Part 1: The Castle to Tithe Barn
The Heritage Trail starts at The Castle, Wellingborough's Theatre & Arts Centre, where there is ample free parking and refreshments and toilet facilities are available.
From the front entrance to The Castle, turn left into Castle Lane and immediately right into Castle Road. London Road Cemetery gates lie on the left hand side of the corner. Walk towards the 2 old Chapels and on the right-hand corner you will find the grave of John Askham - Wellingborough's shoemaker poet.
John Askham was born in Wellingborough on 25th July 1825, the youngest of a family of seven children, only two of whom survived. He was educated at Freemans School, but before he had reached the age of 10 he had left School and been put to work shoemaking - within an industry and home environment that confined him closely. At the age of 25, John started to write poetry, inspired by an acquaintance who composed political doggerel. In 1871 he was elected to the newly formed Wellingborough School Board, an indication of the esteem that the town had for this self-educated shoemaker poet. Family life was cruel for John Askham - his first wife died, his daughter by his second marriage died at the age of 8, and his only son at eight months old. It was these personal tragedies that gave much of his work its distinctive grace and charm, tinged with sadness. He threw himself into his work and more volumes of his poetry were published. In the later years of his life his health deteriorated until his death in 1894.
Retrace your steps to the entrance of the Cemetery. Turn left out of the gates and then right into London Road. At the bottom of the road cross over and see Swanspool House in front of you.
Swanspool House was built in the second half of the eighteenth century and is a fine example of Georgian architecture, with its symmetrical shape and regularly aligned windows. The house and gardens were gifted to the town by F C Chamberlain Esq. in 1919 and currently accommodate Borough Council offices. In front of the house is the Swans Pool where for centuries swans from the nearby swan farm were to be seen enjoying the water.
Take a detour and enjoy the beautifully laid out gardens behind the house.
Carry on up Sheep Street and you will shortly see the entrance to the old zoo park on your left (notice the plaque on the wall). Turn up this walkway. At the top you will see to your right the old ironstone building of Croyland Abbey.
THE MONKS OF CROYLAND ABBEY
In AD 948, King Eadred gave much of Wellingborough to the newly refounded fenland monastery of Cruiland or Croyland (now called Crowland) with the Abbots remaining Lords of the Manor until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.
The lowlands sloping down towards the river Nene were ideally suited to the growing of barley and the uplands for the rearing of sheep. The Abbot began a swan farm in the Swanspool area in the late 1200's, the swannery being first mentioned in the monastic accounts for 1289-90 when 2 swans were brought from the monastic estate at Cottenham. The swans provided winter meats for the richer tables and wings were sold for hearth brushes.
The monks of Croyland also established a great brewing tradition that continued to play an important role in the development of Wellingborough over the next 800 years.
Croyland Abbey was the local monastic grange from which the Wellingborough estate was administered. Although the present building is Jacobean with later additions, architects have found visible evidence of the earlier grange in the present structure, some of which may date back to its rebuilding by Abbot Richard in 1281.
To the side of the mainly seventeenth Century Abbey building is Croyland Hall, currently the home of the Wellingborough Heritage Centre. Within the Centre all aspects of the history of Wellingborough over 2000 years are covered, with particular emphasis on the late nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries. Leaflets and guide books are available for sale with volunteer helpers always happy to answer enquiries about the Borough's heritage. Refreshments are also available.
Carry on past the Heritage Centre on your right until you see the distinctive thatching and ironstone of the old Tithe Barn in front of you.
Documentary evidence exists to prove that a barn existed on or near this site in the mid thirteenth Century, and architectural evidence in the existing barn suggests a date probably from the second half of the fourteenth Century.
Every year, at harvest time, the Abbot and senior monks would oversee the gathering in of crops and fleeces, taxes and tithes - a tax of one-tenth of the produce from the land - then safely store them in the Tithe Barn.
By the early 1970's the barn had been badly neglected and demolition was considered. However, in 1972 the remains of the roof were destroyed and considerable damage done to the stone by heat and water. The Tithe Barn Preservation Society set to work to renovate the building with donations from private individuals, industrial undertakings and local organisations and the assistance of the Borough Council. The building is currently used as function and meeting rooms serving the Community.
A Copy of The Wellingborough Heritage Trail and Map can be obtained from the Wellingborough Museum, 12 Castle Way, Wellingborough NN8 1XB Tel: 01933 276838