There is ample evidence of prehistoric and Roman occupation in the area and a small Roman walled town existed to the east of the present town. Recently, the first direct evidence of the existence of Roman vineyards in Britain has positively been identified in the Nene valley immediately to the south of Wellingborough
Wellingborough itself however, is essentially Anglo-Saxon in origin. The long slope watered by wells and springs above a fordable point on the Nene, with the Ise tributary on the eastern side, was occupied by an Anglo-Saxon war band in the early 6th century - 'Wendeling burh', the stronghold of Wendel's people. A helmet of the period, its crest surmounted by a boar, was recovered from a site near Wellingborough, only the fourth Anglo-Saxon helmet ever to be found. The annual Waendel Walk commemorates the town's eponymous founder.
The area then became part of the powerful kingdom of Mercia until it was overrun by the Vikings. Early in the 10th century the Wessex kings recovered Northamptonshire from the Vikings. In AD 948 King Eadred gave much of Wellingborough to the newly refounded fenland monastery of Cruiland or Croyland, now called Crowland, the Abbots remaining Lords of the Manor until the Dissolution of the Monastries in 1539.
The fertile soils made barley growing and malting major occupations, and malt was exported to the mother house and other manors belonging to it, as were horses, pigeons and other produce. The great malting and brewing tradition of Wellingborough ceased only within the last 30 years or so.
It has been deduced from the Domesday Book, compiled in 1086 that about 250 people lived in 'Wendleberie', as the town was named therein. Two of the three watermills were on the Ise. The town was the chief centre of the Hundred of Hamfordshoe - an area of eight parishes. Hundred courts were held in the open air on Round Hill, a Bronze Age burial mound north Earls Barton. The court removed to the town in about 1511.
The Abbot began a swan farm in the Swanspool area in about 1320, providing winter meat for richer tables, and the wings were sold for hearth brushes. Early in the next century a very fine tithe barn was built. Of local ironstone and thatch, this has been restored and is used for various functions today. Part of the medieval Monastic Grange is incorporated into the large house (now used as offices), of mainly 17th century origin, known as Croyland Abbey.
Although there is documentary evidence that a Saxon church existed in Wellingborough, there is no obvious trace of it in the present parish church of All Hallows. This has a Norman south doorway and a chamber over the porch. The tower is 13th century, supporting a later spire, and the body of the church is mainly 14th century. Six remarkable misericord seats in the chancel point to the monastic influence, although there were no monks as such, but a number of lay clergy. The church narrowly avoided being burnt down during the great fire of Wellingborough in 1738 when some of the lead on the roof melted. As a result of the fire, 200 houses were destroyed and many of the 600 homeless people sheltered in the church.
After Henry VIII dissolved the monastries, the Wellingborough lands belonging to Croyland or Crowland remained in the King's hands until Henry's successor Edward VI, granted them to his half sister, Princess Elizabeth. Later, as Queen she gave the manor and other parish lands to Sir Christopher Hatton, and a smaller portion to her favourite, the Earl of Leicester. Sir Christopher promptly bough the latter out. But divisionof ownership came about again in 1616, when the old manor was purchased by the Earl of Warwick. The two manors finally came together again when both were bought in the early 19th century by John Vivian.
The presence of two manors gave two focal points to the town - the central market area, with its cross; and Broad Green, which included Buckwell and Gold Street. The horse market was held here, near a pond, and was overlooked by Hatton Manor House. A number of inns were built around each market area as economic and social centres.
The town has always been noted for its great number of springs (or wells), the most famous of which feature on the Borough's arms, being Red Well, White Well, Stan Well, Burymoor Well and Rising Sun Well.
After 1600 the waters were popular with the early Stuart nobility, and visits by Charles I and, more particularly Queen Henrietta Maria in 1627, 1628 and 1637 seemed likely to set the seal on Wellingborough as a Spa town. However, the Civil War intervened. Now, the Red Well pool, with its walls and sculptures, is gone, but the Red and White Wells can be found below Kilborn Road in a green setting.
