. This key county in the East Midlands is located between seven other counties. Geographically the county was favoured after the Norman Conquest as it lay between York and Winchester, then the capital, and half-way between the Welsh border and the east coast, it's fairly easy to traverse, being low-lying country.
. When trade was by river the slow and wide waterways of the north part of the county proved useful for barge and boat traffic. Close to the flatlands of Cambridgeshire the land is particularly low and marshy and is known as the Bedford Level.
. Getting hillier the land rises from the flat northeast towards Towcester in the south, while the western part of the county encompasses a range of chalk uplands, an extension of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. Here the towns and villages are stone built and architecture adds much charm to the softly undulating landscape. Very little is cultivated except a few fertile glens and coastal strips, and it is very sparsely populated (except by deer).
Origin of name: Comes from the Old English North Hamtune meaning northern home town or farm.
Name first recorded: 1011 as Hamtunscir.
NORTHAMPTON An ever- expanding, vibrant 'new' town with a long history - it's probably been around since the ancient Brits but does not appear on record until Saxon times. The old town hall dates from 1671. Long before Margaret Thatcher the original poll tax was enacted at a parliament held here in 1380, which led to Wat Tyler's rebellion, in 1459 at the Battle of Northampton Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, defeated Henry VI.
BRACKLEY A lovely little town, once a wool centre, with a high street over a mile long flanked by trees. Bartering on the Magna Carta took place at a castle here (no longer standing).
BRIXWORTH A 7th-century Anglo-Saxon church. One ofthe best of its kind, it was made from abandoned local Roman buildings and included Roman tiles in the arches. A hunting centre also.
CORBY Great iron and steel capital. The workers poured in from Scotland so you could go round the town and never meet an English accent.
DAVENTRY in typical rolling county countryside, this was once a centre for whip making. Automobile works and light engineering took over. Charles 1 spent several nights here in the Wheatsheaf before the battle of Naseby.
EARLS BARTON One of the finest Anglo-Saxon towers in England is on the Church of All Saints and is decorated with pilasters.
EYE This overgrown village was built on an island before the Fens were drained. A brick making centre with an imposing 80-foot windmill well seen from the surrounding flat countryside.
IRTHLINGBOROUGH This small historic town with the remains of a college founded by Edward III is the envy of many big-league sports clubs with its excellent stadium at Nene Park housing Rushden & Diamonds Football Club.
KETTERING A footwear centre with its own Boot and Shoe College.
KINGS CLIFFE Beautiful little village with a 17th- century almshouse, and church with Norman tower and 13th-century spire.
OUNDLE Narrow streets and alleys with tiny cottages and stone-built houses of great character. The church spire rises 280 feet.
RUSHDEN Another Northants shoe town, with a manor that belongs to the sovereign and a beautiful church with a 200-foot spire, its go-ahead football club plays at Irthlingborough.
PETERBOROUGH "Only one hour from London" as the ads used to say and certainly a thriving new town element with an ancient city to be discovered.
SILVERSTONE This little village in the far south of the county is the magnet for racing men - and women - all over the world as the venue for the British Grand Prix.
TOWCESTER Once a coaching stop now a race meeting venue. Several old inns including the Saracen's Head featured in Dickens's Pickwick Papers. At nearby Weedon Lois, Dame Edith Sitwell is buried with a monument designed by Henry Moore.
WELLINGBOROUGH On the meeting of the Ise and Nene rivers a once old market centre now serves many growing light industries including footwear and clothing.
. Bozeat . Brigstock . Broughton . Bugbrooke . Bur-ton
Latimer . Desborough . Duston . Finedon . Higham Ferrers
Nene, Welland, Avon, Swift.
Arbury Hill at 734 feet.
. July: Organ week at Oundle.
. Most weekends of the motor racing season: motor racing at Silverstone Circuit, near Towcester. in recent years it has hosted the British Grand Prix.
. Chestnuts mature in midsummer and Conker championships are held at Kettering.
. August: Hot-air balloon festival held at Northampton racecourse. Over 200,000 people gather to watch 90 hot- air balloons ascend.
. Mid-July: Northampton Town Show. Street entertainments in the town, trade stands at Abingdon Park and concerts at the weekend.
