Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

Leading the Way:  How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

In 1914, the nation went to war.  In the fervour that followed the despatch of the British Expeditionary Force, young men signed up in their droves.  For many it was a jolly jape.  Most believed it would be over by Christmas.  Few gave thought to what laid ahead of them, whilst back at home, the authorities had to make plans to care for the wounded who would be sent back to Britain away from the theatre of war.  The Great War was the first war of its kind.  No one had any concept of the impact of this type of fighting or how many casualties would result from such a war.

Plans were being put in place, setting aside beds for the wounded heroes.  How many beds would they need?  How long would they be needed for?  Who was going to pay for it?  How much would it cost?  What would happen to the soldiers when their medical needs had been met?  What would be the psychological impact?  What happens next?

At the start of the war, these were among the questions that needed answers.  What wasn’t foreseen was the sheer volume of wounded that would require care.

As part of the Community and Conflict Project, it was decided that some research needed to be done into how the wounded soldiers of the Great War were cared for in the county of Northamptonshire.  The research revealed who was responsible for the care and how this was paid for, and who was responsible for the coordination of funding and care.  The research shows the complexities of such an operation and the logistical difficulties of the task ahead.

Wounded Soldiers

Wounded Soldiers

Come along to our Museum talk on Tuesday 22 September 2015 at 7pm to explore how Northampton and the county rose to the occasion, who was involved, and endeavours to show that Northampton did indeed, lead the way.

All talks £5, ring 01604 837397 to book. Tickets also available on the door.

Shoe of the Month – Beaded Boot

It’s all in the detail.

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is always keen to collect footwear from new and contemporary shoe designers, and so was delighted to welcome  this stunning boot to its collection.

Laura Risbridger graduated from De Montford University in Leicester with a degree in Footwear Design (BA Hons). She has since gone on to work with designers and shoemakers  in the UK and in Germany working on handmade shoes.

This boot was designed as part of a small collection put together in 2010 that was inspired by a fascination for old Romanian gypsy culture and their love of decorative embellishment.

The boot has thousands of tiny glass and Swarovski beads that were all individually hand appliquéd on to the leather upper, which  took over 100 hours to complete.

Beaded Boot

Beaded Boot

Laura said: “This technique  is something I love to do, really bringing back the glamour and art of the old shoemakers who created one off, beautiful couture shoes. Keeping alive the craftsmanship of shoemakers before with modern techniques and design is both a privilege and a pleasure.”


The Finds of Roman Northamptonshire

A review of ‘The Finds of Roman Northamptonshire’. A talk by Julie Cassidy, Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire

By Louise Hannam

Thursday 14th May 7.30pm

Coming from an Archaeology/ Egyptology background and holding an interest in local history, I was especially looking forward to attending ‘The Finds of Northamptonshire’ talk held at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. As I had discovered a further understanding of Northampton history whilst working at the museum, I felt that this was not an evening to be missed. I was proved right, as Julie Cassidy did not disappoint!

The talk began by explaining the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the distribution of Roman finds throughout Northamptonshire. Important Roman towns were established throughout the county such as Towcester, Kettering, Duston and Irchester. Roman villas in Northamptonshire included Brackley, in which a villa and bath house were situated.

Map of Northamptonshire

Map of Northamptonshire

Image reproduced from ‘The Archaeology of Northamptonshire’ (2004) Northamptonshire Archaeology Society. Edited by Martin Tingle.

The mention of the bath house particularly interested me as I had previously excavated a Roman Bath house with the University of Sussex in Barcombe, East Sussex.  This experience thus enabled me to identify with the finds that Julie continued to show throughout the evening.

It was exciting to see an abundance of high quality, well preserved objects from this era, deriving from another county that I was now living in. It really brought home how this culture had spread, not only from Rome and across Europe, but across the country, as parallel objects and sites were to be found in the Midlands, as well as London and Southern England, of which I was already familiar with.

There were various finds that particularly stood out to me; the first was the head from a statue of Marcus Aurelius with pointed beard and intact glass eyes. It was found at Brackley and had since resided on a farmer’s mantel piece until being identified as an authentic Roman find.  Few Roman statues maintain their original glass eyes due to their value, so it is not surprising that the find is now on display in the Ashmolean Museum.

