Billing Parish Council consists of four wards – the old villages of Great Billing and Little Billing and the relatively new areas of Ecton Brook and Bellinge. Great Billing (Billing Magna) and Little Billing (Billing Parva) are both mentioned in the Domesday Book and their respective Parish Councils were formed in 1894 and then amalgamated in 1935 to form the civic parish of Billing. Until the 1970’s when Northampton Development Corporation expanded the eastern side of Northampton, both villages were situated outside the town. This expansion resulted in the building of the Bellinge and Ecton Brook estates which effectively joined the two villages together with the whole being taken within the town boundary.
History of Billing Parish
The church of St. Andrew stands in a somewhat isolated position on the west side of Great Billing, commanding a wonderful view across The Leys and down to Little Billing. Originally it was within the village, but a former Lord of the Manor diverted a road and got rid of the cottages adjoining the church so as to increase the quiet and amenity of his home, leaving it standing alone in a field just outside the park wall.
Most of the land in the Parish was at one time part of Great Billing Hall Park, a country estate with a long and varied history. The former site of the Hall itself is now a residential area centred on Lady Winefride’s Walk in Great Billing village.
In the mid 1930’s W. Pearce and Company, a flourishing leather manufacturer in the town, bought a part of the parkland and in 1939 opened a purpose built modern factory in the art deco style, but sensitive to the beauty of the area, made sure it was landscaped in a garden setting. Pressures were placed on Northampton to greatly expand its population, particularly in the eastern district extending to Billing and beyond, and in 1987 Pearce’s were able to secure something of the character of the parkland for future generations by donating in perpetuity to the Parish Council the open space leading up to the 12th Century St. Andrews Church, now known as Billing Leys.
The site of Billing Hall was originally occupied by the Manor, mentioned in the Domesday Book. During its nine hundred year history the park and estate was often under Royal patronage and was gifted to branches of many aristocratic families, including those of the Barrys. In the seventeenth century the Manor belonged to the Earls of Thomond and passed first to the Earl of Egremont and then to Lord John Cavendish, who in the middle of the eighteenth century largely rebuilt the house. In 1795 Robert Elwes bought the estate. His son Charles Carey Elwes inherited when Robert died in 1852 and on his death in 1866 Charles’s son Valentine Carey Elwes became Squire of Billing. It was also in 1866 that Valentine’s son Gervase was born. Gervase made a profound impression on the village as a benevolent master, but even more so internationally as a talented and distinguished tenor singer. It was on a concert tour to the USA in January 1921 that this much loved gentleman met his untimely death in a train accident. He was greatly mourned and a plaque to his memory by the village pump testifies to the esteem in which he was held. Sadly it was then that the beautiful grounds, parkland and estate began to get broken up and sold. The Hall was finally demolished in 1956 to make way for new housing.
The Heritage Project
At one time the Hall and its grounds were surrounded by a ha-ha (a ditch and dry stone wall) which allowed uninterrupted views down to the Nene Valley but which also stopped grazing animals from gaining access to the gardens. The only substantial remaining part of the ha-ha open to public view and access is that around the churchyard of St. Andrews Church in Great Billing. Unfortunately the ha-ha wall was not only overgrown, but crumbling and disintegrating and if not restored there was a distinct danger that it would be lost for ever and with it something of the long history of Billing Park.
Initial estimates of the costs involved in restoring the wall were alarming but an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2011 for an appropriate grant was successful. Work began in early 2012 with valuable preparatory work carried out by the local Payback Team and Open Days held to enable schoolchildren and parishioners to try their hand at the ancient art of dry stone walling.
Once the restoration of the ha-ha wall was completed, the Parish Council did feel, however, that the condition of the gates to St. Andrews Church rather spoilt the whole effect – time and bouts of vandalism had taken their toll – and it decided to fund their renovation. Permission was obtained from the Diocese and a suitable contractor sourced, and the newly restored cast iron gates were re-hung in time for Easter 2013. The last part of the wall, either side of the gates, was restored at the same time and a Time Capsule buried.
The Next Phase
The next part of this project, an oral history of the Parish, is now underway, where Volunteers, consisting of Parish Councillors, parishioners and members of the local Women’s Institute will visit residents and record their recollections on tape and collect old photographs, maps etc. to record these reminiscences for posterity.
If you have memories of growing-
When completed these will be displayed on this website so watch this space!