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Flag of Northamptonshire
Rosa Concordiae Signum
(The Rose: Emblem of Harmony)
[Interactive map]
Area: 998 square miles
Population: 838,786
County town: Northampton
Biggest town: Northampton
County flower: Cowslip [2]

The County of Northampton (abbreviated Northants) is a shire in the Midlands of England. The county town, Northampton, which has given the county its name, lies in its the centre and has grown to be the county's largest town, while to the north and north-east is a series of other sizeable towns, leading out to the county's second-largest town and its only city; Peterborough in the Soke of Peterborough at the north-eastern end of the shire. Northamptonshire has three "new towns"; Corby, Northampton and Peterborough. In all, Northamptonshire has a mixture of the urban and the rural.

Northamptonshire is surrounded by nine other counties: Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Rutland.

The county contains the watershed between the River Severn and The Wash and indeed from the neighbouring slopes of Arbury Hill and Marston Hill three rivers flow in different directions; the Leam heading westward to the Avon, which is drained by the Severn, the River Nene, which flows north-eastwards to The Wash, and Cherwell flowing south to the Thames. In 1830 it was boasted of Northamptonshire that "not a single brook, however insignificant, flows into it from any other district".[1] The highest point in the county is Arbury Hill at 738 feet.[2]

Northamptonshire's county flower, determined in 2002, is the cowslip.


Early history

Few finds have been turned up from the Stone Age.[3] A series of iron-age hill-forts are found constructed at Arbury Camp, Rainsborough Camp, Borough Hill, Castle Dykes, Guilsborough, Irthlingborough, and most notably of all, Hunsbury Hill. There are two more possible hill-forts at Arbury Hill (by Badby) and Thenford.[4] In the 1st century BC, most of what later became Northamptonshire became part of the territory of the Catuvellauni, a Belgic tribe, of whom the Northamptonshire area was the most northerly possession.[5]

The Roman road of Watling Street passed through the county, and an important Roman settlement, Lactodorum, stood on the site of modern-day Towcester. There were other Roman settlements at Northampton, Kettering and along the Nene Valley near Raunds. A large fort was built at Longthorpe.[6]

Dark Age and early mediæval

After the Romans had retreated, the area was settled by the ancestral English and in time became part of the Kingdom of the Mercians. The first Christian kings of the Mercians, Peada and his brother Wulfhere, founded Peterborough Abbey (Medehamstede), which became one of the wealthiest institutions in the land.

In about 889 the area was part of the land conquered by the Danes, who remained, with Watling Street serving as the boundary after the Treaty of Wedmore. In 921 the Danish Jarl Thurferth and the Danish barons submitted to King Edward "together with the entire the host which owed allegiance to Northampton as far north as the Welland". This is taken to be the point at which Northamptonshire emerged as a shire. The Norse of York reconquered Northamptonshire in 940 and devastated the area, until the shire was retaken by the English in 942.[7] Northamptonshire still has many Danish place-names. In 963, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle[8], Bishop Aðelwold came to the Abbey of Medehamstead (Peterborough) and found it all in ruins. At that point he found hidden amongst the stones an ancient charter granted by King Wulfhere of the Mercians granting the abbey vast lands in the neighbourhood and privileges against interference by King or Bishop, rights of sac and soke over the neighbourhood and other legal privileges. Rather than question the provenance of this conveniently discovered document, King Edgar confirmed the charter. This was the beginning of the separate jurisdiction of the Soke of Peterborough.

The shire was first mentioned by name in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1011, as Hamtunscir; the prefix "North-" was added to the town and the shire distinguish Northampton from the other important Hamtun further south: Southampton.[9] The later Anglo-Saxon period was one of great prosperity in Northamptonshire; something shown by the remarkable number of great Anglo-Saxon churches which survive in the county, most notably those at Brixworth and Barnack.

Rockingham Castle was built for William the Conqueror[10] and was used as a Royal fortress until Elizabethan times.

In 1460, during the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Northampton was fought and King Henry VI was captured.[11]

Early modern period

Fotheringhay Castle was used to imprison Mary, Queen of Scots, before her execution.[12] Her son, King James VI and I, had the castle destroyed when he ascended the English throne.

