Brackley’s earliest history dates from the Iron Age with evidence of settlements found near Mill Lane and Castle Lane whilst traces of two Roman villas have been found, by a remarkable co-incidence. at Roman Way. Brackley developed as a village around 600 AD when a Saxon called Bracca, created a small settlement in a ‘ley’ or clearing around where St. Peters Church now stands. With great imagination and no apparent shame he called it ‘Braccaley’ though history doesn’t record how he felt to see the name transform into Brackley. Angraley I bet.
When the Normans arrived in the 11/12th century, they established a crossing over the River Ouse and built a small castle to protect it near where Hinton Road now runs. The Norman settlement rapidly expanded and it became a town of some significance. The king with the best ever title, Richard the Lionheart, named Brackley as one of only 5 places where official jousting tournaments could be held. We aren’t sure he ever visited the town because he was generally away Crusading or defending his Chateaux in France, no doubt from Dick Strawbridge’s ancestors.
Clearly the thrill of the medieval tournament and the gathering here of more than 2000 knights and horses in 1215 event (which was actually the warm-up event for the signing of the Magna Carta) saw Brackley become something of a party town and a centre for festivals and events which let’s just say it, is something we Brackley folk remain pretty damn good at.
Times were clearly good and trade along the new Norman road brought prosperity to Brackley and by 13th century it was a properly established town which sent delegates to Westminster, you know the place that used to discuss all sorts of issues like health and social care, education, defence and public spending etc.
The Normans also established the parish church of St Peters which was later added to particularly in 13/14th centuries. Further development saw the building of the Hospital of St. James and St. John which subsequently passed to Magdalen College of Oxford, who, later founded the school which is such a feature of the town today.
Trade-wise the town became famous for wool making and Brackley prospered until changes in manufacturing techniques led to the industry moving further north during the industrial revolution. However the textile skills weren’t lost and over time a new trade in lace-making took over whilst a thriving shoe and boot-making developed amongst the townsfolk in common with many people in Northamptonshire. Cobblers – no it’s absolutely true!
The Civil War, which can best be described as Brexit for the Monarchy, saw Brackley on the side of the Roundheads (or the leavers). Because of its central position, Brackley was often a stopping place during this time. In fact Brackley prospered again as the Puritan era passed and the coaching era dawned. It became a significant staging post with, at one time, some 28 hostelries established on the High St alone, reviving its status as a party town. ‘All hail to the ale’ could well have been coined by Brackley revellers and we weren’t terribly surprised to learn that breweries sprang up in town to meet the thirsty needs, the last closing its doors as late as 1959. Several coaching inns from the period survive today albeit in a modernised form such as The Crown Hotel and The Plough public house whilst several street names around town, like Drayman’s Walk and Old Brewery Walk, hark back to this time
Turning to a more sober theme it should be said that architecturally the town has many fine buildings. A fine Jacobean Manor House was built in the 17th century and after numerous changes in style and ownership it is now Winchester House School, a much-admired private preparatory school. The iconic town hall is Georgian, built in 1706 by the 4th Earl of Bridgewater and it has recently undergone a major restoration and is a much loved feature.
The town was dominated by two families the Egertons and the Stanleys for close on 150 years until around the time of the Reform Act of 1832, when Brackley lost its two MPs. This seemed to be a high watermark for the town after which Brackley settled into being a quiet market town, unlike its earlier character.
Then in the mid 19th Century the first railway line came to the town and 50 years later, a second station was built at the north end of Brackley linking the town with the capital (hats in the air). A fabulous viaduct was built across River Ouse and what is now the route of the A43 to carry the rail line (hurrahs). However Brackley lost its rail links under the Beeching cuts in the 1960’s and the viaduct was sadly demolished in the 70’s (sigh).
However In more recent times, Brackley has grown significantly and new industry has been attracted to the town including food processing, engineering and other manufacturing industries. The town is proud to be the home of F! World Champions Mercedes Petronas and just to continue the theme of sporting prowess, our local football side Brackley Town FC are the current FA Trophy holders having beaten Bromley FC on penalties at a dramatic Wembley final last May.
The population of more than 15,000 is growing rapidly as new housing developments have sprung up with a new school, community centre, health care facility, store and a central park being built to the north of the town.
Happily the town once again is a vibrant, thriving and growing community which, as in times past, once again enjoys an events and festival calendar that makes it a great place to live and visit.
If you’d like to read a more serious and in depth history of the town click here…..