Early in the Civil War, Thomas Jones, the elderly vicar of Wellingborough, died in Northampton Castle, having twice been imprisoned for continuing to use the Book of Common Prayer against the wishes of Parliament, the tale of the ride of Thomas Jones on a ferocious Wellingborough bear is commemorated in stained glass in All Hallows' church. The town was plundered for two days as a reprisal for its Royalist opposition. Just before the Battle of Naseby in 1645, the town was full of Parliamentary troops, some no doubt lodging at the Hind, then nearing completion on the market place. During the anarchic period after the war, the 'Diggers', a party of agrarian communists, attempted unsuccessfully to cultivate common land on the outskirts of the town.
The Hind was the place where, in 1765, the enclosure of the common fields was discussed. The second half of the 18th century saw the turnpiking of the main roads, when toll gates were erected at the four main entrances to the town. A stage-coach service was in operation from the White Hart (long since demolished) to London as early as 1766, taking nearly two days. In 1806 The Hind Flyer began between the Hind and London, the journey taking only a day.
This period also saw the decline of such woollen trade occupations as carding, spinning, weaving, fulling and dyeing. One corn mill had been fitted with fulling stocks as early as 1267.
Other ancient occupations were basket weaving, leather tanning and shoe making. Pillow lacemaking also became widespread, but this disappeared in the 19th century with the coming of machine-made lace at Nottingham. Boot making, however, became more substantial, with the specialisations begun in workshops from the late 18th century, such as heel making. The first factory was opened in Sheep Street in 1851, and can still be seen, though now converted into shops, opposite the Golden Lion Inn. The introduction of machinery met with some opposition. Men refused to work machines for closing upper parts of the boots, thus women came in to the industry. Wellingborough was notable for the comparatively large number of women employed in footwear manufacture, which remained the town's most important industry during the latter half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries.
In 1845 and 1860 respectively, the London and North Western Railway (Northampton / Peterborough branch line) and Midland Railway reached the town. Between these dates ironstone mining and steel production began. An industrial corridor emerged on the Ise / Midland Railway line corridor, with two sets of blast furnaces, brickworks, maltings, an engineering plant and a tannery. The tannery, flour mills and ironstone quarries adjoined the Nene bridge and rail facility at Little Irchester.
There was a large scale expansion of the town towards the Midland Railway line from 1861, when the population was 6,382. By 1901 it was 18,412. The railway itself was a large employer, with important freight traffic, marshalling yards, and a locomotive maintenance depot.
The all-over-town expansion saw ecclesiastical parishes emerge, and churches such as St Barnabas', All Saints' and St Mary's (which many experts consider to have the finest neo-Gothic interior in England) were built. The unique Congregational Church of 1875 (now United Reformed) in High Street may be said to typify the triumph of Noncomformist achievement in a market town.
The original market charter dates from 1201, but markets for sheep, pigs, cattle, horses and cheese each had their place in the town - some being called 'fairs'. The general market days were Wednesday and Saturday by about 1930. In addition there is now a Friday market and since 1984 a bric à brac market on Tuesdays.
Since the Second World War, there have been dramatic changes in the size and make-up of the population, especially since its designation as an expanding town. In addition to the influx of people from London and other cities, Wellingborough has become the home of a wide variety of ethnic minority groups. Approximately eight per cent of the town's population are of Afro-Caribbean or Asian origin. In addition there are not insignificant numbers of Irish, Polish, Italian, Ukranian, Chinese and Vietnamese people. The reorganisation of local government in 1974 saw the Urban and Rural Districts merge to become a Borough, which is now twinned with the French town of Niort and the German town of Wittlich.
The post-war decline of the shoe industry and the disappearance of the iron production and brewing industries has become part of history. Now, there is a multiplicity of industries on the Denington, Finedon Road and Park Farm Industrial Estates.
Today, Wellingborough and its surrounding parishes is home to an estimated 68,000 people.