Walk 107 – Delapre Abbey Inner Grounds

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1.2 miles (1.87km)

Time to walk: Well…this is a wander so you may just decide to stay within the inner grounds, or walk further, such as round Delapre lake

Difficulty: Easy, flat & usually dry, although the circuit around the lake can get muddy after heavy rain

Parking: Free parking at the abbey

Public toilets: In the tea rooms

Map of the route:

Thanks to the Friends of Delapre old leaflet which we’ve used as a guide & updated

Delapre Abbey & Delapre Park are two of the jewels in Northampton’s crown.  Delapre Abbey, or more properly, the Abbey of St Mary de la Pré, meaning “in or of the Meadow”, is a neo-classical mansion & outbuildings which incorporates the remains of a former monastery in the meadows of the River Nene. The latter institution was founded as a nunnery around 1145 & devoted to the congregation of the great Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy

December 1290 saw the cortege of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward II, rest overnight at the nunnery on its way from Lincoln to Westminster. The Eleanor Cross at the top of London Road at the edge of the park commemorates this event – it’s due to be restored

The grounds are a nationally protected ‘Wars of the Roses’ battlefield, as a one-time site of the advance of the Yorkists during the Battle of Northampton in 1460

After the Battle of Northampton, which was fought on the grounds to the north of the Abbey & to the south of the River Nene, King Henry VI was captured & spent the night of 10 July 1460 at the Abbey as a prisoner. The nuns tended the wounds of those injured at the battle. Many of the dead were buried in the nuns’ graveyard (now the walled garden)

The Abbey was founded by Simon de Senlis, during the reign of King Stephen & later benefited from its paying for a Royal Charter granted by King Edward III. At its founding the abbey was endowed the 3060 acres. Delapre was one of two Cluniac nunneries in England. As with others the abbey was surrendered to the crown as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538

In 1542 the Tate family purchased the Abbey grounds from the Crown & started work on the gardens. Zouch Tate is recorded as having laid out a typical Elizabethan style garden. This is thought to have been where the enclosed formal garden can now be found

The Tates lived at Delapré until 1764, when they sold the estate to the Bouverie family. The majority of the present buildings date from this time. The design of the grounds became influenced by the style of Capability Brown. The Bouverie family changed the garden to one featuring fruit & vegetables, with orchards planted elsewhere. This was similar to the earlier fruit garden of the original abbey. Researchers believe the present walled garden is on the site of the nuns’ burial ground, as evidence of graves was discovered during the garden’s construction

During the 19th century, other typical Victorian features were added, such as the rock & water gardens, & garden conservatories for peaches & grapes. A ha-ha was also constructed. The buildings for growing fruit remain. Many years later & after many years being used as a private residence, the property became the Northamptonshire Record Office & the library of the related records society

Following the success of a Heritage Lottery Fund application in 2013, a £6.3 million restoration project began in 2016. The Abbey opened to the public for the first time in 900 years on the 17 March 2018

This walk just covers the inner grounds, but there’s so much to explore so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Today’s walk starts in the newly laid car park beside the direction post…

Walk south towards the two guardians looking after the gateway into the abbey grounds…

In 2015, six large medieval knight sculptures made by chainsaw artists appeared in Northampton town centre as part of a celebration of the town’s history. The wooden knight artworks were carved out of tree trunks & formed ‘A Knights Trail’ through the town centre

Each of the knights were styled to depict the historical details of English knights from the 13th, 14th & 15th centuries as these periods related to significant events in medieval England & Northampton, including the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 & the Battle of Northampton in 1460

2. Walk through the gates into the stable area. Ahead are the magnificent 18th century stables built by the then owner, Admiral Charles Hardy, who later became governor of New York

Note the stone, horse mounting steps in front of the building…

…walk to the highest side & look at the gap in the brickwork. Why is that gap there? It was in fact a dog kennel! We’ve walked past this several times & there’s a quirky new fact

3. To the left of the stables is the old Coach House which was built at the same time as the rest of the buildings

Continue to walk round the west side of the house which is also the main entrance. The old entrance was pulled down by Zouch Tate & rebuilt with the one we see today

If you look across to the park you’ll see the remnants of a ha-ha that surrounds quite a lot of the abbey. A ha-ha is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond. The design includes a turfed incline which slopes downward to a sharply vertical face, typically a masonry retaining wall. Ha-has are used in landscape design to prevent access to a garden, for example by grazing livestock, without obstructing views. The unusual name “ha-ha” is thought to have stemmed from the exclamations of surprise by those coming across them as the walls were designed to be invisible

4. Walk round the corner to the vast south side & lawn. The left side of the building was rebuilt by Edward Bouverie to contain his gothic style library around 1832

The whole of the south side was built during the 18th century when Mary Tate & Admiral Charles Hardy were living there. It really has been remarkably restored &, even though the new flowerbeds are there, some people, who will remain anonymous, still feel the need to peep through the windows!