John Speed's 17th century map of Northamptonshire

During the English Civil War, Northamptonshire strongly supported the Parliamentarian cause, and the Royalist forces suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 in the north of the county. King Charles I was imprisoned at Holdenby House in 1647.[13]

George Washington, the American revolutionary general and first President of the United States of America, was born into the Washington family who had migrated to America from Northamptonshire in 1656. Washington's great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Lawrence Washington, was Mayor of Northampton on several occasions and it was he who bought Sulgrave Manor from Henry VIII in 1539. In the fourth generation after Lawrence's days, John Washington (George Washington's great-grandfather) emigrated in 1656 from Northamptonshire to the colony of Virginia. [14]

Spires and squires

In 1823 Northamptonshire was said to "[enjoy] a very pure and wholesome air" because of its dryness and distance from the sea. Its livestock were celebrated: "Horned cattle, and other animals, are fed to extraordinary sizes: and many horses of the large black breed are reared."[15]

Nine years later, the county was described as "a county enjoying the reputation of being one of the healthiest and pleasantest parts of England" although the towns were "of small importance" with the exceptions of Peterborough and Northampton. In summer, the county hosted "a great number of wealthy families... country seats and villas are to be seen at every step."[16] Northamptonshire is still referred to as the county of "spires and squires" because of the numbers of stately homes and ancient churches.[17]

Rising industry

Kilworth Wharf on the Grand Union Canal

In the 18th and 19th centuries, parts of Northamptonshire and the surrounding area became industrialised. The local specialisation was shoemaking and the leather industry and by the end of the 19th century it was almost definitively the boot and shoe making capital of the world. In the north of the county a large ironstone quarrying industry developed from 1850.[18] During the 1930s, the town of Corby was established as a major centre of the steel industry. Much of Northamptonshire nevertheless remains largely rural.

New towns

The following Northamptonshire towns have been designated "new towns":

  • Corby (designated in 1950) [19]
  • Peterborough (designated in 1967) [20]
  • Northampton (designated in 1968) [21]


Hundreds of Northamptonshire

The county is divided into 20 hundreds:

Towns and villages

There are numerous towns in the county, with Northampton being the largest and most populous wholly within Northamptonshire. The list below shows all towns with more than 9,000 inhabitants:

Asterisk.svg Designated a "New Town"

Additionally, parts of the towns of Banbury (otherwise in Oxfordshire); Market Harborough (otherwise in Leicestershire); and Stamford (otherwise in Lincolnshire) extend into the county.


Kimi Räikkönen testing for McLaren at Silverstone

Historically, Northamptonshire's main industry was the manufacture of boots and shoes.[22] Many of the manufacturers closed down in the 1980s, though R Griggs and Co Ltd, the manufacturer of Dr Martens, still has its British base in Wollaston near Wellingborough,[23] the shoe industry in the county is now nearly gone. Large employers include the breakfast cereal manufacturers Weetabix, in Burton Latimer, the Carlsberg brewery in Northampton and other household names.[24] In the west of the county is the Daventry International Railfreight Terminal;[25] which is a major rail freight terminal located on the West Coast Main Line near Rugby. Wellingborough also has a smaller railfreight depot[26] on Finedon Road, called Nelisons sidings.[27]

The region of Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and the nearby acres has been described as "Motorsport Valley"; a global hub" for the motor sport industry.[28][29] The Mercedes GP[30] and Force India[31] Formula One teams have their bases at Brackley and Silverstone respectively, while Cosworth[32] and Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines[33] are also in the county at Northampton and Brixworth.

International motor racing takes place at Silverstone Circuit[34] and Rockingham Motor Speedway;[35] Santa Pod Raceway is just over the border in Bedfordshire.[36] A study commissioned by Northamptonshire Enterprise Ltd (NEL) reported that Northamptonshire's motorsport sites attract more than 2.1 million visitors a year, who spend a total of more than £131 million within the county.[37]

Symbols of Northamptonshire

A rose has long been the emblem of the county, and the Northamptonshire is known as "The Rose of the Shires".

A rose appeared on a seal used by the magistrates in Quarter Sessions as long ago as 1665. When the first Northamptonshire County Council was granted arms in 1939, a Lancastrian red rose was made the prominent charge, but with two Yorkist white roses also: one of the great homes of the House of York was at Fotheringhay Castle in the county, both houses made their presence felt in Northamptonshire, and clashed bloodily at Northampton.

The rose appears in the badge of the county cricket club, a botanically improbable purple rose in this case.

County flag

In November 2013, a competition was announced to devise a county flag for Northamptonshire. Of the many entries from members of the public, the shortlisted designs all feature as a central emblem a rose (in red and gold). A public vote was held, closing on 21 April, ready for the winning design to be unveiled in May 2014. Ultimately the winner was not revealed until September 11th 2014 at an unveiling ceremony held at County Hall, Northampton, where the new county flag was raised by Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire David Laing. The winning design, created by Brady Ells, utilises the gold and dark red (or claret or maroon or burgundy) colours used by the county cricket and other sporting teams and the red rose with which the county has been associated for centuries. [38]



Northamptonshire County Cricket Club is in Division Two of the County Championship.

