A Short History of Weedon Bec

The Name

            Visitors to Weedon Bec are often confused by the number of Weedons that they encounter. Weedon Bec is the name of the whole parish, within which there are two ancient settlements, Upper Weedon and Lower Weedon. Until about 1930 these were separated by up to half a mile of open fields.   The part of the village lying along the main roads, A5 and A45, is known as Road Weedon and developed later. This was probably in response to traffic along the Old Stratford to Dunchurch Turnpike created by an Act of Parliament in 1706; the first such road in Northamptonshire.

            The name Weedon comes from two Anglo-Saxon words: Weoh, meaning a Shrine or Holy Place, and Dun, meaning Hill. There are only two other Weedons in England.  Lois Weedon, is about eight miles south, and Weedon, Buckinghamshire, about twenty-eight miles south-east. In the case of Weedon Bec, the earliest known written occurrence of the name is found in an Anglo-Saxon Charter dated 944 A.D.

            The second part of the name, Bec, is the name of a village in Normandy, where there was an important Abbey. Some years after the Norman Conquest, the manor of Weedon was given to the Abbey of Bec, and the Abbey became Lord of the Manor.  Thus, the village became known as Weedon Bec.  At one time, it became fashionable to add a 'k' to Bec, this still occasionally happens. There were a number of other Abbeys and Priories in France drawing rents from English Manors. In 1414, King Henry V ordered that the 'Alien Priories', as they were called, be taken over, and the income transferred to the Crown. Henry was not very well disposed towards the French, you may remember.

             In about 1472, the manor was granted to the newly formed Eton College, who remained Lords of the Manor until changes in the law relating to leasehold property in the 1920s.

The Ordnance Depot

            Between the older villages and Road Weedon, stand the early nineteenth century Stores Buildings of the former Royal Ordnance Depot (see map).  Surrounded by a high brick wall, the eight original Stores are arranged in two lines on each side of a branch of the canal.  The canal cutting between the main channel and the Depot has now been filled, but the line can still be made out. 

            The Grand Junction Canal reached Weedon in 1796, the year in which Napoleon defeated Austria. After several years of war, in 1802 the Treaty of Amiens brought a short period of peace.  However, war again broke out in 1803 and there was great fear that England would be invaded before the other nations of Europe could come to her aid.  Napoleon's plans for an invasion were no secret.

            The English government made considerable additions to the Army and Militia, and large bodies of volunteers were raised. It was realised that the storage of military supplies near to the coast was no longer prudent, and plans were made to set up a depot for the storage of arms and ammunition near to the centre of the country.  A site in Weedon Bec was chosen, due to the proximity of the canal and Turnpike, and in 1803, an Act of Parliament provided for the acquisition of 53 acres of land. The government later extended their estate to about 150 acres.

            The military branch canal entered the Depot under a portcullis, set in a building known as the East Lodge, forming part of the surrounding wall, and still standing. At the west end there is a similar Lodge and the canal originally  extended beyond to serve the Magazine, used in the early years to store  gunpowder, delivered by canal boat. The magazine storage buildings, each separated from the other by a building filled with earth, can still be seen from the high ground within the Trading Estate off the Daventry Road (A 45). From here can also be seen a ninth Storehouse standing isolated to the West of the main enclosure. Intended to relieve pressure on the existing Clothing Depot at Pimlico, brought about by the South Africa War, it was completed in 1900, just as that War ended.

The Barracks

            The present Trading Estate stands upon the site of another of the former military establishments of Weedon, The Barracks - to the north of the Royal Ordnance Depot (see map). Built at the same time as the Depot, this comprised a group of buildings arranged about a Barrack Square. Some of these had stables on the ground floor, for the purpose of the Barracks was to house a Troop of Artillery and in those days, guns needed horses to pull them. Between the two World Wars, the Barracks became the Army School of Equitation, and an extensive indoor riding school and further stables were constructed.  The Barracks was demolished during the winter of 1955-6.

The Pavilion

            The other Government buildings in Weedon have given rise to one of the local legends. Constructed to house the Storekeeper and other principal officers of the Depot, these were three well-proportioned white brick buildings with connecting garden walls, presenting an imposing frontage to the east resembling a single structure. This gave rise to the name, The Pavilion. Two of the buildings were divided into two dwellings, so that provision was made for five officials in all. These were civilian appointments of the Board of Ordnance.

            At some time, it became popularly understood that these buildings were intended to house the King in the event of Napoleonic invasion. There is ample evidence that this story is a myth. They were later used for the Officers Mess of the Riding School. During the Second World War, together with the Barracks, they formed part of the Royal Army Ordnance Depot, when all parts of the military estate, together with a number of other buildings in surrounding parts of the county were dedicated to the provision of weapons to the Army in all theatres of war. The Pavilion buildings were demolished in the 1970s, to be replaced by Regents Park housing estate.

The Royal Army Ordnance Corps moved out of Weedon Depot on February 16, 1965.  Following a period of use by the Ministry of Supply, the surviving Depot Storehouses passed into private hands in the 1980s and are currently occupied by a number of small companies for stores and workshops.  These buildings and the perimeter wall are Listed Grade II*.

            In late 1995, the Depot was purchased by Cavalry Centre Limited, who applied for planning permission to change the use to an integrated heritage, tourist and commercial centre. Following a Public Inquiry, permission was granted in May 2000.

  Mike Rumbold, Horseshoes, Main Street, Upper Stowe, NORTHAMPTON, NN7 4SH.

April 2003