NORTHAMPTON It has to be said that Northampton is an unprepossessing town with a rugged commercial and light industrial bustle. Historically its prosperity came from the manufacture of boots and shoes, but in recent years it has widely diversified. There is a large brewing industry (the British headquarters of Carlsberg-Tetley), and Barclaycard and Avon Cosmetics have a substantial presence. The 13th-century market square claims to be the largest in England. An open-air market is still held here and a farmers’ market takes place once a month. The Grosvenor Centre is a huge shopping mall with all the chain stores. Schools include the highly regarded private Northampton High School for Girls.
Northampton is a government designated expansion zone aiming to build 37,000 new homes and supporting infrastructure and services in the borough by 2021. About 8,000 of these have been built to date, mainly to the south and west of the town. A four-bedroom detached house here costs from £270,000 to £400,000. In the middle of the town, one and two-bedroom apartments in the Centro development cost between £126,000 and £169,000. Victorian workers’ terraced properties can be picked up for between £90,000 and £220,000. Larger Edwardian terraces and semis in tree-lined streets sell for £180,000 upwards; Twenties and Thirties semis start from around £130,000.
Northamptonshire has never been as fashionable as other counties north of London – people think of it as rather plain. There is little in the way of black-and-white building, and the villages close to Northampton tend to be built of dark brown ironstone with roofs of slate rather than thatch. To the north-west you will find some cottages built of cob (clay or earth bonded with straw), which require very careful maintenance. To the north-east, towards Kettering and Oundle, you break into a belt of bleached limestone. Being closer to East Anglia, the houses here will sometimes be thatched in Norfolk reed. Or they may have Collyweston slates – which are not slate at all, but slivers of very dense, light-coloured limestone.
Due west is Daventry, another small market town. It was once a coaching stop on the road to Holyhead; today it has an international railfreight terminal with links to Europe through the Channel Tunnel. Commuters have long been attracted to it, not only from London but also from Birmingham and Coventry, drawn by the M40 extension. The centre is being redeveloped to include an upmarket shopping complex and canalside apartments, in addition to 5,000 new houses across the town. A glut of new-build has caused the price of a new four-bedroom detached house with garage and garden to fall to around £170,000.
Just to the south-west of Daventry is the village of Badby, whose 700-year-old woods are famous for bluebells and beeches. The Knightley Way footpath, which runs for 12 miles to Greens-Norton, touches the western edge of the woods, which are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The village itself is built in stone and slate, though there is the occasional thatched roof. The local thatched pub, The Windmill, is one of three buildings in the village that date from before 1500. There is a primary school and a village hall where the Brownies, Guides, WI and horticultural society meet. Within a mile you can climb to the highest point in Northamptonshire, Arbury Hill, whence you can see the Malvern Hills. Four miles southeast of Daventry is the sizeable village of Weedon Bec, which has the frustrating disadvantage of having the railway running through it without a station to compensate. It has a similar range of housing and prices to Long Buckby (see below), the next stop down the line.
Harpole is closer to Northampton, and only just off the M1 at Junction 16. A four-bedroom detached cottage here could cost up to £350,000, though you might pick up a little Victorian semi for £250,000. Just down the road, on the south bank of the River Nene, is Kislingbury, a pretty stone village with some thatched roofs. It is relatively unspoilt though there is some new housing. Prices are similar to Harpole. A large five-bedroom detached house costs around £550,000.
If you want town life but find Northampton itself too depressing, then you might consider looking south-west to Towcester. It isn’t as pretty as Buckingham and it has a large belt of new housing on one flank – a new four-bedroom three-reception-room house can be expected to cost from £250,000. The central focal points are the square and Town Hall. Towcester racecourse and Silverstone circuit are nearby. Off the main street, two- to three-bedroom Victorian terrace houses sell for around £128,000, and a rare large detached Victorian house would fetch £350,000. Plans are at the consultation stage to expand Towcester and build 3,000 homes and a bypass to the south of the town.
Roade is plainer still, offering a mix of traditional Northamptonshire stone, Victorian terraces and Sixties estates. It is popular with London commuters because they have a choice of station – Northampton or Milton Keynes – or they could opt to take the car down the M1. Property prices are higher than those in Northampton.
East of Northampton you could look at Earls Barton, which has a church with a Saxon tower, thought to be the finest in the country. The village has expanded to become a small town. It has Barkers shoe factory with a shoe museum in the grounds. The fact that it is a whisker away from the A45 makes it very convenient for people working in Northampton or Wellingborough (Kings Cross/Thameslink to Leicester), where the boys’ public school is situated. A small Victorian terrace house would sell for over £130,000; a detached house with four bedrooms would fetch £250,000 or more.