The history of Northampton School For Boys is well worth exploring

County Tales

By David Saint
Saturday, 18th July 2020, 6:23 pm
Updated Saturday, 18th July 2020, 6:24 pm
Submitted picture
Submitted picture

As a child, I was given two conflicting instructions by my parents.

The first was to watch where I was walking in case I trod in anything unmentionable, and the other was to look up because “you never know what you’re missing”.

How true! So much that is interesting in our buildings is up high, often almost out of sight and not noticed by everyone. So, one of my passions now is looking up, trying to spot things that would be so easy to miss.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

For instance, at the bottom of Bridge Street, in the centre of Northampton, is a fascinating building (pictured) that set me searching for more information.

I knew it first as the temporary home of the Leather Museum. However, clearly, I hadn’t looked up!

If I had, I would have realised from the two statues in their niches that the fine Regency building was once the Bluecoat School and the Orange School.

Named, rather obviously, because of the colour of the coats worn by the pupils, these colourful schools had a fine history.

They were Free Charity Schools, and there were Bluecoat Schools in Oxford, Chester and York as well as in Northampton. Similarly, there were Orange, Green and Grey coat schools here and in other major towns and cities.

The charity schools here were mostly for boys, the first of these to be established was Dryden’s Free or the Orange School that opened in 1710. That was followed in 1755 by the Bluecoat School, founded by the Earl of Northampton, and the Greencoat School, founded by Gabriel Newton in 1761.

All three merged to become the Corporation Charity School in about 1811, the date that appears above the doors in the Bridge Street building.

A short walk up from Bridge Street is Kingswell Street and another interesting building with educational connections.

Here is the Becket and Sargeant Charity School and this was the Blue Coat School, founded in 1738, for 30 girls.

Like the other charity schools, Becket and Sargeant had close connections with All Saints’ Church. One of the regular traditions for the girls was that on the first Sunday after May 29 – Oak Apple Day – they paraded over to All Saints’ wearing gilded oak leaves for a special service.

However, children of Free Church families were not forgotten, and in 1738 the great Doctor Phillip Doddridge opened a shortlived charity school for 20 boys at his magnificent chapel on Castle Hill. It continued for only about 30 years.

All this reference to free schools might lead to the question, “Isn’t there a Free School Street?”

Yes, but the school there was originally in a house known as the Sign of the Lamb in Bridge Street.

It was founded in 1541 by a local grocer, Thomas Chipsey. It moved to the site of the old St Gregory’s Church where the lane became known as Free School Street.

The school then moved in 1867 to new buildings in Abington Square, and finally, in 1911, to Billing Road.

It is, of course, proudly now the Northampton School for Boys.