Historical Tour of St James

Taking Bearings

St James End incorporates the area from St James Mill Road, out to the area around St James Square to the west. 'St James' is the whole area from Westbridge, stretching westwards to some unspecified boundary, probably Bants Lane, when it turns into 'Duston'. In reality, St James is just an area of the original manor of Duston and takes its name from the Abbey of St James, founded 12th century, dissolved 16th century.

The Saints Rugby Football Club takes its name from St James Church, built 1868 on the east side of St James Square, where the Club started. By chance, the Abbey site was shaped like a 40 acre rugby football, which is appropriate since their HQ occupies part of the old Abbey site.

The Avenue, Dallington is really part of St James or Duston, as it was originally, and is a separate private estate accessed only from Harlestone Road, opposite Dallington Park. Thus it is said to be in Dallington is for convenience.

Westbridge is the area of town surrounding the railway bridge (at Northampton station), stretching out to St James Mill Road. The present bridge was constructed when the railway was built in the 19th century. The northern arm of the River Nene moved westwards at that time to accommodate the railway. Earlier bridges were therefore further east and below the castle headland. The railway line and car parks sit in the old riverbed.


Extract from map of Duston Manor c1730The map shown here was produced by DFG Publishing in 1990 ('DFG map') and is but a part of a much larger document that covered the whole of Duston manor as it was, from the end of the Civil War up to 1730. Positions on the map are denoted by letters shown in red.

St James Mill

Starting at the bottom left, we have St James Mill at a, this was served by the Millbrook originally, but more water was needed, so a millstream was diverted from the River Nene. Millstreams served both Duston Upper Mill (off map) and this mill. The Abbey Mill and Dallington Mill in the adjacent parish appear to have functioned on the water from St James Spring and Dallington Brook quite adequately.

St James Mill was a double header (twin pairs of millstones) and run by the monks of St James Abbey until the dissolution of their monastery in 1546. Had they held out for a couple more years, the Abbey might have survived. The Mill continued in use until 1939/1945. Today, with water extraction, drainage schemes and underground pipework, it is difficult to imagine the amount of water that must have flowed in antiquity – but the channels still exist to be seen. St James Mill site is at the bottom of a footpath, close to Millbrook Close, down St James Mill Road. The mill streams and the mill brook can still be seen there.

Mill brook at Millbrook Close


Thomas A Becket Public House

Thomas A Becket pubBack to our map - we travel up St James Mill Road to the junction with St James Road; at b is the Thomas A Becket Public House. It was then The Green Man. In 1739 the Green Man became the tollhouse for the 1738/9 turnpike (toll road), called Moor Lane on the map, but today Harlestone Road (A428). Later The Green Man would host the discussions in 1777 concerning Duston Enclosure Awards.

The Thomas A Becket is at 52 St James' Road; across St James' Mill road was the Harborough Arms, at 46. Over St James' road, at 27, stood the Robin Hood Inn. These last two were demolished for road widening.

Roads Through St James

b to c is St James Road and c would become St James Square as it is today, then the junction of Moor Lane and Banbury Lane, today Harlestone Road and Weedon Road. As you can see, the main road system was quite different in 1730. g to h was the main road to the south of the Abbey, on to Upton and Kislingbury, while c, d, x up towards w, was the main road to Daventry, via Duston village and Berrywood Road, the old Roman Road. Finally, the main road to Rugby was Moor Lane c, then off the map, up Port Road, Duston the Portweye – through Althorp and Brington – until 1738/9, when the turnpike, mentioned above, ran further north as it is today (A428).

St James Sq, as it appears todayIn 1765, all this changed. A new turnpike was opened from St James Square, which thus had two, the 1738/9 Harlestone Road one and the new one to Weedon, replacing Banbury Lane and Duston with a brand new road, avoiding all villages to Flore and Weedon.  A Turnpike was set up right across St James Square, serving both roads and The Green Man ceased to be the Tollbooth. A new Tollhouse was constructed on the south side of St James Square and the old Main Road dwindled to become Abbey Street and the footpath to Sixfields, as it is today. Opposite, we find m, just off St James Square. This was the site of St Margaret’s Church, self contained, but part of the Abbey site and contiguous to the west side of the Toll House – which was just across the road (h, g, c) or Abbey Street today. In 1730, it was Little Bully Acres – free. f was Great Meadow, i was Inn Meadow, perhaps belonging to The Green Man, while k was Long Hollows.

St James Abbey

Continuing our walk, we come to a public house at d, opposite the Abbey gates. Today, the Abbey, opened in 1173 on land donated by William Peverel in 1104, is long gone. A 40-acre site, it lasted until 1546 when the Giffords acquired it and demolished the property for building materials. Had it survived a couple more years, we might be telling a different story.

Abbey Works 1909 - 1990s - site of St James AbbeyIn 1909, Abbey Works was built here, becoming the Express Lift Company in 1917. Abbey Works was built on the site of the Abbey Church, which was recently excavated and found to be 80 metres long. Behind it and under the factory were the cloisters, cemetery and further back the farm and water mill. The Abbey Church is at e on this map and the whole site was surrounded by a high stone wall. Today a block of flats stands in front of the Abbey building position and gives an impression of what it might have looked like.

Contemporary view of housing on St James Abbey siteThe monks used their mills for several purposes and had mills elsewhere, such as Billing. The Augustinian Monks, Blackfriars, were great cloth makers, fullers and dyers on their own site, around position g, they had a small mill, part of their farm site, south of the Roman Road (w to t), their religious buildings being built on the northern side.

Probable well head serving conduit to St James AbbeyTo serve their mill, water was brought down from St James Spring (j) and under the Weedon Road to the west of the Rover Public House. To the east of the hostelry, they brought spring water from point d, down a stone conduit to their cloisters and latrines. The map fails to recognise this because the conduit was a sculpted underground pipe, not visible. Today the mill brook entrance can still be found (in Malcolm Drive), and also the wellhead to the conduit. The mill brook exit can be seen along the footpath – the old medieval Main Road – from Abbey Street to Sixfields.

Roman Town & Cemetery

Embankment at Ross Rd, possible site of Roman town 50-600ADFinally, Field 66 may have been the initial Roman settlement with Fields 49, 50 and 82 the later Roman Town (now Ross Road Industrial Estate). s to n is the projected and estimated Roman Road (north/south), and w to t, the Roman Road (east/west).

These fields became an ironstone railway terminus in 1854/5. While the ironstone railway could run from s/east to s/west in a straight line, the impression is given that a feature must have existed in antiquity of embankments, probably ditches and earthworks from the Roman period. This is supported during the archaeological digs of the 1970s, when Dr J Williams found an unexplained and large ditch running across his main site, at the appropriate position.

Former site of Roman cemetery, then quarry in 19th centuryFurther evidence of a Roman settlement came from the Roman cemetery at position x,later quarried (1860 and 1871) and now the site of Homebase.

See Also

DFG Map Notes for more information about the locations described on this page.


DFG Map © 1990 DFG Publishing, based on a compilation of a map of Duston Mannor (sic) from the 1660s drawn by the Right Honourable Thomas Cook Esq., Vice Chamberlain of His Majesty’s Household, and another drawn by C. Price 1722 Vera Copia P.H. Walker 1730. Article written by Dave Blackburn.

Related Topics

St James Abbey

William Peverel



Go to top