Northampton is a large town and urban area in central England. It serves as the county town and shire town of surrounding Northamptonshire and is one of the largest towns in the United Kingdom. It has applied for city status in both the 2000 and 2002 competitions, but won neither. As a result it is now the third largest town in England not to be called a city behind Reading and nearby Milton Keynes, both of which refer to themselves as cities.
Northampton was originally a relatively small town, centred around a castle and driven predominantly by its shoe-making industry. However, the arrival of the railways in the 19th century resulted in the loss of the castle. In the 1960s Northampton was designated a 3rd generation new town, alongside Peterborough, Milton Keynes, Warrington, Telford and Central Lancashire. The resultant expansion turned Northampton into the large settlement it is today. To the east of the town centre is where much of the new town development can be found - typically for 1970s new town development, this area is built to a low density. This area also includes the massive and partially elevated Weston Favell shopping centre.
The area to the south of the town has been developed more recently. The district known as Grange Park has been built up over the last decade, taking the town all the way down to junction 15 of the M1 motorway. Further to the west, Hunsbury Hill is a typical late 1980s style housing estate. Expansion is now taking place to the west of the town, some of it on flood plain areas. This is being overseen by the West Northampton Development Corporation, an arm of the Homes and Communities Agency, formerly English Partnerships.
Northampton is located on a loop of the West Coast Main Line. The four-track railway splits at Roade, the slow lines heading for Northampton while the fast lines follow the original route of the railway, which avoided Northampton. As a result, the large majority of Northampton's rail services are stopping services operated by London Midland. There were formerly branches to Blisworth, Bedford and Wellingborough. A stub remains of the second of these, running as far as the Brackmills industrial estate. There are plans to eventually reopen the route to Bedford in full.
The M1 motorway passes to the south west of Northampton, with three junctions (15, 15A and 16) serving the town. The sizable A45 dual carriageway passes through the town and connects it to Wellingborough and the A14 beyond. The A508 provides links to Milton Keynes and Market Harborough to the south and north respectively, while the A428 runs through the town on its way from Coventry and Rugby to Bedford and Cambridge.