SITUATED on a ridge overlooking the Ise Valley (and in modern terms a surprisingly short hop from the A14), the historic market town of Rothwell is an unexpected hidden gem for those looking for a slice of bustling Northamptonshire character.
Replete with sumptuous stone buildings, a weekly market that has been held since King John issued a royal charter in 1204 and a charming string of cafés and delis, Rothwell has forged a deserved reputation for being a welcoming haven for foodies and history buffs alike.
The ridge on which present day Rothwell stands has seen successive generations come and go, and has been shaped by invaders over the last four thousand years. The area that is now Rothwell was once a Bronze Age burial site where the dead were buried alongside offerings of food vessels, before a settlement was built during the time of Roman Empire.
The Danish invasion in the Dark Ages saw the foundation of the ‘place of the red well’, Rodewell, thought to be named after the ubiquitous freshwater springs coloured red through iron and minerals. Yet it was the royal charter of 1204 permitting a weekly market and annual fair that helped shape and grow the town into one of the three largest in Northamptonshire.
Now twinned with the small French town of Droué, Rothwell has approximately 7,500 inhabitants and is dotted with intriguing relics from its rich heritage.
If you come to Rothwell for a relaxing bite to eat and a wander around then be sure to explore the ancient Holy Trinity church; containing one of only two somewhat macabre bone crypts or ‘charnel houses’ in the country and boasting the record of being the longest parish church in Northamptonshire.
Just to the west of the Parish church and opposite a park containing medieval fish ponds stands the imposing 18th century Manor House. There also the delightful cross shaped Market House on Market Hill and not far away is the English Heritage Rushton Triangular Lodge – a folly designed from alternating dark and light limestone and shaped to reflect the Holy trinity.
Sir Thomas Tresham
Both the Market House and the Triangular Lodge were buildings owned by the eccentric Sir Thomas Tresham, known as ‘Thomas the Builder’ due to his passion for unusual buildings that were often encoded with symbols of his persecuted Catholic faith.
But for those that want the full Rothwell experience, no trip will be complete without taking in the famous market held every Monday, or a visit to the week-long ‘Rowell Fair’ celebrating the granting of King John’s charter. The fair is opened by the Proclamation on the first Monday after Trinity Sunday each year and will take place on 4th June this year.
It’s the perfect occasion to sample the delightful food emporiums, local butchers and historic pubs of Rothwell and even take part in the annual tradition that marks the opening of the fair at 6am, where the bailiff of the Lord of the Manor rides through the town accompanied by a guard of halberdiers and pauses at every pub to read aloud the charter.
The Rowell Fair Society Band then plays the National Anthem and the landlords serve the bailiff and his guards drinks (including traditional Rowell fair rum and milk), before keeping the pubs open to start the celebrations. Rothwell is a well preserved slice of local market life and for those that take the time to sample its gentle delights, they will not be disappointed by its charm, character and relaxed pace of life.
Highly recommended and not one to miss.
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