Northamptonshire’s heroes

Our first question is “How many times have you walked past Northampton’s Guildhall & thought “Well that looks like a rather attractive building?”

It certainly is, & was built to the design of Edward Godwin, begun when he was only 28, between 1861 & 1864, in neo-gothic style. As well as housing Northampton Borough Council it’s also used for a variety of civic purposes, such as weddings or civil partnerships

Historically the building had a court, now used as a meeting room known as the court room & prison cells in the basement. The basement is quite extensive & quite eerie in places. There is also a hidden room in the attic accessible via a secret staircase, which was possibly once the home of a caretaker or other similar worker

Our second question is “Have you been inside the courtyard & looked at the statues of the people inspired by Northamptonshire?” The answer is probably “never” which is why we’re writing this little addition to the blog as it’s so worth a visit

Firstly the courtyard itself is stunning…

It’s up to you whether you go left to right, or right to left…we did the former, but only after sitting on the bench first & taking everything in – we recommend you do too

So our first person on the left sits on the left of the bench & there’s room to sit next to him. He looks the sort of person you’d like to give a cuddle. This is renowned English poet, John Clare

Clare was born in Helpston, 6 miles to the north of Peterborough. The village was in the Soke of Peterborough in Northamptonshire & his memorial calls him “The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet”.

His formal education was brief, his other employment & class-origins were lowly. As a poet, he wrote in the Northamptonshire dialect, introducing local words to the literary canon such as “pooty” (snail), “lady-cow” (ladybird), “crizzle” (to crisp) & “throstle” (song thrush). In his early life he struggled to find a place for his poetry in the changing literary fashions of the day. He also felt that he did not belong with other peasants

His early work expresses delight in both nature & the seasons. Poems such as “Winter Evening”, “Haymaking” & “Wood Pictures in Summer” celebrate the beauty of the world & the certainties of rural life, where animals must be fed & crops harvested. In a foreword to the 2011 anthology, ‘The Poetry of Birds’, broadcaster & bird-watcher Tim Dee notes that Clare wrote about 147 species of British wild birds “without any technical kit whatsoever”

John Clare died on 20 May 1864, aged 70. His remains were returned to Helpston for burial in St Botolph’s churchyard. Today, children at the John Clare School, Helpston’s primary, parade through the village & place their “midsummer cushions” around Clare’s gravestone, which bears the inscriptions “To the Memory of John Clare The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet” & “A Poet is Born not Made” on his birthday, in honour of their most famous resident

Moving round the courtyard, the next distinguished gentleman in full army outfit is someone well known to Northampton Saints Rugby fans…Edgar Mobbs

Edgar Roberts Mobbs was born on 29 June 1882 here in Northampton & was educated at Bedford Modern School. He played for & captained Northampton RFC & England.

After initially being turned down as too old to join the army in World War I, Mobbs raised his own “sportsman’s” company of 250 sportsmen (also known as Mobbs’ Own) for the Northamptonshire Regiment. He rose to command his battalion with the rank of lieutenant colonel

Mobbs was killed in action, on 31 July 1917, at Zillebeke, in Belgium during the Third Battle of Ypres , while attacking a machine gun post. His body has never been found, so his name is on the Menin Gate memorial. He was honoured with the Distinguished Service Order

In 1921 the first Mobbs’ Memorial Match was held between the East Midlands RFU & the Barbarians at Franklin’s Gardens. The fixture continues to be played with the Army Rugby Union facing Bedford & Northampton Saints in alternate years. The game helps to raise money for youth rugby in the area

It’s time to sit down next to another gentleman & maybe listen to a tune, or two. This is Sir Malcolm Arnold

Malcolm Arnold was born in Northampton, the youngest of five children from a prosperous Northampton family of shoemakers. Although shoemakers, his family was full of musicians, both of his parents being pianists, & his aunt was a violinist. After seeing Louis Armstrong play in Bournemouth, he took up the trumpet at the age of 12 & five years later won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music

In 1941 he joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet, later becoming principal trumpet in 1943. After a spell away, he returned to the LPO until leaving in 1948 to become a full-time composer. Arnold became ranked with Benjamin Britten as one of the most sought after composers in Britain. He gained a reputation as a composer of light music in works such as some of his concert overtures & the sets of Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish & Cornish dances. He was also a highly successful composer of film music, penning the scores to over a hundred features & documentaries, including ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai‘, ‘Hobson’s Choice‘ & the ‘St Trinian’s‘ series

His later years saw a decline in both health & finances &, in 1979, he entered St Andrew’s Hospital in the town. He recovered & eventually died on 23 September 2006 aged 84

Don’t worry, we will come across some Northamptonshire women shortly, but our next famous gentleman is Sir Francis Crick

Crick was born on 8 June 1916 & raised in Weston Favell where his father & uncle ran the family’s boot & shoe factory. At an early age, he was attracted to science & when eight, or nine, was transferred to the most junior form of the Northampton Grammar School on the Billing Road. After the age of 14, he was educated at Mill Hill School in London (on a scholarship), where he studied mathematics, physics & chemistry. At the age of 21, Crick earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from University College, London & later became a PhD student & Honorary Fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge

