Irchester is a village and civil parish in the Borough of Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, 2 miles south-east of the town of Wellingborough and 2 miles south-west of Rushden. The population at the 2011 Census was 4,745. Little Irchester and Knuston also lie in the parish.
Irchester was spelt Yranceaster in 973 and Irencestre in the 1086 Domesday Book. A. D. Mills wrote that name was formed from the Old English personal name Ira or *Yra with the suffix ceaster denoting a Roman station, but another theory is that Iren Ceastre was an Anglo-Saxon name meaning "iron fortress". In the 11th century, it was spelt Erncestre or Archester and had evolved to Erchester by the 12th century.
Chester Farm is one mile (1.6 km) north of the village of Irchester, with the A45 road to its south and the River Nene to the north. The area "represents a unique piece of historic landscape of high importance... preserving in a small area a wide range of historic features spanning several thousand years" and is a scheduled monument protected by law. Mesolithic flints have been found, with signs of later prehistoric settlement and a "nationally important" walled Roman town.
The Roman name of the settlement has been lost, but evidence has been found of many buildings, a cemetery, occupation outside the town walls, and a causeway across the Nene floodplain. A Romano-Celtic temple was recorded inside the town boundary. Square-shaped, it faced south-east; its outer portico measured 38 feet (11.5 metres) square and the inner cella about 17 feet (5 metres) square. The walls were around two feet (0.6 m) thick. The tombstone of a Strator Consularis - 'a transportation officer of the consular governor' - was also found at the town, and an inscription found at Irchester suggests evidence of an organised horse breeding operation.
A road through the middle of the site (running north-south) and three rectangular buildings to the west of the road have been identified. As only one Roman road has been found leading away from the site, to the south, it is "highly likely" that the river was used as a means of transport and communication with other Roman settlements at Duston, to the south-west, and Thrapston, to the north-east.
Next to the Roman walled town, there are remains of the medieval hamlet of Chester by the Water (which may have existed since Anglo-Saxon times) and the later Chester House and Farm which had gardens and parkland. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, ironstone quarrying took place to the south-west of Chester, but most of the site avoided serious damage. The tramways and other industrial artifacts have since become "historically important" in their own right.
In 2004, Northamptonshire County Council received a grant of £1.2 million from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (now the Department for Communities and Local Government) and purchased Chester Farm, including the walled Roman town and the deserted medieval village of Chester on the Water. Wellingborough's Local Plan states that "planning permission will be granted for a heritage park in association with the archaeological remains of the Chester camp ancient monument" as part of the planned River Nene Regional Park. The aims of the development of the park are to make Chester Farm accessible to the public and provide opportunities for education, leisure and recreation. However, the park plan stalled, due to the lack of "a viable business plan and subsequent pressure on resources." A county council report of November 2007 stated that "In order to safeguard the heritage asset, Cabinet is asked to... declare Chester Farm surplus to the operational requirements of the Council and to approve its sale." Subsequently, in 2010, the farmhouse was gutted by fire.
In 2013, the Chester Farm site received £4 million from Heritage Lottery Fund to open it to the public. The site is owned by Northamptonshire County Council. The project will include an archaeological resource centre. The 17th-century farmhouse on the site was badly damaged by a fire in 2010. The council received a £1.9 million insurance payout for repairs. The lottery money will be used to build a classroom, a conference space and an archaeological resource centre. The site is partially open to the public, with car parking to the west of the site.
Possible medieval identification
The 12th-century English historian Henry of Huntingdon mentions a Roman "town on the river (Nene), in Huntingdonshire, which is entirely destroyed" as one of his interpretations of the 28 cities of Britain. This town is again mentioned by William Lambarde in his Dictionarium Angliae Topographicum & Historicum.
Henry names this town as Dormchester a name which he translates from the Celtic Kair-Dorm. The '-Dorm' element may translate as water (Dwr in modern Welsh and a common root for place-names throughout England), if so, there is a possible continuation of the name into English as Chester-on-the-Water. Currently however, no modern study has entirely rejected or accepted this hypothesis.
