Home to big names like Rowan Atkinson and Jo Whiley, Northampton in Northamptonshire is a fairly quiet part of the East Midlands. Yet, for all that, it plays a large part in the estimated 20 million visitors that the county enjoys. And, no, the celebs aren’t to thank! Rather, Northampton’s easy transport links to London and mix of country vs. urban life are at the forefront of its popularity. Despite being almost destroyed by fire in 1675, this large market town is now a bustling tourism hotspot and holds an accolade as England’s shoemaking and leather capital. Here, we’re going to look at the five main reasons Northampton has shot to East Midlands fame, and consider why each may well be worth a visit.
1 – National Lift Tower
Given that it’s the most notable feature of the Northampton city-scape, it seems apt to start with the iconic National Lift Tower. This grade II listed building stands at an astounding 127.5 metres high. One of just two lift-testing towers in Europe, the site was opened by the Queen back in 1982.
Closed in 1997, the building was listed to avoid demolishment and opened again in 2009 as a testing facility. Unfortunately, attempts to build a visitor centre onsite have been unsuccessful, but archaeology lovers can still enjoy the view from a distance. And, let’s face it; with a height like that, even distance doesn’t stop visitors from enjoying the majesty of this attraction.
2 – 78 Derngate
While we’re on the subject of archaeology, 78 Derngate is another address that has brought a fair amount of fame to Northampton’s streets. This, the only English house designed by Art Nouveau architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh has been a tourist must-see since it was opened for public viewing in 2003.
The iconic designer turned his hand to the building back in 1916 and turned out to be the first major commission before his death in 1928. The maturity of his work is plain to see in the wooden panelling and stained glass alone. Whether you follow architecture or not, a visit here will certainly be an experience to remember. And, it’s cemented Northampton in many a memory thus far.
3 – Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
Recently closed for modernisation and expansion, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery have also played their part in the town’s fame for a rather unexpected reason. Or perhaps not when you consider the accolade of England’s shoemaking capital.
Visitors here can certainly get their fill of footwear with the world’s largest collection of objects charting the history of shoes. As well as displaying various shoemaking tools from before and after Northampton’s great fire, the museum hosts an astounding 15,000 items of footwear. As if that weren’t enough to keep guests busy, there’s also plenty of fine art on display, including some rather impressive paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries.
4 – Abington Park Museum
For literature lovers, the museum-based fun doesn’t stop with footwear. Abington Park Museum is also well worth a visit, as this 15th-century manor house was once home to William Shakespeare’s granddaughter – Elizabeth Bernard.
Bernard herself died in 1670, and her grave can be found just next door, but the house is also of real interest, in part because it hosted a so-called Victorian ‘lunatic asylum’. Now, the grade I listed building offers restored oak rooms from the 1700s, Victorian curiosities, and various temporary exhibitions that detail Northampton’s sometimes difficult history.
5 – The Church Of The Holy Sepulchre
Northampton sites that predate the great fire can be tricky to find, which may be why The Holy Sepulchre makes for such an impressive and tourist-attracting site. Originating from the 12th century, this is one of only four Norman churches in England, making its survival an even more impressive feat than it would have been.
Originally started by Simon I de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon-Northampton, the past 900 years have seen various alterations to the church. Most notably, Victorian restorer George Gilbert Scott made some rather significant changes, including a nave, aisles, and a chancel. That said, the baptistery is still home to the original Norman circular church, where keen-eyed guests will glimpse original windows to the south.
From bleak and fiery beginnings, Northampton has most definitely risen out of the ashes, and it largely has its architecture to thank, with visitors able to see some amazing feats first-hand. That, paired with the peaceful countryside feel of the town, makes it an easily appealing East Midlands getaway.
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