Walk 79: Rushden Town Centre: Not feeling ‘blue’…a look at Rushden’s notoriety

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Approximately 1.5 miles (2.41km)

Time to walk: There’s lots to stop & see, so this one took us just over 1 hour, plus extra for a coffee at the end

Difficulty: Easy – all on flat hard town paths so suitable for all weathers

Parking: All of the public car parks are free, plus there’s ample on road parking too. We parked on the street in Station Road, which is very near the start of this walk

Public toilets: Lots of cafes etc

Map of the route: map

We came across this walk by accident when looking for winter ones to do when the fields are too muddy. It was originally put together by Rushden Heritage to celebrate local people within the town, although we found additional plaques that weren’t previously listed, so it appears to be a moving feast. So…if you find more, let us know & we’ll update the blog

So what can we tell you about the market town of Rushden…

The fifth largest town in Northamptonshire, Rushden lies on the A6 mid-way between Bedford & Kettering. The southern limits of the town border the county of Bedfordshire & to its north lies the River Nene

Rushden’s growth resulted from a number of industries, including lacemaking & farming, but it was for shoemaking & its associated trades that it really became known. In the mid-1900s there were well over 100 boot & shoe factories in Rushden, but today there are sadly only four left

We’ll take in plenty more history as we go so…

Let’s Walk!

1. The starting place for this town walk is opposite one of the town’s most iconic buildings at the far end of the High Street, hence us parking in Station Road…

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This ‘Art Deco’ building was built as a coach station for Birch’s Coaches. With the station a few yards up the road & being directly on the A6, it was an ideal transport hub

2. Facing the building turn right & head to Asda

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The first of todays blue plaques is in the entrance hall to the supermarket, so dodge the trolleys & strange looks ( “What’s that strange bloke up to with a camera” ) & dive inside

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The plaque’s not easy to spot, but it’s on the left wall behind the Pot Noodles

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This one’s dedicated to Franklin’s Fields, which was where the supermarket now stands. In 1904 it was also home to Rushden’s renowned Stanley Thurston’s fairground. As well as the usual roundabouts etc the most popular attractions were the Switchback Ride & the Cinematograph. The fair is still going strong today

3. It’s funny as when walking out of Asda we turned to see a group of shoppers gathering round the plaque & that was the first sign that the initiative isn’t that well known about which is a shame

Turn right & continue up the High Street…

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On the right’s a path with a noticeboard showing it to be called The Greenway

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The Greenway, which runs from Irthlingborough through Higham Ferrers & into Rushden, provides a safe & accessible path for people to walk & cycle through the towns. It links residential areas with schools, shops & leisure facilities. It also connects with other cycling & walking routes in the district

4. Cross Station Road, which we’ll come back to shortly…

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…& the next plaque can be seen on the wall above the arch

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This plaque commemorates the site of ‘Stonehurst’, a late Victorian House that was demolished in 1976. It was known locally as the ‘Belgian House’ because it was used to house Belgian refugees. The first 19 arrived in 1914 & were looked after by the Rushden Belgian Relief Committee . The house was struck by a bomb on 3rd October 1940, one of which killed several people in a street we’ll walk down later

5. Move further along the High Street to the Railway Inn

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The pub was originally called the New Inn, but it was changed to the present name when the railway came to town. The plaque was put up by the pub’s owners JD Wetherspoon, following their refurbishment in 2011 when the name reverted to the Railway Inn

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6. Retrace your steps along the High Street & turn left down Station Road…

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On the left’s Rushden’s Splash Pool

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…but, unless you fancy a dip, carry straight on up the hill passing St Peter’s Church on the right

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7. At the crossroads turn left along Moor Road which has quite a bit of history attached to it…

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Look for a new block of flats on the right. Down the cul-de-sac you can see the next blue plaque high up on the wall directly ahead…

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This was once the site of Benjamin Ladds shoe factory from 1891 – 1971. A family run business employing 75 people, records show they made mens’ shoes, but no mention is made of ladies

IMG_52698. Carry on past the terraced houses to No. 8…

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There’s another plaque here which commemorates one of Rushden’s most noted sons…Reg Norman

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Reg, as he was known locally, was passionate about keeping the local dialect spoken in the shoe factories alive. He worked at a local factory making leather washers. Reg also wrote regular poems “Air Ada” which were published in the local newspaper. Below is a copy of a letter he wrote & below that in blue are Reg’s words, the white being the ‘Queen’s English’

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9. Continue to the end of Moor Road where, on the left’s a reminder of another famous shoe company…Charles Horrell Ltd

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10. Turn left down Fitzwilliam Street…

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Suits you Sir!