Statue Head of Marcus Aurelius

Statue Head of Marcus Aurelius

Portable Antiquities Scheme (BERK-E24C84)

The second object that I found extremely intriguing was the frog lamp fitting found in Wilby, near Wellingborough. The find consisted of a metal frog with a lion’s head attached but its use was unknown. Once the object was researched however, a parallel was found. This was a lamp from Pompeii dating to 79 CE, now displayed in Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in the University of Michigan.  The parallel revealed that the Wilby frog was also originally from a high status lamp, and not locally made, meaning it was a Roman object imported to Britain. This therefore demonstrates the importance of discovering such finds, as they can widen our understanding about the history of our local area.

Frog lamp fitting found Wliby

Frog lamp fitting found Wliby

Portable Antiquities Scheme(NARC-81E575)                

The final finds that should be mentioned, were the references to a ‘raven’ or ‘eagle’.  These were in the form of a bronze figure of a bird (use unknown), and a finger ring with a carved depiction of a bird and man running away from it. Although there is evidence to suggest that representations of eagles and ravens were present in the Roman British era (Durhama & Fulford 2013) (Serjeantson and Morris 2011), I couldn’t help thinking that the bird in fact represented a falcon, or a form of Horus; the ancient Egyptian god of kingship.

Bronze Figure of a Bird

Bronze Figure of a Bird

Portable Antiquities Scheme (NARC-BE3893)

Finger Ring

Finger Ring

Portable Antiquities Scheme (BUC-2D8DA5)

It was not uncommon for Egyptian Gods to be assimilated into Roman religion. The cult of Isis for example, spread through the Roman Empire and was worshipped at various sites within the Romano-British era. Horus was therefore incorporated into the Roman British religion in the form of Harpocrates; a human version of the deity (Potter 1997) also known as the god of silence (Aldhouse-Green 1983, 25).  However obscurer versions of the god were also portrayed within this era, such as the falcon form. An example of this was demonstrated by a figurine at Farley Heath in Surrey (Aldhouse-Green 1983, 26). Therefore, this could suggest that the bird representations on the finds shown by Julie were a form of Horus or Harpocrates, but further research would need to be undertaken in order to confirm this.

This entry is just an example of what can be taken away from archaeological finds that Julie comes across on a daily basis as Finds Liaison Officer. It must be a truly enthralling career to have, and this was certainly reflected by Julie’s enthusiastic manner throughout the talk. I thoroughly recommend attending similar talks in the future and I will be looking to become more involved within the Portable Antiquities Scheme myself, whether it be through volunteering to record finds or assist with the talks.

To find out more about the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Northamptonshire, visit www.finds.org.uk or email Julie Cassidy directly on: FLO@northamptonshire.gov.uk


Aldhouse-Green, M.J. 1983. The Gods of Roman Britain. Osprey Publishing.

Durhama, E.and Fulford, M. 2013, ‘Symbols of Power: The Silchester Bronze Eagle and Eagles in Roman Britain’, Archaeological Journal 170, (1) ,pp 78-105.

Potter, T.W. 1997. Roman Britain. 2nd Edition. London: British Museum Press.

Serjeantson, D. and Morris, J. 2011, ‘Ravens and crows in Iron Age and Roman Britain’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 30, (1), pp 85-107.


From Wives and Daughters to Citizens Talk

From Wives and Daughters to Citizens

Reflections of the talk  by John Buckell

Advertisment Adnitts Bros, The Drapery

Advertisement Adnitts Bros, The Drapery

Advertisement, Northampton Independent, 7th July 1917. Northamptonshire Records Office. Courtesy of Northamptonshire Newspapers.

A predominantly female audience listened to this talk on the work women did in  World War One, the opening up of opportunities for women, and the subsequent enlargement of their rights.

The talk covered work on the land, in boot and shoe factories and munitions factories, as well as other occupations, including teaching, nursing, in the army, police and postal service and on the trams. These were just a small fraction of the jobs that women took on. Other related topics addressed were trade unions, and food and fuel shortages at home which led to rationing in 1918. Finally, there was a brief look at women’s involvement in public life before, during and after the war, including the Northampton suffragists and suffragettes. It concluded with the introduction of parliamentary votes for women in 1918, on narrower terms than those for men, with a property qualification and higher age threshold. Nevertheless, the immediate post-war period saw a number of firsts for local women – as councillors, magistrates and mayors. In 1923, Northampton’s first female Member of Parliament, Margaret Bondfield, was elected, and political candidates were already addressing women’s concerns.

A number of interesting questions were raised, both in open forum and privately after the formal meeting. I present them below with possible answers.

