Retro: Times of change in Irthlingborough

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With the news that developers are applying to build 700 houses between Wellingborough Road and Finedon Road, including many on top of the old mine tunnels, it is natural that local people are a little apprehensive about the effect such a huge development will have on the town.

There was probably equal concern towards the end of the 19th century, a time of great change in Irthlingborough.

The small village which had previously relied greatly on agriculture and brick-making for its prosperity quickly found itself catapulted into an industrial role in which the tanning of leather, the manufacture of boots and shoes and the quarrying of iron-ore took precedence.

The population increased from 3,000 to 4,000 in just six years.

As the 20th century approached letters still came by foot-post from Higham Ferrers, but the last collection was not until 8pm – a great improvement on today.

The village had its very own police station and was well provided for with schools with the National School accommodating 300 children, the Infant Board Schools 350 and Senior School 314.

In addition Miss Charlotte Meckie presided over the Irthlingborough High School for Girls which was housed in The Rookery.

The Church, Methodists, Baptists and Salvation Army also offered Sunday Schools and these were very popular.

In fact at one point more than 300 scholars regularly attended the Church Sunday School where 36 teachers were on hand to teach them.

Retail outlets in the village consisted of several grocery, butchers and bakers’ shops, a chemist, ironmonger, furniture dealer, stationers, drapers and tailors, a green-grocer and florist.

For goods which were not readily available in the immediate locality a carrier travelled daily to Wellingborough, daily except Fridays to Kettering and twice weekly to Northampton.

Appropriate services were supplied by two blacksmiths and a horse-slaughterer, while branches of the Midland & Counties Bank and Northamptonshire Union Bank would soon be joined by two others.

Nor would it be very long before the Irthlingborough Co-operative Society got fully into its stride and offered the plethora of services which really did provide for its members from the cradle to the grave.

The drinking man was also well provided for with the White Horse, the Bull (which in those days really was a hotel offering all the services expected from such an establishment), Horse Shoe, Sow & Pigs, British Arms, Stone Cross and the Railway Inn.

There was also the fledgling Working Men’s Club.

The mile-long main street was so well lit by gas lamps that it was the envy of the surrounding district with one lamp even being situated on the Old Bridge for the benefit of those using the railway station.

There was, at that time, no development above Back Way and fields came right down to the road.

The streets were still unpaved and not even officially named – in fact, it was not uncommon for prominent townspeople to hijack a street and name it after themselves.

A certain Mr Dunmore even persuaded the Ordnance Survey to record Dunmore Row on the Ordnance Survey map but the minute an Urban District Council was established they immediately made him change its name to Queen Street, their choice.

To add to the confusion there were no house numbers before 1904 – there had been no need as everyone knew everyone else and knew where they lived.

This hopefully included the postman who had walked down from Higham with the mail.

And finally, those really were the days of Shanks Pony – motor vehicles were very few and far between and certainly no villager would have expected, or perhaps dared to ride in one, but there was the railway station and it was possible to travel to Northampton, or the other way to Peterborough and the East Coast.

But Irthlingborough, in common with everywhere else, was about to change and certainly the year 1897 featured greatly.

It was the year in which the Aspirin was patented.

The RAC was formed, even though the majority of people felt that there would never be enough horseless carriages to warrant its existence.

Kettering General Hospital opened and the occasion was most probably reported in the Evening Telegraph, which was first published also in that same year.

The Telegraph did report that the street decorations in Irthlingborough to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria were rather sparse, but the auspicious occasion was not to be allowed to pass unnoticed.

The children of the Church School were entertained to a substantial meat breakfast by the Master & Mistress Armstrong, while Mr Dunmore invited all his tenants, workpeople, the Town Band, the Fire Brigade and Parish Councillors and all people over the age of 70 to a meat tea, and each could bring his wife or friend.

The weather fortunately was warm and sunny as more than 500 guests took up the invitation.

The Parish Council’s favoured policy was to celebrate the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee by knocking down, and carting away, the Cross and replacing it with a clock tower!