History of Milton Keynes
A New Town is Created
In 1967, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, decided to designate 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) in the Buckinghamshire countryside to be used for the development of a new town. The area included the existing towns of Bletchley, Stony Stratford, Wolverton, Olney, and New Bradwell, along with many villages. One of the villages was called Milton Keynes, from ‘Middle-ton’ the middle town and ‘Keynes’ from the family that once owned the manor. The new town adopted this name, and the area of Milton Keynes is now home to over 200,000 people.
The Master Plan
The plan for Milton Keynes was drawn up in 1970, and was known as the Master Plan. It was not meant as a map or blueprint, but was intended to lay down a framework which could be changed and adapted over the years. The Master Plan aimed at a balance between housing and employment, so that the new town could be self-contained without large numbers of people having to commute to work. This meant that a full range of facilities had to be included in the building plans. The Master Plan had a number of specific goals:
- A grid pattern of roads would segregate homes from workplaces, and would avoid the rush hour congestion that is found in towns with a radial road system.
- A town centre which would contain a shopping centre, leisure facilities and offices. This area has now (very sensibly!) been extended down to the Milton Keynes Train Station.
- A system of parks to be built along the valleys of the rivers.
- Each area for housing would contain a mixture of homes and facilities.
- Local facilities like shops and schools would be located so that they were easy to reach on foot as well as by car.
- A series of pathways would be constructed with bridges and underpasses, to enable pedestrians and cyclists to travel around safely.
The Master Plan also aimed to incorporate the existing towns and villages in the area into the new city, while trying to preserve their individuality as far as possible.
Location and Communications
The countryside for this new town is bordered by the M1 to the north and the A5, (the old Roman road called Watling Street) to the west, with the Grand Union Canal running through the middle. It is served by two rivers, the Ouse and the Ouzel and a railway line runs from the North down to London with three stations in the area. The landscape is pretty with gentle hills and good farmland.
Before each part of the new town was built, a team of archeologists excavated the ground and some interesting finds were made, including the fossilised remains of an Ichthyosaur, approximately 150 million years old which was found on the site of Caldecotte Lake.
Evidence has been found that Neolithic and Bronze Age people lived and hunted in the area, and from 500 BC, Iron Age settlements began appear. By the time that the Romans arrived in 43 AD, the area was settled in and was being farmed. The Romans also decided to build in the area and the remains of a Roman villa can still be seen at Bancroft Park, showing some lovely mosaic floors.
The earliest Saxon settlements were found at Pennyland, Milton Keynes Village, Great Linford and Bancroft, these dated from the sixth and seventh centuries. By the ninth and tenth centuries, today’s existing villages and their parishes were already established.
History of the Towns of Milton Keynes
The market town of Newport Pagnell lies between the River Ouse and the River Ousel, or Lovat.
Its origins date back to the Iron Age. The name ‘Newport’ means ‘new market town’ and Pagnell comes from the Paganell family who lived in a castle by the river on what is now called Castle Close. In the tenth century, a mint was started here, and the town became an important administrative centre. During the eighteen century, it became a major coaching town, famous for its lace industry. One of the coaching inns still remains in the High Street, called The Swan Revived Hotel. At the eastern end of the town is Tickford Bridge, which crosses the River Lovat. It was built in 1810, and is the oldest cast iron bridge in Britain today that still carries traffic daily. Near the bridge is the factory that makes the famous Aston-Martin Lagonda cars. The factory was originally built in 1820, when Salmon & Sons started making coaches for the nobility, but was bought by David Brown in 1955, when he started making his Aston Martins there. Tours of the factory can be made by prior arrangement. Another old industry in the town is that of William Cowley, in Willen Road, which makes vellum and parchment.
Bletchley and Fenny Stratford
In the south of the Milton Keynes area, lies the town of Bletchley and adjoining village of Fenny Stratford. Bletchley’s name is derived from ‘Blecca’ the tribal leader, and ‘ley’ meaning a clearing or grassed area. Fenny Stratford lies on Watling Street, the old Roman road, and was a place for travellers to stop. When the Grand Union Canal was built in the nineteenth century, Fenny Stratford became a bustling coaching station. In 1837, the London to Birmingham railway was started. Nine years later Bletchley station was built and soon the town became an important junction. This resulted in new industries such as brickmaking and brush factories being built, which could take advantage of this new method of transport. In 1938, the Government acquired Bletchley Park, which became the centre for British decoding activities during the Second World War. It was also the place where Colossus, the world’s first computer was made. Bletchley Park is now open to the public as a museum operated by Bletchley Park Trust. You can see a working replica of Colossus there, and discover how the code breaking was done.
