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Delving into the history of events at Delapré Abbey

We were recently joined by Aidan, a sixth form student on work experience. Aidan got to experience many different aspects of work here at Delapré Abbey from backstopping tours, helping with clearing away after events and assisting with planning future activities. He also learnt about the history of the site and undertook some research using the online British Newspaper Archive into public events here at the Abbey over the years. He wrote this short piece about what he found out.

Delapré Abbey has a diverse and varying history as the host of many different events, from the years it spent as the residence of the Bouverie family to being more open to public access in recent years. During my research into the Abbey’s history I discovered that Northamptonshire air balloon launches, garden fetes, fundraisers and sport events all had one thing in common, they all took place in the Delapré grounds.

As early as the 1700’s, the Abbey was reported in the newspapers as being the host of certain events, the most notable of which were the hot air balloon launches that took place in 1784, just one year after the first manned flight of an air balloon in France in 1783. One of the balloons was described as being made from Gold-Beaters skin and covered in leaf gold, Gold-Beaters skin is in fact the outer membrane of an animal intestine. This makes for the interesting fact that the balloons made from this membrane are in simple terms just giant, inflated animal intestines. These balloon launches would gather a large crowd of people that would watch in amazement as the balloons sailed over Northampton.

From Northampton Mercury – Monday 27 September 1784

Later in the Abbey’s history the events it hosted became paid exhibitions or events such as the Horticultural Society exhibitions or the Temperance Tete that took place in 1887. These events were often open to the public with an entrance fee that covered any activities or attractions that were found within the grounds. This style of event was a common occurrence on the Abbey grounds up until the 1950s and from the 1900s were often used as fundraisers. Money raised from these events was used to upgrade church facilities such as at St. Edmund’s church in Hardingstone or given to charities such as the District Nurses fund or the Baptist Special effort fund. In addition, the Primrose League often used the Delapré Abbey grounds, particularly between the years of 1921-1924, for their members only or open fête. The Primrose League was a Conservative party organisation founded in 1880 that used large social events and other experimental campaigning methods to gain support for the party, giving us an idea of Miss Bouverie’s and Delapré’s political leanings during this time.

One of the last reported fêtes hosted at Delapré Abbey took place in 1950. The fête was opened by the mayor and marked the start of the period in which the grounds of the Abbey were made public following the purchase of the Abbey and its grounds by Northampton Corporation (Council) in 1946. This change in ownership is reflected in the changing nature of reported events taking place at the Abbey from ticketed private fetes or galas to public activities such as football, hockey, cricket and tennis matches as well as cub and scout meetings. One cub meeting in particular in 1957 becoming well covered by the newspapers due to the attendance of 12 “crippled” boys that was at the time impossible at most other venues, showing an accessible and community driven approach continued today through the work of the Delapré Abbey Preservation trust.

Visitors to one of our public events held in 2019. Photo: Purple Cat Photography

We loved having Aiden with us for the week and really hope that he will continue to be involved with us in the future by becoming a regular volunteer. Click here to find out more about volunteering at the Abbey. 

The house reopens to visitors on Friday 7th August. Please help us to keep you safe during your visit by reading through some of the changes that you can expect.Please click here.
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