One of the places featured in the book Northamptonshire A County of Spires is Towcester.
‘A microcosm of the History of England’, and the ‘Hidden Gem’ of its county, are descriptions of the town which also claims to be Northamptonshire’s oldest.
Towcester stands on Watling Street, the main Roman road from Dover to Wroxeter, and was known to the Romans as ‘Lactodorum’.
It became a frontier town in Saxon times, Archdeacon Sponne established the county’s oldest grammar school here.
Today Watling Street is still the main street running through Towcester where Archdeacon Sponne’s Chantry House, Italianate Town Hall, and Georgian Post Office are grouped around a triangular market place. Behind Watling Street, in Moat Lane, Bury Mount is the remains of a Motte and Bailey castle, and the Towcester Museum and Visitor Centre which opened in December 2012 can be found off Watling Street in White Horse Yard.
Towcester’s name comes from the Old English words ‘Tofe’ which refers to the River Tove, and ‘ceaster’ which comes from the Latin word for camp. It was here that the Romans built their fort at this important junction of Watling Street which runs from London to the North West.
Among the notable people born in Towcester are Thomas Shepard a grocer’s son who became a Puritan preacher who went to America as a result of persecution and took a part in the Founding of Harvard University, and James Mason Hutchings discoverer of Yosemite who was born here in 1820.
During the coaching era in the nineteenth century over 40 coaches a day passed through the town along Watling Street to London, Liverpool, Manchester, Holyhead, Oxford, and Northampton.
One of the coaching inns is the Saracens Head where Charles Dickens stayed.and which he made famous in ‘Pickwick Papers’ in which Mr Pickwick arrived here after a wet coach ride from Birmingham, and where Mr Pott and Mr Slurk, rival editors, infuriated each other. The Saracens Head dates to the sixteenth century. It has a long ironstone front, with statues of Venus and Apollo on either side of a round arched window which is over a carriageway.
Towcester Racecourse is set in beautiful parkland and has been described as one of the most scenic Racecourses in the country.