Sunday, 12 October 2014

Northampton Heritage Weekend

Over 30 buildings and events were open to visitors as part of the National Heritage weekend, co-ordinated locally by Northampton Borough Council. Our first port of call on a sunny Sunday afternoon was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. One of only round churches in the UK and inspired by the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This spectacular church was founded around 1100 AD by Simon de Senlis after returning from the Crusades. The church has a long standing military history and is the church of the former Northamptonshire Regiment. The Regiment was based just over the road and contains a collection of memorabilia associated with the regiment. Throughout the weekend free rides on classic buses let you hop on and off at your leisure to visit the different events. Next stop was 'The Guildhall'; a gem of Victorian architecture. It was built between 1861 - 64 and further extended in 1889- 92. We had our own personal tour from a member of the Northampton Youth Forum. Today the Guildhall is mostly used for Council meetings and civic purposes, but has also served as a court with it's own prison cells in the basement. The building also houses the records of births, marriages and deaths. The basement is quite extensive and eerie in places. There is also a hidden room in the attic accessible via a secret staircase and this was possibly once the home of a caretaker or other similar worker. The building's facade is decorated with a number of statues and friezes. The statues are mostly of monarchs who either visited or had connections with the town. The town's theatres were next on the list 'Royal and Derngate'. In 1999, the Royal Theatre and the Derngate Theatre became a combined organisation, run by the Northampton Theatres Trust. Previously they had both been seperate entities despite living next door to each other. The Royal, then called the Theatre Royal and Opera House, was built for John Franklin by Henry Martin and designed by renowned Victorian theatre architect Charles J Phipps. The Derngate was built in 1983 and now also includes the impressive Errol Flynn cinema house. The Royal auditorium seats 530 and banks up steeply to 'The Gods' which is not for those who suffer with Vertigo. Unfortunately on this occasion we didn't witness the resident ghost 'The Grey Lady'. For many years I have marvelled at the fantastic artwork that is the Royal Safety Curtain. The theatre’s safety curtain was painted by Henry Bird (1909-2000). He was much influenced by Rembrandt, with whom he shared the same birthday, 15th July. Exhibitions of his work have included those held at the Royal College of Art; the Society of Mural Painters; the Tate Gallery; the Victoria & Albert Museum; and Lambeth Palace. The Northampton mural includes a series of vignette portraits of those who had been involved at the theatre, among them Henry’s wife Freda and Errol Flynn - but with each on the opposite side.. Mr Flynn certainly created a reputation in Northampton not only with the ladies but also leaving behind a trail of debts and unpaid bills.

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