Oundle’s History

From the late Saxon period until the middle of the sixteenth century, Oundle was one of the properties of Peterborough Abbey. Oundle’s large and beautiful parish church, originally part of a monastery, and much of it dating from the thirteenth century, suggests that this was a period of prosperity.

Oundle’s 1086 ​Doomsday book ​entry shows a small town household comprising 23 villagers, 10 smallholders and 3 slaves, surrounded by woodlands and 50 acres of meadows. It had a mill,worth 1 pound, and had a value to Peterborough Abbey of 11 pounds, having been only worth an estimated 5 shillings in 1066.

A charter issued by Peterborough Abbey in the early thirteenth century sheds some light on the life in medieval Oundle – : a population of around 500, including clothworkers, a skinner, a smith and two masons. {PICTURED: St Wilfred}

In the early 1530s the English poet and antiquary John Leyland described Oundle as ‘al buildid of stone’, with a “very good market’; and a 1565 survey by Thomas Austell, shows that the layout of Oundle had changed little over the last 400 years. Some street names had not changed, including Mill Road and Jericho, still current today.

The site of the Jesus Church was known as Chapel End, after the chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, which stood there in medieval times. There is also an interesting reference to the hall of the pre-Reformation guild of Our Lady of Oundle, which had been purchased by an important character in Oundle’s history ‘Mr Laxton somtyme maior of London’. {PICTURED: Market Place c1810}

Before the Reformation there had already been a modest guild school, in part of the Parish church, but Sir William Laxton, in the codicil to his will of 1556, instructed that the former guild house be acquired and used as a grammar school with accommodation for ‘seven poor honest men’. The guild house stood in the churchyard on the site of​ Oundle School’s​ present Laxton House, and was the first part of the current school.

Double foundations of this kind were not uncommon at the time. Oundle possesses another example in Latham’s Hospital in North Street. In 1611 Nicholas Latham founded an almshouse for women and a school in these premises. Latham’s Hospital still fulfils its original purpose of providing a home for elderly ladies, but his Bluecoat school merged with Oundle Church of England School at the end of the nineteenth century. {PICTURED: Sir William Laxton 1500-1556}

The Elizabethan and early Stuart period was a time of great rebuilding, when many medieval houses were extensively modernised or completely rebuilt. Oundle contains some fine examples of both, reflecting continued prosperity. The town houses, the first and the finest of which is Cobthorne, form a distinctive feature of Oundle today, reflecting the wealth and standing of such prominent local families as the Whitwells, Bramstons and Creeds. But a more general level of prosperity can be gauged from the number and quality of the seventeenth century workmen’s houses, the best surviving examples being Mill Road cottages. {PICTURED: Mill Road}

Additional buildings tended to be crowded into the narrow space between the main streets and the back lanes, with expansion on the town edge being impossible with unenclosed open fields.

Eighteenth century Oundle, like many other small market towns, included a wide range of trades and occupations, such as shoemakers, fellmongers, a tanner, a turner, a Hemp Dresser, a Rope Maker, Slaters, Watchmakers, ‘Innholders, a Fishmonger, a Miller, Grocers, a ‘Jockey’ (who was probably a Horse Dealer), some Glovers, and a Gunsmith. John Clifton, master carpenter, perhaps sexton, and diarist, wrote vividly of the pleasures and hardships of the late eighteenth century, including floods, smallpox, fairs and bullrunning, the goings-on of his fellow townsmen, astronomy and gardening. His will shows that he had a considerable library.

The “Market House” was built in 1825; and Oundle station was opened in 1845, but was distant from the town centre.

Smiths, the brewers, owned much of Oundle. Their brewery in North Street was built in 1775, and supplying the military camps at Norman Cross during the Napoleonic Wars boosted business, but it closed in 1962 and since has been demolished. {PICTURED: Brewery Plan and Beer Mats}

Nineteenth century Oundle had a strong Non-conformist tradition, stemming from the Elizabethan puritans. Three Nonconformist Churches and the Jesus Church, built by the Watts-Russell family as an Anglican Church, were added, and from a population of about 3000, roughly one-third supported one of the dissenting chapels. The former Congregational Church, now the Stahl Theatre, was built on the site of the Great Meeting, an earlier Independent place of Worship.

A Baptist chapel was also built in 1852, but this was closed some years ago. A new Methodist church was opened in 1985 in the former Telephone Exchange: the old building has been used for various purposes, recently a shopping arcade, and a restaurant. Oundle was the centre of a Poor Law Union, but its workhouse has been demolished and only the chapel remains, which has been converted into a private house.

The appointment in 1892 of FW Sanderson as Headmaster transformed Oundle School and much of Oundle. Before his death in 1922, Sanderson had expanded the school into the institution we know today, and his great friendship with H G Wells reflects the role of science and engineering in this.

Much of Cloisters and School House, date from before his headship, but the famous workshops, Great Hall, Science Block (now the Adamson languages building), the Yarrow and the four attractive boarding houses on Milton Road were all built during his time. The school has also acquired some of Oundle’s finest houses including Cobthorne. {PICTURED: Oundle School Cloisters}

Oundle suffered great loss in World War 1, as witnessed by the central listed War memorial and ​Oundle School’s Memorial Chapel commemorating 260 Ex-pupils​ of Oundle School, including Sanderson’s own son Roy, whose death his father had to announce to the School in 1917/18. Sanderson’s ashes are interred in the Chapel.

Scott – Robert and Peter → WWF and slimbridge – painting – Scott Houseq. Oundle grew steadily after the Second World War. In the last decade of the 20th century the population increased more rapidly to a 2005 figure of over 5250, and an estimated 6,500 nowadays.

Oundle’s position as the education centre of North-East Northamptonshire was confirmed in 1971 with the opening of the Prince William School (named in memory of HRH Prince William of Gloucester, who lived nearby at Barnwell until he was sadly killed in a flying accident in 1972) and Oundle Middle School. The old Primary School on Milton Road moved to the Middle School site on Cotterstock Road (built in 1980) in 2016. Laxton Junior School for pupils up to 11 moved to new premises on East Road in 2002.

Oundle is scarcely an industrial town, but it does have a small zone of light industry in East Road, and another off the A605. Fairline Boats has a factory there as well as just out of town. Surprisingly for a town so far from the sea this is home to one of the country’s largest builders of pleasure cruisers.