Across to the right is the extensive park, together with Delapre Golf Course…

5. Slightly further along is the new Delapre Cafe. This caused somewhat of a controversy during the renovations as the abbey was well-known for it’s cafe run by volunteers in the walled garden. We’d taken numerous friends there & it’s sad the old one is no longer there…

Next door’s the 18th century Orangery which is now the Billiard Room (well worth a peep through the windows again…

6. It’s now time to leave the abbey behind for a while & have a look at the inner gardens. The tree on the right’s, probably the oldest tree in the park, a Tulip tree which dates back to 1750. It was brought from North America, probably through Charles Hardy’s connections

These trees are widely known for their large flowers superficially resembling tulips which weren’t open when we visited

7. Next door’s a quite remarkable tree which is probably one of the UK’s best examples of a sweet buckeye tree imported from the USA around 1770 & grafted onto a horse chestnut tree

8. Continue towards the pond, but turn left before it to see the Pets’ Graveyard. Unfortunately some of the gravestones were smashed by vandals in 2009…

Retrace your steps to the pond which is clearly in need of initially cleaning out of all the rubbish in it & then some renovation – this is a theme that we felt ran through the whole of the inner garden area

9. Straight ahead’s another example of this in the ornamental rock & water garden that was built with rocks from the nunnery…

There are plenty of wild flowers in this garden at anytime of the year

10. The path splits at this point & we turn left following it past rhododendrons that had seen their best. The bird song along here was very loud…

…but we felt someone, or somebody, was keeping an eye on us!

11. At the end of the path is a section of the walled outer garden. Only two sides remain today, but this surely could be another project

If you fancy extending this walk with a stroll around Delapre lake, turn right & walk through the rather charming Charter Wood. The trees on the left here were planted in 1989 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Charter granted to the town by Richard I allowing the town to hold a market

12. Walk back down towards the car park…

On the right are stables dating back to Victorian times when the Bouverie family were in residency

13. Now it’s time to visit our favourite part of Delapre…the Formal Walled Garden, so walk through the stone archway in the left corner to emerge beside the Victorian Glasshouses. The formal Walled Garden is spectacular at any time of year, but summer & early autumn is when it really comes into its own

14. The gardens are looked after by volunteers & they really do a magnificent job. If it’s summer bring a picnic. We know we’ve mentioned it before, but this is where the best tea room in Northampton once was – a great place to sit & sip a cuppa & eat a slice of home-made cake

Follow the north wall path – if you’re into growing vegetables, there’s a really good patch…

15. Stop in the gap between the glasshouses to see a brick sculpture called ‘The Lady with kittens’ built by Walter Ritchie & placed here in 1977…

There’s a couple more statues of note. Close to the above bench is a large statue called ‘Woman with a Fish’ by Frank Dobson

There’s another of Walter Ritchie’s pieces in the corner past the next greenhouse…this one’s called ‘The Lovers’

16. Walk up the eastern side of the walled garden…

Note how the brickwork on the wall suddenly changes & becomes more rugged. This is called the Georgian Fruit Climber Wall & the bricks allow fruit to be trained up the wall – it dates back to the 18th century

Look back towards the greenhouses to get a view of the topiary hedge – it wasn’t at its best when we visited, but by mid-summer will be superb

17. The borders in the walled garden are now beginning to come into their own…

…& it’s an artist’s paradise…

18. Look across to what he’s painting to see the Victorian Cold Store & the thatched Georgian Game Larder

Look inside & you can still see the hooks used to mature the meat caught on the estate…

19. Walking back along the West side of the walled garden we pass Park House Cottage, built by Zouch Tate in the 17th century on the site of the nun’s choir. The ‘Friends of Delapre’ tell us that Simon II de Senlis, 4th Earl of the Honour of Huntingdon & Northampton had been buried here under the original altar of the choir

Simon was the son of Simon I de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon-Northampton & Maud, Countess of Huntingdon. He married Isabel, daughter of Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester. He was prominent in ‘The Anarchy’, fighting for Stephen of England in 1141 at the Battle of Lincoln. He continued to support Stephen’s side. Simon was rewarded by becoming Earl of Huntingdon. He died in 1153 just before Henry II took over, whereupon the King restored the Earldom of Huntingdon-Northampton to his ally Malcolm IV of Scotland

Unfortunately his coffin was demolished to make way for the building of the east wing of the house

20. Just past the cottage is the Japanese Peace Pole which was given to Delapre in 1989 by Masayo Okamura. Peace poles have been erected since the mid 1950s & have their origins in Japan. They grew in popularity in the 1960s & 1970s, after they were used as non confrontational ways to promote harmony in areas where minorities where being oppressed

It’s estimated that there are currently over 100,000 peace poles around the world in over 150 different countries. Peace poles come in all different shapes & sizes, the heaviest are made from granite & can weigh numerous tonnes. The tallest is a carved tree in Ghana, it contains inscriptions in 5 different languages & is over 16 metres tall!

21. You’ve probably by this time, noticed the statue posing close by…this was donated by local business, Haddonstone in 2011 & is known as ‘The Gardener’

22. One final moan, but this is where the tea room was…

Exit the Walled Garden through the same brick archway & return to the car park where we started this short walk

It may be a short walk, but Delapre Park is a fabulous place & we are so lucky to have parks like this one, Abington & Becket’s Park on our doorstep. The inner gardens do need a bit of attention though!

If you have a spare summer’s evening….

Go Walk!