Grisly stories from Northampton's history brought to life in free talks this half-term

A series of grisly stories from Northampton's history will be told at interactive talks.
A series of grisly stories from Northampton's history will be told at interactive talks.

Northampton's nasty history will be brought to life in a series of free tales in the town centre this half-term.

Looking Glass Theatre has created a series of free 45-minute interactive talks that will take place in the Guildhall’s Court Room on October 22 and 23.

The stories were the stars of Northampton Museum's summmer exhibition at the Grosvenor Centre and include Britain's first car chase, a plot to blow up King James I of England and a trial over two witches commuting on a pig.

The talks are at 10am, 11.15am, 1pm and 3pm and a series of items connected with these and other Northampton tales will also be on display.

The stories include:

- Witches of Northampton – In 1612 Agnes Browne and Joan Vaughan were accused of bewitching a pig and riding it from Hillsborough to Ravensthorpe to visit another witch. They were accused of much more serious crimes such as causing fits, conjuring the devil and killing horses through witchcraft. This led to lots more people being accused across Northamptonshire and on 22 July 1612 five people were hanged for witchcraft.

- Police chase – On 17 April 1899 the whole of Northampton was excited about the upcoming arrival of Barnum and Bailey's circus, none more than Frederick John Phillips, who was operating a scam taking money from shopkeepers as a deposit for Barnum and Bailey posters. A suspicious shopkeeper contacted Sergeant Ernest Macleod of the Northamptonshire Constabulary who flagged down William Harrison in his 3½ horsepower Benz – only the third car in Northampton. They set off in pursuit at a staggering fifteen miles an hour. This was the first ever police car chase in Britain. They caught up with Phillips in Flore and arrested him. Macleod was praised for his quick thinking but was told off for driving so fast!

- Captain Slash – In the 1820s George Catherall, also known as ‘Captain Slash’, ran a gang of robbers and murderers. They liked to rob country fairs but met their match at Boughton Green Fair in 1826. Captain Slash, was caught and sentenced to hang. Many hangings took place at the same site in Angel Lane, behind Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. The actual gallows were on the site of the gatekeeper’s lodge, behind the new museum extension. Between 1819 and 1852 eighteen men and women were hanged there. The gallows were a permanent fixture and were built high up so that people could watch the hangings.

- Tresham’s head – Francis Tresham came from a leading Catholic family in Northamptonshire and, along with his fellow plotters, did not like how King James I of England treated Catholics - so decided to blow him up. After the plot was uncovered, Tresham was put in prison where he died from problems with his urinary tract. After he died the authorities cut off his head and sent it to Northampton where it was displayed alongside those of his fellow conspirators, Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy, on the battlements of the castle.

Councillor Anna King, Northampton Borough Council cabinet member for community engagement and safety, said: “Northampton has some fascinating tales to tell and Looking Glass does a fantastic job of bringing them to life.

“Our Nasty Northampton exhibition was very popular and really gave visitors a sense of the town’s firm foothold in some key events and themes from British history.

“The talks we’ve arranged with Looking Glass are a great opportunity for families to get out of the house during half term and find out more about out town’s nasty past.”

Looking Glass is also laying on its annual series of Ghost Walks throughout the half term and up to Halloween. These will take in venues including the Guildhall, George Row Club, Phipps Brewery and Sessions House.

Looking Glass Theatre director, James Smith, said: "We’re delighted to be back for our fifth year of 'Ghost Walks', and look forward to entertaining audiences by mixing theatre, history and the paranormal to reawaken the town’s past.

“We would like to say a big thank-you to Northampton Borough Council, Northamptonshire County Council, the George Row Club and Phipps Brewery for helping to make this possible."

Tickets for the Ghost Walks are available at the box office website priced £12 each.