The name of this Abbey should, strictly speaking, be the Convent of St Mary De La Pré, but over the years the name has been conjoined to make Delapré. It is also known as the Abbey of the Meadows, to differentiate it from the now vanished Abbey of St. Andrews which stood nearby.
Both the Convent and the Abbey were Cluniac foundations of Simon de Senlis, First Earl of Northampton who was also responsible for building Northampton Castle. The Convent was founded around 1145, with the Abbey following soon after.
The Convent remained small until the reign of Edward III when it was granted a charter and endowed with a great deal of church land across the county. Some rebuilding work was undertaken in the 1230s and 1250s which imply that the Convent was built in stone from the beginning. It was one of only two Cluniac Nunneries in England.
In the medieval period Northampton was a much more important town than it is today and was frequently at the centre of Midlands political manoeuvring. In July 1460 the Battle of Northampton took place in the grounds of the Convent. Henry VI was captured and spent the night of 10 July as a prisoner in the Convent whilst the nuns tended the wounds of the injured. Many of those who died in the Battle are buried in the nuns graveyard (which is now the walled garden).
By the time of the Dissolution the importance of both the town and its monastic foundations were waning. The Cluniac Abbey was virtually disbanded and the Convent was much smaller than at its height. Nevertheless, it was stripped of all its riches by Henry VIIIs men and sold off in 1542 to the Tate family who lived here until 1764.
During this period the Convent became known as an Abbey and was almost entirely rebuilt in various styles from Tudor to late Jacobean. The Abbey of St. Andrew has completely vanished and a hospital, which still bears its name, stands on the site.
In 1764 Delapré Abbey was sold to the Bouveries who removed the Tudor gardens of the Tates and brought Capability Brown in to re-landscape the gardens. In the 19th Century further changes were made to both grounds and house meaning that the Abbey of today is a mish-mash of styles. The only traces of the original structure are some filled in arcades at the rear of the property.
In the 1970s the Walled Garden had some sculptures added which are today considered important works by Walter Ritchie and Frande Dobson.
The building itself is owned by Northampton Council and is currently half empty and in need of some care and attention. The Friends of Delapré Abbey operate a small café inside and the gardens are open freely all year.
The Abbey has a ghost a grey or blue lady who is certainly one of the Nuns Cluniac Nuns dressed in blue.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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