An unrecognisable view of town centre

The Wellingborough town centre which attracts shoppers in 2010 is barely recognisable as the one familiar to families of the 1950s and 60s.

Today, the Swansgate Centre dominates the shopping precinct with the multi-storey car park lining up beside it in the centre of the town.

But before these were constructed in the 1970s, Wellingborough town centre had a very different feel.

"Any 50 or 60–year–olds coming back to the town for the first time since their childhood, wouldn't recognise it," says Wellingborough Museum's Ian Nunney. "The Swansgate, or Arndale as it was then, was built in the early 1970s. Rows of independent shops were demolished to make way for this. There was also a big Co-op Midland superstore – that ran along where the back of the shops in the Swansgate Centre are now.

Dulley's Brewery used to stand where the multi-storey car park is today."

At that time Wellingborough was also home to four cinemas and five dance halls.

"The funny thing is Wellingborough had a lot smaller population then," explains Mr Nunney.

Until the mid-1960s and the London overspill projects began, the town's population stood at between 20,000 to 25,000. It was essentially a very small rural town.

The influx of commuters from London in the 1960s changed the dynamic of the town and encouraged new growth.

Robert Wharton, of Wellingborough Civic Society, explains it was not just the appearance of the Swansgate that changed the town in the 1970s.

The library moved from its old home in Queen's Hall, Market Street, to the purpose-built home it now occupies near to the current market.

The market also used to occupy a different home, rather unsurprisingly in Market Street. But the ordinary market did not take over this spot until the 1905 when the cattle market was pushed out to the site where the Castle Theatre now stands.

"The hedge that separates the theatre from the disabled car parking spaces is actually stock proof to stop the animals escaping," Mr Nunney says.

Mr Wharton has first-hand memories of the markets.

"My grandparents lived above our family bookshop, Wharton's on Sheep

Street, I remember they used to dash down to the market at 4pm as the stall holders were packing up to get some cheap produce.

"Things were always marked down by that time.

"My father grew up above the shop and he used to tell me about how he would play in the gardens at Croyland and Swanspool, as the owners of these were both privately owned."

Croyland was owned by a Miss Rowlett, who kept it as a private residence, however she would allow the town to use her gardens annually for fetes.

Mr Wharton has his own fond memories of the town centre shops of his childhood.

"I used to go in to Horden's toy shop. It was a magnet for us children. They did everything for all ages, it was like Toys R Us is today. That was run by Mr Horden, and he was the one who usually served you.

"It was the same in Duffells Sweetshop, Mr and Mr Duffell were always in there to serve you."

Although the ground level appearance of Wellingborough town centre has changed, there is still evidence of its past littered all around, if you know where to look.

"Down at the bottom of Sheep Street where the fish and chip shop is today was the first shoe factory in Wellingborough, which opened in 1849.

"The Sharman family which owned the factory lived in Swanspool House which is now owned by the council."

The Golden Lion pub was also built as a private home in the 16th century.

If you look up at the eaves of the old Wharton bookshop it is possible to see carvings of the house that Jack built.

The Wellingborough Museum is also a building with a lot of heritage. It was originally the site of the outdoor swimming pool built by Dulley's Brewery to prevent young swimmers using the brook which contained waste from the near by tanners, which caused them all sorts of exotic skin diseases.

The building was then a shoe factory, before most recently becoming the museum.

If you have any photographs or memories of Wellingborough from days gone by, the Evening Telegraph wants to hear from you. Contact Laura Bird at or write to Remember When, Northants Evening Telegraph, Newspaper House, Ise Park, Kettering, Northants, NN16 8GA.

Do you remember the Arndale Centre dragon?

Was climbing through this big wooden creature a highlight of your childhood shopping trips?

Then we want to hear from you. Send photos and memories of the dragon to Laura Bird at or write to Remember When, Northants Evening Telegraph, Newspaper House, Ise Park, Kettering, Northants, NN16 8GA.