Friday, February 02, 2024

What they did to Desborough: The 'redevelopment' of 1970

Something has always puzzled me about Desborough: where are the shops?

There's a Co-op supermarket in what was the once the yard of the town's railway station and a Sainsbury's just out of town on the old A6, which I'll make the effort to visit one day, but both are 21st-century arrivals.

Beyond that there are a few shops on Station Street and two or three more on the High Street, but that is it.

The answer came in the form of a photo caption in the little town's excellent heritage centre:

In July 1970 work began that would completely change the face of Desborough, work which would rip out the heart of the old town. It was called redevelopment. Fifty town centre buildings would disappear under the bulldozers; some of these were 300 years old. 

The historic Talbot Inn (1675), the picturesque New Inn along with another coaching inn, The Angel, which stood in the High Steet; Sumner's farm (c.1684) in Buckwell Street, where they bred horses for royalty; also businesses, shops and homes. Virtually all of the High Street shops were lost, many that would or could never be replaced.

This explains why today Desborough almost feels as though it has been the victim of some tragedy. A misfired nuclear Thor missile from their nearby base at RAF Harrington, perhaps?

Who was behind this extraordinary assault on the town? The council? The Cooperative movement, which seemed to own most of Desborough? Or was it driven by Highways policy? The widening of the old A6 was part of the destruction.

The video above - Stephen Richards also produced the excellent one on the Desborough and the Railway, which I have also featured here - shows what was lost, but as the photos it uses are in black and white, one important element is missing.

Desborough was an ironstone town, as are many tourist destinations in the Cotswolds. Judging by the few remaining old buildings, the local stone was more bright orange than golden, but the townsfolk should be welcoming visitors, not huddling among the ruins that were left to them.

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