Saturday, March 24, 2018

16th and 17th March, Northampton

DELAPRE ABBEY ... the Opening Weekend

Some of you will recall that Northampton Battlefields Society has had a major hand in the development of Battlefield Rooms as part of the multi-million Heritage Lottery Funded refurbishment of Delapre Abbey - on the South side of the town and part of the site of the famous Battle of Northampton in 1460.

Well, last weekend, the Abbey finally, formally, reopened.  And we got our first sight of those visitor centre's rooms into which we had put so much effort.

The weekend was incredibly cold, of course ... and snow kept a lot of visitors back - especially on the Sunday ...

(Beautiful Delapre Park on the Sunday ... this is the site of the Battle of Northampton)

The first part was the formal opening and weekend of entertainment.  Such is the quirkiness of Northampton that there were actually two openings - and we were only invited to the less posh one.  It was all very jolly nonetheless ...

(Delapre Abbey's opening festivities)

There was jousting, men dressed as bears (or were they dancing bears?), falconry, hand guns and muskets, and, of course, a guided tour around the house and rooms.

The house is quite nicely done, though the medieval rooms are a little sparse on exhibits - and throughout, there are some design decisions that are - shall we say - likely to be unique to Delapre.  But I am sure those looking for the history of the house will find it all captivating.

The Battlefield.

Don't believe what the old books tell you.  It is pretty certain that the battle was not fought adjacent to the River Nene (and now under an industrial estate).  That tradition was based on a mis-translation of a passage in Wavrin and a garbled understanding of the Battle of Castillon on which the Lancastrian tactics are though to have been based.

The battle was fought in Hardingstone Field, which is now Delapre Park ... and in view of the Eleanor Cross (which looks down on the park and Abbey).  In the snowy picture above, you can still see the vestigial striations of the ridge and furrow which covered what was then the open common field of the village of Hardingstone.

(Historian Mike Ingram gives interpretation on the battlefield at Northampton 1460)

We were able to do two short interpretative walks on the Saturday - and one on the Sunday before the hostile climate brought things to an early close.

(the Fullbrook that runs through Hardingstone field - probably the small stream that was the front edge of the Lancastrian fieldworks)

The battlefield is now much altered as a result of the creation of the golf course - but the medieval details, including the watercourses and ploughing are fully detailed in medieval documents.  And, of course, cannonballs - almost certainly fired during the battle - have been found behind what we must assume was the Lancastrian position (overshots, we can suggest, from the Yorkist guns).

The Battlefield Rooms

The story of the battle is now the subject of a dedicated room and lobby installation over the visitor centre shop.   There is a plaque acknowledging the input of the Battlefields Society (though perhaps not the pain and persistence that 'helping' entailed) ...

(The Battlefields Rooms at Delapre Abbey)

Although there is no timeline ... and there are some inconsistencies in the diagrams ... the story is, thankfully, mostly right.  And, instead of the usual electronic 'push button' interpretations, the designers went for a tradition 'wooden toys and games' styling (which by-and-large works and certainly gets the messages across): visitors seem to be enjoying the content and understanding aspects of the battle.

The main narrative is presented in an engaging mechanical mini-theatre ... part mystery play, part puppet show.  Innovative and effective.  It was well liked.

(the battle narrative)

(interpretation panel)

(a small armour display)

It is marvellous to have interpretation rooms dedicated to a medieval English battle.  This is very rare and worthy.  

The down side is that there is much more that could have been done (all good, there just isn't quite enough of it) and what has been done has been squeezed into quite a small space.  At the moment you need to buy a ticket to visit the main house to access the rooms and many battlefield visitors may feel that is a high price if they have a limited interest in the rest of the attraction.

That remains to be seen.

This is a great step forward for Northampton and I hope many enthusiasts will visit it and review it.

All you need to know is in our book on the battle, of course ... get it from us at a show or on Amazon (it isn't in the gift shop as, well, it's one of those odd gift shoppe type things that refuses to stock anything serious visitors would be likely to buy - but that's another story)

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