  1. Was any childcare available for mothers who went out to work?
  2. Very little. The government prioritised munitions work, and provided funds for day care centres for munitions factories. There were about 100 in the country. I am not aware of one in Northampton. However, a charity day care centre, run by the Queen Victoria nurses, and attached to their maternity home, was in existence before and during the war, but it seems it mainly catered for poor mothers who had to go out to work. Most working mothers would have to depend for childcare on family members, friends or neighbours.
  3. Q. Was there any increase in industrial accidents as a result of inexperienced women coming into the workforce?
  4. I don’t know the answer to this. There were certainly occasional explosions at munitions factories, in which women workers died, sometimes in large numbers, but I’m not aware of any in Northampton. Most information about wartime accidents on the Internet relates to these explosions. However, with long hours, relatively short training periods (four weeks of evening classes for munitions workers, for example), and piece work, it would be surprising if accidents didn’t increase in both industry and farming. There was much less awareness of health and safety in that period, and it seems highly likely that many accidents went unrecorded. All of which simply increases admiration for workers on the home front, male and female.
  5. Why was the government so slow to introduce rationing?
  6. For the first three years of the war the government tried to control prices by a series of food orders. However, both the trade union movement (locally and nationally) and the Northampton Food Control Committee consistently called for compulsory rationing. No doubt rationing was seen as an unprecedented, and particularly autocratic measure, inconsistent with British liberal values, but an equally autocratic measure, conscription, was introduced when the government felt it was necessary. By early 1918 there was a severe meat shortage, and German unrestricted submarine warfare was having an effect. In World War Two, the government introduced both conscription and rationing from the start.

Other points of interest emerged in discussion. These included:

The important role women played on committees, for example the War Agricultural Committee, etc.

The large number of prominent women in public life who remained unmarried. Was this because they valued the independence they had achieved and did not wish to risk losing it? In the case of suffrage campaigners, particularly, the married ones all had sympathetic and supportive husbands.

How little women’s role in the war is written or talked about, compared with that of men, and the difficulty of finding records of the contributions of individual women.

I am grateful to everyone who attended my talk, and for the interesting questions raised and comments given.

The Battle of Aubers Ridge – 9th May 1915

Geoff Grainger – Final Blog

The Battle of Aubers Ridge – 9th May 1915.

When I volunteered for this project I had little knowledge about Aubers Ridge or that I would eventually walk this once hallowed ground in northern France.  Despite previous studies of WW1, I had come across Aubers only fleetingly, as one of the Allies’ failed attempts to help break the deadlock on the Western Front in 1915. In the annals of the Great War it was considered a sideshow to a larger and partly successful French offensive fifteen miles to the south and had become largely forgotten.

For the British Army, Aubers was a ghastly failure, which threatened to undermine the authority of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French – indeed the subsequent Shell Scandal toppled the Liberal Government. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener only just survived, because political attention was perhaps conveniently diverted to another, larger failure, at Gallipoli.

For the Northamptonshire Regiment however, it was massively significant, as indeed it was for the County’ communities. In just a few hours on 9th May, the Steelbacks suffered a tenth of their casualties killed during the whole war. In Northampton very few streets were not visited by a telegram boy bearing the dreaded War Office notification. For hundreds of families news was not forthcoming as loved ones were posted ‘missing’, and the agony of uncertainty went on for many months. By delving into the local press coverage I was able to discover many tragic tales of suffering and broken families. I was brought face to face with the reality behind the hundreds of names of men of the Shire that appear on memorials to the Missing.

Most distressing were the appeals for news from relatives who could get no information from the War Office. As I read I already knew that these brave soldiers were never to be seen again or have a burial place. For the Missing there was no ‘corner of a foreign field’ – only their names on vast memorials.

And so to Saturday 9th May 2015

The Museum’s publicity machine  worked well because my talk at 1pm was sold out, despite the General Election and VE DAY commemorations. Helped perhaps by the Chronicle and Echo feature on Thursday 7th May and my BBC Radio Northampton interview early on Saturday morning, a second talk was scheduled for 3pm and that almost sold out as well.

Thank you to Northampton Museum for not forgetting the 9th May 1915, and for staging the event at Abington Park. Thank you also to all the good folk who took the trouble to attend or to share their stories of that dreadful event.

This was arguably the blackest day in the history of the County and deserved to be acknowledged as such. I feel privileged to have been able to play a small part in perpetuating its commemoration.

