MEMOIRS OF JOHN WILSON of 2 Albion Place, Northampton

Extracts taken from an article in the Northampton Independent [1910]

John Wilson was the son of a Wesleyan Minister.  He was born in Ilkestone, Derbyshire.

He came to Northampton in 1837. For 25 years he was a member of the Board of Guardians,

and for a few years vice-chairman, retiring at the age of 69.  He was one of the Improvement

Commissioners for several years until that body was taken over by the Corporation.  He was also

for some time a director of the Water Co., which was also taken over by the Town Council.  For

fifty years he was in business as an ironmonger at No. 3, the Drapery, now occupied by Mr. F. E.

Fitness.  He retired in 1893, when Messrs. Mawle & Co., now of 53, Gold Street, took over the business.

 

NORTHAMPTON IN 1837

"When I came to Northampton in 1837, an apprentice to Mr. J. F. Turner, ironmonger, of the

Drapery, there were only four churches in the town and ten chapels. [Now there are 17 churches

and more than 30 chapels].  The vicars then were the Rev. William Wales, of All Saints, and

afterwards Chancellor of the Diocese ; the Rev. William Butlin, St. Sepulchre's ; the Rev. William

Bonham, St. Giles' ; and the Rev. Charles West, rector of St. Peter's.  The borough was of course,

strangely small, and old fashioned to what it is now.  Newland was then being finished, there were

practically no houses beyond Abington Square.  Great Russell Street was in the course of construction,

and north of Lady's Lane were fields and gardens, including the site where the gaol now stands.  There

was only cottage on the Billing Road.  That was upon the spot where Alexandra Road now commences,

and was occupied by a gardener named Peach.  Of course, the size of the town did not necessitate such

a quick means of communication as we enjoy today, and the national and local authorities were slow and

sleepy in their methods."

"What do you consider the most remarkable change in the state of things in 1837 compared with the

present time?"

"Well, I should place first postal arrangements.  All the postal business at that time and for many years

after that was transacted in a little room that is now the shop of Mr. Philip Nix, the jeweller, at the

corner of Mercers' Row.  The cost of postage was 6d., 8d., and 1s., or more per letter, according

to distance.  There was but one delivery a day, and only one postman for the whole town, and no

delivery of letters on Sunday.  There were only two banks, Whitworth's, in George Row, and Pecival's,

now the Union Bank, in the Drapery, where they had only three clerks."

[Above] Admiral Rodney, Drapery

"What about the water supply and the sanitary arrangements?"

"Oh! They were of course, very poor and ineffective.  There was a pump in the centre of the Market

Square, two in the Drapery, one opposite the Admiral Rodney, and one outside Shipman's Spirit Vaults,

one in Mercers' Row near the churchyard, and one in Jeyes' Jetty.  Men used to go from house to

house, as they were ordered, to supply water at half d. per gate [bucket]."

[Above] Market Square, 1847

  "A good many four-horsed coaches passed through Northampton, and enlivened us considerably

with the merry music of the post-horn.  The Angel Hotel was the stopping place for all coaches, and

the George Hotel was the posting house for all private carriages, of which a far greater number

used to come into the town from the country than do now.  The London and Birmingham Railway

was being constructed and owing to the great cost of the Roade cutting and the Kilsby tunnel, there

were frequent calls upon the share holders, which caused a great deal of dissatisfaction among them,

and delay in the continuance of the line to Northampton.  The nearest stations then were Blisworth

and Roade.  Four-horse coaches went twice a day to Roade, driven by Mr. Sellers, and an omnibus went

three times a day to Blisworth to meet the trains.

One quaint thing I remember quite well was that we were a good deal disturbed in the Drapery on

Thursday nights by the melancholy lowing of oxen which were driven through the town at night on their

way to Smithfield Market in London.  Many of these animals were shod in light iron shoes the same as

horses.  Those were the days of old watchmen who used to take their walks round the town town for

the public safety at night, and every 50 yards used to call out in sepulchral tones such information as

'Past 11 o'clock and a rainy night.'"

[Above] Drapery

"The cattle markets were held in the streets at that time.  The cows and calves were on the Market

Square, bullocks in Bearward Street, the Mayorhold, and Broad Street, and at fair times on Campbell

Square.  Horses were in Horsemarket and Marefair, sheep were fenced on the broad pavement in Sheep

Street., being tethered up to the houses and shop fronts, leaving just a narrow passage for people to get

into the doorway.  The vegetable market was held in the gutter on the west side of the Drapery

on Saturdays only, whilst poultry, butter and eggs were exposed for sale beneath the then projecting

shop windows on the other side of the pavement."

[Above] Market Square

"Can you recall any lively election incidents of those days?"

"Yes, I remember one occasion a great deal of disturbance, and the tradesmen and gentleman of the

town were asked to go to the Town Hall and be sworn in as special constables.  I was one.  We

assembled at the old Town Hall, which used to be at Spoor's corner, and we were formed up

in columns by Mr. John Macquire who would be in command wherever he was.  When the

people saw us with our staves and understood they we were determined not to have any disturbance,

they scattered like chaff before the wind."

[Above] Sheep Street

"The year I started in business for myself was 1844, in which year the Queen and Prince Albert came

through on their way to Burghley House.  They travelled by railway to Weedon and then drove in

their private carriage to Northampton.  The Corporation presented an address to the Queen just

opposite All Saints Church.  The Mayor was Mr. E. H. Barwell, who was the head of the Eagle Foundry,

now Rice's.  He was Mayor three years in succession and had the honour of being invited to the ball

at Burghley.  He took with him a presentation to the Prince a beautiful specimen of Northampton's

staple trade in the shape of a pair of elegantly worked patent dress Wellington Boots.  I witnessed

an alarming incident in connection with the royal visit.  A stand had been erected from the front of

All Saints Church right up to the top of the portico for the school children to sing the National Anthem

as the royal party arrived.  Some thousands were collected there to see the royal procession pass,

when the scaffolding gave way in consequence of the supports being pushed through the graves.  There

was, of course, great confusion, but fortunately no children were killed or seriously injured, though one

workman who went underneath to shore up the planks was so injured that he died shortly afterwards.

As the Queen reached the stand I noticed her put up her hands when she saw that an accident had

happened.  She at once asked for the Mayor and enquired of him whether there was any loss of life and

expressed her gratification that there was none."

 

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