Welcome to... Northampton

Welcome to... Northampton

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

As Regeneration opens at Royal & Derngate, our Young Reporter Laura Jayne Bateman gives us an insight into the great city of Northampton! 

Northampton is a large East Midlands town that lies on the River Nene, with a population of over 200,000. The town’s history stretches back to the Bronze Age, but it rose to national significance in the Middle Ages after Northampton Castle was built, which was frequently visited by royalty and nobility. Many of the town’s original buildings were damaged in the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675, which destroyed three-quarters of the town centre within 24 hours. An Act of Parliament ordered the town to be rebuilt, and the remarkable level of community spirit saw residents raise £25,000 for the cause. Much of the town’s architecture is therefore Georgian and occasionally gothic in style, such as the Guildhall in St Giles’ Square, which is home to the Borough Council in addition to hosting weddings and civil partnerships.

During the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, Northampton emerged as a key player in the manufacture of footwear and leather. However, despite providing 23 million pairs of boots to the armed forces during the First World War, the industry declined in the 1920s; this may perhaps be due to the lack of workmen, as 6,000 soldiers were lost from the Northamptonshire Regiment during the war, including 1,700 from the town itself. Happily, Northampton was able to expand in the aftermath of the Second World War, as the opening of the M1 motorway in 1959 established it as a commuter town to the capital. It was also designated a New Town by the government in 1968 to encourage population growth north of London, and the town has continued to expand numerically and culturally ever since.

Northampton is well-known for its prolific sports teams, and it boasts a Premiership rugby team, Northampton Saints, which won the Heineken Cup in 2000. Its football club, Northampton Town, is in League Two, and Silverstone Circuit, current home of the British Grand Prix, is only a few miles south of the town.

Northampton is also renowned for its many cultural institutions. It has a thriving Cultural Quarter that is home to the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, which houses the largest collection of historical footwear in the world, the Royal & Derngate theatre, currently staging an adaption of Pat Barker’s acclaimed First World War novel Regeneration, and the Errol Flynn Filmhouse, named after the Hollywood film star who spent six months as a member of the Northampton Repertory Company in 1933.

Due to Northampton’s cultural, sporting and academic excellence (its university was ranked as one of the top fifty in the country by The Guardian newspaper for 2015), many notable men and women have lived, worked or been born there. These include Margaret Bondfield, the UK’s first female cabinet minister and one of the first three female Labour MPs; Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, who co-discovered the DNA molecule in 1953; novelist Mark Haddon, best known for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and adapted for the stage by the National Theatre in 2012; and actor Matt Smith, who was BAFTA-nominated for his performance as the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who.

Northampton is a town that continues to grow and develop in a wide variety of areas, and it attracts visitors from all over the country as a quieter, but no less cosmopolitan, alternative to London.

Laura Jayne Bateman is our Young Reporter at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. The Royal & Derngate is the co-producer of Regeneration which is playing at the theatre from 29 August to 20 September 2014. 

Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.