Northamptonshire is often called the county of ‘spires and squires’, a reference to its many wonderful churches and stately homes. It is also famous for its boot and shoe trade centred mainly on Northampton, Kettering, Wellingborough and other towns along the Nene valley.
Northamptonshire contains over 340 parishes and stretches around 73 miles from Easton on the Hill on the Lincolnshire border in the north to Ayhno on the county border with Oxfordshire in the south. The River Nene runs from near Naseby through to the county town and onwards via Oundle to the Wash. It was made navigable from Peterborough to Northampton between 1730 and 1768 and connected Northampton with the east coast shipping trade.
Between 1706 and 1750 all the major roads crossing the county became subject to Turnpike Acts and so were improved and regularly maintained. The Grand Junction Canal which opened in 1799 linked with the Oxford Canal at Braunston and was a more efficient route between London and Birmingham. It brought in cheaper coal, Welsh slate, pottery and other goods. An arm of this canal was eventually linked to Northampton in 1815. There is an excellent canal museum at Stoke Bruerne. Weedon Barracks was built by the side of the canal in 1805 as a major inland depot for Ordnance Stores and was chosen because of its proximity to the network of roads and canals.
The London to Birmingham railway (later part of the London & North Western Railway) came in 1838 with major stations at Blisworth, Weedon and Long Buckby. The Great Northern Railway in 1850 linked London to Doncaster and led to the growth of Peterborough as a major railway town. The Midland Railway in 1857 linked Kettering, Wellingborough and Market Harborough with London. With the other smaller branch lines, the railways, at their peak, had 75 stations in the county, now there are only 5.
Northamptonshire has played its part in many historical dramas; Thomas a Becket fled from Northampton Castle before being murdered at Canterbury Cathedral, Edward IV secretly married Elizabeth Woodville at Grafton Regis. Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringay, and King Charles 1 was defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Naseby in 1645, being later imprisoned at Holdenby House.
Among the most outstanding stately homes are Deene Park, Althorp House, Burghley, Boughton House, Easton Neston, Castle Ashby, Kirby Hall and Rockingham Castle. The archives of many of these great estates can be found at Northamptonshire Record Office.
The ‘old’ shire also contained the Soke of Peterborough (which was transferred to Cambridgeshire in the Local Government re-organisation of 1974). The Diocese of Peterborough was created in 1541 and the Northamptonshire Record Office is also the Diocesan Record Office. Thus, all church records will generally be found at Northamptonshire Record Office. Parish Registers for Rutland will be found at Leicestershire Record Office but the Bishop’s Transcripts and Wills (being Diocesan documents) will be at Northampton. Prior to 1541 the county (including the Soke) was in the Diocese of Lincoln and very early ecclesiastical records will be found at Lincolnshire Record Office.
The Northamptonshire Record Office is at Wootton Hall, Northampton, on the southern outskirts of the town and about 2 miles from junction 15 or 15A of the M1. For further details about the Record Office including opening times, directions, collections and search service click here.
There are a number of books about the county and also for individual parishes.
The three main reference books which are available at the Record Office and Local Studies are:
Bridges – History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire (published in 1790 although the material was gathered earlier)
Baker G – the History and Antiquities of the County of Northampton (published 1823-41)
Victoria County History Series for Northampton (Vols 1-6) – also available online
These books, although academic, cover the history of most of the parishes and towns and gives details of the major landowners, churches, charities and schools.
Those not in the Local Studies Section can usually be borrowed through the inter-library loan scheme.
<Click> here to take you to the Library catalogue search page.
Family History Centre (Church of the Latter Day Saints)
The Church of Latter Day Saints have a Family History Centre at 137 Harlestone Road, Northampton. Telephone 01604 587630. Please telephone before visiting. For more information visit Family Search.
There were historically 7 Registration Districts within Northamptonshire. These being Corby, Daventry, Kettering, Oundle/Thrapston, Northampton, Towcester/Brackley and Wellingborough. They were all combined in April 2011 in one district
For further information including contact addresses and numbers and information on how to order certificates, please see the Civil Registration pages on the County Council website. Click here for the link.
Family & Estate Collections
The Northamptonshire Record Office has an outstanding collection of family and estate records. As well as records relating to the family, you will also find estate rentals, maps, surveys, household accounts, wage books and occasionally, court rolls and deeds. Click here to search the guides to the collections.
The catalogues for many of these collections are available online through National Archives Discovery Catalogue. Click here for the link.
The county was anciently divided into hundreds and these acted as areas of administration until the late 1800’s. The Hundreds are:
Chipping Warden, Cleyley, Corby, Fawsley, Greens Norton, Guilsborough, Hamfordshoe, Higham Ferrers, Huxloe, Kings Sutton, Nobottle Grove, Orlingbury, Polebrook, Rothwell, Spelhoe, Towcester, Willybrook, Wymersley.
