Rothwell - "the place of the red well"
The ridge on which present day Rothwell stands, overlooking the gentle Ise Valley, has witnessed the comings and goings of successive generations. Here four thousand years ago, Bronze Age mourners buried their dead alongside offerings of food in coarse vessels.
Romano-British people some two thousand years later built a settlement. Dark Age invaders came next and founded the Danish settlement of "Rodewell" or "place of the red well", presumably so called because of the area's many freshwater springs coloured red by iron minerals.
By the early Middle Ages Rothwell, or "Rowell" as it is known locally, was already a town of some importance, dominating the then lesser settlement of Kettering (a state of affairs which persisted until the arrival of the railway at the latter). A charter, granted by King John in AD 1204 permitting a weekly market and annual fair, confirmed the trade. Both market and fair are still held. The market every Monday, the fair, called "Rowell Fair", takes place on Market Hill during the week following Trinity Sunday.
Rothwell - bustling town of character
Today, Rothwell is a bustling town of character and some 7,500 inhabitants. There are many active societies and clubs, a community centre and Public Library. Concerts are held from time to time in Holy Trinity Church, when audiences are entertained by a variety of musical talent and the church's renowned acoustics come into their own.
Early risers can hear the traditional Proclamation read by the town’s Bailiff at 6.00am outside the Parish Church on Trinity Monday. The fair is a very festive occasion with stalls and entertainment, attracting visitors from far and wide.
During the 18th Century Rothwell was a thriving centre for weaving, producing fine worsted cloth and expensive silks. The decline of this industry caused much hardship locally until replaced by leather working in particular the manufacture of footwear at which the town excelled.
The Manor House
Just to the west of the Parish church, and opposite a park containing Mediaeval fish ponds, stands the MANOR HOUSE, a mid-18th Century building with an elegant facade incorporating Roman, Doric and lonic columns. The doorway is particularly handsome.
The William Ball Foundry
The town continued to attract manufacturers including William Ball who came from Ireland and founded his company, William Ball & Son Limited, in 1809. The firm made agricultural implements and soon won a reputation of some note.
On display in Kettering's Manor House Museum is one of William Ball's ploughs, the 'Criterion' made in the early 20th Century. The firm William founded continued (latterly as part of the Burgess Company) until the 1970s.
A legacy of its early importance can be found in the wealth of lovely buildings in this attractive small market town. Those with time to spare to take a leisurely stroll around it are well rewarded by the architectural gems to be discovered.
The Market House
One such building is the delightful MARKET HOUSE on Market Hill, designed by William Grumbold for the somewhat eccentric Sir Thomas Tresham (1545-1605) who was also known as "Thomas the Builder" because of his passion for strange and unusual buildings. As a Catholic at a time of religious persecution, he was to spend long periods in prison for his beliefs. Unable to openly practice his faith, he encoded symbols of it into his buildings. It is no coincidence that Market House is cross shaped. Tresham gifted the building to the town, of which he was Lord of the Manor, but although work started in 1577 it would be 300 years before it was finished by local architect J A Gotch.
Not far away at Rushton, another of Sir Thomas' unusual buildings can be found, Rushton TRIANGULAR LODGE - well worth a visit.
Within view is the beautiful church of HOLY TRINITY. Its foundation dates from Norman times but the present building is mainly 13th Century. Receiving generous endowments from the powerful Clare family, it is one of the largest parish churches in the country. Entering by the west door one can appreciate the truly impressive dimensions. The Bone Crypt is also remarkable containing the remains of some 1,500 people. The church is open mornings 10.00am to 12 noon, the Bone Crypt can be seen 2.00pm to 4.00pm on Sundays in summer.
In the southwest corner of Market Hill JESUS HOSPITAL, an Elizabethan almshouse can be glimpsed through an impressive archway. It was founded in 1586 by local benefactor Owen Ragsdale for the purpose of accommodating elderly people - a function it serves to this day.
A driveway off Fox Street leads to another of the town's architectural treasures. The UNITED REFORMED CHURCH, built in 1735, has a simple facade but the interior is in a stunningly sophisticated classical style. The history of Non-Conformity in Rothwell goes back to 1655, making it the birthplace of the movement in the Midlands.
THE NUNNERY dated 1660 is thought to stand near the site of a Mediaeval Priory founded in 1247 by Richard Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Little is known about the priory's history except that it was a very poor Order. The last recorded Prioress before its dissolution was Margaret Loftus in 1543. "The Nunnery" is thought to incorporate sections of the old priory buildings.
The Arts & Heritage Centre
In Bridge Street the ARTS AND HERITAGE CENTRE displays artefacts, pictures and documents relating to the town's history on the ground floor and the upper floor has four galleries showing the work of local artists and crafts people from towns and villages in Northamptonshire and south Leicestershire.The Centre is open on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10.30am until 1pm. It is open at other times on request for schools and organised groups. The Centre is run by volunteers and admission is free. For further information telephone 01536 711550 or O1536 711175.
Also well worth a visit is the Monday morning market in the town square. A fantastic little market where you can pick up all kinds of bargains.