Northamptonshire was once known as the county of “spires and squires”; the haunt of wealthy landowners and a place with several fine mediæval church spires.
This is said to be fine foxhunting country. Industry and new town developments have changed the face of Northamptonshire though. Corby was until recently one of the greatest steelworks towns, working the local iron ore. Other towns around it have grown up to service Corby industry or to hug the transport links that cross the shire.
One geographical oddity about the shire long observed is that not a single river, however small, flows into the county, though many flow out or along its borders. From the slopes of Arbury Hill, the highest in Northamptonshire, rise the Nene, which flows north-east to the Wash, the Cherwell, which flows south to the Thames, and the Leam, which follows west to the Avon and thence to the Bristol Channel.
Northampton stands in the centre of its county. It has long been famous for shoes and though the industry is no longer dominant, Northampton is the top location for the leatherworking trade. The town has grown substantially in the last decade or two since it was declared a New Town. The New Town elements are the growing outskirts of the town; the centre remains that of a traditional market town.
The north-eastern extremity of Northamptonshire is known as the Soke of Peterborough. The Soke has its origin in the Mid-Saxon period, when King Peada of Mercia founded an Abbey at “Medehamstede” and granted it extraordinary civil and ecclesiastical exemptions (or so claimed a charter conveniently discovered in a later century). “Medehamstede” in time became named “Peterborough”. At the heart of Peterborough is its Cathedral, a fine Barnack rag construction slightly incongruous in what has become a modern City Centre. (Barnack itself, with a stout Anglo-Saxon church, lies to the north.) Peterborough is also a New Town, but more comprehensively than Northampton; whole new town suburbs and concrete multi-lane roads have been spread across the land and across the Nene into Huntingdonshire.
Away from the developments Northamptonshire still retains a good deal of its old halls and manor houses and villages.
County Town: Northampton
Main Towns: Brackley, Brixworth, Corby, Daventry, Earls Barton, Irthlingborough, Kettering, Northampton, Oundle, Rushden, Peterborough, Silverstone, Towcester, Wellingborough.
Main Rivers: Nene, Welland, Avon, Swift.
Highlights: Eleanor Cross, Northampton; Fotheringhay; Kirby Hall; Naseby battlefield; Peterborough Cathedral.
Highest Point: Arbury Hill, 738 feet.
Area: 984 sq miles
County Flower: Cowslip