Northampton might be the biggest town in the UK, but when it comes to cultural pursuits, it more than holds its own compared to big-name cities, thanks to its plethora of art galleries, museums and high-class events.
Culture in Northampton
Be it the world’s largest collection of shoes, showcasing the best work from local artists or appreciating a fine painting while drinking an equally fine cup of coffee, Northampton has an active art scene waiting to be explored.
A four-storey building that’s home to a gallery, project and education spaces, artist studios and a café, Number Nine Contemporary Art is a fully realised art space in the Cultural Quarter, offering guidance and exhibition space to new artists to create multi-disciplinary events. Launched in 2006 thanks to a collaborative effort by a group of artists all sharing the same vision, NN Contemporary Art is the largest gallery space outside a city in the UK and is home to some of the most exciting and creative art in the region.
Despite Imelda Marcos’s best attempts, the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is home to over 12,000 pairs of shoes, the largest collection of its kind in the world, currently on display as part of two galleries dedicated to the town’s famous cobbling past. Currently being refurbished, the museum is set to reopen in late 2018 following a major new expansion.
A jack of all trades housing a coffee shop, museum and gallery, the J Gallery and Coffee House in Moulton, just a few miles from the town centre, is a lovely place to spend a few hours. Showcasing original work from 20 local artists – with many for sale – across two galleries, the contemporary art is of high quality. Equally as good are the homemade cakes they serve up for afternoon tea.
Linked to the nearby university, The Avenue Gallery is not only a showground for the students’ work, but also a host for regular work and exhibitions from local artists, research staff and touring collections. The gallery also looks to promote conversation and debate through collaboration and is one of the less well-known but just as inspiring art spaces in Northampton.
With a rich industrial history, including its reputation as a boot and shoe capital of the world, there are several museum options in Northampton that cleverly illustrate the area’s rich history.
The largest exhibition might be for the ‘Life and Sole’ series, as a 12,000-strong collection of shoes and boots retell Northampton’s proud cobbling history, but the real star of the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is the story of Northampton’s Stone Age; a fascinating insight with plenty of objects and videos demonstrating how far the town has come from its early start. Alongside that, there is an impressive array of Italian paintings, Oriental ceramics and a high-quality Egyptian display. The museum is currently closed as it’s undergoing a refurbishment, but is set to reopen in late 2018 with increased display spaces and new attractions.
Once home to one of Shakespeare’s granddaughters, Abington Park Museum is a 15th century farmhouse that has everything from military history exhibitions to historic and contemporary leather designs. Open from March to October, the Grade I listed building is set in the stunning grounds of Abington Park and is a gentle 30-minute walk from the town centre – just under two miles from our Town Centre hotel.
Military Air Display
With a population of over 200,000, there’s always something going on in Northampton, be it stunning balloon displays, a town-wide carnival or festival.
Now into its 28th year, the Northampton Balloon Festival is one of the town’s main events, as dozens of gorgeous balloons litter the sky over Northampton for three days during August. Running from sunrise to sunset, and with a special Balloon Glow show set for the last evening, it’s held at Billing Autodrome. There’s also plenty of on-ground action to keep you entertained, including mountain bike shows, live bands, DJs, sports, kites and falconry.
Over a decade old, the Northampton Carnival has been entertaining thousands of fans every year with its riotous celebration of multiculturalism, carnival costumes, performances and music. With a parade through town full of floats, troupes and stalls, plus an on-stage performance at the final venue, it’s easy to feel part of the carnival and get involved – be it cheering on the parades, getting down in the streets to the travelling sound systems or heading to the final destination for the big show climax.
Split over five stages covering jazz, classical music, pop and more, the Northampton Music Festival is a one-day festival held across five venues in town. Now into its 11th year, the festival is held every June and celebrates the diversity and history of Northampton’s music scene, with everything from opera to rock music considered fair game, as industry stars join local talent for over 50 shows during the day.
One of the largest events of the year – and certainly one of the most heavily attended, with up to 60,000 people – is the Northampton Town Festival, an all-encompassing affair that brings together a fun fair, live music, street food, fireworks, comedy, circus entertainment and loads more. Over a century old, the party is held at the town’s racecourse and it recently partnered with the Balloon Festival to run on the same weekend, making it one weekend not to miss in Northampton.