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Northampton Market Square: A Storied Past

Posted by alex on February 26, 2024
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The Market Square circa early 20th Century (Image: Northampton Chronicle)

 

Nestled at the heart of our town lies Northampton Market Square, a hub of commerce and community for nearly a millennium. But how much do we really know about this historic centrepiece? Recent discoveries in planning documents have unearthed a treasure trove of information, charting the square’s journey from its inception in 1189 to the tumultuous days of World War II.

The square’s legacy is deeply intertwined with the art of trade, surviving the ebb and flow of time while buildings rose and fell around it. It’s a testament to Northampton’s enduring spirit that the market’s heritage has been so fiercely preserved.

Our story begins in the 12th century when Northampton was granted its first market charter. By the 16th century, the town had blossomed into a bustling market hub, thanks in part to its strategic position on the Great Road. However, prosperity often walks hand-in-hand with peril. The town faced destruction by fire twice, in 1516 and more catastrophically in 1675, when the Great Fire ravaged over 600 buildings. Yet, the community’s resilience shone through as they contributed a staggering £125,000 to rebuild the town centre around the square.

The square has witnessed its fair share of drama and spectacle. From the Bradlaugh riots of 1874 to the tragic accident during Mr. Gyngell’s tightrope performance in 1845, each event has left an indelible mark on the square’s history. Royal visits, open-air cinemas, and wartime fundraising efforts have all played out against the backdrop of this storied marketplace.

One of the square’s most notable features was its grand water fountain, erected in 1863 to commemorate a royal marriage. Sadly, after nearly a century of standing as a beloved landmark, it was removed in 1962 amidst concerns of vandalism and safety—concerns that were later proven unfounded.

Today, as traders temporarily relocate during the square’s £10 million refurbishment, we’re reminded of the square’s capacity for change and renewal. The Market Square has been a witness to history, a stage for the extraordinary, and a canvas for the community’s aspirations. As we look forward to its next chapter, let’s celebrate the rich tapestry of life that has unfolded in this remarkable public space.

 

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