Whilst the constituency is officially called ‘Corby’, it incorporates most of the district of East Northamptonshire (with the exception of Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Chelveston), in addition to the Borough of Corby.
Corby is easily the largest town in the constituency and Corby Borough includes the villages of Weldon, Rockingham, Gretton, Cottingham, Middleton, East Carlton, Stanion and Little Stanion. The Borough’s population was estimated to be 61,300 in the 2011 census and the Council has an ambition to continue to grow to around 100,000 citizens in the next decade, supported by significant housing development – particularly at Priors Hall, Oakley Vale and Little Stanion.
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. 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. The town then underwent its second wave of expansion, mainly from Scotland.
In the 1970s, the government approved a strategy of consolidating steel making 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. A programme was agreed that would lead to the phasing-out of steel making in Corby and the plan to end production was announced in November 1979. 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.
Benefiting from the town’s designation as an Enterprise Zone and from substantial EU grants, the local economy slowly recovered and became much more diverse through the development of businesses in a wide range of sectors, including engineering, manufacturing, distribution and logistics and food. RS Components is now the town’s largest employer and the Labour Council has continued to encourage investment and growth through, for example, the creation of the Corby Enterprise Centre.
By contrast, the main towns in the East Northamptonshire area of the constituency are Raunds (with a population size of 8,640 in 2011), Irthlingborough (6,180), Thrapston (4,840) and Oundle (5,760). There are also many villages across the countryside, stretching out to the borders of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire.
Both Raunds and Irthlingborough played a role in the boot and shoe industry until its decline in the 1950s and 60s. In Raunds, several factories remained into the early 1990s but all are now closed, with many being demolished and housing estates built. The Dr. Martens brand was long associated history with Irthlingborough. The manufacturer R Griggs, owned by Max Griggs, had its head office in the town until production moved to China in 2003. Whitworths, the home baking and snack products company, is based in Irthlingborough and employs 310 people at the plant there. Oundle and Thrapston are both small, market towns. The former is home to one of Britain’s largest and most expensive public schools whilst the latter has undergone some significant economic development in the form of logistics centres, attracted by its proximity to the A14 trunk road, linking the container ports of East Anglia with the M1 and M6 motorway networks.