = £728.32 in 2019 prices). From the vicar’s report in response to rumours of the closure of St Gabriel’s, he responded by indicating he would say little about that specifically but did concede that there was to be a re-arrangement of the parish boundaries. He went on to add that for a long time the congregations of St Michael’s and St Gabriel’s were divided into two watertight compartments with every organization in the parish duplicated.

Events seem to have moved quickly, as at a meeting of St Gabriel’s congregation on 16th June 1925 the vicar, Rev. W J Smith, announced his decision that St Gabriel’s was to close. The decision was not received well by the congregation and seems to have been triggered because of a proposal to extend the parish of St Giles whose population was declining. Evidently, if St Gabriel’s closed before the re-arrangement of the boundary the church funds would remain with St Michael’s otherwise it would be taken by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, presumably destined for St Giles. Before the First World War consideration had been given to creating a separate parish of St Gabriel’s and fundraising towards a permanent church building had continued. One prominent member of St Gabriel’s reported:

“We have over 300 regular communicants, over 200 children in the Sunday School which has sixteen teachers and two superintendents, one of the largest troops of Boy Scouts[5] in Northamptonshire, a girls’ Bible class with 40 members, and a boys’ Bible class with 25, and a women’s guild with over 40 members.”[6]

The congregation did not accept the decision quietly and took to writing to the local press and a petition was organised by 27th June with over 200 signatures sent to the Bishop of Peterborough requesting a stay of closure at least for at least a year. Their efforts were in vain as services ceased at the end of June 1925.

In April 1926 the site including the land and buildings formerly the mission church of St Gabriel’s, together with a brick-built and slated building known as St Gabriel’s Hall and school was advertised for sale[7]. The property was put for auction on 12th May 1926 but did not result in a satisfactory outcome. The site was withdrawn from sale at £1025, the mission church itself was withdrawn at just £50, but the hall and schools were sold for £1050[8].

The mission church building continued in community use when from August 1926 it was being advertised as the venue of the Unity Adult School[9], a use that continued and evolved through much of its subsequent life.

Returning to St Michael’s, the annual parochial meeting in 1927 revealed that the proceeds of the sale of St Gabriel’s had been distributed with £500 going to the Christ Church building fund, and the remainder to the Church Extension Board of the Archdeaconry of Northampton. The accounts for St Michael’s did show a healthier position compared with 1925 with total collections £860, and after other items of income, a surplus of £440 compared to a deficit of £2 in 1925.

The legacy and verdict

The purpose of history compared to journalism is to record the facts and where possible provide a balanced judgment of the events recorded. Viewed from the perspective of 90 years it could be argued that the closure of St Gabriel’s was a high-handed decision by the vicar of St Michael’s. The church was faced with a real shortage of clergy but St Gabriel’s was a viable and financially self-supporting community, with an enviable list of community groups, albeit small in comparison to other parishes.

The Adult Unity School acquired the buildings in 1925. Until the early 1940’s the large hall was used as a meeting place, for large county gatherings, drama, music and elocution festivals. Now known as the National Adult School Organisation (NASO)[10] meetings moved into the smaller rooms in the building, and the large hall is let to Tricker’s Shoe Manufacturers[11].

The hall and school-room have returned to Christian use, now the home of the Wesleyan Holiness Church in Northampton[12].

The scout troop moved to St Giles in 1925 rather than St Michael where it remains today as the 2nd Northampton (St Giles) Scout Group[13].

Whilst there were some frank exchanges by the various parties in the local press, the vicar did try to keep the issues out of the public domain although extracts from a parish magazine did find their way onto the front page of the Chronicle and Echo.

“I had hoped that it might have been possible to postpone action in this matter until these plans for re-organisation [of the parish boundaries] were more advanced. This, however, has proved to be impracticable, since the uncertainty with regard to the future of St Gabriel’s seems merely to be delaying the development of wider consideration. It would appear that in the past encouragement has been given to the hope of the creation of an entirely separate parish of St Gabriel, with the result that there has been a consistent furtherance of organization and equipment with this end in view…. It now transpires that this hope was never well-founded, and in present circumstances is quite impossible of achievement. This being the case, the question arises as to the necessity of the existence of two places of worship, with full organisations duplicated, in connection with one parish. Such a necessity can scarcely be seriously argued, especially in circumstances which provide totally inadequate clerical oversight even for one Church with its manifold organisations.[14]

A year later the St Michael’s parochial meeting was again front-page news recording the vicar’s attempt at the closure of the issue:

“… I ask you to consider how unfortunate, not to put it more strongly, would have been our position, if we had permitted the re-arrangement [of the parish boundaries] to take place before we had disposed, as is our right, of that property, which is the property of St Michael and All Angels.[15]

We might conclude then that the decision was an economic one in the face of the potential loss of an asset to the parish rather than the greater Christian work in the community.

  1. Northampton Mercury : Friday 26 November 1897 : page 6 col 3

  2. Rev. G C Day left St Michaels in 1898 for missionary work in South Africa, Northampton Mercury : Friday 4 November 1898 : page 8 col 1. He subsequently became rector of Thaba ‘Nchu, South Africa, People’s Friend (South Africa) : 26 June 1915 : page 3 col 4

  3. There were apparently 4000 fewer priests in 1925 compared with 1914. Of four candidates, one was near 70, one well over 60, one would have to give up his existing benefice and the last accepted another position that offered a benefice with a house attached. Northampton Daily Echo : Saturday 18 April 1925 : page 7 col 4

  4. Rev. Hilary Waterworth had left in 1924 to become vicar of Stoke Golding, Leicestershire. He was ordained in 1915 and served as curate at St Edmund for 2 years before becoming an army chaplain, returning in 1919 as curate at St Michael’s with responsibility for St Gabriel. He became rector of Brington in 1930. Northampton Mercury : Friday 01 November 1929 : page 5 col 5. Crockford Clerical Directory 1932. Oxford, 1932

  5. St Gabriel’s Scout troop commenced in 1911 and closed in 1925. A photographic archive of a summer camp in 1922 shows the size of the group. (Accessed 26 July 2019)

  6. Northampton Daily Echo : Friday 19 June 1925 : page 4 col 3

  7. Northampton Mercury : Friday 23 April 1926 : page 4 col 3

  8. Northampton Mercury : Friday 14 May 1926 : page 1 col 7

  9. Northampton Daily Echo : Friday 27 August 1926 : page 2 col 6

  10. Northamptonshire Adult School Organisation (Accessed 26 July 2019)

  11. NASO History, Eric Frost, undated (Accessed 26 Jul 2019)

  12. Wesleyan Holiness Church British Isles, (Accessed 26 July 2019)

  13. St Giles Centenary Year – 2012,—2012 (Accessed 26 July 2019)

  14. “St Gabriel’s, the creation of a separate parish” Northampton Daily Echo : Saturday 18 July 1925 : page 1 col 4

  15. “Vicar and the passing of St Gabriel’s”, Northampton Daily Echo : Wednesday 14 April 1926 : page 1 col 5

© 2019, Graham Ward. All rights reserved.