By the mid 19th century the enclosure process had swept away the last vestiges of communal agriculture, which had underpinned life in the forest since Anglo-Saxon times. Then, in the later 19th and 20th centuries a new phase began, that of industrialisation and urbanisation. Just as the open field and village planning in the late Anglo-Saxon period or the enclosure movement of the 18th century rewrote the landscape, fossilising just fragments of the earlier structures within the new patterns, so a wholly new landscape is being created today. Where the pressure for change has been greatest then the countryside we inherited from the pre industrial era has been almost completely destroyed. In other areas which have been more sheltered from the pressures, because further from the main communication routes or from the location of the mineral resources, there is still a relatively good survival of historic features.
The impact of these new forces was felt soon after 1850 with the arrival of the mainline railways. In their wake came the development of a new iron industry and the industrialisation of the boot and shoe industry. During the late 19th century this led to industrialisation along the rail corridor. Before the 19th century the towns in the region had been hardly any larger than a village. Now small market towns and several villages grew dramatically in size. There was rapid development in the towns of Kettering and Market Harborough and to a lesser degree in Rothwell and Desborough. Then, beginning in the 1910s and taking off on a large scale in the 1920s and 1930s, came the development of the Corby iron and steel works. With its large scale opencast quarries and associated urban development it transformed the very heart of the forest. Now, following the closure of the steelworks in the 1980s and the arrival of the A14 road in the 1990s, the focus has shifted once more to the Ise valley and another massive phase of urbanisation has begun.
Urban expansion on the periphery of Kettering (reproduced with permission of Northamptonshire County Council)