Motor Sport

Silverstone is a major motor racing circuit, most notably used for the British Grand Prix. There is also a dedicated radio station for the circuit which broadcasts on 87.7 FM or 1602 MW when events are taking place.

Rockingham Speedway in Corby is the largest stadium in the UK with 130,000 seats. It is a US-style elliptical racing circuit (the largest of its kind outside of the United States), and is used extensively for all kinds of motor racing events.

The Santa Pod drag racing circuit, venue for the FIA European Drag Racing Championships is just across the border in Bedfordshire.

Places of interest

Cathedral/Abbey/Priory Cathedral/Abbey/Priory
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Amusement/Theme Park Amusement/Theme Park
Castle Castle
Country Park Country Park
English Heritage English Heritage
Forestry Commission Forestry Commission
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House
Museum (free)
Museum (not free)
Museum (free/not free)
National Trust National Trust
Zoo Zoo
Althorp House

Annual events

Yearly events include:

  • Gretton Barn dance
  • British Grand Prix at Silverstone
  • Burghley Horse Trials
  • Crick Boat Show
  • Hollowell Steam Rally
  • Northampton Balloon Festival
  • Rothwell Fair
  • Rushden Cavalcade
  • St Crispin Street Fair
  • Wellingborough Carnival
  • World Conker Championships

See also

Flag of Northamptonshire


  1. UK Genealogy Archives: Transcript from Pigot & Co's Commercial Directory, 1830. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
  2. Northamptonshire Genealogy: Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
  3. Greenall (1979) p.19
  4. Greenall p.20
  5. Greenall p.20"
  6. Greenall p.20
  7. Wood, Michael (1986) The Domesday Quest p. 90, BBC Books, 1986 ISBN 0-563-52274-7.
  8. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Laud Chronicle), 963
  9. Mills, A.D. (1998). A Dictionary of English Place-names. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford. p256. ISBN 0-19-280074-4
  10. Rockingham Castle. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  11. Stearns, Peter N., Langer. William L.: The Encyclopedia of world history: ancient, mediæval, and modern]. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  12. Mott, Allan. BBC - Cambridgeshire - History: Mary Queen of Scots' last days. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  13. Edmonds. 1848. Notes on English history for the use of juvenile pupils. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  14. The Writings of George Washington: Life of Washington. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  15. Brookes, R., Whittaker, W.B. The general gazetteer, or, Compendious geographical dictionary, in miniature. 1823. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  16. Malte-Brun, C. Universal geography: or, A description of all parts of the world. 1832. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  17. Andrews, R., Teller, M. The Rough Guide to Britain 2004. Rough Guides. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  18. GENUKI: Northamptonshire Genealogy: Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887. 11 August 2008. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  19. London Gazette: no. 38878. p. 1671. 4 April 1950. Retrieved 2007-10-30.
  20. London Gazette: no. 44377. p. 8515. 1 August 1967. Retrieved 2007-10-30.
  21. London Gazette: no. 44529. pp. 2088–2089. 20 February 1968. Retrieved 2007-10-30.
  22. GENUKI: Northamptonshire Genealogy: Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles. 1887. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  23. R Griggs & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  24. [1]. Retrieved 23 August 2009.
  25. Prologis RFI Dirft Daventry. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  26. FirstGBRf: FirstGBRf opens unique depot at Wellingborough. 12 June 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  27. GB Railfreight: Locations, Wellingborough Retrieved 11 November 2010
  28. Coe, N.M., Kelly, P.F, Wai-Chung Yeung, H. Economic geography: a contemporary introduction. Wiley-Blackwell, 2007. pp 141-143. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  29. Russell Hotten. Motor racing battles to stay out of pits. TimesOnline. 27 March 2009. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  30. Official site of Mercedes GP Formula One Team: Contact us. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
  31. Force India F1 Team: Contact us. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  32. Cosworth: Contact. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  33. Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines Ltd: Contact. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  34. Silverstone Official Website: Contact Numbers. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  35. Getting to Rockingham. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  36. Santa Pod Raceway: Contact/find us/postcode. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  37. Motorsport to grow 30% in next decade. Northants Evening Telegraph. 25 June 2009. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  38. ABC News - Northamptonshire County Flag Competition
  • Greenall, R. L. (1979) A History of Northamptonshire Phillimore & Co. Ltd. ISBN 1-86077-147-5.

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