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Early history

Mesolithic and Neolithic artefacts have been found in the area surrounding Corby and human remains dating to the Bronze Age were found in 1970 at Cowthick. The first evidence of permanent settlement comes from the 8th century when Danish invaders arrived and the settlement became known as “Kori’s by” – Kori’s settlement. The settlement was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Corbei”. Corby’s emblem, the raven, derives from an alternative meaning of this word. These Danish roots were recognised in the naming of the most southern of the town’s housing estates, Danesholme, around which one of the Danish settlements was located.

Corby was granted the right to hold two annual fairs and a market by Henry III in 1226. In 1568 Corby was granted a charter by Elizabeth I that exempted local landowners from tolls (the fee paid by travellers to use the long-distance public roads), dues (an early form of income tax)[4] and gave all men the right to refuse to serve in the local militia. A popular legend is that the Queen was hunting in Rockingham Forest when she (dependent on the legend) either fell from her horse or became trapped in a bog whilst riding. Upon being rescued by villagers from Corby she granted the charter in gratitude for her rescue. Another popular explanation is that it was granted as a favour to her alleged lover Sir Christopher Hatton.

The Corby Pole Fair is an event that has taken place every 20 years since 1862 in celebration of the charter. According to a newspaper report dated 14 June 1862 which focuses on the extravagances of the fair, the fugitive slave John Anderson was described as being educated in the Corby British School,[6] giving the town an unusual link to slavery in the United States.

The next pole fair is to be held in 2022.

From rural village to industrial town

The local area has been worked for iron ore since Roman times. An ironstone industry developed in the 19th century with the coming of the railways and the discovery of extensive ironstone beds. By 1910 an ironstone works had been established. In 1931 Corby was a small village with a population of around 1,500. It grew rapidly into a reasonably sized industrial town, when the owners of the ironstone works, the steel firm Stewarts & Lloyds, decided to build a large integrated ironstone and steel works on the site. The start of construction in 1934 drew workers from all over the country including many workers from the depressed west of Scotland and Irish labourers. The first steel was produced in October 1935 and for decades afterwards the steel works dominated the town. By 1939 the population had grown to around 12,000, at which time Corby was thought to be the largest “village” in the country, but it was at that point that Corby was re-designated an urban district (see the Local Government section below).

1940s and 1950s

During the Second World War the Corby steelworks were expected to be a target for German bombers but in the event there were only a few bombs dropped by solitary planes and there were no casualties. This may be because the whole area was blanketed in huge dense black, low-lying clouds created artificially by the intentional burning of oil and latex to hide the glowing Bessemer converter furnaces at the steelworks from German bomber crews.The only known remaining scars from German attacks can be found in the form of bullet holes visible on the front fascia of the old post office in Corby village (now known as Decades bar and restaurant). The Corby steelworks made a notable contribution to the war effort by manufacturing the steel tubes used in Operation Pluto (Pipe Line Under the Ocean) to supply fuel to Allied forces on the European continent.

In 1950, with a population of 18,000, Corby was designated a New Town with William Holford as its architect. By 1951, he prepared the development plan with a car-friendly layout and many areas of open space and woodland. In 1952, Holford produced the town centre plan and in 1954 the layout for the first 500 houses. The town now underwent its second wave of expansion, mainly from Scotland. Corby is famous for its Scottish heritage based on decades of incoming steel workers and was for a time known locally as “Little Scotland”.

Decline of the steel industry

Sundew dragline excavator was a local landmark

In 1967 the British steel industry was nationalised and the Stewarts & Lloyds steel tube works at Corby became part of British Steel Corporation. The Government approved a ten-year development strategy with expenditure of £3,000 million from 1973 onwards, the objective of which was to convert BSC from a large number of small scale works, using largely obsolete equipment, to a far more compact organisation with highly competitive plant. Steelmaking was to be concentrated in five main areas: South Wales, Sheffield, Scunthorpe, Teesside and Scotland, most of which are coastal sites with access to economic supplies of iron rich imported ores. It was not until 1975 that a closure programme was agreed after a 14-month review by Lord Beswick, the then Minister of State for Industry https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1975/feb/04/steel-industry-closure-review. Corby was not one of the Beswick Plants that were to close in the review. By this time BSC was plunging into loss and important parts of the investment programme was held back. The European Union, Davignon Plan, had also asked for Steel Capacity in Europe to be significantly reduced. In May 1979, the New Conservative Governments Minister, Sir Keith Joseph announced the closure of Corby Steelworks. By the end of 1981 over 5,000 jobs had been lost from British Steel in Corby, and further cuts took the total loss to 11,000 jobs, leading to an unemployment rate of over 30%. Steel tube making continued, however, initially being supplied with steel by rail from Teesside and later from South Wales.






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