Suits you Sir!

…turning right at the bottom & continue to the car park on the left, passing a terrific old family butchers (Rushden still has its fair share of independent traders)

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IMG_529611. Head directly right across the car park to the wall of the Pizzeria Venezia Restaurant where the plaque’s high up

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Adjacent to these premises was once the Lightstrung Company. Formed in 1886 they manufactured pedal cycles & later motor cycles. The name of the company came about because the bicycles were both ‘Light’ & ‘Strung’ (Rushden dialect for ‘Strong’). The company closed in July 1970. Lightstrung became famous as there’s a bus stop outside &, even today, people still ask to get off the bus at the Lightstrung

12. Move round to the front of the restaurant, stand back & look up – there’s another one on this building!

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This was the site of shoemakers John White’s second factory from 1920 – 1922 which also served as their Head Office. The business thrived to its height in 1941 when it was producing 3 million pairs of boots & shoes a year. By 1941 John White owned 9 factories employing 2000 people. John White’s are still going strong today

13. Continue up Church Street…

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On the right is a small store that is a memory of times gone by

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Now operating from a small design study, Peter Crisp department store was once a giant institution in Rushden. With an ethos built entirely around customer experience, The Peter Crisp Department Store was originally an ironmongers, opened in 1959 by Peter Crisp. The store had 15 different departments & attracted trade from miles around. It closed in 2009 after 50 years

14. Turn second left into Alfred Street…there’s a theme running in the town as we’ll see again later!

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Alfred Street felt the wrath of the Luftwaffe on 3rd October 1940, when 4 adults & 7 children lost their lives. The air shelter for the street was in the playground at the school on the left

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Turn left at the junction to see the plaque on the school wall commemorating the names of those who lost their lives. The air raid shelter took a direct hit, but luckily the air-raid warning siren hadn’t sounded & there was no-one in it

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15. Facing the school, turn left & walk up the hill past the Bingo Hall (used to be the Ritz cinema) to the High Street

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16. Turn left down the High Street – we were surprised how busy & thriving it was & can understand how concerned the town must be at the proposed large retail development that’s taking place on the edge

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It must be hoped that shops like the butchers & grocers below continue to survive in the town & the local council needs to give incentives to ensure this

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It’s good to see an eclectic mix too…

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Del Boy's here

Del Boy’s here

17. On reaching West Street on the left, the next plaque’s high up on the wall…

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This one commemorates a local boxer, John Harrison, who was born nearby at Bozeat on 15th October 1888. He came to live in the town in 1910 at his parents’ house in West Street. In 1912 he won the Lonsdale Belt &, after joining the army in World War I, had a successful boxing career as a middleweight before working for Rushden Urban Council. Known as Jack, he died in 1970 aged 82

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18. Retrace your steps back up the High Street past College Street where we came up earlier

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You wouldn't want to be walking up here on a dark night after a few beers!

You wouldn’t want to be walking up here on a dark night after a few beers!

…& stop outside the old Evening Telegraph Office which is now home to Dantas Photography

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19. The blue plaque commemorates that this was the site of the first John Cave shoe factory

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Few business histories spanning a hundred years can contain more of incident & romance than that of John Cave & Sons. For more than half of the hundred years a family dominated the story & at its head was John Cave – still remembered by many Rushden people as a striking figure with long white beard, equally virile as the leader of industry & as a campaigner against the social vices of his day

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The first factory was established here in 1850, but in April, 1877, the church bells rang at midnight to call out the Fire Brigade as Cave’s factory in High Street was burning. It was destroyed & the loss reckoned at £3,000. Then, a few days later, came a second tragedy, for Mr Elias Cave, aged 22, a son of the principal, was killed by a falling wall as he walked among the debris of the factory

A new factory was built on the original site & adjoining land but tragically a second fire gutted it on July 19th, 1901 – a very hot day. It was regarded as a calamity for the town, but with courage undaunted, the Caves built another large factory in College Street & had it in production by 1902

