“ Location: Northampton „
Becketts Park in Northampton is an awkward piece of grass that keeps the town center far enough away from the nearby River Nene not to exploit the water for commerce reasons and so stop enhancing the town. The Park is like the towns back garden. I have always felt that if the river was more open and embraced by the town centre it would be a much better place to be. But as it is the river slips through Europe's third biggest town unnoticed, only making the headlines when it overflows, which it spectacularly did in Easter 2000, flooding a wide channel through the town down the track of the old railway and causing mayhem. New flood gates and measures have been bought in since and we haven't had anymore central floods although that gave the council confidence to build tons of flats on those flood plains and so more property floods to come, no doubt, the classic paradox with town planning when rivers are around. Billing Aquadrome, just down the Nene, continues to flood every other week in the winter. Well it is a water park!
The park was named after Thomas A Beckett, who stopped there for a drink of water in 1164, enough for that honor, apparently. Why that earns the naming of a park is confusing. In 1460 the War of the Roses also crossed into the park when the battle of Northampton raged at the nearby Delepre Abbey, one of the kings strongholds. In 1590 it became a milling site as the water was easily drawn from the river and then by 1612 regularly flat horse gypsy races were held on the other half of the park green that runs down the river across the bridge.
It currently has some decent tennis courts and play areas for the kids although yobs and louts have long since seen off the bowling greens, a pathetic pitch and put also canned. Bowling greens are closing down across Northampton because of drunken Poles and chav's hanging out in the parks scaring the pensioners and it makes me sad that the old folks are being denied their favorite pastime. Looking forward to that that once week outing is enough to keep them sane. This summer saw the official Olympic big screen placed in the park and rather poorly attended. The big square of green grass here used to be a great office crumpet spot in the summer where the legs were browned and the second blouse button undone to catch the son but now adorned by mostly down and outs banned from the town centre for drinking Tenants in the church yards.
It has reasonable river walks with benches to feed the ducks if you nip down in your lunch hour and part of the great Nene Valley Way walk across East Anglia. Lots of bearded men (and women) in woolly socks and kagol's can be seen plouging on to Willingboro with rucksacks and floppy hats covered in tin badges. 'Come on dear, we will soon be at Billing Lock! The attraction of walking along a river through Northamptonshire does not appeal. You can also take river boat rides in precarious kayaks but they are leaky and there never seems to be anyone there to set you up in the boats, again a wasted opportunity. The river needs to be seriously exploited here. We also have a brand new bespoke marina for the occasional barges that use the canal part of the river but it remains locked all day with just two or three boats there.
Where the old power station used to be is some ugly derelict land across the river, now used by homeless immigrants with a small tent city behind there. In the summer the old structure is a secret tagging spot for the countries top graffiti artists and the great Banksy has some of his early pieces there, a hidden secret few people know about. There are plans to level it and build a campus of Northampton University there, which would dramatically bring the river area to life with that regeneration. But there are also plans to expand the town's shopping centre that have dragged into their 2oth year now. We are not hopeful. When the economy does turn Northampton's river has great potential, if a dreamer gets the job.
The park is cut into two parts. One half is near town and the other down by the Bedford Road, sliced in half by the access road to the old Avon factory, which closed down and went to Poland for cheap labor, ironic when all the Polish cheap labor is now in Northampton and working at the nearby and depressing Brackmills industrial estate. This part of the park is mostly used for a Christmas overflow car park and where the circus pitches up when it comes to town. Sadly, after the way we treated that elephant, the circus doesn't come much anymore. There are walks along the river in this bit but in the bad old days the toilet block used to be a notorious gay men's hang out and they would congregate there every evening, occasionally jumping out of the bushes on the river bank to unsuspecting workers returning from their shifts on Brackmills, resulting in one or two stories in the local press of hefty Eastern Europeans just off their national service lumping the homosexuals into the river. Needless to say the gay gays have long since gone elsewhere. It was near the kids play area and all very unsavory although the toilet block has been leveled now and we have a new kid's skate park instead.
As far as parks go it's not great. The town always wasted the rivers potential and the Nene's only use these days seems to be for the nearby Carlsberg brewery to suck up the water to make their beer, why it tastes the way it does. It's always the same with English town planners that they box tick and don't dream. Maybe that famous water Thomas A Beckett did was a secretion, not a swig a thousand years ago, fitting to the park today if you ask me.