Snapshot of town’s past uncovered

Pictures by Mark Thompson, of First Light Photography
Pictures by Mark Thompson, of First Light Photography

A piece of Daventry’s history has been unveiled at a town centre shop.

The upper floors of First Light Photographic’s building in the High Street have disappeared under scaffolding, but behind them lies a unique snapshot of the town’s past.

The building is Grade II listed, so when water from the gutters started to damage the front of the building, owner Dawn Branigan decided to call in the workers. As they worked on the render on the front wall they discovered behind it lay the original wood of the half-timbered frame.

As work progressed they ended up being able to see into the loft space of the building.

Dawn said: “In the loft we found there had been an additional secret room put in. There are the remains of the wall, complete with a door. This wall was papered, using newspapers as a lining paper – because this has been kept in total darkness – the pattern and colour of the original wallpaper is still intact.

“The newspapers used date back to 1886 and include local and international news and one is a copy of “The Warcry” – the newspaper of the Salvation Army.

First Light Photographic, historic discoveries

First Light Photographic, historic discoveries

Although the shop has a modern frontage, above it lies what could be the oldest building still standing in Daventry.

The original parts date back to around 1450, including the medieval roof timbers which have been described as being of an unusual king and queen post combination. Since the original structure was built it has been altered down the years, including extensions to the rear, and a cellar.

Now it’s English Heritage entry says: “The survival of so much structure of a 15th century in a Northamptonshire urban setting is of considerable special architectural interest.”

Dawn said: “When I originally bought the building in 2003 my surveyor suggested that it would have been a structure of some importance, and could have been a meeting place for the guilds or a public administration building.

First Light Photographic, historic discoveries'The hidden room

First Light Photographic, historic discoveries'The hidden room

“It would probably originally have been vaulted to the ceiling with all of the timbers exposed on the inside, as the beams have been chamfered and would have been designed therefore to be on show. Since then a ceiling was put in on the first floor so the timbers haven’t been on show for several hundred years.

“It has also been suggested that the original building would have been about one-third larger than it is at the moment, and this was probably incorporated into the original Peacock Hotel, which is now the Halifax.

“At one time, the building was a bakery and there is evidence of charring to some of the beams at the front left of the building (as you look at it), so there could have possibly been a fire, which resulted in the part of the building being destroyed.

“In the loft space, an additional room was put in and among the other finds is a vintage Raleigh tricycle, which may have something of a ghoulish past! Wherever it stands in the loft there is a distinct cold spot immediately below – several clairvoyants and mediums have visited over the last 10 years and most of them agree there are a minimum of three ghostly inhabitants; a man, a woman and a little boy. Perhaps the boy befell an accident while riding this trike?”

Now what started as a small job to repair some water damage has turned into a major project to sort out the frontage of this 550-year-old building.

Dawn said: “Sadly, although we are listed, there are no funds available for grants or any kind of financial help – English Heritage only help with Grade II or Grade I listed buildings. Daventry District Council have no grants available either.

“I feel that I am the custodian of this building for this time and I want to leave it in the same or better condition than when I found it.”