In 1953, he co-authored with James Watson the academic paper proposing the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, & together with Watson & Maurice Williams was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the molecule structure of nucleic acids & its significance for information transfer in living material”

Crick’s discovery was always surrounded by controversy & it was alleged that they used other peoples’ research without permission. He died on 28 July 2004

The ladies have been waiting patiently & here comes the first one…Margaret Bondfield

Margaret Grace Bondfield was born in 1873 in humble circumstances & received limited formal education. After serving an apprenticeship to an embroidress she worked as a shop assistant in Brighton & London. She was shocked by the working conditions of shop staff, particularly within the “living-in” system, & became an active member of the shopworkers’ union. She began to move in socialist circles, & in 1898 was appointed assistant secretary of the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen & Clerks. She was later prominent in several women’s socialist movements & helped to found the Women’s Labour League in 1906, & was chair of the Adult Suffrage Society.

Her standpoint on women’s suffrage divided her from the militant leadership as she favoured extending the vote to all adults regardless of gender or property, rather than the limited “on the same terms as men” agenda pursued by the militant suffragists

After leaving her union post in 1908 Bondfield worked as organising secretary for the WLL & later as women’s officer for the National Union of General & Municipal Workers. She was elected to the TUC Council in 1918, & became its chairman in 1923, the year she was first elected to parliament as MP for Northampton

In the short-lived minority Labour government of 1924 she served as parliamentary secretary. Her willingness to contemplate cuts in unemployment benefits alienated her from much of the Labour movement

She lost her seat in 1931, but continued with her rights work until her death in 1953

There’s another formidable woman coming up next, with a big hat…Lady Wantage

Harriet Sarah Jones-Loyd was born in 1837 & was an art collector & benefactor. She was also one of the wealthiest women at that time, with an inheritance that included two large country estates…Lockinge House near Wantage & Overstone Park in Northampton

Her contributions formed the National Aid Society, which later became the Red Cross Society, an action that was rewarded by Queen Victoria in 1883, when she was awarded the Order of the Red Cross

In 1892 she gifted land in Northampton which became our beautiful Abington Park

The final statue in the courtyard is another Northampton sportsman who, like Edgar Mobbs, had much more history attached to him than just a ball game…Walter Tull

Walter Tull was the second black footballer in the Football League. Born in Folkestone, the son of Barbadian carpenter Daniel Tull & Kent-born Alice Elizabeth Palmer. His paternal grandfather was a slave in Barbados. His maternal English grandmother was from Kent.

In 1895, when Tull was seven, his mother died of cancer & a year later his father married Alice’s cousin, Clara Palmer. She gave birth to a daughter Miriam, on 11 September 1897. Three months later, Daniel died from heart disease. The stepmother was unable to cope with six children so the two boys of school age, Walter & Edward, were sent to an orphanage. From the age of 9, Tull was brought up in the Children’s Home & Orphanage in Bethnal Green. His brother was adopted by a Glaswegian family, becoming Edward Tull-Warnock. He qualified as a dentist, the first mixed-heritage person to practise this profession in the United Kingdom

Walter’s professional football career began after he was spotted playing for top amateur club, Clapton FC. At the age of 21, he signed for First Division, Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 1909 & made his debut for in September 1909. Tull made only 10 first-team appearances, scoring twice, before he was dropped to the reserves. This may have been due to the racial abuse he received from opposing fans

Further appearances in the first team (20 in total with four goals) were recorded before Tull was bought by Northampton Town on 17 October 1911 making his debut four days later against Watford. He made 111 first-team appearances, scoring nine goals for the Northampton

After World War I broke out in August 1914, Tull became the first Northampton Town player to enlist in the British Army in December of that year, serving  in the two Football Battalions of the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment. He rose to the rank of lance sergeant & fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

When Tull was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 30 May 1917, he became the first mixed-heritage infantry officer in a regular British Army regiment. With the 23rd Battalion, Tull fought on the Italian Front & was praised for his “gallantry and coolness” having led 26 men on a night-raiding party into enemy territory & returning them unharmed

Tull & the 23rd Battalion returned to northern France on 8 March 1918. He was killed in action near the village of Favreuil in the Pas de Calais on 25 March. His body was never recovered

On 11 July 1999, Northampton Town FC unveiled a memorial wall to Tull in a garden of remembrance at Sixfields Stadium the text reading:

“Through his actions, W. D. J. Tull ridiculed the barriers of ignorance that tried to deny people of colour equality with their contemporaries. His life stands testament to a determination to confront those people and those obstacles that sought to diminish him and the world in which he lived. It reveals a man, though rendered breathless in his prime, whose strong heart still beats loudly”

A road behind the North Stand is named Walter Tull Way

So that’s probably one of the shortest walks we’ve done, but the next time you’re passing the Guildhall, why not pop into the peaceful, beautiful courtyard & spend a few quiet moments with these famous people & maybe share a seat with John Clare

Go Walk!