18. The Nene

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Map of the River Nene

The river Nene is Britain’s 10th longest river, flowing 88 miles north-east from here in Northampton to the Wash. The river has always been a vital resource for trade in Northampton, from powering mills to providing water for the textile industry.  However, it was not until 1761 that the river became completely navigable. After several Acts of Parliament and 35 years of work, the river was improved with the addition of locks, sluices and bridges and tolls were introduced. Unfortunately the river never received enough traffic to make it profitable. Attempts were made to improve links to the canal network via the Grand Junction canal, which connected the Northampton to Blisworth in 1805. However, the construction of the Blisworth to Peterborough Railway in 1845 produced a competitor the river could not match for speed and price and it became increasingly unprofitable.

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The current  South Bridge over the river was built in 1816. But this has evidently been the main southern river crossing for centuries, as this was the main south road from the town.

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The South Bridge C1900

Despite the decline of the river in the mid-19th century the area was still a busy one. Both banks of the river were still dominated by timber yards, depots and factories until the end of the 20th century.

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OS Map of the river Nene area of Northampton (1899)

On the North bank of the river:

Not everything in this area was industrial. Between the 1880’s and 1912, where the disused public toilets sits used to be a boathouse with a landing stage for the hire of leisure boats.

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Hire boats on the Nene c.1900.

The modern flats next to Latimer and Crick sit on what used to be a timber yard. Whilst Morrison’s Supermarket, and the flats along the riverbank as far as the new University footbridge sit on the site of the Cattle Market, built in 1873.

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Northampton Cattle Market (1968)

On the South bank of the river:

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Panorama of the south bank taken in the 1990s.

 

Next to the Lion Brewery sat Smith’s Timber Yard. Probably opened around the 1840’s, the yard survived until the early 1990’s. It had an arm of water which ran between the yard and the brewery for unloading material.

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The ruins of Smith’s Timber Yard from the river in the 1990s.

Next to Smith’s Timber Company was the Globe Steam Engine Works, home to William Allchin and Son. The company began by building agricultural machinery in 1847 and moved on to the production of steam driven equipment in 1853. The factory Closed in 1931, the victim of the agricultural depression of the late 1920s.

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Plan of the Globe Works in 1921.
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Advert for William Allchin ltd (1908)

The land next to the Globe works remained open fields until the early 20th century addition of the Nene Sulphate works, which produced Chromium Sulphate, a key ingredient in tanning leather. Derived from organic matter, the sulphate helps to stabilize the collagen in the hides, effectively making it the tough, hard wearing material vital for shoes and boots.

This was replaced by Rice and Company’s Eagle Foundry, built in 1928. The company started on a site now occupied by the Carlsberg Brewery in 1823. When the company moved to the new site it continued to make cast iron products for the building trade. The foundry began to concentrate on to producing engineering castings during the Second World War, and continued to do so until the factory was closed in 1998 and replaced by housing.

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The Eagle Foundry c1950

The land next to the Eagle Foundry was a sports ground, used by local football and rugby games, as well as fairs. The ground was known as the Midland Field after the railway company.

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Newspaper advert for a football fixture on the Midland Field (1922)

In 1928 a Greyhound Stadium was built on the field, it’s first races held on the 7th April that year.

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OS Map showing the Northampton Greyhound Stadium, the Engine Shed can be seen on the bottom right corner (1938)

The greyhound track initially faced some local opposition particularly within the town council.

“This Committee are strongly of the opinion that betting at greyhound racecourses should be abolished, and that the Home Secretary be requested to introduce legislation at the earliest possible date with a view to preventing such practices.”

Northampton Daily Echo, 3rd January 1928

Despite these objections, and those from local churchmen, who also condemned the evils of gambling, the greyhound stadium successfully opened and ran races until 31st August 1964, when declining crowds forced it to close.

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An aerial photograph of the area taken in 1929 shows the whole layout of the area between the Engine Shed and the River Nene.

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Most of the street names on these new housing developments acknowledge the industrial history on which they sit. We have Lion Court, Smiths Court and Trenery Way. In addition there is Henry Bird Way – named after local artist Henry Bird (1909-2000). Highly regarded and successful artist, painted the safety curtain in the Royal Theatre Northampton and several murals in the Guildhall.

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Henry Birds safety Curtain at the Royal Theatre Northampton