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Delapré Abbey - the south front
Delapré Abbey (The Abbey of the meadow), or more properly, the Convent of St Mary De La Pré, was founded about the year 1145 in the meadows of the River Nenemarker to the south of Northamptonmarker as a Cluniacmarker nunnery.

The convent was founded by Simon of St Liz in the reign of King Stephen and held a Royal Charter from Edward III. At its founding the convent was endowed with land at Hardingstonemarker and held the churches at Earls Bartonmarker, Great Doddingtonmarker and Fotheringay (confirmed by the Scottish Kings Malcolm and William). Edward III increased their holdings with the churches of Wollastonmarker and Filgravemarker and also granted them the advowson of the church at Fyfield, Hampshiremarker. Edward III is recorded as giving "Ten beams" towards the repair of the church in 1232 and another five oaks for work on the Refectory in 1258.

It was one of only two Cluniacmarker nunneries built in England (the other being at Arthington in Yorkshire); the Cluniac order was an order of the reformed Benedictines and fell under the rule of the great abbey at Clunymarker in Burgundy. Typically there were between a dozen and twenty nuns resident at the abbey at any one time.

Nearby was another Cluniac establishment - the Abbey of St Andrews (now the site of St Andrew's Hospitalmarker) which was founded by the father of the founder of Delapré, Simon of St Liz, Earl of Northampton.

Traditionally the Guild of Weavers at Northampton would make an annual procession to the Abbey church each Easter Monday, where according to the ordinances of the Guild in 1431 they would offer up, "...tapers before the ymages of the Trynitie and our Lady."

After later use as a private residence and in war service, the house became the Northamptonshire County Records Office and the County Record Society; at present the house is empty and a fierce debate continues locally over its future use. The building is Grade II* listed.

It has been claimed that there was (and possibly still is) an underground passage linking the nunnery to a friary based in the centre of Northampton, by way of Bridge Street. The Abbey is reputed to be haunted by a "blue or grey Lady" - reputedly a nun - who is said to have been seen frequently on the main staircase (the habits of Cluniac nuns were blue).

A short history of the Abbey

The west front
  • 1145 - Delapré Abbey was built by Simon, the son of Simon de Senlis the 2nd Earl of Northampton.
  • 1290 - The death of Queen Eleanor, Queen of England. On 28 November 1290, Eleanor of Castile the wife of Edward I died at Harby, Nottinghamshiremarker. Her body was embalmed at Lincolnmarker, and later on 4 December a procession began to Westminster Abbeymarker accompanied by the King. The procession travelled through Northampton and to the convent at Delapré for the night. The King himself stayed at Northampton Castlemarker. The following day the procession left Delapré and at the top of the hill the ground was consecrated. On this spot, one of the Eleanor Crosses was erected.
  • 1460 - The Battle of Northamptonmarker took place at Delapré, between the Yorkist and Lancastrian.
  • 1538 - Under the dissolution Henry VIII forced the Abbey to surrender to the Crown.
  • 1543 - The Delapré estate was let by the Crown to a tenant.
  • 1550 - The Delapré estate was sold by the Crown to the Tate family.
  • 1756 - The estate was sold by Sir Charles Hardy, Governor of New York, husband of Mary Tate, to Edward Bouverie for £22,000.
  • 1905 - The Abbey was let by the Bouverie family to John Cooper, Northampton boot and shoe manufacturer.
  • 1914 - Miss Mary Bouverie moved back to the Abbey.
  • 1940 - The War Officemarker took over the Abbey. Miss Bouverie moved to Dustonmarker and later returned to a room over the stables in 1942 - she dies on 20/1/1943.
  • 1946 - Northampton Corporation purchased the estate for £56,000.
  • 1948 - The War Office gave up its use of the Abbey house.
  • 2005 - Plans are announced by Northampton Borough Councilmarker to form a new Delapré Abbey Trust.


The Abbesses of the Convent of St Mary De La Pré

  • Azelina 1145
  • Missing
  • Cecilia de Daventry - elected 1220
  • Agatha - died 1274
  • Emma Malore - elected 1274, died 1282
  • Margery de Wolaston - elected 1282, died 1296-7 - The Abbess at the time of the death of Queen Eleanor
  • Margery de Broke - elected 1297, resigned 1319
  • Agnes de Poveley - elected 1319, died 1327
  • Margaret de Grey - elected 1327-8, died 1333-4
  • Isabel de Cotesbrok - elected 1333-4, annulled by the bishop
  • Katherine Knyvet - appointed 1333-4, died 1349 of the plague
  • Isabel de Thorp - appointed 1349, resigned 1366
  • Joan Mallore - elected 1366, died 1394
  • Margery Dayrell - elected 1394
  • Gonora Downghton - died 1481 - The Abbess at the time of the Battle of Northamptonmarker
  • Joan Doghty - elected 1481
  • Joan Chese - elected 1492
  • Clementina Stock - elected 1504-5, surrendered 1538


There is a poor impression of the great oval seal of the Abbey in the Public Records Office and it represents the coronation of the Blessed Virgin under a carved canopy.

