Northampton

It was a fine day for a walk, so I headed back to Northampton to look for New Ways, the house that Peter Behrens built for W J Bassett-Lowke in 1926.

First, though, I walked past the church that had caught my eye yesterday. Yes, it is Norman. The gingerbread-coloured stone reminded me of Hunstanton.

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St Peter’s Church, built ca 1170 on the site of a Saxon church

Northampton is a much finer town that I remember it – but 40 years ago my idea of what made for an interesting place was somewhat different. There are the “obvious” sights like the market square and the guildhall, but there are also lots of interesting façades like this one above the Poundland and Sports Direct signs:

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and an old cinema on a prominent corner:

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New Ways – when I finally reached it – was surprisingly small and oddly situated amongst Tudorbethan’s finest. It looks as if it had dropped in from North Africa; by all accounts, the bigger windows are reserved for the rear and what must be a lovely view over Abington Park. It would be churlish to blame the sun for my rubbish photos:

It’s odd to think of Peter Behrens taking on a commission for a private house in Northampton (which he probably never visited), but perhaps even after the hyperinflation years he might have been glad of some foreign currency. Bassett-Lowke wasn’t afraid of the avant garde, and it’s said that the local builder refused to have his name displayed outside while the work was in progress.

I returned by way of The Mounts complex of public baths, fire station and police station built in the 1930s. Quite breathtaking:

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L-r police station, fire station, public baths. J C Prestwich & Sons, ca 1935

. . . but perhaps, in retrospect, just the teensiest bit Fascist? Mussolini would have liked it. Not surprisingly, in view of its modernity, Bassett-Lowke was chairman of the committee overseeing the building of the complex.

Despite its shades of grandeur, I came away with the impression that Northampton gives a taste of a low-wage, high-austerity economy. It’s busy and bustling, but its people don’t look prosperous. The same, of course, could be said about many places at present.

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