As a result of my research into the tragedy of Aubers Ridge I also made an intriguing, if sinister, discovery. I had been vaguely aware that a certain Adolph Hitler had been a regimental runner in Flanders in 1915. During the course of my investigations here and in France I discovered that his unit, the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, had been opposite the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment – in fact only some 350 yards directly across No Man’s Land. Further research into German archive material and eye-witness statements showed that Hitler was present at the battle of Aubers Ridge. He was a runner in the sector in front of the 2nd Northants, carrying despatches to and from his regimental HQ and the front line. Fate must have played a big part in keeping him alive.

So to my final reflection after these months of research?

Might a Steelback’s bullet have changed the course of history?

What might have been the destiny of the modern world if Hitler had not survived that day in May 1915?

Geoff Grainger

25 May 2015



The War Memorial of Northampton Town

The War Memorial of Northampton Town

Update on my research  by Angela Malin


I’m continuing my research into the War Memorials of the town ready for my talk on 18 July at the Museum.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at reports in newspapers. It is interesting to see the difference in how events and stories are depicted in the two local newspapers of the time – the Mercury and the Independent, the former reports more on council and civic goings in whilst the latter is more people orientated.

Whilst there was a need for the town to commemorate its dead, it is clear to see that life goes on. There was much concern in the year or two after the Armistice over the lack of employment opportunities for disabled ex-soldiers and the need for additional housing now with the great influx of returning servicemen.

There is little coverage on how the costs for the various memorials were met.  For some, I have been able to find subscription lists where parishioners paid a few pence a week as and when they could, supplemented by fundraising events.  Occasionally, the cost was met by the family of one of those killed in the war as a way of honouring their memory.

Decisions also needed to be made by the organising committee on the form of memorial – should it be a stone cross outside, a tablet on the church wall inside, perhaps a stained glass window or new reredos.   Many parishes erected plaques listing those who served as well as commemorating those who died in service.

Plaque in St Giles Church

Plaque in St Giles Church

Unbelievably, it took until May 1938, just a year before the outbreak of the Second War World for the Memorial to those men of the Borough of Northampton to be unveiled in Abington Square.

Angela Malin

Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Talk by John Buckell, Wednesday 1st July 2015, 7 pm

Northampton Borough Military Service Tribunal

Northampton Borough Military Service Tribunal

The Northampton Borough Military Service Tribunal

(from W. H. Holloway Northamptonshire and the Great War, Northampton Central Library)

Since retiring from teaching I have given talks, and written articles and books on local history, especially about the First World War. At the museum on 1st July, I shall be speaking about Northampton’s World War One conscientious objectors. I have immense admiration for the courage and commitment of the men and women who served abroad in the armed forces or on the home front. They rose to a challenge which, at that time, was unique to their generation, and I have written about them elsewhere.

However, for a minority of British men and women, the war presented a different challenge. These were people who were convinced that the war was wrong; that the slaughter could not be justified. Some refused to support the war effort, others actively opposed it, while many no doubt kept their opinions to themselves. With the introduction of conscription in 1916, however, men of military age could longer avoid making a decision. Did they go into the armed forces when summoned, or refuse to fight on grounds of conscience? My talk on 1st July is about the Northampton men who made a principled stand against the war, and became conscientious objectors (C.O.s). They were part of a nationwide anti-war movement.

The stories of 60 Northampton C.O.s can be found in the records of the Northamptonshire Appeals Tribunal. Our county is one of a tiny handful which did not destroy these records at the end of the war. There were more objectors from the other towns and villages in Northamptonshire, but I shall focus on the men from the county town. The 60 probably represent the tip of an iceberg, for the Appeals Tribunal was a second stage in the application procedure. Many more did not get beyond the first stage – the Northampton Borough Tribunal. These cases were sometimes reported in the local press, but without divulging their names.

C.O.s came from all parts of the town, and from all walks of life – clerks, schoolteachers, factory workers and so on. Their motives were also various. Some had religious reasons for refusing military service, and represented a wide spectrum of Christian denominations. Others had moral grounds for objection, including atheists and agnostics, while many more were political objectors. Some accepted non-combatant service in the army, while others were prepared to undertake alternative “work of national importance.” A smaller number endured prison rather than compromise with the military machine.

My talk will tell the stories of representative and interesting individual examples, including that of a man who left a diary of his experiences. Many endured censure, hardship and tribulation, loss of friends and careers, but most were not lone individuals. They belonged to organisations or communities from which they could draw support. The network of men and women who gave sympathy and practical help is also part of the story I shall tell. It is a fascinating glimpse of an aspect of the First World War which is often overlooked.