All Saints' Church, Northampton

All Saints' Church, Northampton

Simon de Senlis' church of All Hallows, Northampton, England, lasted with medieval alterations until disaster struck the town on 20th September 1675. Most of the old town was destroyed by fire, not unlike the Great Fire of London in 1666 (see "Great Fire of Northampton"). The fire began in St. Mary's Street, near the castle, and the inhabitants fled to the Market Square, but then were forced to evacuate, leaving the buildings to burn, including All Hallows:

"All Hallows Bells jangled their last and doleful Knell, presently after the Chimes had gone Twelve in a more pleasant Tune: And soon after the wind which did flie swifter than Horsemen, carried the Fire near the Dern-Gate, at least half a Mile from the place where it began, and into St. Giles-street in the East, and consumed every house therein, save one, whose end-Walls were higher than the Roof, and by them preserved."Northampton (1675) "A True And Faithful Relation Of The Late Dreadful Fire At Northampton,..." Printed for J. Coniers, Duck Lane, London.]

The new church

After the fire, Charles II gave a thousand tons of timber for the rebuilding of All Hallows Church, and one tenth of the money collected for the rebuilding of the town was allocated to the rebuilding of All Hallows under the management of the King's Lynn architect, Henry Bell. Henry Bell at the time was resident in Northampton, and he set to rebuild the church in a manner similar to Sir Christopher Wren's designs.

After the fire, the central medieval tower had survived, as well as the crypt. The new church of All Saints was to be built east of the tower in an almost square plan, with a chancel to the east, and a north and south narthex flanking the tower.

You enter the church through the existing tower into a barrel vaulted nave. At the centre there is a dome, supported on four Ionic columns, which is lit by a lantern above. The barrel vault extends into the aisles from the dome in a Greek-cross form, leaving four flat ceilings in the corners of the church. The church is well lit by plain glass windows in the aisles and originally there was a large east window in the chancel, that is now covered by a reredos. The plasterwork ceiling is finely decorated, and the barrel vaults are lit by elliptical windows.


The comparison between this building and Sir Christopher Wren's building of the London churches after the Great Fire of London cannot be ignored.

After the Great Fire of London, the rebuilding of the city churches was initiated by financing of the second Building Act of 1670. Sir Christopher Wren, as Surveyor General of the King's Works, undertook this operation, and one of his first churches was St Mary-at-Hill.

The interior space of St Mary-at-Hill is roughly square in plan, and of a similar size to All Saints. To the west is the tower, again flanked by a north and south narthex. Wren spanned the square space by a barrel vault in a Greek-cross plan, with a dome at the centre, supported on four columns. If Henry Bell drew his inspiration from any one of Wren's churches, then this would be the one. The barrel vaulting though in All Saints is much flatter than in St. Mary-at-Hill, which has semi-circular vaulting. The dome in All Saints is more hemi-spherical, and the columns at St. Mary-at-Hill are Corinthian with fluting.

The rebuilt church of All Saints, Northampton, was consecrated and opened in 1680. Then in 1701 a large portico was added to the west end, in front of the narthex. As a memorial of Charles II's contribution to its rebuilding, a statue of him was erected above the portico, dressed in a Roman tunic.


* Colvin, H. M. (1954) "A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects 1660 - 1840", London.
* Pevsner, N. (1973) "The Buildings of England, Northamptonshire", 2nd ed. rev. B. Cherry, London.
* Royal Commission on Historic Monuments (1985) "Archaeological Sites and Churches in Northampton", London.

External links

* [ All Saints Church, Northampton.]

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