The small market town of Olney lies in the valley of the River Ouse, protected by the Clifton hills. Many of its buildings are listed as being of historic or architectural interest, including the 14th century church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Like Newport Pagnell, Olney was an important centre for the lace industry, examples of which can be seen in the local museum. Perhaps Olney’s greatest claim to fame is its annual Pancake Race, which is run on Shrove Tuesday. Tradition has it that the first race was run in 1445. Today, it has taken on an international flavour, and is run against the people of Liberal, Kansas, in the U.S.A. It is run on a timed basis, and a winner is declared once times have been compared on the telephone.
Stony Stratford lies on the A5, (Watling Street), and has a long history of catering to travellers, as is shown by its large number of restaurants, pubs and inns. Many monarchs have visited the town, although Queen Boudicca did not stay for long as she harried the Romans along Watling Street! King Edward IV used it as a weekend retreat, where he met and later married a local lady, Elizabeth Woodville. Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and John Wesley, have all stayed in the town, the latter preaching in the Market Square. Today, the town is an important centre for Folk Music, with singing in many of the pubs, and a June festival, which is held on the village green.
Woburn Sands is a small town that lies on the border between Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, close to the Duke of Bedford’s famous Woburn Park Estate. The original village was called Hogsty End, but it adopted its present name in the 19th century, when the Bedford railway line was built. Apparently, the proprietor of the local school felt that the name was putting off potential pupils from coming to his establishment, so he changed the name of his school to ‘Woburn Sands Academy’!
Today, the town has a busy main street and many pretty houses.
Wolverton was originally a quiet village dating back to before the Norman Conquest in 1066. However, this changed in 1838, when the London and Birmingham Railway Company, chose to build a station and refreshment room here, so that passengers could alight ‘to refresh themselves’. They also built a giant carriage and locomotive works, so that a new ‘railway town’ grew up next to the old, original village. The town grew very big very quickly and churches, schools and shops were built to cater for all the new workers. By 1910, the Wolverton Railway Works was employing 5,000 men, who built themselves a reputation for the excellence of their craftsmanship. Today, the works are run by Railcare, and still employ about 1,000 people.
The Villages in Milton Keynes
There are thirty-nine villages in the new Milton Keynes area. Some of them have become part of the new housing areas, but many of the have retained their own identities and still retain the ‘villagey’ feel.
Astwood is a pretty village situated to the east of Newport Pagnell. It has an old church with medieval pews, Tudor brasses and a font dating from the 14th century.
The village of Bradwell situated on the edge of North Loughton Valley Park, has a 13th century church with some of the earliest bells in the country (dating from 1300 AD) hanging in its tower. A Benedictine priory was built near the village in the 12th century, and a few of the buildings are still to be seen today. In the 16th century, following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, it became a farm. In 1971, the Milton Keynes Corporation bought the site, and restored the chapel, farmhouse and fishponds, and planted a herb garden. It is now used as an education centre.
This village is near Bletchley, and is now on the Bedford to Bletchley railway line. It has lovely views across the River Ouzel valley, and there are some prehistoric earthworks in the nearby woods.
Broughton is a small village on the eastern edge of the Milton Keynes area. It has an interesting church with some 14th century wall hangings showing the ideas of the Bible in simple layman’s terms.
Calverton is near Stony Stratford, and consists of three areas: Lower, Middle and Upper Weald respectively. Lower Weald is designated as a Conservation Area, and includes a house dating from medieval times and 17th century cottages. The church and almshouses date from the early 19th century.
The village of Castlethorpe is near Stony Stratford, and has lovely views across the River Tovy Valley in Northamptonshire. The grass mound, upon which the Norman castle once stood, is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The village itself has some lovely thatched buildings.
This little village is best known for Chicheley Hall, which was built by Sir John Chester in the early 18th century. The Hall has featured in several television programmes because of its lovely Georgian plasterwork and panelling.
This little village lies in the designated Ouse Valley Area of Attractive Landscapes. It was a favourite place for the poet William Cowper. In the church of St. Mary’s are four rare wooden effigies depicting knights dressed in mail with their swords, and their wives wearing 14th century dresses with wimples and veils.
Cold Brayfield looks out over the Ouse Valley, and is situated on the main Northampton to Bedford Road. It has some nice buildings and a fine Norman church.
Emberton lies near Olney, and has a 19th century stone clock tower that stands on the corner of the High Street. Nearby, is Emberton Country Park, which has thousands of visitors each year who come for the fishing, sailing and camping facilities. In the summer, local bands play on the bandstand.
The parish of Gayhurst is near Newport Pagnell, it has a church and the manor house, Gayhurst House, but no village. The House was built in the time of Elizabeth I, and was awarded to Sir Francis Drake in recognition of his achievements in circumnavigating the world. It was later lived in by Sir Everard Digby who was involved in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. He was executed for hiding Guido (Guy) Fawkes. Today, the house is used as luxury apartments.
Great Linford is on the banks of the Grand Union Canal, and is separated from Little Linford by the River Ouse. The name ‘Linford’ is thought to come from the linden (lime) trees, which grow in the area and the ford across the river. Iron Age and Saxon remains have been found in the area, and a windmill, built to the east of the village, was found to have timbers dating back to 1220 AD. It is the earliest dated windmill in Northwest Europe. The village is now part of the new city, and the old school house and six almshouses are now part of an arts centre.
