Oun­dle

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Matthew Rice con­tin­ues his series on mar­ket towns with an ex­am­i­na­tion of Northamp­ton­shire’s most per­fect ex­am­ple

OUN­DLE is per­haps the most per­fect of Northamp­ton­shire’s mar­ket towns. This an­cient set­tle­ment stands above the River Nene as it flows north-east­wards to King’s Lynn, mak­ing it the per­fect place to stop and swim on a bak­ing-hot drive through the land­locked coun­ties of Mid­dle Eng­land.

Oun­dle is to­day best known as home to the pub­lic school of that name, es­tab­lished as Lax­ton’s Gram­mar School af­ter 1556, although there had been a school there since 1485 (Eton was founded in 1440 and Winch­ester in 1394). Sir William Lax­ton was Lord Mayor of Lon­don. The school doesn’t dom­i­nate the town ar­chi­tec­turally, but, rather, has, oc­to­pus-like, spread its ten­ta­cles into many of its best build­ings. These have tell­tale la­bels sig­nalling that they be­long to Gown not Town.

Oun­dle has de­vel­oped around its mar­ket, es­tab­lished in 1189 un­der Richard I. On Thurs­days, the long mar­ket­place is filled with stalls that stand close to a rather stolid mar­ket build­ing of 1826 (it re­places a mar­ket cross of 1591). Con­tin­u­ing from there is West Street, with one good build­ing af­ter an­other, dat­ing from the 17th to 20th cen­turies.

All are linked by the use of the same fine-grained, el­e­gantly worked lime­stone, as Oun­dle sits on the Oolitic belt, the band of lime­stone that runs from Dorset through Wilt­shire, Glouces­ter­shire and Ox­ford­shire and con­tin­ues through the East Mid­lands to York­shire. Oo­lite ranges in colour from deep iron-rich or­ange to pale dove grey. It’s per­haps at its most re­fined in Northamp­ton­shire, where, in a muted grey-ochre form, it char­ac­terises the vil­lages and towns.

The stone is eas­ily work­able when quar­ried, en­cour­ag­ing dec­o­ra­tion of even the most hum­ble build­ings, and hard­ens with time to pro­vide lon­glast­ing and sharp de­tail. This ho­mo­gene­ity of ma­te­rial, fur­ther em­pha­sised by the use of stone as a roof­ing ma­te­rial, gives towns in the lime­stone belt their dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter and beauty.

More­over, Oun­dle was never sig­nif­i­cantly in­dus­tri­alised, so it re­mains a per­fectly pre­served model of a Ge­or­gian mar­ket town of the Shires.

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