Irchester Parish Council meets at the village hall once a month. The parish is represented on Borough of Wellingborough Council by three councillors for the ward of Irchester, and on Northamptonshire County Council by one councillor. It is in the parliamentary constituency of Wellingborough; the current Member of Parliament is Peter Bone MP (Conservative). Irchester is in the East Midlands European Parliament constituency.
Irchester lies to the south-east of the town of Wellingborough and to the south-west of Rushden, in the east of the county of Northamptonshire. It is 11 miles (18 km) north-east of the county town of Northampton and a beeline 58 miles (93 km) north-west of central London. The border of the parish is formed by the River Nene in the north and west; adjacent parishes are Wellingborough (north-west), Great Doddington (south-west), Wollaston (south), Podington in Bedfordshire (south-east), and Rushden (east). The height above sea level ranges from 40 metres (131 feet) in the river valley to 91 metres (298 feet) south of Irchester village.
At the 2001 census, the population of the parish of Irchester was 4,807 people living in 2,020 households: 2,397 men and 2,410 women, with a mean age of 41 years. Of the people aged between 16 and 74 years and economically active, 2,352 were employed and 80 unemployed. Most (1,930) of the employed residents travelled to work by motorcycle, car or van; 126 used public transport. The population at the 2011 Census had reduced to 4,745. The average distance travelled to a fixed place of work was 12.64 km (7.85 mi). In 1851, the parish population was 960 and in 1861, 1,168; writing in 1872, John Marius Wilson attributed the increase to "the opening of the railway, and from the discovery of iron stone."
The nearest motorway is the M1 – junction 15 is some 13 miles away. The nearest railway station is at Wellingborough, about 2 miles from the village. Places served by direct East Midlands Railway trains include London, Luton, Bedford, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. Irchester itself once had a station to the east of the village until 1965. The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) and some locals have argued that it should be reopened. (see Rushden Parkway)
The main bus service serving the village is the X46 operated by Stagecoach Group. It connects with Wellingborough, Rushden, Northampton, Earls Barton, Higham Ferrers and Raunds. Luton Airport, 30 miles south, is the nearest passenger airport, although there is an aerodrome at Sywell, 10 miles north-west.
A playgroup meets at the village hall in School Road. Irchester Primary School, nearby in School Lane, has around 330 pupils with an age range of 4–11 years. The nearest secondary school is in Wollaston.
The village has a health centre, car repairs and car sales garage, a pharmacy, a library and a post office. Shops include a Co-operative supermarket. The former gift shop and estate agent have closed. There is a fish and chip shop and Chinese and Indian takeaways. Of the two pubs in the village, the Red Lion closed a few years ago, leaving only the Carpenters Arms.
Sport and leisure
The local football team, Irchester United, known as The Romans, plays in the United Counties League Premier. The ground is in Alfred Street. Irchester Bowls Club on the High Street, also known as The Romans, has a county-standard class "A" Green. Irchester Cricket Club was founded in 1897 and plays at Alfred Street, in the Northamptonshire Cricket League. Irchester Players is an amateur dramatic society which puts on a variety of performances, including shows, musicals and pantomimes, at Parsons Hall in the village.
The village has a large country park managed by Northamptonshire County Council. It was created after local opencast ironstone quarries were allowed to revert to the wild, having been worked out some decades after the war. The removal of the ironstone and some of the limestone that overlaid it have lowered the land within the circuit of the working face by several metres, though this is not particularly apparent except near the vehicle entrance. Within the park there is unusual ridge-and=furrow topography with several metres' relief. This marks the movement patterns of the machines that stripped the overburden to expose the ironstone. The park offers maturing woodlands (planted about 1965) and grassy meadows with trails around the park. There is also a children's play area and a café.
Irchester Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in the country park shows a selection of working steam and diesel locomotives among more than 40 items of rolling stock. A 250-metre demonstration track can also be seen.
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