Meeting Report November 2012

This month, following the exciting finds discovered in the exploratory dig in Castle station car park in October, two representatives of the West Northampton Development Corporation addressed our meeting.


Duncan Harper the WNDC project manager of the railway redevelopment and Ian Andrews from its communication department, were welcomed to the meeting. They gave an introduction and overview of the proposed redevelopment with details of progress thus far. They circulated a copy of the original plan plus a map of where the exploratory archaeological trench was dug in October. Although the original plan showed the position of the new station building and a multi-storey carpark, funding at this moment in time had only been secured for the construction of the station building; the carpark would be built in a second phase once funding had been secured. Network Rail was leading the project management. Tenders were due in on the day of this meeting for design and construction. Work was expected to commence in April –May next year with completion within fourteen months time, so hopefully by May 2014. The archaeological investigative trench was a prior approval condition of planning consent. The report by the County Archaeologist would establish what further stages of archaeological investigation would be required. WNDC and Network Rail were fully aware of the historical significance of the site and that when the second stage came to fruition further exploratory investigation would be carried out. They emphasised that they were in a discovery stage and had come to the meeting to ascertain what FONC as a group would like to see incorporated into the redevelopment.

There then followed an intense discussion over whether the County Archaeologist’s report would be made public to enable scrutiny and critique before further action. Tom was concerned that it was often the case that archaeological reports were restricted to customer only. Ian from WNDC stressed that they were not in the process to be secretive. However, Tom and Marie strongly urged that WNDC would ensure that the report was made public as the County Archaeology Department seemed to place great faith and reliance for information regarding the castle layout on an inaccurate desktop report. The initial evidence found in the exploratory trench showed up this report to be misleading and that further investigation was needed to establish the extent of the inner and outer bailey. June also pointed out that locating the west gate could be a major find.

The final design of the station building was also discussed at length. John was concerned that Network Rail would bring in an architect who was unaware of, or unsympathetic to, the historical significance of the site. Sanaa asked if FONC could be involved in the design stage. Ian replied that the outline design would be available on WNDC’s web-site and that the station had planning parameter limits to what could be changed; however people would be able to comment on it. The possibility of a see-through viewing platform of the remains was aired and Marie said that the architects should take account of the vistas on the hill in the design. The relocation of the Postern Gate was also raised; however members were told that the final location of it would be for a future stage in the redevelopment of the site. Howard summed up that the final design should be a celebration of the Castle in a modern context.

Marie thanked Duncan and Ian for addressing the meeting and being so forthcoming. That FONC wanted a real and solid attempt to restore the Castle’s position so that people visiting in the future would appreciate the area’s rich historical past. John insisted that, although FONC would not be complacent and that there was a constant need for dialogue, he sensed a change in attitude by the public bodies, such as the Borough and County Councils and WNDC, to recognising the potential of the historical significance of the site to promoting tourism and attracting new jobs particularly to the nearby hi-tech innovation centre that was to be constructed. Duncan and Ian in turn thanked the meeting and expressed a wish to return frequently to future meetings to keep members informed and discuss progress. This was readily agreed. They then left the meeting.


Designs for the promotional seasonal flyer to be included in the notelets, for pre-Christmas mailing of potential sponsors of FONC activities such as the Becket celebration and research costs and also to key persons in the town, were shown to all present. The ghost image of the Castle was favoured as a contrast to the image on the notelet. The actual size of the flyer will depend on how much information is included. The possibility of having two separate flyers; one for those who support the aims of FONC already and another for sending to new contacts was considered. Also shown was a design by Howard that could be used as the FONC logo. This logo was favoured as being clear and eye-catching. Members were requested to e-mail Julia with names and addresses of potential sponsors to be included in the mail-shot.


The finds were sorted during the half-term break. June reported that there were a number of interesting finds such as 17th century pipes. It is hoped that the school will have a permanent labelled display of the finds. Jon is in the process of compiling a report on the Dig.


As reported last month, the University’s History Department has contacted Tom about the possibility of students putting together, as part of their first year heritage module, a mobile exhibition on St. Thomas Becket and second year students being seconded to do a Castle related project. Also, students were encouraged to be active as volunteers in heritage projects; which the Friends of St. Peter’s are interested in taking up.

Given that the second year students would need to be supervised, Marie proposed, and it was accepted, that she would suggest at the next meeting with the leader of the Borough Council that the students be placed with the Council to assist in putting together the heritage celebration of the 850 anniversary of Becket’s Trial in 2014.

Ian suggested that students should be invited to our meetings with a view that some students may be keen enough to become active members of FONC.


Marie has been invited to attend the monthly Leaders Meeting which includes the leaders of the Northamptonshire County Council and Northampton Borough Council, Brian Binley MP and the Chair of WNDC. This will provide an opportunity to highlight FONC concerns and events such as the Becket Anniversary and the placement of students as noted above.


Following a request to FONC from the University of the Third Age, it is being arranged for Jon to give a talk to them in either January or March next year.


There was a discussion about promoting a talk that will be given by Mike Ingram from the Battlefields Trust on the ‘Battles of Northampton’ at St. Peter’s Church on Saturday 24th November on the FONC website. Although it is normal policy not to advertise other groups activities on the website, it was decided that given the topic was relevant to the history of the Castle an exception would be made for this event.


John D. has booked twenty places at the Sorrentino’s restaurant for Friday 14th December at 7.30pm. Members will therefore be able to attend the December meeting and move on to the restaurant afterwards. Members are invited to contact John via e-mail if they wish to reserve a place for themselves (spouses are also invited) on a first come, first served rule.


Since the sudden closure of the Old Black Lion, the Elders of Castle Hill Church have kindly allowed the FONC monthly meetings to be held there for free. However, given that there is no sign of the OBL reopening soon, the Elders have not unreasonably requested that a hiring fee be paid for future use of the church. Very generously instead of the usual hire rate, they have suggested that each member attending any given meeting pay an attendance fee of £1. This arrangement was accepted with grateful thanks for the Elders’ hospitality.


The next meeting will be at 6pm on Friday 14th December at Castle Hill United Reform Church, Doddridge Street, Northampton.

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