20. Beckets Park

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As the map below shows, this Park was originally common grazing land known as Cow Meadow.

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Map of the Commons of Northampton from the 1740s

In 1783, Cow Meadow became a leisure park with laid paths and planting schemes. It also became a popular place for sports, in particular it was a venue for local cricket matches.

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OS Map of the Cow Meadow (1925)

 

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Postcard of the promenade at the northern end of the Cow Meadow (1920)

When the Midland Railway line was proposed in the late 1860s, many were not happy that the tracks would cut across this local green space.

“We regret, as we have said before, the destruction of the Cow Meadow which the scheme almost necessarily involves. Nobody who has, on a summers evening, had occasion to cross it from Cow Lane to Albion Place in the direction of the railway can fail to have been struck by its value as a recreation ground. Children and young cricketers literally swarm there. For a time, we suppose, they will be suffered to take possession of the eastern half; but for how long we will be bold enough to predict. The exclusiveness of the meadow, once violated, we may expect that reasons will readily be found for further encroachments.”  

The Northampton Mercury, 4th December 1869.

Despite the fears the park survived, and indeed flourished. It was renamed Beckets Park in 1935, after Thomas Becket, Henry II’s Archbishop of Canterbury.  Beckett was tried for ‘Defiance of Royal Authority’ at Northampton Castle in 1164, after a power struggle with the King. Becket had argued that the Church, and the Pope was the highest authority in the land, because its power came from God. The King argued that the crown was the higher power for exactly the same reason. Henry forced the clergy to sign a document named ‘The Constitutions of Clarendon’ which declared the King’s authority over the church, Becket however refused to sign it. Found guilty of contempt here in Northampton, Becket fled abroad to France. Becket returned from exile in 1170 to make peace with Henry, but on the 29th December 1170 he was murdered by three of the Kings knights in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket became a martyr because he died fighting for the church, and places associated with him became sites of pilgrimage.

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The Death of Thomas Becket  depicted in a medieval wall painting.

At the Northern end of the park sits Beckets Well. This was the spring at which it is reputed Thomas Becket rested and drank as he fled from his trial. The structure around the well was erected in 1843 over a spring outside the old town wall.

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Beckets Well