Book Reviews

Northampton Market and Forty Years Trading There

Francis Frith's Northamptonshire Living Memories


Northampton Market and Forty Years Trading There

Fred Golby. 2006. Printed by Warwick Printing Co Ltd., Caswell Road, Leamington Spa CV31 1QD. [60 pages including 83 B&W prints and photographs.]

“I shall always remember as a small boy in the late 1920s when my father took me to Northampton market on a Saturday evening. The market and the surrounding shops stayed open until 9 o'clock and the whole area was still very busy. This was before the meat and fish market was built, and housewives were queuing up to buy butchers' meat which was sold off cheaply at the end of the day. The lights on the stalls consisted of a gas jet…. Little did I know that I would set up my own stall on the market and our family would trade there for forty years.” Thus begins Duston historian Fred Golby’s history of Northampton Market and his account of his own family’s trading there.

The market has a long history, dating back to 1285 when its royal charter was granted - before this date trading took place in the churchyard of All Saints Church. It was the site for one of the greatest trading and hiring fairs in mediaeval times, and was used for cattle trading until 1873. It was the place where punishment was dealt out for petty crimes at the pillory in the south east corner of the square. During the great Northampton fire of 1675 huge quantities of household belongings were stacked in the market to keep them safe from the flames. During the last war, tunnels under the square, originally used for storing wine and spirits, were opened and used as air-raid shelters. And it has been the scene of many great celebrations and ceremonial occasions, including jubilee proclamations and the VE day celebrations of 1945.

View of the market in 1898

In Fred's book we hear of the country people who used to flock to the market from outlying villages in the years after the War, coming in from Castle Station and the bus station (then at Derngate), the old fountain demolished in 1962, gas-lit stalls, the buildings around the square (including the Emporium Arcade and the old premises of Chronicle & Echo) and the characters who participated in the colourful life of the market.

Market square around 1900 showing fountain and stallholders' horse-drawn vehicles

The Appendix contains extracts from historical works describing the markets, fairs, market cross, beadles and town-crier.

The book is packed with many fascinating pictures and photographs of the market and surrounding streets from the nineteenth century onwards.

Market on Sunday afternoon in late 19th century showing horse-drawn cabs

Fred has witnessed many changes in market life but interestingly observes that “things go full circle, and in recent years there has been a trend towards farmers’ markets where people are enthusiastic to go and buy local produce from the farmers and growers, just as they used to buy from me and my family”.

This is a unique record of the market, adding new insights to Northampton’s history. The atmosphere of the market over the years is beautifully invoked in both words and pictures. The book is available from Golby’s Garden Centre, and local bookshops and libraries. For an extract, see Christmas Scene at Northampton Market in the Sixties.

Francis Frith's Northamptonshire Living Memories

Martin Andrew. 2002. Frith Book Company Ltd. [ISBN 1-85937-529-4. 128 pages including 150 B&W photographs. £14.99. Hardback.]

The photographs in this book are of Northamptonshire towns and villages mostly in the 1950s: the era before shopping precincts, motorways and out-of-town development. Author Martin Andrew neatly sums up the period as 'a curious twilight decade. The country still had lingering wartime rationing, austerity, drabness and relative stagnation in the early part of the decade, while by the end, the words of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, "You've never had it so good", echoed in its ears'.

Photo of Duston Main Road c1955 from the Francis Frith Collection

Looking at the pictures of Northampton town centre, the changes in the fabric of the town since that era are obvious. From the photo of the Market Place c1950 we can see that all the buildings on the northern edge of the square have since been demolished, having been replaced by the Grosvenor Centre in the 1970s. Also, the elaborate fountain in the centre of the square that commemorated the wedding of Prince Edward, later Edward VII, in 1863 was demolished in 1962. There is a view of Abington Street c1955 before pedestrianisation, with double-decker buses approaching and the Fifty Shilling Tailors shop in the foreground.

Photo of Duston, Squirrels Inn c1955 from the Francis Frith Collection

But looking at the many pictures of Northamptonshire villages, including Duston, the changes are not so obvious. Many of the cottages in the village centres still remain today. The proliferation of new estates on the outskirts of the villages is probably the most significant change. Also, as Mr Andrew comments in the book's introduction, there has been a change in the type of inhabitants, not obvious from looking at the photographs: 'The villages were boosted by the managerial classes and white collar workers who took on decaying houses and cottages by the score in villages ringing the towns. [But most Northamptonshire] villages retain a greater social mix of countrymen and townsmen than in the equally attractive Cotswold villages: and even more markedly so in the 1950s and 1960s'.

Photo of Duston Main Road c1960 from the Francis Frith Collection

The book includes four pictures of Duston with three views of Main Road in the old village (two c1955 and one c1960) and a view of the British Timken offices c1955. The village in those days presented a charming rural scene, with a mixture of 17th- and 18th-century stone-built cottages, The Squirrels (with thatched roof), and the Congregational Chapel, now replaced by the United Reformed Church. Also there is hardly any traffic in the village centre; the few vehicles are of Austin or Morris types, apart from one Ford Anglia, which is almost futuristic looking by contrast. The inclusion of British Timken seems almost pointless, since it looks exactly the same today as in 1955. However, with its recent closure, the book will be a future reminder of a time when a major engineering works existed in the area.

For more historical photographs it is also worth looking at the Francis Frith Collection website. Here you can search for British cities, towns and villages from some 49,000 images, which can be ordered as framed or mounted prints online.



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