Northamptonshire (abbreviated Northants or N'hants) is a landlocked county in central England with a population of 629,676 (2001 census). It has borders with Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire (including the Borough of Milton Keynes), Oxfordshire, and Lincolnshire (England's shortest county boundary: 19 metres). The county town is Northampton.
Northamptonshire has often been called the county of "squires and spires" due to its wide variety of historic buildings and country houses.
Northamptonshire's county flower is the Cowslip.
By the standards of the English Midlands, Northamptonshire is an upland county. It includes the watershed between the Severn and The Wash. Several important rivers have their sources in the north west of the county, these include the River Nene (to The Wash) and the "Warwickshire Avon" (to the Severn). In the 1820s it was boasted that "not a single brook, however insignificant, flows into it from any other district". The highest point in the county is nevertheless the modest Arbury Hill at 225 m (738 ft).
Northampton is by far the largest town in the county, with a population of 194,122. This is followed by Kettering (86,000), Corby (73,174), Wellingborough (40,428), Rushden (25,849) and Daventry (22,367). Most of the county's population is concentrated in a central north-south band which includes the four largest towns (corresponding to districts 2, 4, 5 & 6 on the map). The west (districts 1 & 3) and east (district 7) are predominantly rural with small towns and many villages. Northamptonshire is a long, thin county (more so with the Soke of Peterborough), running from south-west to north-east.
Pre-Celtic and Celtic peoples settled in the region, and there are some traces of Roman settlements and roads. Most notably the Watling Street passed through the county, and there was an important Roman settlement called Lactodorum on the site of modern day Towcester. There were other Roman settlements at the site of Northampton, and along the Nene Valley near Raunds.
After the Romans left, the area became part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, and Northampton functioned as an administrative centre. The area was overrun by the Danes (Vikings) in the 9th century and briefly became part of the Danelaw, but was later re-claimed by the Saxons. Consequently, it is one of the few counties in England to have both Saxon and Danish town-names and settlements.
The county was first recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1011), as Hamtunscire: the scire (shire) of Hamtun (the homestead). The "North" was added to distinguish Northampton from the other important Hamtun further south: Southampton.
Later, Rockingham Castle was built for William the Conqueror and was used as a Royal fortress until Elizabethan times. The now-ruined Fotheringhay castle was used to imprison Mary, Queen of Scots before her execution. In 1460, during the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Northampton took place and King Henry VI was captured.
During the English Civil War Northamptonshire strongly supported the Parliamentarian cause, and the Royalist forces suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 in the north of the county. King Charles I was later imprisoned at Holdenby House.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, parts of Northamptonshire became industrialized. Northampton and its surrounding areas, gained a sizeable shoe making and leather industry and by the end of the nineteenth century it was almost definitely the boot and shoe making capital of the world. And in the north of the county a large ironstone quarrying industry developed. In the 20th century, during the 1930s, the town of Corby was established as a major centre of the steel industry. Much of Northamptonshire nevertheless remains largely rural.
After the Second World War Northampton and Corby were designated as new towns. As of 2005 the government is encouraging development in the South Midlands area, including Kettering and Corby.
Locations within Northamptonshire:
Aldwincle Saint Peter
Ashby Saint Ledgers
Easton on the Hill
Hinton in the Hedges
Luddington in the Brook
Stanford on Avon