“ Address: The Stable Block / Delapre Abbey / London Road / Northampton / United Kingdom / NN4 8AW „
Apparently, Northamptonshire has the most stately homes in Britain of all the counties, and some notable ones too. We have the world famous Earl Spencer cash cow that is Althorp House and the regular film sets of Castle Ashby, Kelmarsh Hall and Holdenby House, the latter used in the Oscar hit Les Miserable's. If you see a surprise movie star in your town then it's guaranteed they are doing some Jane Ayer type stuff up at the nearest stately home. Me and my brother queued up to be 'Les Mis' extras for seven hours, only for me to be rejected for being too tanned. I asked the production assistant if the tan could be dirt and I could play a serf or something but she wouldn't have it. The consolation of the ending of our movie careers is my brother met both Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman working out in the local Northampton gym a week later and got their sweaty scribbles and a photo...Crowe in far more need of the crunches than the impressive Hugh Jackman.
Delapre Abbey, alas, has no such Hollywood attention and is one of the more unloved country houses in the region, now a grade two listed building (and boy does it list) and slumped in Delapre Park, the grounds being Delapre Park. So there is no actual Delapre Park, if you see my point. It was last used as the counties records office but now lying empty and currently run by a trust, sad considering its history and importance during the Civil War and the Battle of The Roses. It's occupied by mostly young middle-class professionals and students now who benefit from very low rents of around £200 per month, on condition they are the guardians of the building as well as tenants, the idea being the keep the squatters out by their shared 24 hour presence. The Abbey and surrounding parkland did become run down and they hippies did try to take over it but the local Racecourse Pavilion is now their new home.
The Abbey was built in the 12th century as a monastery, one of two for women of the French Cluniac order in England, but like all monasteries, surrendered to the crown after the Civil War through the 'Dissolution of the Monasteries' Act, closing in 1538. In 1460 the War of the Roses raged here between the Yorkies and Lancastrians at the much fabled 'Battle of Northampton', Henry the V1 wounds tended here as 15,000 troops loyal to the King and the seven year-old Prince of Wales clashed near the close by River Nene.
The Abbey is also near Queen Eleanor's Cross, the monument to Queen Eleanor of Castile, just atop the hill if you follow the A46 up to the top of the park for half a mile; one of five crosses ordered to be built by King Edward the 1st to mark the funeral route from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey, to praise his beloved wife's death, a romantic at heart.
Today the Abbey (1000m from the town centre) doesn't really resemble its original build and lots of the more elegant bits missing. In fact if McAlpines were to build a mock country house it would look like this, all crumbly stone and gravel. It's built around a courtyard that has a nice snug tea room, with accompanying old ladies, and also run by The Friends of Delapre Abbey, and pretty pricey. It's a nice escape from the nearby town centre bustle and the pleasant rose garden makes you feel like you are out in the sticks and so why not a nice cream tea and scone? As you cant access much of the house the public tend to drift towards the open spaces in front of the house and more a place for dog walkers and families to enjoy, a decent space of rough green grass for the kids to fly kites and run around on etc, this what the locals call Delapre Park. This area was once used for equestrian events and the cross country jumps remain but only used by old nags from the gypsy caravans that occasionally sneak on these days. I have seen those town cattle that seem to have some sort of ancient rights to graze there but not of late. The houses open grounds were mostly swallowed up by the Delapre golf course built in the 1970s and so if you do go on the walks that branch off from the house then keep your eye out for stray drives, chips - and even putts! It is a municipal course after all. Some of those death and half blind octogenarians have been known to tee off on the greens.
The trust has spent some money on the grounds, which include a plan to complete the serene water gardens under the trees next to the rock garden, some stone sculptures thrown in due to recent donations. When I last looked at the serene water gardens the fountains were off, the pipes clogged and the lakes full of sludge. It needs work to be serene guys. It reminded me of a shut down holiday camp in January. Just as you enter the park to head along the long entrance road if you check to your left (if coming from town) you will see a gate and behind there is a working miniature railway the kids can ride on, extra fun as its a little known attraction. But you have to book ahead and it's rarely open as its run by volunteers.
If you do explore the gardens there is a nearby lake hidden in the woods and a nice two kilometer walk around the perimeter. But the distant traffic hum of the arterial roads in and out of Northampton behind those tall trees and thick shrubs constricted by thorns have long since replaced the roar of great battles here and remind you work is tomorrow and so no broadswords hitting shields today. How cool it would have been to actually fight for something you believe in back then than the struggle of just fighting to pay the bills to stand still today.
As far as a visit goes there's nothing to see, unless you are a history buff or something. The building has long since been gutted off the stuff you would expect to find in a stately home and know doubt a distinct whiff of marijuana and Radiohead if you were to wander around inside. It's boarded up in places and one of the most important historical houses Northampton is nothing but a ghost haunting itself with nowhere to go. But, if Richard the Lionheart is buried under the social services car park in Leicester then maybe Henry the V111 is under the nearby 18th green?