Adventures in… Northampton?

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Northampton is not the glamorous throbbing heart of the North.  Once it was clearly awesome.  It has a museum dedicated to the history of shoe manufacture, which once it was a centre of, a beautiful guildhall, a nice market and an absolutely lovely theatre.  The rest… well… I’ve seen sexier places.  But!  It is a cliche for a Londoner to bemoan anywhere that isn’t London, and for an inner city girl to bemoan anywhere outside transport zone 3, so in the interest of defying stereotype, let’s look at the good news.

In the centre of town is some really kinda awesome architecture…

I was in Northampton to light two shows at the Theatre Royal.  The theatre is beautiful.  A proper old proscenium arch space with a lovely auditorium, spacious stage and an awesome roof (I know that last doesn’t sound like high praise, but seriously, standing on stage and looking to the grid, I was wowed).  It’s also one of few hemp flying houses still in England.  For anyone who doesn’t know – and moreover, is mildly curious – most theatre flying – the means by which curtains and bits of set are lifted in and out – is on a series of counterweights.  If you have 200kg of set, then you have 200kg of stage weights counterbalancing it, which allows the flyman to haul a large amount of weight without giving themselves a hernia.  Which isn’t to say it’s always easy – the time I spent as flyman during my training was exhausting, because while it’s all very well having a mostly-balanced system to fly, overcoming inertia one way and momentum the other on a fast, heavy bit of flying can – and frequently does – have the effect of pulling you physically off your feet with the force of it.

That’s counterweight flying.  Hemp flying has no counterweights at all.  On one end of the system you have, say, 150kg of weight, and on the other you have four or five hearty men and some rope.  There are some pros to this system… but when you’re trying to fly out fully loaded lighting bars at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning you can struggle to remember them.

As is the nature of theatre lighting, during the week I was actually staying in Northampton, I mostly saw the inside of a theatre.  Hence my fascination with the flying system.  However, the shows were awesome and the crew were lovely.  As a collective technical team I think we proved once and for all that it is possible to go into a production with absolute professionalism and an endless supply of cheese jokes, and achieve everything we need to in the process.

Despite the hectic madness that is technical rehearsals, I also spent a lot of time popping up and down from London in the weeks proceeding, and did my best to get some sort of a nose around en route.

Abington Park in spring has ice cream, playgrounds, football playing, and tree-lined walks along little streams…

First impression of Northampton: it has a lot of Chinese takeaways.  It is a great sadness to me that I didn’t get a chance to try one.

Second impression: it is magnificently served by outlets of Greggs the Baker.  Bring on greasy sausage rolls!  If you head east out of town, there’s a cricket pitch and Abington Park, where I spent my only free afternoon watching two dogs that looked closer to waggy-tailed sheep trying – and failing – to learn how to swim.  Children played, ice cream was consumed, lovers went on walks through the overgrown bits and generally speaking, an aura of ‘nice place to have a picnic’ prevailed.

It should be explained that when you’re already exhausted from weeks of rehearsal, the sight of dogs that look like sheep learning to swim is endlessly enthralling….

I wouldn’t be in a hurry to say that Northampton is a beautiful place to live, or a particularly serene one.  It is, however, a fairly real place to live, and rightly proud of some of the awesome things it has.  The theatre is a big part of this pride, and rightly so, and I only hope in the time we spent there we did right by it.


  1. I had to smile at your second sentence, and I did so as a Londoner (proudly born in Park Royal Hospital, now Central Middlesex), that “Northampton is not the glamorous throbbing heart of the North”. That could be because it is firmly anchored in the Midlands. I know it is north of London, but not everything north of London is the North.


  2. Look, a museum on the history of shoe making is a pretty awesome thing. I’m sure that just the spreads on nail styles through the middle ages act as an in depth guide to the history of metal work.

    I absolutely adore specialist museums like this. I mean, don’t get me wrong, massive multi-subject panopticons of history like the British Museum certain have their place. But they can never do more than give you the barest highlights of a subject, and are forced to only touch on the big subjects.

    But a full history of shoes? Man, that’ll tell you so much about the day to day existence of the common person!

    Now I have two reasons to go to Northampton.

  3. ” Let’s not kid ourselves. Northampton is not the glamorous throbbing heart of the North. ”

    True Enough … but All Hope Don’t Abandon Just Yet! You CAN be in with a chance of Stardom UP NORTH !

    Mind you the basic concept may be ..well let us say that we will need to find a way to inject Fantasy Authors into the Newcastle Upon Tyne Club Scene ..can you bring yourself to vomit convincingly in the Big Market? Which is to say HERE abouts ..

    Or there is the UP market alternative.

    ” Except that, as the title suggests, the four are all girls – posh ones, from London and the south. And instead of Gambia, they’re off to Newcastle upon Tyne. It’s not so different – once you get beyond tourist Newcastle, the regenerated quayside and the vibrant city centre, to places such as Byker or Walker; you might as well be in Africa. It’s cheaper to get to, and you don’t need jabs. Reality television has just discovered Tyneside, it seems, with Geordie Shore and now this. The north-east, it’s the new Essex.

    ” The north-east, it’s the new Essex.”

  4. I also smiled at the notion that Northamption might be part of The North. No. The North doesn’t start until at *least* Sheffield, quite possibly higher.

  5. However, I should learn to spell ‘Northampton’.

  6. I’m from “the North” (if not quite as far north as Newcastle) and I live in the East Midlands (if a bit further north than Northampton!).

    As far as I’m concerned the North doesn’t really start until North Yorkshire, so probably more Leeds than Sheffield – although I am open to argument on that :-)

  7. I suspect that, since the Great Recession, and the Threat of Scotish Independece ..totalish Disclosure Here -I have Scottish Ancestry complete with ‘typical ‘ Scandinavian/Viking skin colorationand or/or and what was described by a Girl that I used to know and who I bumped into a few years ago, ” How WE did like your pretty golden hair ” ..all those years of awaiting until I developed Male Pattern Baldness to get her own back!

    Anyway it must have occured to you, of YOU denizons of London- including our Hostess of course – that London has become a City State of the Wealthy and their minions that, as time goes on, has less and less in common with the rest of the DissUnited Kingdom that may not include Scotland real soon now ..Sheesh! Half a million Quids for a flat the size of a shoe box in inner Londinium.

    Only a Super Rich Supernatural Entity could afford to Lurk in Inner London these days ..for a Given value of RICH of course.

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