There's no business like shoe business: the unwritten rules of Northampton

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

BBC Asian Network broadcaster and Northampton local Amrit Matharu offers her tips navigating and making the most the historic East Midlands town .

If you’re planning a day out, it’s always easiest to meet in the middle – which seems like a fine enough reason to meet in Northampton, the East Midlands hub that is one of the most centrally located towns in England. Famed for shoemaking and its connection to the late Princess Diana, it’s easy to reach from England’s major cities, as well as much of the rest of the UK. I myself commute between London and Northampton with London Northwestern Railway using their cheap turn up and go off-peak returns (and even cheaper super off-peak day-returns). If you’re visiting, make sure to follow these unwritten rules and make the most of your trip.

You should drink local beer (including Carlsberg)
Northampton is home to the Carlsberg brewery, and in and around the surrounding areas of Far Cotton you can smell the golden liquid in the atmosphere as it brews. As well as local breweries and great pubs, Northampton is also home to Warner Edwards gin, founded in 2012 on Falls Farm. Tom Warner and partner Tina Warner-Keogh’s dream to save the world from mediocre gin has created several experimental varieties, from tangy rhubarb and lemon balm to honeybee, which you can see crafted and distilled on a bookable tour.

We take our shoes very seriously …
Some of the finest English shoes were – and are still – made in Northampton. The 2005 film Kinky Boots – now a Broadway musical – put Northampton on the map. It was inspired by the true story of family shoemakers, WJ Brookes, whose real-life owner Steve Pateman ventured into the niche market of erotic footwear to save his business and the jobs of those who worked for him. This is on top of Church’s (now owned by Prada), which was founded in Northampton. Other recognisable brands manufactured here include Dr Martens, JuJu and Grenson.

… And our music even more seriously
Northampton is a town that can take pride in the growing number of emerging artists who call it home, including rapper Slowthai, who is winning serious critical attention for his off-kilter Grime and outlandish style, in addition to making it to the BBC Sound of 2019 list.

Following in his footsteps is rising rap star Izzie Gibbs, while local indie songstress VV Brown (fun fact: her parents founded Overstone Park school) proves that Northampton is home to all kinds of sonic brilliance. Local legend has it that Bob Marley even performed in Northampton once. I, for one, like to believe it’s true.

All Northamptonians must proudly rep the city (our DJs sure do)
They say it takes one to know one, and listening to the radio as a Northamptonian, I’m always pleased to hear our townfolk on the airwaves. DJ Charlie Sloth, who lives in Northampton, has helped promote bundles of local talent on his show, such as Izzie Gibbs. Radio 1 and 1Xtra DJ Mista Jam also calls Northampton home, commuting back and forth to London, and Radio 2 has proud Northamptonian Jo Whiley. She was born in Bugbrooke and still lives nearby with her family. (Another fun fact: Jay-Z visited her house once. How many people can say that?)

Talking sports will win local hearts
We love sports. We really do. We love it so much that when local rugby team, the Saints, won the rugby premiership in 2014, a whopping 30,000 Northamptonians poured out into the streets to see the team on an open-top bus. Spark up a conversation with any local about our cricket club, or football club (last fun fact: Northampton Town FC’s associate director is Graham Carr, father of presenter Alan Carr) and you’re sure to win their heart over.

Indulge in some celeb spotting
For Northamptonians, seeing one of our own make it big brings an enormous sense of pride, but we’ve now produced so many celebrities it’s hard to keep up. There’s cult writer Alan Moore (of Watchmen fame), the aforementioned TV presenter and comedian Alan Carr, Game of Thrones actor Sophie Turner and YouTubers Kaushal Beauty and Louise Pentland (also known as Sprinkle of Glitter). Hollywood actor Errol Flynn worked where the Royal Derngate Theatre now stands, and has a film house named after him.

Make sure you enjoy the flora and fauna
Northampton’s surrounds are home to some of Britain’s loveliest creatures. At nearby Salcey forest, an ancient woodland, you’ll find rare animal habitats, while some of the oaks are up to 600 years old. For something more hands-on, visit the Menagerie at Castle Ashby to feed the meerkats (and spot the giant tortoise).

Festivals are a big deal
One of Northampton’s main attractions is its festivals. The family-focused Northampton town festival attracts more than 65,000 people each year, and has become as beloved as the Northampton balloon festival, now in its 30th year. Smaller, but equally stunning events include the community Diwali celebrations in Market Square and the Northampton carnival.

Indulge your inner royal at Althorp House
Althorp House is the childhood home of the late Princess Diana, as well as her final resting place. The Northamptonshire grounds are open to the public during certain times of the year, and host a number of events, including the award-winning annual Althorp food and drink festival. For other leisurely royal activities, take afternoon tea at Rushden House and amble through the grounds of Delapre Abbey. What’s more to love than a pint and a picnic in the grounds of a grand old country estate? It’s the Northampton way.