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Social history

Carnival bicycle

The social history collection reflects the history and development of Northampton and the surrounding county from 1600 to the present day. Much of the material highlights what it was like to live and work in the town and county.

How the collection started

The collection was founded and developed from the 1950s onwards and was driven by an identified need to collect Northampton's recent past. Through the collection curators recorded changes in the town and surrounding countryside.

Key objects from the collection

Local industry and working life are a well-represented theme including objects associated with brewing, saddlery, retail, baking, brickmaking, the motor industry and agriculture. In the 1900s there were rapid changes to the town which influenced the museum’s collecting strategy. As buildings were destroyed features, including the Emporium Arcade Clock, signs, bricks and tiles were acquired. More contemporary elements relate to the toy and model industry covering 1920 to the present day, recognising a period when Northamptonshire was home to this nationally significant industry. There are links to our shoe collection through objects from the Northampton shoe industry. Modern day engineering is also reflected in the collection, with items from local industries such as British Timken, Barclaycard, Avon, British Gas, Express Lifts, Nationwide, and Cosworth Engineering. We continue to collect objects telling the story of Northampton today including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Donate to the collection

Objects associated with notable people from Northampton have been collected over time, such as Charles Bradlaugh, John Clare, Spencer Perceval, Wenman Bassett-Lowke, Joseph Grose and Malcolm Arnold. Many other domestic and work objects are associated with named people who lived in the town and helped to create Northampton as it is today.

Where to see the social history collection

A significant proportion of the collection is on display at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in the History of Northampton Gallery 2.

History of Northampton Gallery 2

Abington Park Museum displays substantial social history in the Cradle to Grave Galleries.

Cradle to Grave Gallery

Social history features often in our temporary exhibitions including We are Northampton.

We are Northampton

Our online social history resources include key objects on display in the History of Northampton Gallery 2 and Cradle to Grave galleries at Abington Park Museum.

Key objects from Northampton Gallery 2

Key objects from the Cradle to Grave gallery at Abington Park Musem

Social history collections are also included in our online resources.

Online resources Northampton Museum and Art Gallery

Online resources Abington Park Museum

Research or enquire about the social history collection

We welcome access to the collection through research visits, viewings and correspondence.

Research or enquire about the collection