Northampton castle was originally built from earthwork and timber of the motte and bailey or ringwork type. The timber was later replaced in the 12th century by stone when Simon de Senlis became Earl. Judging from its position, the castle was of military importance. On the west the castle was defended by the river; on the other three sides it had a moat 18 feet wide. This moat was crossed by a drawbridge which was guarded on its outer side by a barbican ; on the inner side stood
the great gate of the castle, with its portcullis. Along the walls were situated towers to aid in the defence, and inside it had the keep.
Because of its prominence in the centre of England, and standing at the head of the valley of the Nene, commanding one of the important routes across England, the castle was to become a favourite for the Kings through it's life. The castle became the property of the Crown in Henry II reign. It contained two chapels, one for the King and the other for the Queen. The castle helped Northampton achieve its prosperity and soon became the third largest town in England. It became the Normans midland capital, halfway between its northern and southern capital, York and Winchester.
No less than three crusades were proclaimed from the castle; two of which the castles founder, Simon de Senlis was instrumental in. The castle became the seat of parliament due to its royal popularity and held that status until 1380, about two hundred years. The last parliament to be held at the castle in 1380 resulted in the Poll tax, one of the chief causes that led to the rebellion of Wat Tyler and Jack Straw. It was home to a great many councils, jousts and tournaments and myth would have us believe that Robin hood slept here too. Yet the castles most famous moment is archbishop Thomas Beckets trial. After being summoned to the royal chambers, Henry II wanted to pass sentence but Becket escaped during some confusion and fled to France, briefly stopping at a spring to refresh with water.
In 1277-8, the castle walls were embattled and were reported to have been broad enough for six persons to walk abreast. When the last of the Welsh princes was executed in 1284, it was to Northampton that one of his quarters was given to be shown upon the town gate. Proof at that time of Northampton's prominence and notable position among towns.
In 1301, Edward 1st was due to visit the castle. A new chamber was built along with a wardrobe and chimney. A partition was built in the chapel for the queen and various repairs made in advance of the visit, all at a cost of £22 13s 1d. The Treaty of Northampton was signed at the castle in 1328 to allow Robert the Bruce to become the first independent king of Scotland.
Did you know:
that people were baptised in the river Nene just below the castle fortifications? William Carey was one of note, On October 8th, 1783, in the early gray of the morning he was baptised by Dr. John Ryland, minister of College Street Chapel, Northampton. The " baptistery " was a branch of the Nene, which ran past the ruined walls of old Northampton Castle, at the bottom of the hill known as Fitzroy Street.
The castle withstood numerous attacks and sieges but it wasn't until 1662 that Northampton castle fell from grace. It appears, from an account by Norden in 1593, that the castle was, even back in that time, much decayed with the walls in a defenceless state. In August 1642, the walls were described as 'miserably ruined, though the country abounds in mines of stones'. The town set to work to bolster the defences and improving the fortifications. Stores were laid up against a possible siege; the south and west bridges were turned into drawbridges and outlying houses in St. Edmund's end pulled down to make the east gate safer.
In the walls were four gatehouses named after their respective positions. North gate, South gate, East gate and West gate. Those facing north, south and west had rooms or dwellings over them and the one to the east was, according to Bridges, "the fairest of all," being lofty and embellished with shields of arms and other ornaments. Between the south gate and east gate was a smaller gate or postern called Dern gate. However, in September of 1662, Charles II, furious that Northampton had sided with Cromwell, ordered the destruction of the castle and its defences.
Did you know:
One of the most illustrated parables in medieval art was the story of Dives and Lazarus from the Gospel of St Luke. Glazing in colour became popular with King Henry lll and he ordered glass for the stately rooms of Northampton castle to represent the story of Dives and Lazarus.
On the restoration of the monarchy, Charles was to exact revenge for Northampton's role with the Cromwellians. The castle and walls were pulled down and Northampton would never again defend itself. Speed, a respectable historian, described the walls as "built both strong and high" in his Abridgement of the different Counties, 1666. But the castle is described as, "A large castle, mounted on a hill, whose aged countenance well sheweth the beauty that she had born, and whose gaping chinks do daily threaten the downfall of her walls".
The town continued to adapt and survive but never regained its importance. The ruins stood for another 200 years until the onslaught of modernisation caught up. 1859 saw the demise of the remaining sections. The railway had blossomed as an alternative means to travel and trade and the castle stood in its way. It was completely demolished to make way for a brand new railway station and in remembrance, took the name "Castle Station".
The only surviving remnants
of the castle are the Postern Gate and a couple of
outcrop stones marking a buttress. The Postern Gate,
which is not in its original position, was saved and
moved to its present location for safe keeping. The
outcrop stones are now being cared for; too little, too
late. Northampton has lost a huge and important piece of
The town walls have also gone
and no trace remains of those. Roads and housing saw the
gradual demise of the defences. It is still possible,
from the road layout, to mark the rough position of the
defence walls. Starting from the River Nene, you can
trace a line up St. Georges St. Upper and Lower Mounts,
York Rd, Cheyne Walk, Victoria Promenade, Weston St. and
back to the Nene.
The four main gates stood
where the Market Harborough, Kettering, London and
Daventry roads entered the town. It has been written that
in the 14th century, in King Johns reign, the East Gate
was described as 'being very handsome and adorned with
coats of arms; the other three main gates being then used
as tenements for the poor”. Part of the castle
walls between the East and North Gates, is described in
an inquisition in 1278 as being “crenellated and
much used for walking purposes”. Freemen of the
borough who wanted to take short cuts to avoid the muddy
lane below in winter and by the night watchmen who spied
through the battlements upon malefactors as they came in
and out of the town were among those who also used the
wall for walking.
Much of the site of
Northampton Castle is currently not protected at all,
which means it could be sold and redeveloped. Demonstrate
that many people care about preserving, protecting and
celebrating the site of the castle by signing the
petition to show your support!