Wanderer at Large: Althorp (Northamptonshire)

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the Eastern Midlands including Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Huntingdonshire.

Althorp, England by Billy Wilson Photography. CC license BY-NC 2.0


Althorp House is the family seat of the aristocratic Spencer family and once home to the teenage Lady Diana Spencer. The Spencers were originally wool merchants and acquired the estate in 1508. 20 generations have lived there, so there is a continuous lived-in feel. During the 1660s, it was remodelled and included the staircase seen today. In 1797, it was remodelled again to include what was then the greatest private library in world. Most of the books have now been sold off. The library includes a painting of Spencer House in Green Park in London, an original painting by Stubbs, and van Dyck’s War & Peace depicting two aristocratic brothers torn apart by the Civil War. The grounds feature the lake and the island in which Diana is buried. There is also the Diana Oak Tree planted by Nelson Mandela, and a memorial bench given by the workers of the estate. The seating area near the stables is a very nice place to enjoy a picnic while looking over the grounds.

Nearby, the village of Great Brington with a population of just 200, is lined with picturesque thatched ironstone cottages. The Fox & Hounds pub is a great place to eat. It was once owned by Spencer family. Inside St Mary the Virgin Church is the Spencer Chapel, burial place of 20 generations of the family from 1522-1992.  Meanwhile, entombed in the chancel in Lawrence Washington, buried in 1616 and related to the Spencers. His son John taught Sir Henry Spencer to ride. Both John and Henry fought as Royalists in the Civil War. Henry was painfully killed by a cannonball to the groin. John Washington left for America. He is the direct ancestor of the first American president, George Washington. Had the Royalists won the Civil War, there would have been a very different US history. Look out for the stars and stripes in his coat of arms on the tomb.

Holdenby House is a historic country house in Northamptonshire, traditionally pronounced, and sometimes spelt, Holmby. The house was built in 1583 by the Elizabethan Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton. Following its completion, Hatton refused to sleep a night in the mansion until Queen Elizabeth I had slept there. During the Civil War, it was a temporary prison for Prince Charles, son of King Charles, and later Charles II. Today, the house is a private residence, though the gardens are open to the public and they include a falconry centre. The interior of the mansion is open to the public for a few days of the year. The house is situated in the parish of Holdenby, six miles northwest of Northampton and close to Althorp.

Althorp – magnificent stately home and grounds.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: