Walk 76: Daventry Town Centre: “Daventry calling…Daventry calling”

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1 mile (1.61km)

Time to walk: About 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy, all on hard path

Parking: We used the free parking at Tesco in the town centre

Public toilets: Cafes, pubs etc

Map of the route: @Daventry Heritage Trail

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We thought that in the winter weather we’d go & explore some of our major towns rather than cope with muddy fields. We hadn’t been to Daventry for years, so were really looking forward to seeing an old English town that hopefully celebrates its heritage

There is evidence of a Roman settlement on Borough Hill in Daventry, but it’s the remains of the iron age hill fort which it is best known for showing that people settled here a long time ago

The earliest signs of occupation in the town centre are the Roman settlements close to the old churchyard, itself recorded as a place of burial for over 1500 years. Interestingly, it was in the medieval period that things really began to take off & the 10th century tenures were laid out along what is now the High Street

Daventry was granted a market charter in 1255 which meant that that a two day fair could take place on the feast of St. Augustine & another on the feast of St. Matthew

In the 17th century the town was a major stopping point for stage coaches, giving rise to a large number of coaching houses & makers of whips in town. A directory in 1830 by Pigot, describes Daventry as “a place of great thoroughfare possessing some fine houses & excellent inns”

Indeed, it was also mentioned by Shakespeare in Act 4 Scene 2 of Henry IV Part 1 – “to say the truth, was stolen from my host at St Albans or the red nosed innkeeper of Daventry!” It refers to the same road that enabled the people involved in the Gun Powder Plot to escape!

In 1925 both destiny & the BBC stepped in & the towns’ importance was international! The huge BBC transmission station on Borough Hill relayed radio signals via the World Service around the Empire, famous people including Winston Churchill had their voices shot into the ether from this site & the radio announcement of “Daventry calling” made Daventry well-known across the World.

So let’s see what we found…

Let’s Walk!

1. Today’s short walk starts in New Street outside the Daventry Town Council offices which also houses the Museum

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2. Facing the Museum turn right & head up the hill…you can see what a thoroughly miserable day it was

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3. The building ahead on the left is The Old Grammar School…

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The Grammar School was founded in 1576, the year that Daventry became a major market town for the area after a charter was granted by Queen Elizabeth I. Subsequently some fine town houses were built including, in 1600, the important Grammar School in New Street.

William Parker settled with the School Master £20 a year to teach 50 pupils Latin free of charge. Later money was raised in Daventry to erect this school house which opened in 1600. The inscription above the main door reads ‘Anno Dni 1600’, & high up on the front gable ‘RESTAURATA ANNO DNI 1857’ when it was restored

It is built in the local ironstone with sandstone for the door frame, string courses, gable kneelers, Two-light window above the entrance door, and west window which is tall, of three lights and diamond glazed. Other windows are twin two-light of ironstone and diamond glazed. The roof is standard gabled and currently tiled.

The house next door to the north is now the Windsor Lodge & was built for the headmaster

4. After the School turn immediately left down narrow Little Lane…

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…which at the end emerges into Church Walk where we turn left towards the Church itself

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5. Holy Cross Church is the only 18th Century church built in Northamptonshire

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It was built between 1752 & 1758 by David Hiorne of Warwick & is constructed of the local ironstone. It was thought to have been modelled on St Martin’s in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, London. The only addition to the original was the central porch added in 1951

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6. Next door to the church is the Abbey Buildings, Victorian reconstruction of the old Cluniac Priory buildings that once stood on this site…

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The Priory was established in 1108 & closed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1526

7. Carry on down into the Market Square…

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The buildings on the right are considerably younger than those on the left

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8. Cross the road to The Moot Hall…

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The Moot Hall stands on the north side of the market square next to the Plume of Feathers Inn. It was built in 1769 from ironstone & has had various uses over the years, including the town council building, a women’s prison, the mayor’s parlour, town museum & tourist information office, an Indian restaurant & an antiques centre.

