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THE HISTORY OF DAVENTRY to 1851
Daventry was, and is, a market town, one of several local centres of trade and administration in the county of Northamptonshire.12th century Daventry had become home to the priory of St Augustine, a house of Cluniac monks; founded by Hugh de Leicester, sheriff of Northamptonshire, in the 1090s, with the permission of his lord, the Earl of Northampton. Over the next few centuries, Daventry was patronised by local gentry and nobility in return for masses said for their souls, but the Priory declined in the fifteenth century and Cardinal Wolsey obtained permission from Pope Clement VII in 1524 to dissolve it, in order to found Christ Church, Oxford.
In 1255 Daventry was granted a charter to become a market town. In 1576 Queen Elizabeth granted Daventry borough status. The town was mentioned by William Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part I, which refers to "the red-nosed innkeeper of Daintree".
The "Daintree" Shakespeare wrote about, the name persisting to this day, spelt Danetre, grew from a tradition that Danish settlers planted an oak tree on the summit of Borough Hill to mark the centre of England. This part of the town's history is reflected in the town's seal of a Viking/Saxon axeman and an oak tree. The town appears as Dauentre on the Christopher Saxton map of 1637. In 1720 Daventry had 292 houses and about 1600 inhabitants, 2582 in 1800, 3326 people in 1821, 4565 in 1841 and 4124 in 1861. It is very close to the Warwickshire border.
In 1645 Charles I slept in the Wheatsheaf Inn in Daventry the night before the Battle of Naseby - which he decisively lost. Certainly his troops were milling around the area that week.
English Dissenters founded a Dissenting chapel in the town around 1722 in buildings opposite The Wheatsheaf on the southern end of Sheaf Street. Later a Dissenting Academy was moved from Northampton to this site. The chemist and theologian Joseph Priestley studied there from 1752 to 1755.
In 1830 its position on the main road artery to Ireland and the North-West meant that 180 coaches a week stopped in the town: 82 to London, 56 to Birmingham, 19 to Liverpool, 7 each to Shrewsbury and Holyhead (Irish packet) 4 to Cambridge, 3 to Rugby and 1 to Northampton. There were also numerous local carriers picking up goods for nearby villages. Weedon, about 4 miles away, had a massive barracks and was a major troopship transit point for Ireland. It was on the canal, and in 1824 a convoy of 28 boats of soldiers passed through.
In 1851 half the inhabitants of Daventry were under 25. There were 5 times as many in the 0-9 age group as in the 60-69 group. The oldest was 91. Half were born in Daventry, 600 in nearby villages, and 85% in Northants or Warwickshire. The incomers were mostly English, and professional, but included 36 Irish, 21 Scots and 5 Welsh. 550 people (1 in 10 over 10 years old) were in shoemaking and 214 in domestic service.
Daventry had a full range of traders but the big growth in population was associated with the shoe and boot trade, and with the mechanisation of that trade in the mid-19th century.