There was one final piece of bad luck..on Thursday October 3rd, 1940, when Rushden suffered a daylight air raid two bombs fell on the Cave factory, one in the clicking room, killing four of the clickers & injuring about 40 other workers. There was much material damage, including over a thousand roof lights destroyed & a third bomb exploded in the factory’s sports ground

Strange to say, no other Northamptonshire boot factory was bombed during the war

20. A few yards further on is Mrs b’s sandwich shop…

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The plaque is on the left side which was once the entrance to the old Palace Cinema which was opened on 19th September 1910. Seating 543 people admission prices were 2d, 4d & 6d. The first ‘talkie’ didn’t appear here until 1930

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21. Continue along the High Street towards the end. On the left is No. 12, one of the oldest properties in the town…

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The property was used in 1849 by John Radburne for buying & selling lace. In those days most of the lace was made by women at home who needed a sales outlet for their work. Radburne saw the opportunity to do this for them at a profit as well as supplying them with raw materials. After he died his two sons carried on the business for a time, but it eventually dwindled & closed

It’s interesting that the shop the plaque is above still sells lace & material

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22. Pretty much directly across the street is the site of the next plaque, above No. 19…

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Built in 1878, this was the site of the first Co-op shop in Rushden. The Co-op had been around in the town before this, but here was the first permanent shop

There’s quite a walk between this & our next stop, so now might be a good time to have a coffee break as there’s a few cafes at this point

23. Ready to stretch the legs? Turn left at the end of the High Street & head up the hill which is Newton Road…

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On the right’s Carnegie Library

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This library came about as a result of John Claridge, the shoe manufacturer, writing a letter to Andrew Carnegie requesting financial assistance to build a library in Rushden. A reply was received: “Mr. Carnegie will be glad to provide £2000 to provide a true Public Library building for Rushden……. on condition that a suitable site be purchased, which should not be a burden on the rate”

Eight sites were considered & the one chosen on the corner of Newton Road & Park Road was owned by Mr. Sartoris & Mr. Claridges’ Company. Each sold their share for £125  & the R.U.D.C, set aside £25 for books. The library was opened on November 25th, 1905 (Andrew Carnegie’s 70th birthday) by the Marquis of Northampton

It’s interesting to note that it wasn’t until 1913 that Andrew Carnegie set up ‘The Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (Dunfermline)”, which included among its designated purposes ‘building of libraries’. It would therefore seem that Rushden was the catalyst for this benevolence

24. Cross over at the traffic lights & past the new Lidl on the left…

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…& the Athletic Club…

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The road bends right & continues to climb. Pass Risdene Academy & Hove Road to finally arrive at No. 103

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25. No. 103 was the home of Alice Unwin Muxlow & the plaque is to recognise the work she did during the war with the Women’s Voluntary Service…

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Mrs Muxlow first came to prominence in 1929 as chairman of the Rushden British Legion Women’s Section, shortly afterwards becoming chairman of the Infant Welfare Centre & remaining involved until her death. On becoming chairman of the County British Legion Woman’s Section in 1940, her first meeting was held in an air raid shelter under a cinema in Northampton. She also the first lady chairman of the Council in 1946

26. With your back to the house turn right & cross the road then taking the first right down Roberts Street…

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There’s another plaque on the house on the right

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This remembers the four people that lost their lives when a bomb fell on Roberts Street on 19th November 1940

27. At the T-junction turn left into Grove Road. On the corner is another fine example of an old factory…

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That's one almighty bell!

That’s one almighty bell!

28. Just along here at No. 51 is the birthplace of Rushden’s most famous son & writer…H.E Bates

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Herbert Ernest Bates, CBE (16 May 1905 –29 January 1974), better known as H. E. Bates, was a writer & author. With 126 novels, 323 short stories & 194 essays / articles, his best-known works include Love for Lydia, The Darling Buds of May, & My Uncle Silas. Many of his stories depict life in the rural Midlands of England, particularly his native Northamptonshire. Bates was partial to taking long walks around the Northamptonshire countryside & this often provided the inspiration for his stories. He was a great lover of the countryside & this was exemplified in two volumes of essays entitled Through the Woods & Down the River

Down the River is an excellent read & follows the Ouse round many of the Bedfordshire villages we’ve walked

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During World War II he was commissioned into the RAF solely to write short stories. The Air Ministry realised that people were less concerned with facts and figures about the war than they were with reading about those who were fighting it. The stories were originally published in the News Chronicle under the pseudonym of “Flying Officer X”

