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Muddy visits Delapré Abbey

A stately, honey-hued landmark at the heart of the county town, Delapré Abbey is a secret treasure trove of art, history, intrigue and scandal with 500 acres of parkland and gardens to explore.

Delapré Abbey Gables Northampton
Delapré Abbey Stable Yard Northampton

If you think you know everything there is to know about Northampton (I did), think again. I was well and truly dazzled on a recent day out at Delapré Abbey. Until its £8m refurbishment and subsequently opening to the public in 2018, Delapré has always just been there: A golf course, council admin building, somewhere to sneak into as a student to have a secret picnic (who, moi?) but, just like one of its former Cluniac (that’s an order of nuns, btw) residents, Delapré has shed her modest habit and is rocking a sumptuous new velvet gown.

Delapré Abbey cloisters stairwell

I took a tour of the beautiful twelfth century-neoclassical hybrid pile with the Mudlets in tow, courtesy of our amazingly knowledgable guide David, who really knows his stuff and is passionate about the Abbey’s legacy. It’s been a bumpy journey through the centuries, from Delapré’s early days as a Catholic convent where the nuns witnessed one of the, obvs quite frightening, battles of the Wars of the Roses in 1460 right here on the lawn, followed by the dissolution of the monasteries, after which the Abbey became a private house. The Tate and, later, the Bouverie families lived here until the house was requisitioned by the War Office in WWII, during which time a Lancaster Bomber tragically crash landed here. The Abbey was finally bought by Northampton Corporation in 1946 and has been in public ownership ever since.

Delapré Abbey library with view of lawns, Northampton

There are loads of fascinating stories and scandals contained in Delapré’s ancient walls -the Restoration playwright Sheridan is said to have been inspired to pen his famous The School for Scandal by the salacious goings on here – but the most inspiring element to the house tour from the Mudlets’ perspective is unquestionably the Stable Yard, which houses the brilliantly engaging, Battlefield Rooms where visitors are immersed in a compelling, interactive experience that tells the story, not just of the downfall of the King, but the experiences of the women and children living through it.

Frank Dobson Woman With A Fish Delapré Abbey Northampton
Delapré Abbey Walled Garden Northampton

Art geeks like me will pore over the beautiful portrait of former lady of the manor, Harriet Bouverie, by Joshua Reynolds (shh, it’s a copy) and, outside in the Walled Garden, Frank Dobson’s sculpture Woman with a Fish. The gardens are pretty splendid, we found them exploding with bright begonias and dahlias on our visit, and spent ages exploring the grounds, which are entirely free for anyone to visit and within walking distance of the town centre (worth noting that it’s free to park here too). With a lazy lunch or an indulgent afternoon tea at the bright and airy Orangery Cafe thrown in for good measure, Delapré is an incredible family day out.

Delapré Abbey, London Road, Northampton, NN4 8AW. Tel:  01604 760817  

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