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Towcester Town Hall.jpg
Towcester Town Hall
Towcester is located in Northamptonshire
Location within Northamptonshire
Population11,542 (2021 Census)[1]
OS grid referenceSP691481
• London57 miles (92 km)[2]
Civil parish
  • Towcester
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townTowcester
Postcode districtNN12
Dialling code01327
AmbulanceEast Midlands
UK Parliament
List of places
52°08′N 0°59′W / 52.13°N 0.99°W / 52.13; -0.99Coordinates: 52°08′N 0°59′W / 52.13°N 0.99°W / 52.13; -0.99
St Lawrence's Church, Towcester
Watling Street, looking north
Chantry House, Watling Street

Towcester (/ˈtstər/ TOHS-tər) is an affluent market town in Northamptonshire, England. It currently lies in West Northamptonshire but was the former administrative headquarters of the South Northamptonshire district council.

Towcester is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the country. It was the Roman town of Lactodurum, located on Watling Street, today’s A5. In Saxon times, this was the frontier between the kingdom of Wessex and the Danelaw. Towcester features in Charles Dickens's novel The Pickwick Papers as one of Mr Pickwick's stopping places on his tour. The local racecourse has hosted many national horseracing events.


Towcester comes from the Old English Tōfeceaster.[3] Tōfe refers to the River Tove;[4] Bosworth and Toller compare it to the "Scandinavian proper names" Tófi and Tófa.[3] The Old English ceaster comes from the Latin castra ("camp") and was "often applied to places in Britain which had been Roman encampments."[5] Thus, Towcester means "Camp on the (river) Tove."


Prehistoric and Roman periods[edit]

Towcester lays claim to being the oldest town in Northamptonshire and possibly, because of the antiquity of recent Iron Age finds in the town, to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the country. There is evidence that it was settled by humans since the Mesolithic era (middle stone age). There is also evidence of Iron Age burials in the area.

In Roman Britain, Watling Street, now the A5 road, was built through the area and a garrison town called Lactodurum established on the site of the present-day town. Two candidate sites for the Battle of Watling Street, fought in 61AD, are located close to the town, these are Church Stowe which is located 4+13 miles (7.0 km) to the north[6] and Paulerspury which is 3 miles (4.8 km) to the south.[7] A stone female head, that mixes Celtic and Roman styles, was found on Watling Street outside the town and was given to the British Museum in 1903.[8]

Saxon period and Medieval age[edit]

When the Romans left in the 5th century, the area was settled by Saxons. In the 9th century, the Watling Street became the frontier between the kingdom of Wessex and the Danelaw, and thus Towcester became a frontier town[citation needed]. Edward the Elder fortified Towcester in 917. In the 11th century, the Normans built a motte and bailey castle on the site. Bury Mount is the remains of the fortification and is a scheduled ancient monument. It was renovated in 2008 with an access ramp and explanatory plaques added.

Georgian and Victorian periods[edit]

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, in the heyday of the stagecoach and the mail coach, Watling Street became a major coaching road between London and Holyhead, and Towcester flourished, becoming a major stopping point. Many coaching inns and stabling facilities were provided for travellers in Towcester, many of which remain.

The coaching trade came to an abrupt halt in September 1838 when the London and Birmingham Railway was opened, which bypassed Towcester and passed through Blisworth; four miles away but enough to result in Towcester quickly reverting to being a quiet market town. By 1866 however, Towcester was linked to the national rail network by the first of several routes which came together to form the Stratford and Midland Junction Railway.[9] Eventually, from Towcester railway station it was possible to travel four different ways out of the town: to Blisworth (opened May 1866); to Banbury (opened June 1872); to Stratford-upon-Avon (opened July 1873); and finally Olney (for access to Bedford, opened December 1892). The latter line however was an early casualty, closing to passengers in March 1893 although it continued to be used by race specials up until the outbreak of the Second World War. The Banbury line closed to passengers in July 1951 and the rest in April 1952. Goods traffic lingered on until final axing in February 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts. The site of Towcester railway station is now a Tesco supermarket.

Towcester might have gained a second station on a branch line of the Great Central Railway from its main line at Brackley to Northampton, but this branch was never built.[citation needed]

20th century and beyond[edit]

During the Second World War, Towcester received many evacuees from London as the Government felt the town was far enough away from any major settlements that could be a target. The town escaped any major aerial attacks but was bombed on two occasions, firstly by a plane that dropped its last two bombs following an attack on nearby Rugby. A few months later a German bomber dropped eight bombs on the town during a "drop and run" attack.[citation needed]

The motor age brought new life to the town. Although now bypassed by the A43, the A5 trunk traffic still passes directly through the historic market town centre causing traffic jams at some times of the day. The resulting pollution has led to the town centre being designated an air quality management area.[10] An A5 north-south bypass is likely with plans for expansion of the town being planned by the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation in 2007.[11]

The population was 2,743 at the time of the 1961 Census and this had grown to 9,252 by the 2011 census – a growth rate of about 3% per year. It has since rapidly expanded and there are plans to expand still further[12][13] with another 3,300 houses equating to an appx 8,250 increase in population. Improvements to the links to the A43 and Watling Street roundabout took place in the first half of 2015 and including traffic light controls.


