The History of Oundle
Oundle is an small but ancient market town nestling in rural
Northamptonshire which is of particular intrigue to those fond of
British History. Modern day Oundle is still full of interesting
alleyways and ancient buildings to hint at the long story of its past.
Oundle has been inhabited by human settlers since at least the Iron
Age and was known in Anglo Saxon times as Undela or Undalum. It has
always been an important trading centre and it was around the
marketplace that the town grew. Guilds of Craftsmen were set up as the
wealth of the town increased, leading to the building of Guildhalls
for the various trades. The town’s expansion was no doubt helped by
the fact that it did not suffer during the outbreaks of Black Death;
something that was highly unusual for towns in England at that time.
Part of the attraction of Oundle comes from the fact that many of its
buildings are made from the local Jurassic Limestone, with roof tiles
made from Collyweston Slate. The modern town still boast a beautiful
mix of medieval, Elizabethan and Georgian architecture. The Church of
St Peter was built in the 13th century, although some enhancements
were made in the centuries that followed. Some believe that it was
built on the site of an earlier church, which was founded by St
Wilfred of Northumbria in the 7th century. The church possesses an
octagonal crocketed spire that is over 200 feet high, as well as many
fine stained glass windows.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating of the historical buildings that
grace Oundle is The Talbot Hotel. The original hostelry (known
properly as a hospitium) was a timber structure dating back to 638AD,
which was run by monks who gave shelter to pilgrims on their travels.
The original wooden building was rebuilt in 1626 using stone and other
materials from the ruins of Fotheringay Castle. Mary Queen of Scots
was imprisoned and executed at Fotheringay Castle and it is rumoured
that her ghost now walks the corridors of The Talbot Hotel;
particularly the magnificent oak staircase that she allegedly walked
down on her way to be executed prior to its removal and relocation at
the hotel. If you look at the staircase today, you can see deep score
marks in the wood. Legend has it that these marks were made by Mary’s
ring as she gripped the rail so tightly on the way to her death!
Oundle School is a famous and well respected Public School and also
has contributed many of the fine historic buildings to the town. The
current school dates back to 1556 when Sir William Laxton (then Lord
Mayor of London) re-founded the original Oundle Grammar School; of
which he had been a pupil. In 1876 the school split into two, Laxton
Grammar School (mostly for locals) and Oundle School (mostly for those
from outside the area). The schools were reunited under a single name
‘Oundle School’ to mark the millennium in the year 2000.
In 1902 the Queen Victoria Hall was added to the list of notable
buildings in Oundle; the foundation stone being laid on the day of the
coronation of King Edward VII. More recently in the history of Oundle
is the Oundle International Festival; a festival and Pipe Organ School
first founded in 1985. The purpose at the heart of its inception was
the training of young organists and the summer schools associated with
the annual festival are centred on an Organ installed in Oundle School
Chapel and built by Frobenius of Denmark.