29. Continue along Grove Road & then turn right into into Essex Road…

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On the right’s No. 15 which is where H.E Bates lived from 1914 until his marriage in 1931. He then moved to Little Chart Kent

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Bates used several buildings in Rushden as locations in his books, most notably Rushden Hall in ‘Hall Park’, as the setting for ‘Love for Lydia’, & the ‘Sanatorium’ where Lydia underwent treatment for tuberculosis

30. At the end of the road turn right along Park Road…

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There’s a couple of impressive buildings in this road. Firstly on the right’s Park Road Baptist Church

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On the left’s another closed factory

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This factory was occupied by ‘The Tecnic Boot Company Ltd’ who, in February 1948,changed their name to ‘The Tecnic Shoe Company Ltd.’ At the same time ‘Tecnic (childrens) Shoes’ was formed at Park Road which was run completely separately from the main factory in Bedford Road. The ‘Childrens’ factory subsequently became ‘Fox Shoes’ & was sold in the 1970s to the ‘Griggs Group’ who transferred the manufacturing to their own factories. Park Road factory was then sold

31. Slightly further down is the huge Heritage Chapel & Halls…

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The Heritage Chapel & Halls moved into the old Hope Methodist Church buildings. The new church was set up by a consortium of individuals, some of whom were part of the Methodist church congregation

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32. Turn left into Griffiths Street which contains some lovely terraced properties…

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There’s more signs of a time gone by with the Rushden Working Mens’ Club on the right

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33. At the bottom turn left into busy High Street South…

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This part of Rushden’s always been quite lively. Opposite is Teza which gets really good write-ups as an Indian Restaurant…

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…& then next door is Hungarian Kitchen, the menu of which looks well worth exploring

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34. Next comes one of our old haunts from the late 1970’s / early 1980’s which we frequented on moving down to Northamptonshire. Rushden Conservative Club was also responsible for introducing us to Northamptonshire Skittles

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35. The place we’re looking for is next door as the blue plaque shows…

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This plaque celebrates the birth place of Lieutenant Colonel The Reverend Bernard William Vann VC MC & Bar) (9 July 1887 – 3 October 1918) who was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest & most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British & Commonwealth forces. He was the only ordained clergyman of the Church of England to win the VC in the Great War as a combatant

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Vann was born in Rushden where his parents were teachers. He graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge & was a 1910 Cambridge hockey blue. He was a footballer who played for Northampton Town, Burton United F.C. & Derby County. He was ordained as a priest in 1912 & became chaplain and assistant master at Wellingborough School

On the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered as a British Army chaplain but, frustrated by difficulties & delays, enlisted in the infantry instead. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1915:

“At Kemmel on 24 April 1915 when a small advance trench which he occupied was blown in, & he himself wounded & half buried, he showed the greatest determination in organising the defence & rescuing buried men under heavy fire, although wounded & severely bruised he refused to leave his post until directly ordered to do so. At Ypres on 31 July 1915, & subsequent days, he ably assisted another officer to hold the left trench of the line, setting a fine example to those around him. On various occasions he has led patrols up to the enemy’s trenches and obtained valuable information”

In 1916 he received a second award of the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry in action”. He led a daring raid against the enemy’s trenches, himself taking five prisoners

He was killed in action, shot by a sniper at Ramicourt, France, on 3 October 1918 & is buried in Bellicourt British Cemetery

36. Walk back towards the town centre, passing Rushden park on the left. The museum is in there too…

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37. The second to last plaque is on the wall on the left here…

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It marks the site of the last working blacksmith in the town…AT Ginns & Son

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38. There’s a fine view of the church across to the right…

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…which we’ll come back to, but in the meantime cross the road & walk down Skinners Hill to the corner of the Green

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Hidden in the corner is our final plaque on a drinking fountain which was installed in 1889 to commemorate the people who founded the Temperance Society

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39. Head back up the hill past the memorial garden…

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The impressive church here is St Mary’s

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We were impressed by their advert for clubs (there’s the babies reference again!)

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Now it’s a case of simply walking back along the High Street to where we left our car (with a quick stop off for a warming coffee on the way)

So that’s the end of an interesting little walk we found by accident. We were impressed by Rushden as it seems to have held onto its identity & not gone the way of some towns. Let’s hope it survives the onslaught of the new development

Well done the town officials for honouring its locals

Go Walk!