The town is approximately 10 miles (16.1 km) south-west of Northampton and about 11 miles (17.7 km) north-west of Milton Keynes, the nearest main towns. Oxford is about 20 miles (32.2 km) south-west via the A43 road, M40 motorway and A34 road. The A43 now bypasses the town to the north but the A5 road still passes through the town centre. This still carries much traffic in the north-south direction which may be bypassed to the west with the possibility of expansion of the town.[12][13]

Northampton railway station is the nearest railway station, being 10 miles (16 km) away from the town. Buses to Northampton, Milton Keynes, Brackley, Potterspury, Deanshanger, Silverstone and Biddlesden operate, but these are infrequent.[14]


The town has its own Town Council,[15] and was the administrative headquarters of the South Northamptonshire district council[16] and was in the Northamptonshire County Council area[17] until local government reform saw it moved to West Northamptonshire.

Towcester used to be within the parliamentary constituency of Daventry. However, since the 2010 general election it forms part of the South Northamptonshire constituency.


St. Lawrence's C of E Church, stands in the middle of the town. It has a 12th-century Norman transitional ground plan and foundation, probably laid over a Saxon 10th century stone building. Its ecclesiastical heritage may well relate back to Roman times as St Lawrence was patron saint of the Roman legions. The building was reconstructed in the perpendicular style 1480–85 when the church tower was added. The tower contains 12 bells generally accepted by ringers across the country to be one of the finest sets in the Midlands. The bells were moved in 1994 from Todmorden in Yorkshire. Permission to quarry stone for this restoration from Whittlewood Forest was granted by Edward IV and later confirmed by Richard III on his way towards Leicestershire and his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The church contains a "Treacle" Bible, a table tomb and cadaver of Archdeacon Sponne, Rector 1422–1448. The Archdeacon started the second oldest grammar school in Northamptonshire but the oldest one in the United Kingdom, which was merged with the old secondary modern school in Towcester to produce Sponne School. It is also claimed[18] that Pope Boniface VIII was a rector of the church before his elevation to the position of pope. The church tower contains a peal of 12 bells and a chime of 9 bells.

Towcester Mill in Chantry Lane was recorded in the Domesday Book (1086), but the oldest extant part of the building is just over two hundred years old. The mill's working gear was powered by water, and was used to grind corn into flour and to mix animal feed, and is believed to be the only water mill in Northamptonshire with a working turbine.

The town has an Air Cadet squadron, 1875 (Towcester) Sqn ATC located near to Sponne School and the 1st Towcester scouts and guides group.

The Towcester Museum has exhibits tracing the community's prehistory and history. The town has a wetland park, two pocket parks and a main park - The Recreation Ground, which is known locally as “The Rec”.


Towcester Racecourse, originally part of the Easton Neston estate, is located on the east side of the town. Many national horse racing events were held there, as well as greyhound racing.

In 2010 the World Hovercraft Championship was held on the racecourse. The town's rugby union club, Towcestrians R.F.C., play in the London & South East Premier League. Towcester's cycling club, the A5 Rangers, was founded in 1948.

Towcester is just 5 miles away from motor racing circuit Silverstone Circuit.

Notable people[edit]

Cultural representation[edit]

In fiction the "Saracen's Head Inn" in Towcester features in Charles Dickens's novel The Pickwick Papers as one of Mr Pickwick's stopping places along what is now the A5 trunk road.


  1. ^ "Towcester". City population. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  2. ^ "Distance between Towcester and London". Distance Calculator. Archived from the original on 20 October 2018. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b Bosworth, Joseph; Toller, T. Northcote (1882). "Tófe-ceaster". An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Oxford: OUP. p. 997. Archived from the original on 29 May 2021. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  4. ^ Edmunds, Flavell (1869). "Towcester". Traces of History in the Names of Places. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. p. 272. Archived from the original on 29 May 2021. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  5. ^ "Chester." Oxford English Dictionary. Archived 1 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Rogers, Byron (11 October 2003). "UK: The original Iron Lady rides again". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 14 April 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  8. ^ "British Museum Highlights". Archived from the original on 15 September 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  9. ^ "Stratford and Midland Junction Railway (SMJ)". Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  10. ^ "BBC - Northamptonshire - Features: Northants' air pollution". Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2007.
  11. ^ "Sandra Barnes, Leader of South Northants Council, says "This is putting a mark down for future generations and they're not going to thank us for just putting 3,000 houses down" (17 December 2007)". Archived from the original on 6 December 2008. Retrieved 13 October 2008.
  12. ^ a b "Northamptonshire Joint Planning Unit – Draft Emerging Core Strategy, pp 9 and 51. NB May be superseded by more recent publication". Archived from the original on 24 July 2009. Retrieved 6 July 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ a b "2011 expansion plans – Pre-Submission Joint Core Strategy, Committee Version, 31 January 2011". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  14. ^ "Brave Old Oak PH · Towcester NN12 6BT, United Kingdom". Brave Old Oak PH · Towcester NN12 6BT, United Kingdom. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  15. ^ "Towcester Town Council". Archived from the original on 10 May 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  16. ^ "SNC". Archived from the original on 13 September 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  17. ^ "Northamptonshire County Council". Archived from the original on 21 February 2009. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  18. ^ Wilcock, David. "Pope Boniface VIII". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2014.

External links[edit]