The Northamptonshire Studies Collection is at the Central Library in Northampton. Resources include books, pamphlets, maps (both historic and modern), illustrations, parish registers and census records. It also holds the GRO index to civil registrations of births, deaths and marriages for 1837-1983. They hold c20,000 photographs and over 8,000 prints and engravings of scenes from across the county and a collection of 1,500 historic portraits of notable Northamptonshire families and individuals. There is also a specialist collection of material relating to the economics and history of the footwear industry.
Additionally, the majority of the main libraries in the county towns will have local collections including census, newspapers, local books and information.
For further information click here . www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/libraries
Peterborough Library and Archives has many family history resources including documents, photographs and local history resources. For further information click here. http://www.vivacity-peterborough.com/libraries-and-archives/archives/
Museums and Historic Homes
There are many museums within the county and many hold items relating to the boot and shoe industry including Kettering, Rushden, Desborough, Rothwell and Wollaston. The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery has galleries showing the history of shoes and also a permanent exhibition on the history of Northampton. For further details <click> here. To see photos from the museum collection <click> here. Note that the Museum is close until mid 2018 for refurbishment.
Northampton Abington Park museum holds military collections relating to the Northamptonshire Regiment and the Northamptonshire Yeomanry. The smaller museums such as Oundle, Earls Barton and Burton Latimer will have much local information such as archives and photographs. Other museums may be more specific such as the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne, the Harrington Aviation Museum or Rushden Transport Museum.
Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery has exhibitions on the history of the Peterborough area including the Fenlands. For further details click here.
The county is well known for its stately homes. These include Boughton House, Prebendal Manor, Sulgrave (home of the ancestors of George Washington) and Castle Ashby as well as Kelmarsh, Deene, Cottesbrooke and Althorp.
The Mercury was first published in 1720. The Record Office has copies on microfilm for 1720 – 1850 but the Central Library has a more comprehensive collection including The Mercury from 1720, the Chronicle & Echo from 1931 and the Northampton Independent from 1905.
The north of the county was covered by the Stamford Mercury (the oldest surviving continually published newspaper) and microfilms of these are held at both Stamford and Peterborough Libraries.
The south of the county was covered by the Brackley Advertiser from 1869 as well as by various Oxfordshire newspapers.
The British Newspaper Library Archive is available online and has digitised searchable copies of The Northampton Mercury (1770-1954), Northants Evening Telegraph (1900-1901) and Stamford Mercury (1714-1910). This site can be accessed via your local library.
Northamptonshire has a strong history of non-conformity. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, some of the gentry families such as the Catesbys of Ashby St Ledgers and the Brudenells of Deene continued to practise the ‘old faith’ as Catholics but were heavily penalised. It was only really after the Toleration Act of 1689 that non-conformists could worship freely and many of the Baptist and Independent (later Congregational) chapels in the county date from around this time. Records, where they survive, will be found at the local Record Office.
Graham Ward has written a very informative book for the Society covering the non-conformist sources and records in the county. It is called ‘Sources for Researching Nonconformists in Northamptonshire’ and is available from our bookstall.
Additionally, his website contains a wealth of information about chapels, ministers and other non-conformist records. Click here for the link.
Anglican parish registers for the county have been digitised and made available online on Ancestry. We have also transcribed many of the registers and these are available on FindMyPast. Sometimes our interpretation of the old hand written documents, along with our local knowledge is different from the indexes on Ancestry, so an additional search is often worthwhile.
Microfiche copies of the registers along with many transcriptions and indexes are available at Northamptonshire Record Office. They have an almost complete set of Bishop’s transcripts (c1705-1880s) which can be used to fill in the gaps where the registers are not available.
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 created 11 Poor Law Unions within the county. These are Brackley, Brixworth, Daventry, Kettering, Northampton, Oundle, Peterborough, Potterspury, Thrapston, Towcester and Wellingborough.
Poor Law and Workhouse records, where they survive, are held by the Record Office and details can be found on their website. Click here for the link.
Further information on workhouses can be found by clicking here.
There is an index to other Poor Law records (mainly pre 1834) on the open shelves at the Record Office.
Will and Probate Records
These records fall naturally into 4 main groups:
• Records of the Archdeaconry of Northampton from 1469
• Records of the Consistory Court of Peterborough from 1541
• Records of Northampton Court of Probate and Registry from 1858
• Records of the Peterborough Court of Probate and Registry from 1858
These will be found at Northamptonshire Record Office and full details of the extent of the records held can be found on their website. Click here for the link.
An Index to the Northants and Rutland Probate Records from 1469-1857 can be searched online, or is available as a CD from Our Bookstall. Click here for a link to FindMyPast
Visiting the County
If you are interested in visiting the county then the website NorthamptonshireSurprise has masses of information including visitor guides, accommodation listings, details of local events and more. Other items can be followed on their Facebook Page.