Thank you to Mike Packwood for submitting this story. The lead image is of him and his sister ‘learning to drive’ at Wicksteed Park in the 60s.
We moved to Northampton from Wellingborough in 1967. Dad was a toolmaker and cycled to work at Plessey, an electronics firm in Kingsthorpe on the other side of town. Mum was a health visitor based at the family planning centre in Guildhall Road. Our house was a 1950’s bay windowed semi – 9 Beechwood drive on the Westone estate.
The Westone estate at that time was the very edge of Northampton. When I was a lad, I walked to the end of Beechwood Drive, climbed over the fence next to the ‘private keep out’ sign and from then on it was just rolling fields of corn as far as the eye could see. It really was stunning. Just field after field all the way to Ecton and Earls Barton, stretched out along both sides of what at the time was the main road from Northampton to Wellingborough, the A45.
Westone was built in the early 1950’s around the Westone Hotel, which had been home of the Sears shoe family and post WW2 was a convalescent home before becoming a hotel – the Beatles stayed there when they played the ABC apparently. There was a row of shops near the hotel which comprised a hairdressers, a newsagents where I had my first paper round, and a hardware shop where I used to get the small pots of paint for my Airfix kits.
I walked past these shops to get to my first school: Weston Favell County Primary school, which then was entirely separate from Weston Favell Upper school next door. The Primary school was head mastered by the fearsome Mr Rickard assisted by his deputy Mr Amos (still the only person to hit me with a ruler). The only teacher I remember was Ms Roberts who also lived on the Westone estate. One day someone lit a banger and put it through her letterbox. It wasn’t me. Her house backed onto the ‘horsefield’, which oddly never had any horses in it but was where everyone rode their bikes and played football. Rachel Jones, the first girl I ever kissed lived in a house whose garden backed onto the horsefield and I used to take her cans of Spar coke that cost 2p.
At this time Northampton had green buses that went out of town, the ‘County’ buses, and red ones for the town and they all lived in the old bus station which was in Derngate, where the Derngate centre is now. You could drive all the way down Abington street and you went to the pictures at the ABC. McDonalds hadn’t been invented so you had to go to the Wimpy which used proper plates. The Co-op arcade was a favourite destination for mum as was the brand-new M&S over the road and the central library next to the arcade. Dad used to get parts for the car at Sheltune on the Kettering Road – next to that (and gone now) was an art deco garage, which was the last in Northampton where white coated pump attendants came out to serve you.
Obviously in those days every summer was fabulous – we had real seasons in those days – and weekends were spent at Billing Aquadrome in a caravan, over at Wicksteed Park or on the boating lake in Abington Park. If you were feeling really exotic you may have spent time in the shadows of the cooling towers along the Bedford Road at the Midsummer Meadow outdoor pool. Obviously, proper seaside was mostly out of the question – Northampton is about as far away as its possible to get to the coast, but when we did go it was usually to Hunstanton or Kings Lynn and of course at that time for most of the population ‘abroad’ was a complete mystery.
In my mind this was Northampton at its best. Quiet, safe, small with its own identity, useless football team, the mounts pool which my grandad helped build and where I did all my swimming certificates and the fantastic Victorian shopping arcade at the top of the always bustling market square.
And then it happened. Northampton was designated a New Town. Planning started in Northampton around about 1965 but if memory serves building didn’t start at the end of our street until about 1971.
The Westone estate and everything on the Eastern side of town, stretching from Northampton boat club in the valley on the Nene, past us and up to Lumbertubs lane became submerged in what was designated as the new part of town, the Eastern District. It’s difficult now to explain the impact that this had. From the end of my street I watched as field after field vanished to be replaced by little cardboard houses that were thrown up in what seemed like days. Lumbertubs first, then Thorplands, then the rest. There was a bit of a planning fight when an enormous and quite beautiful Oak tree was sacrificed to build the Alexanders Ford garage (now gone). It was felled at night in the end so no one was there to protest. At the same time as the houses came the vast new shopping centre, that had something called the ‘Supercenta’ in it when it opened and also a truly grim pub called the Swinging Sporran. All of which could be accessed from Beechwood Drive by the plastic tunnel bridge at the end of the street. The entire area was lit by really tall streetlamps which meant that it was often never really dark anymore.
These new estates were filled with ‘overspill people’ from London. (I never really understood what an ‘overspill’ person was). At the close of one school term our headmaster told us that next term we would be joined by a lot of new pupils and that we should make them welcome. When the new term came there were indeed countless new kids – they had walked up the road in a gang on their first morning. The school seemed to have doubled in size. They all talked funny and stuck together. It was definitely a them and us situation. We didn’t talk to them and all they wanted to do was fight and cause trouble it seemed. They were put into their own classrooms to start with. These were portacabins that had been erected during the summer holidays.
They didn’t all go to the existing schools though. A new one had been built for them, Lings Upper, which quickly gained a reputation it has probably never recovered from.
My mum, who had become one of the health visitors serving the Eastern District and was based in a house on the Lumbertubs estate that had been converted into a doctor’s surgery, told me that these people had come from very poor areas of London, where their houses were being demolished. They were told they could move to brand new houses in Northampton if they paid off their London rent arrears. Most of them couldn’t, so the London councils wrote off their debts and they were shoved up the M1 to a place, our place, which they had probably never heard of and where they didn’t really want to go. Where ordinarily a town grows organically over hundreds of years so that you barely notice, Northampton must have grown by a third in just 5 years or so. The Eastern District went on for miles but never really became integrated because the new dual carriageway, Lumbertubs Way, separated it from the rest of old Northampton. I don’t think the people really integrated either. We were never told how to help them. 50 years on it all looks a bit better. The trees have grown. But it’s still the Eastern District. It isn’t Northampton. All of those people moved in, Northampton changed completely and in the end our family moved away. I haven’t lived there for 30 years and rarely go back but I still remember very fondly those years growing up on Westone before everything changed for good.