The Cluniac Prayer

"O God, by whose grace thy servants the Holy Abbots of Cluny, enkindled with the fire of thy love, became burning and shining lights in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever."

The second Battle of Northampton (1460)

After the Battle of Northamptonmarker, which took in the Abbey grounds to the north of the Abbey and to the south of the River Nenemarker, King Henry VI was captured and spent the night of the 10 July 1460 at the Abbey as a prisoner. The nuns tended the wounds of those injured at the battle and many of the battle-dead are buried in the nuns' graveyard (now the walled garden).

After the dissolution

An old print of Delapré Abbey (west front)
In 1542 the Tate family purchased the Delapré Estate from the Crown and it was the Tate family that started the work on the gardens. One of the family - Zouch Tate - is recorded as having laid out a typical Elizabethan-style garden. This is thought to have been where the enclosed formal garden can now be found.

The Tates lived at Delapré until 1764, when the estate was sold to the Bouverie family. The majority of the present buildings date from this time. As with many local estates (such as Castle Ashbymarker) the grounds show the style and influence of Capability Brown.

The Tates' Elizabethan garden was transformed into a walled garden of fruit and vegetables and orchards were planted elsewhere - mimicking the earlier fruit garden of the original nunnery.

It is thought that the present walled garden is located on the site of the nuns' burial ground, and evidence of graves was discovered during the garden's construction.

During the 19th century, other typical Victorian features were added, such as the rock and water gardens and garden conservatories for peaches and grapes - these fruit growing buildings still remain; a ha-ha was also constructed.

The present buildings

  • What remains today consists of four ranges based around an almost square courtyard; this is probably all that remains of the earlier cloisters, with the passage around the north, west and east sides being the former cloister walks.
  • The thicker walls found in the northern part of the building are probably part of the walls of the aisleless church of the nunnery. Almost nothing of the original medieval buildings remain apart perhaps from two small recesses found in the cloister walk which could have been to keep night lights in.
  • What is seen today is the result of work that started with the passing of the house to the Tate family after the dissolution.
  • The stables, found at the northern end of the property date, date from around 1750-65 and were renovated in 1971 by John Goff, the then County Architect.


The future of the Abbey

A volunteer group, "The Friends of Delapré Abbey" campaigns to keep the Abbey in good order, open and available for public access. This organisation was granted charitable status in June 2006 and it is hoped that this will make available new income streams to allow renovation and repair work on the fabric of the building.

Northampton Borough Council has also agreed to set up a new body to be called "The Delapré Abbey Trust" as a vehicle to take forward the ownership of and responsibility for the Abbey; it is planned that this new Trust will work closely with the Friends in the future to secure the future of the buildings.

The grounds are now being used for commercial and private events, such as weddings, parties etc, and these activities are generating much needed income.

The grounds today

A flood lake caused by bunding
are about of parkland and of more formal gardens. The more ornamental features include:

  • Delapré Abbey
  • A walled garden
  • Rock and water gardens
  • A ha-ha
  • Tree sculptures
  • Delapré Woods
  • A lake


Nearby, on part of the estate is the public Delapré Golf Course.

Controversy has been made by the decision of Northampton Borough Council (NBC) to add bunding to the London Road side of the grounds to the park to prevent unauthorised access to the grounds. In the wet spring of 2007 this has caused a flood lake to appear and which has been condemned as dangerous to the public. NBC did vote in 2006 to remove the bunding but have yet to action this work.

The formal garden

The walled garden is thought to be the burial ground of the nuns of the Abbey - it was later converted into a formal walled garden.

In 1977 and 1978 three sculptures were introduced to the walled garden:

  • "The Lady with Kittens" and "The Lovers", the work of Walter Ritchie, were gifted to Northampton after being displayed at an exhibition of brickwork sculptures at The Building Centre, Londonmarker. The large brick panels depict episodes in the adventurous life of the mythical lady, Sarah Wellington-Gore.
  • "Woman and the Fish" is a listed sculpture by Frande Dobson, one of UK's most respected sculptors. This was given to Northampton after the Festival of Britain in 1951 and had previously stood in the Memorial Gardens in the town centre, where it had been totally vandalised. It was then repaired and transferred to its current position as a fountain after an appeal for funds to meet the high costs of restoration.
Image:IMG 0489.JPG|"Lady with Kittens" close up of the headImage:IMG 0486.JPG|"Woman and the Fish" at DelapréImage:The Lovers.JPG|"The Lovers"

The Eleanor Cross

The Eleanor Cross
One of only three remaining Eleanor Crosses is located at the Hardingstonemarker end of the Delapré Abbey estate.The body of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I, rested at the Abbey on its journey from Lincoln to London and the cross was erected by the king to mark its passage. The cross was begun in 1291 by John of Battle; he worked with William of Ireland to carve the statues.

External sources



References

  • The Buildings of England - Northamptonshire. N Pevsner (Second edition). ISBN 0300096321
  • British History Online - House of Cluniac Nuns - The Abbey of Delapré
  • Delapré Abbey - Colin Spears - ISBN 978-0-9553692-0-9



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