History of Rothwell
It is believed that Rothwell was founded as a Viking settlement called Rodewell (the place of the Red Well from the ironstone colouring the water) in the ninth century. Visitors to Rothwell can get a flavour of this history of the town from its many surviving historic buildings such as:
Holy Trinity Church, where the earliest standing phases date from the early 12th century.
The Market House built by Thomas Tresham dating from 1577.
The Nunnery House dating from 1660 on the site of an impoverished priory.
The Jesus Hospital alms-house dating from 1593.
A coaching inn called the Charter (originally called the Sun) dating from 1460.
A dissenting church dating from 1655.
In addition to these are buildings which were originally 18th century coaching inns but are now shops.
A unique medieval history
Uniquely Rothwell, or Rowell as residents call it, has an annual proclamation, “the proc”, where the granting of the original Town Charter by King John in 1204 is celebrated. On the Monday following Holy Trinity Sunday the most recent charter (James I Charter of 1614) is read by the bailiff on his horse, the national anthem is struck up by the town band and then youngsters aged between 16 and 24 try and wrestle staves held by the halberdiers - in this way the “rumble” begins.
It is believed that originally the halberdiers/stave bearers were given specially marked staves at the start to guard the bailiff while he collected the rents. They were only paid at the end of proceedings after producing their stave and it wasn’t always the same person who was given the stave and who ended up handing it in to collect payment!
This reading of the charter commences outside Holy Trinity Church at 6am and is then read out at all the current and previous public houses. The pubs open before 6am and the bailiff is supplied with rum and milk to drink the health of the monarch and lord of the manor at each location. The fayre is also in town during the week and is opened by a civic service on Holy Trinity Sunday.
Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity is potentially located on the site of an earlier Saxon Minster, however building of the current church commenced in the early 12th century. This Norman church survives in the chancel, but in the following centuries the church was enlarged greatly. In the early 14th century transepts were added on the south and north side although these were later demolished in the 17th century.
The nave is currently the longest in Northamptonshire and at one time was even longer. There are many unique features in the church: in the high altar area there is a four-seat sedilia (normally churches only have three seats) indicating that the fourth seat nearest the altar was for the Abbot of Cirencester whose abbey owned the church from AD 1133 until the Reformation.
There is also a triple piscena in this area, two 13th century coffin covers in superb condition are in the south aisle - these were found in the tower in 1981 (probably used by builders as counterweights and left there), a peel of ten bells, 15th century miserichords and 14th century choir stalls. Holy Trinity also has its own imp in the chancel!
Rothwell has had various lords of the manor with their various families involved in the Barons War (De Clare family), Wars of the Roses (Tresham family), Gunpowder Plot (Tresham family), Enclosure Riots (Tresham family) and the English Civil Wars (Cockayne family). The current Lord of the Manor is a descendant of the Cockayne family via the Malsor line.
Behind the Crown Inn in Crown Yard was born William Timpson, founder of the famous shoe factory and shop chain. In 1935, Jim Dale (born James Smith) of Carry On fame and narrator of Harry Potter audiobooks was born in Fox Street (house now demolished) and grew up in 24 Jubilee Street.
Many thanks to Mick Coggins for information in this section and to Sylvia Davis for drawing our attention to an error about the residences of Jim Dale which has now been corrected.