Chair’s address to Friends of Northampton Castle AGM 3rd February 2017 (Covering the year 2016)
Probably the most significant event of 2016 was driven not by us but by the people of Spring Boroughs. This was the Neighbourhood Plan for Spring Boroughs, it took near enough 2 years to create and consult upon, but in March 2016 it went to referendum and was subsequently approved and published by Northampton Borough Council. The plan must be considered by Northampton Borough whenever it receives a planning application for the area. As a group we have been motivated by a love of local history, but we have also been concerned to give local children and indeed, local people the advantages which historic pride and sense of identity can bring. It was extra ordinarily heartening therefore to see that the Neighbourhood Plan specifically described their hopes for the creation of a conservation area, their wish to protect and enhance local historic buildings and archaeology as well as a for a local park, providing a much needed open space for them and their children. One of the few urban based neighbourhood plans, it shows that history can bind us together however diverse our backgrounds and experience.
Gaps and hiatus
What has been less satisfactory is the way in which hoped for institutional co-operation has failed to materialise. The Churches Conservation Trust received an HLF feasibility grant in December 2013 which was meant to be spent on preparing for a larger funding bid (£1.7 million) to refurbish the Old Black Lion (Grade 11) and provide a heritage centre linked to St Peters Church. Despite requests for updates, nothing has been forthcoming and the lack of community consultation has become a yawning chasm of non-communication. The continued lack of progress on the part of CCT, is echoed by the failure of the County Council to re engage, either with ourselves, with the Borough Council or Spring Boroughs Voice. During the course of the year, we have repeatedly sought to bridge the gap without much success. In more recent months we have forced the pace by launching a change.org petition.
Potential for success
The ready response to our petition on line ( now standing at 589 signatories) and in the Market square on one very wet day ( bringing the petition numbers up to over 750) convinces me that our work to popularise and inform about the Castle is beginning to bear fruit. In 2015 we were able to measure our support in the 900 visits to Hazelrigg’s temporary Castle Exhibition, in 2016 our VR app – A Christmas Feast at Northampton Castle- had 1000plus installs. Alongside these indicators of interest and support – we must not forget what are becoming the FONC traditions of participation in local events such as the Spring Boroughs Festival, regular holiday children’s activities at the museum, as well as the town wide Heritage Open days. We rely on our willing and cheerful volunteers to risk the weather, worn out feet, occasional splodges of paint – but all in a good cause!
In 2016 we introduced a new activity for children. Our ‘Castles in the Air’ benefited some happy youngsters and the bird population. While we struggled with the logistics of getting the bird boxes erected safely as versus the desire of the makers to see their creative work in place, this is nonetheless something we might want to do again.
Behind the Scenes
We have continued to make a strong contribution to the information available to tourists and locals about the history of Northampton Castle, through speaking engagements by our individual members, by well produced leaflets and on line information sharing. In 2016 our leaflets appeared in local venues, hotels and TIC. Our logo has featured on other websites, for example, for cyclists. Meantime we have intervened in consultation processes – about the creation of a County wide heritage strategy and about the next stage of the Local Plan.
We have also been able to use our VR app and headsets to support the growing activity at Hazelrigg house. Looking Glass Theatre has proved a willing partner in running schools based tours of the Castle site, and our VR Christmas Feast was also featured in their Christmas Santa Claus event in 2016.
Our partnership with Northampton Borough Council has been slow to develop, with the wooden knights for a long time seeming to be the only indication of their intent to help. But I hope we are now on the cusp of a more visible commitment to the Castle Mound area, which I hope to report on soon. This alongside the promised academic review of the Castle’s archaeology from Brian Giggins due out later this year and a new history featuring Northampton’s Earls by Mike Ingram gives me cause to look forward to a good year ahead.
Finally I would like to thank FONC members for the way you have exemplified the virtues of volunteering in 2016. It would be invidious to pick out individuals, but some of you have had to go well outside your comfort zone and develop skills you did not know you had. You have been willing to try, willing to support, willing to give your skills and learn new ones. With this kind of spirit we can look forward to 2017 with confidence.
