Civil War to 1900
Northampton supported the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. For this reason the town walls and castle were later torn down on the orders of King Charles II as punishment. The railway station in Northampton stands on the site of the former castle, and used to be called “Northampton Castle Station”.
The town was destroyed by fire in both 1516 and 1675 (for the latter see Great Fire of Northampton), and was rebuilt as a spacious and well-planned town. In the 18th century Northampton became a major centre of footwear and leather manufacture. The prosperity of the town was greatly aided by demand for footwear caused by the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In his 18th century “Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain”, Daniel Defoe described Northampton as, “…the handsomest town in all this part of England.”
Northampton’s growth was accelerated in the 19th century, first by the Grand Union Canal, which reached the town in 1815 and later the coming of the railways. The first railway to be built into Northampton was a branch from the main London-Birmingham line at Blisworth to Peterborough through Northampton which opened in 1845. This was followed by lines to Market Harborough (1859) and Bedford (1872). The Northampton loop of the West Coast Main Line was built in the late 1870s. After 1850 the town grew beyond the old town walls. In 1800 the population was round 7,000 and was 87,000 a century later. In the 19th century Northampton acquired a reputation for political radicalism when radical non-conformist Charles Bradlaugh was elected as the town’s Member of Parliament.
Growth after 1900 slowed until the 1960s. The shoe industry declined and other employment was slow to arrive. In the 1920s and 30s, council houses were built in the east of the town at Headlands; north at St Davids; and south in Far Cotton. The Borough boundary, first extended in 1900, expanded again in 1932. From the 1920s until 1975 the town had its own power station supplying electricity to areas as far away as Wolverton.
In the 1960s The Deco was an ABC cinema. The Beatles appeared there twice on stage in 1963, on Wednesday, 27 March as part of the Tommy Roe/Chris Montez Tour. Montez commented “Who are these guys The Beatles? I try to keep up with the British scene, but I don’t know their work”. The Beatles were back on Wednesday, 6 November, in their own right and on their own tour.
Northampton was designated a New Town in 1968, and the Northampton Development Corporation (NDC) was set up to almost double the size of the town, with a population target of 230,000 by 1981, rising to 260,000 in later years. In 1959 the M1 motorway was opened nearby. Growth was slower
than planned. The 1960s and 70s saw the town centre change with development of a new bus station, the Grosvenor Shopping Centre, flats and hotels.
The population grew to 100,000 by 1961, 130,000 by 1971 and 156,000 by. When NDC wound up after 20 years, another 40,000 residents and 20,000 houses had been added. The borough boundaries changed in 1974 with the abolition of Northampton county borough and its reconstitution as a non-metropolitan district also covering areas outside the former borough boundaries but inside the designated New Town.
The rail link and busy M1 motorway to London helped the growth as a commuter town for London. Northampton’s housing expansion was east with the 1970s eastern district estates built mainly for the London overflow population and more recently, in the west at Upton and south near M1 junction 15 at Grange Park, initially of 1,500 houses actually in South Northants Council area.