. Early September: County Fair and sheepdog trials at Delapre Park in Northampton.
. July: East of England Show in Peterborough.
. The great poet John Dryden was born in the county and lived at Titchmarsh.. The 'Northamptonshire poet' John Clare was born in Helpston, lived most of his life in the county, and published a book of country poems in 1820.
. George Washington never knew Northampton as he was born in the fledgling USA but his ancestor Lawrence Washington built the ancestral home Sulgrave Manor in 1560 and like Washington Old Hall in Durham it is allowed to fly the stars and stripes.
. Princess Diana, born a Spencer, spent her girlhood at the stately home of Althorp, the family's home since 1508.
. Thomas Becker, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, was tried at Northampton Castle in 1164.
. Sir Charles Isham created one of the earliest rockeries in England at Lamport - and dotted it with goblins and elves - the very first garden gnomes to be seen in Britain.
All of the County of Northamptonshire apart from Peterborough has two tiers of local government service providers: Northamptonshire County Council and seven district councils of Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire, Wellingborough. The City and Soke of Peterborough has its own unitary council.
BEING VERY FOND of Tudor history I have a soft spot for this county, for Fotheringhay Castle once stood here and in its grounds Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded. History also resounds in the names of Naseby and Rockingham Castle in this county where countless feet have trudged to the march of time. And shoes - along with agriculture, engineering and paper making - have been a long-term industry here. With traditional footwear from Church's to more mod docs - Dr Marten's - Northants retains its place with plenty of sole! The Central Museum has, appropriately, a large collection of footwear with a section showing the ballet shoes of great dancers from Nijinsky to Ulanova and Fonteyn. Less arcane is the famous Ilchester Hoard of 42,000 ancient coins (mostly of the 3rd century AD) and other local archaeological finds.
Northampton is the county town and was admired by Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe. The county seat lost its centre in 1675 when a huge fire destroyed over 600 buildings. However, it is rich in churches and there are several of particular note - one being the central All Saints, a large Norman church with a cupola on its tower, original doorways and a wealth of carving within, while another Norman church of 1110, the Holy Sepulchre, is a rare survival, one of the few round churches in the country of that period. The town hall is a flamboyant Venetian Gothic building with a clock tower and plenty of statuary for perching pigeons. Its lavish sculptured groups show local history scenes.
On the approach to the London Road is a rare survival of an Eleanor Cross (though there is another in the county at Geddington between Kettering and the steel town of Corby). Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I, died at Harby in Nottinghamshire; and wherever her body rested on its way to burial at Westminster the grieving king erected a cross. Best known is Charing Cross, but it is a Victorian copy -the cross in Northampton is a 13th-century original. Peterborough is a large conurbation and an important rail link with London. Its cathedral is a great ecclesiastical building in a town now nearly all modernized. It's so little visited however that when the TV Barchester Towers was being filmed they used it and its surroundings inpreference to Salisbury Cathedral, which has far more visitors. 'A wonderful building,' said Nigel Hawthorne, a member of the cast of the memorable Trollope adaptation. 'It has all the atmosphere and rare beauty you could ask for, and it is often blissfully empty.' The cathedral has an unforgettable facade of three great arches and a central porch, set up as a screen wall before the original Norman front. Tiers of satisfyingly simple round headed stone arches march down the nave beneath a fabulous flat wooden roof, brightly gilded and painted with portraits of saints in its rich pattern of diamonds. Few of the domestic buildings of the one-time abbey survive, though the abbot's lodgings and several gateways are still there. The cloister walks are gone. The building is set on a wide greensward and is a most impressive sight, especially when floodlit. Mary, Queen of Scots was buried here until her son, James I, removed the body to Westminster Abbey where she lies near her formidable rival, Queen Elizabeth I.