Dr Marie Dickie OBE
Friends of Northampton Castle are holding an ‘Easter Holiday Children’s Workshop’ to raise awareness of Northampton Castle.
On Friday 7th April
At Abington Park Museum
Primary school aged children who must be accompanied by a parent or carer.
Book through Northampton Museum 01604 838111
Build a Lego castle, complete castle jigsaws, dress up as a knight or a princess, colouring, use the iPad and laptop to discover what life in Medieval Northampton would be like, and much more!
We at FONC have long been campaigning for a Heritage Gateway, with the support of many townsfolk and local groups.
Spring Boroughs Voice recently held a press conference to publicise their vision for the site, stating that “there has been a clear wish of residents to reflect the historical importance of this part of town into the plan. Residents want to open up views of St Peters Church and Castle Hill Church; they want to reduce the overbearing impact of Sol Central; they want a place where residents and passers by could learn about the history of Northampton Castle and Spring Boroughs; and they want a safe and attractive open space.”
Their full proposal is detailed, realistic, and exciting, and we urge our readers to pledge their support by sharing links on facebook, talking about the issue with friends, and signing our petition for the council to renew their promise to deliver a Heritage Gateway.
Download the full proposal, and sign the FONC petition today!
Review of the year
The Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” might well have applied to FONC this year. In last year’s address I was able to point to a number of products of our lobbying of the local authorities – to the Castle exhibition at Hazelrigg House, for example and the still recent clearing of the Castle House site and to the “temporary “ purple hoarding that now surrounded it. Since then it has become clear that the County Council has withdrawn from the leadership of the Heritage Gateway project. Instead we have a smaller more focussed group working with the Borough Council to make what progress we can incrementally. We have remain committed to that overall vision for a heritage park linking the main listed buildings and significant archaeological sites in the area , but we cannot pretend that progress is how we would wish it to be.
We have had a good deal to celebrate this year not least the spectacular success of Becket anniversary project. We have continued to provide a strong presence at history events, grown our school work and added a new dimension to our 3d animation. Members have turned to and made a success of our second time in the people’s museum gallery, adding workshops for children to the offer. Indeed, the Echoes of the Castle Exhibition in Hazelrigg now features ideas used there – the Lego and the dressing up kits, for example. We can take some credit too for the fact that this Exhibition is taking place – for it was based on our lobbying and the popularity of our tours. I can announce tonight that over a 2 month period the Exhibition as had over 900 visitors! This surely proves our point about the popularity of our lost Castle.
Know anyone with primary school aged children? We have a date for the diary! Our popular free Castles in the Air workshop is back!
The handover of keys at the new Northampton Railway station will take place on Monday 12th January and included in his tour of the station will be a presentation by Pixel Creative Technologies and the Friends of Northampton Castle.
The railway station and tracks stand on the site where Northampton Castle once stood. Though some remains are still buried under grass on the opposite side of St Andrews Road. Mobilising local opinion, the Friends have been able to gain some significant acknowledgement for the Castle in the way the new station has been decorated.
Happy New Year to all our friends, fans and followers! After extensive campaigning by FONC, 2015 should be the year we see Castle Green come into existence, enabling Northampton people and visitors to trace our history back for a thousand years and to enjoy that prospect in a delightful green, open space.
We are delighted to present local artist Elke Pollard’s vision for Castle Green. We feel that this space could provide an exciting new venue for community events and contribute to the regeneration of this part of the town centre.
Work to demolish a vacant office block in Northampton’s town centre as part of the town’s Heritage Gateway project has started.
Northamptonshire County Council, Northampton Borough Council, Friends of Northampton Castle, the Churches Conservation Trust and the University of Northampton are working together on the Heritage Gateway project.
Northampton’s Masque Theatre are putting on a performance of “Becket” by Jean Anouilh to mark the 850th anniversary of the trial of Thomas Becket at Northampton Castle.
The performance will at held at the Guildhall in the atmospheric Great Hall between Wednesday the 8th and Saturday the 11th October 2014.
It was during his trial that Becket fled from the castle and made his way to France pausing, as legend has it, to take a sip of water from the spring, now Becket’s well, at the end of Derngate by Becket’s Park. Continue reading