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Discover Northampton’s Thriving Cultural Quarter

Known for its shoemaking industry, historic market square and handsome heritage buildings, the town of Northampton has plenty to offer visitors, from lively restaurants, pubs and bars to eclectic shops, boutiques and other independent businesses. What many don’t realize is that this bustling Midlands town is also a thriving artistic hub, with a vibrant Cultural Quarter centered around the historic Derngate and Guildhall Road.

Home to some of the town’s finest and most interesting architecture, as well as a wonderful assortment of museums, galleries, theatres and cinemas, the Quarter was established by the local council in recognition of the important contribution the arts have made to the town’s cultural and economic regeneration, and the ongoing role these creative organisations will play in enriching the local area.

Eager to explore Northampton’s cultural highlights? We’ve put together a guide to the top attractions in the Cultural Quarter, all located less than 10 minutes’ walk from the Park Inn by Radisson Northampton.

Royal & Derngate Theatre

royal & derngate northampton arts culture

Image: © HOLLIS, courtesy of Royal & Derngate Northampton

“The Royal & Derngate, as it stands today, evolved from two theatres that were originally completely separate organisations,” explains Amanda Howson, Press Manager. “The Royal Theatre, which opened in 1884, is a Grade II listed building designed by the renowned Victorian architect CJ Phipps. In 1927, it became home to the Northampton Repertory Company and has run as a producing house creating its own theatrical productions ever since. The theatre is famed, amongst other things, for its beautifully painted safety curtain inspired by sources such as Commedia dell’Arte and Hamlet’s mirror.

“In complete contrast, the Derngate was opened in 1983 and designed to stage a variety of events, including classical concerts, musicals, opera, dance and ‘in the round’ performances. It has been run as a touring theatre since, regularly welcoming some of the biggest names and shows on the circuit. Since 2001, the two venues came under joint management and a multi-million pound refurbishment completed in 2007 created a light and airy shared foyer space.”

Royal auditorium interior northampton arts culture

Image: © Mike O’Dwyer, courtesy of Royal & Derngate Northampton

Today, the Royal & Derngate offers everything from touring West End productions featuring the theatre world’s biggest names, to high-quality productions created by local companies. Check out the programme to catch a variety of musicals, drama, comedy and dance, and make time to stop off at the in-house bars and restaurant for pre-show refreshments.

Errol Flynn Filmhouse

errol flynn exterior northampton arts culture

Image: courtesy of Errol Flynn Filmhouse

As part of the Royal & Derngate complex, the Errol Flynn Filmhouse is named after the theatre’s most famous alumnus, who performed at the Royal Theatre in the 1930s. Opened in 2013, the 88-seat luxury cinema was later expanded to include a second screen to offer greater variety. Today, as Howson explains, the cinema shows an eclectic programme of “the very best in world, independent, British and mainstream films, as well as live screenings of theatre, ballet and opera events from around the world.” For movie fans visiting Northampton, this is a must-visit attraction.

errol flynn interior northampton arts culture

Image: courtesy of Errol Flynn Filmhouse

78 Derngate: The Charles Rennie Mackintosh House

78 Derngate Atrium Northampton Architecture

Image: courtesy of 78 Derngate

Love architecture and design? A visit to 78 Derngate during your stay in Northampton is definitely in order. “This Georgian terraced house was owned by local businessman Wenman Bassett-Lowke, who commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh – the acclaimed Glaswegian artist, architect and designer – to remodel and design aspects of the property in 1916-17,” explains 78 Derngate’s House Manager. “This was the only architectural project in which Mackintosh was involved in England, and was his last architectural project before his death in 1928.”

78 Derngate Hall Lounge, located in Northampton's cultural corner

Image: courtesy of 78 Derngate

Today, you can opt for a guided or self-guided tour of the home to experience just what it would have looked like when the owners lived there 100 years previously. “Some original features remain, which were enhanced by extensive, meticulously-research renovations to the house and grounds to restore it to its original state. Everybody who visits is amazed at the innovative design ideas displayed a century ago – in terms of design, it was so far ahead of its time.”

This multiple award-winning attraction also houses two bright, airy art galleries, a design shop and a popular restaurant, The Dining Room – the perfect place to rest and refuel in a charming setting.

NN Contemporary Art

NN contemporary northampton cultural quarter

Image: courtesy of NN Contemporary Art

The brainchild of the Northampton Arts Collective (NAC) – a group of artists and practitioners dedicated to promoting contemporary art in the local area – NN Contemporary Art on Guildhall Road is a world-class art gallery with space for exhibitions, experimental projects, educational talks and workshops, plus an independently-run café.

“NN Contemporary Art aims to enrich the lives of the people of Northamptonshire through the arts and to be a focal point and catalyst for creativity,” explains Marketing Assistant Danielle Macleod. “We are passionate about art and particularly enjoy commissioning artists to make new work in Northampton, as well as providing continual professional development opportunities for artists at all stages of their careers.”

NN contemporary northampton Filip Markiewicz Molotov

Image: courtesy of NN Contemporary Art

What type of artwork can you expect to see? “We love to prompt conversation and work with artists that are exploring complex ideas through art in a way that opens up discussion, inviting visitors to ask questions or think about the world in a different way,” says Macleod. This can include everything “from Bosnian gravestone etchings by Mladen Miljanovic, to objects and films based on parapsychology research by Northern Irish artist Susan MacWilliam.” Other highlights have included “still life painting by Northampton-based Claire Jarvis; a Bauhaus goth rock-inspired installation by Luxembourger Filip Markiewicz; and a candy-coloured wonderland made from sugar by Australian Pip & Pop.”

Next up is Topical Devices (until 30 September), an exhibition by artist Jasmina Cibic, who represented Slovenia at the 2015 Venice Biennale, followed by Mobile Cinema by Romana Schmalisch (13-21 October). Find out more at the gallery’s what’s on page.

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