Northampton is the county town of Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England. It lies on the River Nene, about north-west of London and south-east of Birmingham. One of the largest towns in the UK, Northampton had a population of 212,100 in the 2011 census. Archaeological evidence of settlement in the area dates back to the Bronze Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods. During the Middle Ages, the town rose to national significance with the establishment of Northampton Castle, which was an occasional royal residence and regularly hosted the Parliament of England. Medieval Northampton had many churches, monasteries and the University of Northampton, which were all enclosed by the town walls. It was granted its first town charter by King Richard I in 1189 and its first mayor was appointed by King John in 1215. The town is also the site of two medieval battles; the Battle of Northampton and the second in 1460. Northamptons royal connection languished in the modern period; the town supported Parliament in the English Civil War, which culminated in King Charles II ordering the destruction of the town walls and most of the castle. The town also suffered the Great Fire of Northampton which destroyed most of the town. It was soon rebuilt and grew rapidly with the industrial development of the 18th century. Northampton continued to grow following the creation of the Grand Union Canal and the arrival of the railways in the 19th century, becoming an industrial centre for footwear and leather manufacture. After the World Wars, Northamptons growth was limited until it was designated as a New Town in 1968, accelerating development in the town. Northampton unsuccessfully applied for unitary status in 1996 and city status in 2000; the town continues to expand with many areas undergoing urban renewal. According to Centre for Cities data in 2015, Northampton had a population growth of 11.3% between the years 2004 and 2013, one of the ten highest in the UK.