Cotton End is a part of the parish and urban district of Hardingstone, Northampton. For most of its history Cotton End has been very under-developed, predominantly because of its liability to flooding. Prior to the 19th century the area was dominated by marsh meadows used for grazing connected to the Delapre Estate, leading across to the river. There was a small amount of localised industry, predominantly Mills. This has however, been the main site of a river crossing and the route south towards London since at least the Medieval period.
The most notable building in the area was a leper hospital, St Leonards, which was founded in 1150, alongside a collection of tenements. This hospital survived up until the Tudors began dismantling church lands during the reformation, when the land was transferred to the corporation of Northampton. During Elizabeth I’s reign the chapel and hospital were pulled down to be replaced by a single small tenement, called the Spittle or Lazarhouse. This was occupied by one man, who lived off the charity of the corporation of the town, a tradition which continued up until 1740.
The opening of the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal in 1815 connected the Nene to the Grand Junction Canal, and on to London. On 1st May 1815 a huge crowd gathered at Far Cotton to seethe first boats arrive, of which 20 “were carrying coals and the rest divers merchandise from all parts of the Kingdom”. Northampton had been stagnant in the decades before the opening of the canal. It’s population in 1811 was 5,342, less than the towns Medieval heyday. But the town rapidly began to grow again after 1815, nearly tripling to 15,351 by 1831. Industries sprang up around the waterside. Breweries, foundries, gasworks, timber yards and storage wharves appeared in what became known as ‘South Quarter’ and as far upstream as West Bridge. Farming also benefited as livestock from Northampton market would be driven to Cotton End on a Saturday to be loaded on to boats to be taken to London’s Smithfield meat market on a Monday.
Cotton End and Far Cotton grew even larger with the coming of the railway in 1845. The area west of Bridge Street developed quickly in the 1840s when the London and North Western Railway built their line to Peterborough and its station at Bridge Street, extensive sheds for the servicing of trains and shipment of goods. New rows of terraced houses, schools, shops and other services swiftly followed to accommodate the railway workers and their families. By the time the Midland Railway built it’s line in the 1870s Cotton End had become a well developed suburb of Northampton.
The area of Cotton End has been notorious for floods in Northampton. Even the earliest, less than accurate maps of the area are all marked ‘liable to floods.’ July and October 1875, January, October 1882, February 1926 and February 1951 all saw extensive floods in the area.
In the modern era Far Cotton has become most famous for the Easter Flood of 1998. Cotton End has a long history of flooding, but the floods of 10th April 1998 was amongst the worst recorded. Heavy rain, combined with poorly maintained drainage courses led to the Nene bursting its banks and flooded many of the riverside areas in Northampton. Far Cotton and Cotton End were amongst the worst hit, with hundreds of properties flooded and one woman died after she was swept off her narrow boat at the South Bridge.