Far Cotton – in the beginning
This potted history of Far Cotton’s early years was researched and written by Arthur Crutchley.
Although the main development of Far Cotton occurred after 1800, the area south of the River Nene was settled long before the town of Northampton itself.
The first inhabitants would have been hunter gatherers, who would have made their way inland from the coast through thickly wooded countryside by following rivers. Eventually, a permanent settlement was established at Briar Hill by 4000 BC, where the inhabitants farmed the newly cleared land adjoining the river. A more substantial and more easily defended fort was built at the top of Hunsbury Hill around 400 BC and remained in occupation until around 20 AD when it was abandoned. However, subsistence farming continued in the area from Briar Hill to the river.
The Romans established a small market town at Duston, farms at Thorplands and a villa at Wootton between 43-410 AD, but for the inhabitants of Far Cotton, life would have continued virtually unaltered.
Hamtune (Northampton) originates from when the Saxons built a Great Hall in what is now Marefair in 750 and the new town became an important regional centre. The Great Hall was enlarged and made into a royal residence in 820 and the two became a major administrative centre for the region.
The Danes ousted the Saxons from the town in 874 and used it as a base for their army until 917. Far Cotton was on the very edge of the Danish territory and the few inhabitants would undoubtedly have suffered the consequences of almost continual warfare between the Danes and Saxons.
After the Norman invasion in 1086, the Domesday Book records 300 houses and between 1500-2000 people in Northampton. The River Nene was not as well ordered then as it is now and two bridges were built to span the river to the south of the town to link up with the important road to London: one where the Plough Hotel is today, and the other at South Bridge. The town rapidly expanded with an important castle and in the following years became the third largest town in England.
At this time, leprosy was rife throughout Europe and two leper colonies were established: one at what is now St Leonard’s Road and the other at Kingsthorpe Hollow. Small hamlets grew up in Far Cotton: West Cotone in the area of Main Road, and East Cotone around the leper colony and South Bridge. (Cotone is a Saxon word for settlement has nothing to do with the manufacture of cotton.)
In 1140, St John’s Hospital was founded at the bottom of Bridge Street and in 1145 De-la-Pre Abbey was built. The body of Queen Eleanor rested overnight at the abbey in 1291 whilst being carried to London and a cross was erected at the top of London Road to commemorate this.
The fortunes of the town declined in the following centuries and Northampton lapsed into a quiet county market town.
Most of East Cotone (Cotton End) around the area of South Bridge was destroyed in 1561 when malt kilns caught fire. A plague in 1603 killed many of the inhabitants of the area, and another fire in 1668 left only six buildings standing in Cotton End. In 1700, there were reported to be only 16 families living in each hamlet.
The reason Northampton did not continue to prosper and develop was the lack of natural resources in the area and the inability to import them either by road or river. However, in 1761 the River Nene was made navigable between Kings Lynn and Northampton and a new wharf was built on the Cotton End side of South Bridge.
The Grand Junction Canal from London to Blisworth was opened in 1796. In 1815, a canal from Northampton to Blisworth was opened and the area of Cotton End rapidly expanded to cope with the import of raw materials and the export of finished items. The Census of 1841 records that the population of Cotton End was now 279 with an additional 39 “transients” living on barges. West Cotone was now called Far Cotton, but remained a very small, isolated hamlet.
The railways came to Northampton in 1845 and effectively ended the boom years of the canals. The only station for the town at the time was at Bridge Street, sited between St Leonard’s Road and Old Towcester Road. The sad remains of the old castle in Northampton were totally demolished and Castle Station was built in 1859, becoming the town’s main station. By this time, however, a huge railway marshalling yard and engine sheds had been built between Main Road / St Leonard’s Road and the canal, and new foundry works were in full production in Cotton End.
Far Cotton became part of the Borough of Northampton in 1868. Until this time it had always been part of the parish of Hardingstone, which stretched from Great Houghton to the boundary with Duston.
New houses were built off Main Road during the 1850s to house railway and foundry workers which contained the marvels of the time: gas and water.