Discover Northampton’s own ‘lost’ castle

Northampton Castle exhibition at St Peter's Church.
Northampton Castle exhibition at St Peter's Church.

VISITORS arriving in Northampton today may be forgiven if they do not realise that the town ever had a castle.

There is very little of it that remains to be seen, but does that mean it should be forgotten?

According to members of a newly-formed group called The Friends of Northampton Castle, the answer is a very definite “no”, as they are now campaigning to see more recognition and representation for the historic site.

An exhibition focused on Northampton’s Lost Castle is now running at St Peter’s Church in Marefair in an effort to reawaken the public’s awareness of a building which became the setting for many politically important events.

Put together by volunteers, as well as The Friends of Northampton Castle, the exhibition – which is part of the national Festival of British Archaeology – includes displays of castle stone taken from storage at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, as well as photos of the ruins dating back to the 1870s and some artwork by pupils at Spring Lane School.

Chana Bedford, development officer with The Churches Conservation Trust – which now oversees the running of the church – said: “This all came about as this group called The Friends of Northampton Castle was interested in the local history of the castle and was campaigning to raise recognition of the fact that there was a nationally important castle held on the site at one stage.”

Created by Simon De Senlis in 1084, the castle was formed in the area now taken up by Northampton Station, where the postern gate is still visible.

During its time, the building became an important seat of power, playing host to kings, notably King John during the 13th century.

Parliaments were held there and the castle even became the setting for the famous trial of Thomas Becket, who was later murdered in 1170.

In 1205 King John is known to have moved the treasury to the castle and in 1460 Henry VI stayed at the castle before the Battle of Northampton in which he lost and was captured by the Earl of Warwick.

The castle really met its literal downfall in 1662 when, resenting Northampton’s parliamentary support, the restored monarch Charles II ordered the building’s defences to be destroyed so it could not again be used as a castle.

Following this time it was used as a court and a gaol but, as the years went by, its state of repair worsened.

In 1861 the land was finally sold to L & NW Railway and the majority of the castle’s remnants were demolished in 1870 so the station could be constructed.

Excavations were carried out in the 1960s but experts believe the site could still hold some interesting archaeological finds with the potential to reveal more about the castle’s past.

Chana said that the church was a fitting setting for the exhibition as the similarity between its own stonework and that of the castle has led some to think that the two sites may have been linked, perhaps for ceremonial purposes.

She said: “They have a display at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery but we have some of the stones from their store. We chose them because you can see how similar they are to the stones in the church, which suggests a link.”

Dr Marie Dickie, of The Friends of Northampton Castle, said: “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to put on this exhibition at St Peter’s Church, which gives us the perfect opportunity to highlight the important medieval history of the castle and this particular area of Northampton, which is also rich in history.”

The Northampton’s Lost Castle exhibition will run at St Peter’s Church until July 30. The church is open from Tuesdays until Saturdays between 10am and 4pm.

A trail route known as the Castle Heritage Project has already been set up for visitors (leaflets are available from the church) and there are also two planned open meetings at St Peter’s Church for people who would like to find out more about the Friends of Northampton Castle. The first will be on July 22 and the second will be on September 23, starting at 6.30pm on both days.