During the recent Heritage Open Days, I made a short list of the places in Northampton that I most wanted to see and top of the list was the St Sepulchre Church. I had visited briefly during a previous HOD weekend as part of a tour of the city’s Jewish heritage. That tour had been a bit of a mess, with more than a hundred people shuffling round the city looking at bizarre places as we went. I liked what I’d seen and I wanted to go back for more. When we got to the church on the Saturday afternoon, all the signs said the church was open for the Heritage Open Days but the vicar had apparently completely forgotten that heritage lovers would be swarming around wanting to see his church and he had booked a wedding right in the middle of the afternoon. As a result, despite all the old laws about churches having to be accessible to the public during weddings (just in case someone’s going to pop up with a ‘just cause or impediment’ to the marriage) all the visitors were told that they couldn’t go inside.
We were told that the church would probably be open again in about 45 minutes and since there was a Heritage ‘fair’ going on in the church hall, we decided to go and have a look. If we killed a bit of time, maybe we’d be able to get into the church once the wedding was over.
The Heritage Fair had about a dozen stalls laid out and quite a large area for teas, coffees and snacks. It was a typical red-brick church hall and if you closed your eyes, it was easy to imagine it cycling through a rota of coffee mornings, scout groups, play group and Weightwatchers. Would I have bothered to go to a Heritage Fair if the church had been open? No, in all honesty I probably wouldn’t have bothered. There were stalls set up by various local interest groups – collectors of post cards, local memorabilia and the like were showing their projects and their collections. A few stalls were selling things but most seemed to be rather quietly recruiting for their clubs.
We had a long chat with a man from the Friends of Northampton Castle. There is nothing today that would ever give you a clue that Northampton was once one of the most important towns in England had had either the third or fourth biggest castle in the country. I write ‘third or fourth’ since I’ve seen both claimed. I was surprised that the man from FONC who claimed it was the third biggest didn’t know what the second biggest was. Don’t try to baffle me with statistics if you can’t tell me what the bigger ones are. Today there’s almost nothing to see except one old gateway. What wasn’t destroyed by Charles II after the Civil War, didn’t survive the town planners and the path of the railway which cut through the site.
We really enjoyed talking to the man from FONC and I realised that if I was at home more often and had more free time, I’d almost certainly want to join a local history group and learn more about the area. We live in a village which claims its church is the oldest Saxon church in Europe and I really ought to find out more. I have none of the usual ‘family tree’ and genealogy interest – I don’t care and I’m not interested in finding my roots but I am very interested in imagining how life would have been at different times in history.
After our castle chat we sat down for a while for weak, cheap tea and coffee to kill a bit more time before heading out to see if the church was open again. We were really disappointed to discover that the bride had only just arrived and not even gone inside the church yet. With only an hour on the parking meter and the time nearly up, we gave up on St Sepulchre church and decided to come back the next day as there were many more things to see and do in the town.