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9. What’s that spiky memorial over the road…

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It’s the Burton Memorial which was built in 1911 to commemorate Edmund Charles Burton, apparently on the site of the original Moot Hall. It’s nice, but today it has fag packets etc in its basin

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10. Let’s walk down the High Street…there’s lots of old doorways & alleyways

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On the left hand side’s an interesting building…

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The poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans once lived here & wrote a poem called Casabianca. It’s better known as…(clean versions only please after the first line)

“The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but him had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.

The flames rolled on — he would not go
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud — “Say, father, say,
If yet my task is done?”
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

“Speak, father!” once again he cried,
“If I may yet be gone!”
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still, yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
“My father! must I stay?”
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendor wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy — oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair
That well had borne their part–
But the noblest thing that perished there
Was that young, faithful heart”

11. The High Street’s not the best in the world…we were looking for a shop where we could maybe ask about Daventry – don’t hold your breath & in places, we’re sad to say we actually felt the need to hang on tighter to our camera equipment

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Plus are we now living in a foreign country?

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Up until now we thought that this walk was average, but now Daventry you’ve let us down. Some Northamptonshire High Streets are trying to re-introduce local businesses, but there’s no real evidence of this in Daventry (yes we know there’s more up Sheaf Street, but the High Street is the hub of any town). Even in the nearby centre the local South American Band couldn’t lift the spirits (& they weren’t earning any money either!)

12. Anyway rant over, let’s carry on…at the end of the High Street under the the cover of scaffolding is an interesting architectural building – The BBC Social Club

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The club was used by BBC employees whilst the corporation was situated on Borough Hill between 1925 & 1992.

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13. Turn right into Brook Street to have a look a couple of pubs

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Firstly on the right’s The Dun Cow which is an excellent example of a traditional Coach House

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Sadly they don’t promote themselves online

14. Over the road’s The Saracen’s Head Inn

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This establishment was formerly known as The Keyes before 1642. The first mention of an Inn on this site was in 1571

15. About turn then & head up the hill up Sheaf Street…

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Now Daventry…this is what you could do with your High Street. Take a look at other Market Towns & encourage more independent shops into the town like there are in this street – you need them on your High Street, not off it!

Plus people you need to support them!!

16. There’s another entrance into the centre to see if the band’s still playing on the left…

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..& ahead’s a structure we’ve never quite got to grips with…

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17. Past this on the left’s the Congregational Church…

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This property was built as a meeting house for the Dissenter movement

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English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries. Dissenters opposed state interference in religious matters, & founded their own churches, educational establishments & communities. Some emigrated to the New World. They originally agitated for a wide-reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church & triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell

King James I of England, VI of Scotland had said “no bishop, no king”. Cromwell capitalised on that phrase, abolishing both upon founding the Commonwealth of England. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the episcopacy was reinstalled & the rights of the Dissenters were limited. The Act of Uniformity 1662 required Anglican ordination for all clergy & many instead withdrew from the state church. These ministers & their followers came to be known as Nonconformists, though originally this term referred to refusal to use certain vestments & ceremonies of the Church of England, rather than separation from it

18. Opposite this is The Wheat Sheaf Hotel…

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This building was originally a coaching inn first mentioned in the Dragge Book of 1571. There’s a plaque outside sating that King Charles I stayed there for 6 nights before the Battle of Naseby – he seems to have stayed everywhere in this area!

However, his army of 5000 infantry & 5000 cavalry was camped on Borough Hill

19. Continue to the end of the street…

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..turning left into New Street again

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Where we turn right into Tesco’s where we started

So what did we think about our walk around one of Northamptonshire’s ‘Premier’ towns? Well…quite sad really. It’s a long time since we last visited this town & it seems to have cast aside its heritage & pride

Come on Daventry you can do better, but go & make your own mind up

Go Walk!