Northampton, situated on the River Nene, the Normans built a castle here in the 11th century. This was demolished in the 17th century but some of the medieval churches still survive.
Northampton was destroyed by fire in 1675 and this gave the local people to build a spacious and well-planned town. The market square was one of the largest in the country. Boot, shoe and leather manufacture became major industries in Northampton in the 18th century. The prosperity of the town was improved by the orders from the army and navy during the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars. Housed the the former county jail, the town's museum contains the world's largest collection of ancient boots and shoes.
The town grew slowly in the 19th century until the opening of the town's first canal in 1815. The census of 1831 shows that one-third of the men living in the town were shoemakers (two-fifths in 1871). Working-class terraced houses were built in the west and the north of the town. More expensive houses for the middle-class houses tended to be located in the eastern parts of Northampton. The population of Northampton in 1801 was 7,000. Sixty years later it had reached 33,000.
The town developed a strong Radical movement and in 1880 elected Charles Bradlaugh to represent them in Parliament. Bradlaugh was not a Christian and asked to affirm rather than to swear on the Bible. The Speaker of the House of Commons refused this request and Bradlaugh was expelled from Parliament. William Gladstone, the Prime Minister, supported Bradlaugh's right to affirm, but he had upset a lot of people with his views on Christianity, the monarchy and birth control and when the issue was put before Parliament, MPs voted to support the Speaker's decision to expel him. Northampton continued to elect him as their MP but it was not until 1886 that he was allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons.
Northampton is the handsomest and best built town in all this part of England. The beauty of it is owing to its own disasters, for it was so effectually and suddenly burnt down, that very few houses were left standing. It is now finely rebuilt with brick and stone, and the streets made spacious and wide. The great new church, the town hall and all their public buildings, are the finest in any country town in England.