Nearby Oundle is home to famous Oundle Public School. This town is all built of local stone and has a fine mellow appearance. Boughton House, north of Kettering, has been called a Sleeping Beauty, a chateau of the fabled times of Louis XIV transplanted to England in the 17th century. The seat of the Duke of Buccleuch it originated with the 3rd Lord Montagu who was ambassador to France during the Sun King's brightest years and he imported French craftsmen and painters to decorate his mansion. The panelled rooms have splendid French pieces as well as extraordinary late Stuart furnishings. All the boulle, marquetry, gilded gesso and laquerwork cabinets areframed by Mortlake tapestries and Italian paintings, while the floors (he was the first person to import the new Versailles parquet) have fabulous Persian carpets and early English copies. The one-time monastery is recalled now only with the name of the central Fish Court, which monks once stocked with fish for fast-days. The grounds with water gardens, lakes, and broad tree-lined avenues surrounding the house are suitably palatial. Southwest of Peterborough the county is dotted with important churches - from the Perpendicular St Leonard's at Apethorpe with a massive tomb within, to St Peter's, a church at Great Weldon that is a 'land lighthouse' with an octagonal lantern instead of a spire, a Victorian restoration at Deene and a college church at Fotheringhay Here Mary, Queen of Scots, after long imprisonment by her cousin Queen Elizabeth, met her sad end by being decapitated at Fotheringhay Castle in 1584.
Kirby Hall off the A43 is a stone-built Elizabethan hall surrounded by gardens currently being restored. Deene Park - a turreted mansion and another of the county's many stately homes - has a racy history. The house has been the home of the Brudenells since Tudor times and the 7th Earl of Cardigan, a choleric, obstinate man, entertained Queen Victoria and her family here to recount his exploits during the Crimean War. (He led the Charge of the Light Brigadeat Balaclava.) Later, moral Victoria was upset at Cardigan's open liaison with one Adeline de Horsey - even though he married his mistress after the death of his wife in 1858 - and by royal order the commemorative picture of the Crimea had the queen painted out.
Adeline was a game old girl - after ten years of marriage the earl left her a widow, so she took to other affairs, and eccentric preoccupations such as dressing in a bizarre fashion, cycle riding and eventually, before her death at 91, sporting a blonde wig.
In the northwest lies Naseby battlefield, where the Civil War was effectively ended when Charles I was decisively beaten by Cromwell's New Model Army in 1645. A museum on the site shows models of the battle as well as a of Naseby, 1645. collection of vintage farm implements. The last stand of the Commonwealth came at Staverton Field near Daventry in the west of the county, when Cromwell's generals were defeated and the monarchy restored.
Nearby Lamport Hall is famous in a county rich in large houses for here the Ishams can claim to be Northampton's oldest .landed family, having lived here for four centuries. Designed as a miniature palace by John Webb, a son-in- law of the great Inigo Jones (gardens at Stoke Park south of Northampton are framed with a colonnade and pavilions by Jones), its cool classicism was given a jolt in the High Room when this large chamber was redone with exotic 18th-century plasterwork. One of Sir Charles Isham's famous garden gnomes, made in Nuremburg, can be seen in the house. Southwest is Edgecote House with rococo interiors.
Althorp, west of the county town, has many treasures, not least the pictures that line its long gallery. In the late 18th century Henry Holland, then working on projects for Brighton Pavilion for the Prince of Wales, was brought in and he transformed the house. His walls were removed in the late 1940s, revealing 17th-century panelling. Perhaps the most famous of all the house's many art treasures is the fabled porcelain collection, removed from Spencer House.
Peterborough's cathedral began as a Benedictine abbey church and when Peterborough was made a city in 1541, it was given cathedral status as part of Henry VIll's great Tudor privatisation plan, the Dissolution of the monasteries. Its site dates from AD655 when the first monastery was built, the present church being commenced in 1118. Built with pale Barnack stone, it is a rare and complete example of the severe Romanesque style. Houses designed on plans symbolic of the Trinity and Catholicism are one of those odd English things, andNorthamptonshire has two, both of them built by Sir Thomas Tresham. One is on the Rushton Hall estate,symbolising the Trinity, and dates from 1593. Everything is in threes - even the Latin quotations on its frieze are of 33 letters. The triangular lodge, which can't have been a very comfortable place to inhabit, was occupied by Sir Thomas's gamekeeper.
The house that Sir Thomas planned at Lyveden New Bield not far away, this time in cross shape to symbolize the Passion, was started in 1600. However, it was never finished as Sir Thomas's family were caught up in the Gunpowder Plot.