I meet local historian Jon-Paul Carr who undoubtedly has the largest collection of photographs, maps and papers covering the Irchester parish which includes Chester Farm – an extraordinary 20,000 items and still growing.
History has played a major role in the life of the ebullient Jon-Paul, as a student, through work and as a volunteer. I can be certain that this is a life-long passion when Jon-Paul, who grew up in Wellingborough, tells me that “I have been volunteering in museums since the age of ten”. He has also traced his family history back for well over 500 years so he clearly has a sense of belonging to the community.
His degree was in Modern and Contemporary History; followed by an MA in English Local History; Museum Studies and a BTec in Conservation and Restoration were also squeezed in. He has looked after the archive of The Northamptonshire Regiment and worked at Market Harborough Museum, Wellingborough Museum and Kettering Museum and Art Gallery. He is now Northamptonshire Studies Manager for the county library service looking after family and local history, which involves school visits, talks to community groups, family history research and partnerships with local societies and organisations. Jon-Paul believes that “If you feel you belong, it makes you feel part of the community and therefore makes you feel better”.
His grandparents were village bakers in Irchester and he not only now lives there but is also a councillor representing the Irchester Ward on Borough Council of Wellingborough. “Everybody in the village knows my interest” he says “so for instance I have recently been given a further 300 pictures”. He is a member of the Irchester Parish History Society, set up in 1995 and with around 80 members is clearly thriving. Jon-Paul has used a fraction of his photographic collection to produce a series of books 'Irchester: Pictures Past' and he has kindly lent us the delightful pictures shown for this article.
I tell him that I have yet to find a period in its history when something interesting wasn't happening here and our conversation roams far and wide, of the people who lived and worked at Chester Farm or those that just passed through. In World War II there were POW's at Chester Farm and an anti-aircraft gun was placed in the middle of the field where the Roman town sits below the surface. Of the Great War when a Belgian refugee drowned here swimming in the Nene and the viaduct was guarded by the Volunteer Training Corps (the 'Dad's Army' of the day). The Osier beds at Chester Farm where willow was collected to be made into mats at Irchester to the impact of the Navvies who came to build the railway line in the 1850's, returning for a second phase of building in 1881.
Chester House had many owners and tenants making for a complex story, but just a few examples as illustrated by these photographs.
This delightful photograph was taken on the banks of the River Nene near to Chester House in 1911 and shows a local Irchester family having a summer picnic.
The picture at the top of the page is Chester House, circa 1880 at the time that the Rev Jacob Tomlin, Vicar of Irchester lived there. He had previously been a Missionary in China, India and the East Indies.
I am sure that we will be asking Jon-Paul for more stories and photographs: just for eccentric starters an Australian novelist; a retired decorated Artillery Captain from the First World War, and Parsons Pork Pie Factory!
Interview with Mary Powell, Web Editor.
Photographs: copyright Jon-Paul Carr