Doomsday and the Busty Hundreds
From a text and translation of the Domesday Book, edited by John Morris which deals solely with Buckinghamshire, Hanslope, in 1085 was known as ‘Hammescle’ in the ‘Busty Hundreds’. Mr Morris states that ‘Winemar’ holds Hanslope, who was apparently a ‘Flemming’ who was ‘owed one’ by William the Conqueror. The village had a population of 36 and was valued at £24, but before 1066 it was only valued at £20. Today there are 2200 souls resident in the village and in the order of 950 houses which have a combined value in excess of £100M. The photo shows Hanslope located on top of its hill from a distance. The church can be seen for miles.
During the English Civil War 1642-49 Cromwell’s Army is said to have watered their horses at the village pond now fed by surface water from the main road through a conveniently placed pipe, and some of Cromwell’s lads were almost certainly billeted in the village.
Illegal Prize Fighting
On 2nd June 1830 a Bare Knuckle Fight took place illegally in the village between Alexander McKay, the Champion fighter from Scotland, and Simon Byrne from Ireland. After 47 rounds of indeterminate duration – because knockdowns usually signified an excuse for a break – Alexander McKay, was carried unconscious into the Watts Arms, where he died.Thomas Evans, the Parish Constable, was called to prevent the match by the grand sounding “High Constable of Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell”. In his evidence at the trial of Simon Byrne, Evans apparently said ‘I attended at the Watts Arms for some time, there were a great many persons there. I did not see the prisoner there. I went from thence to Hartwell, saw a great number of persons assembled and saw two men fighting’. So there is some dispute about whether the fight was in fact in Hanslope Parish at all since most historians agree that the location was at Salcey Forest Green just outside Hanslope in Northamptonshire.
However, Constable Evans’ failure to stop the Prize Fight is explained away by a local story that McKay is said to have been smuggled out of the Watts Arms through the bar window whilst the Constable’s attention was diverted by Rosamund Dee, the landlord’s niece. The photo shows Market Square in Hanslope with old thatched roof stone buildings and a tile roofed brick built shop on the right of the picture.
Murdered by the Gamekeeper
violent death again visited Hanslope when Squire Watts was murdered by his Game Keeper as he returned from Church with his lady wife some 100 yards from the gates of Hanslope Park. The Game Keeper, William Farrow, subsequently shot himself near the scene of his crime. His wife, Annie Farrow, erected a tombstone in an unobtrusive corner of the churchyard where he had been unceremoniously buried. The inscription reads ‘In loving memory of William Farrow who died July 21st 1912 aged 45 years. Waiting until all shall be revealed’. The main concern at the time was with the victim and no positive light has ever been thrown on Annie Farrow’s meaning.
In December 1994, supported by the Parish Council Centenary, a Memorial Garden was started near the spot where Squire Watts was shot in 1912. This garden is being improved as funds become available, but a by-product of this initiative has been a closer relationship with the authorities at Hanslope Park, and in 1996 some members of the Historical Society were invited to visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
Hardmead is five miles from Newport Pagnell, and, like Gayhurst, is connected with the gunpowder plot by the Catesby family who used to live here. There are memorials to the family in the church.
The Havershams are in the north of the Milton Keynes area on the Northamptonshire border. Old Haversham is an attractive village with limestone cottages and an impressive Norman church. Many of the seats in the church were carved with poppy heads by woodworkers in Tudor times, presumably as a sign of loyalty to the monarchy. Half a mile away, lies New Haversham, or, Haversham Estate, which was built in the 1930s to house people working at Wolverton
Lathbury is one of the oldest settlements in the area. It is on the banks of the River Ouse, and has a church dating back to Saxon times.
Lavendon is on the A428 road that runs between Bedford and Northampton. Saxon remains have been found in the village, and the foundations of a fortified manor house are still visible, along with its moat. Lavendon Grange stands on the site of an old monastery, but only the monk’s fishponds now remain.
Little Brickhill stands on top of the Greensands Ridge of the Brickhills, and has a great view across the Ouzel Valley. It is also on Watling Street (A5), and was once an important trading centre, which used to claim that it had the steepest hill between Coventry and London! It was once an Assize town from which law and order, including executions was dispensed.
Little Linford is just across the River Ouse from Great Linford. It has a tiny church, that is only 16.5 metres long and a manor house that was once lived in by the Knapps, who were successful lace merchants. Nearby, are Little Linford Lakes that are used for sailing and fishing.
The village of Loughton is divided in two by the Loughton Brook. Originally, there were two villages, Great Loughton and Little Loughton, one on each side of the stream, but they were amalgamated in 1408. There is a 16th century Manor house that was probably built on the site of an older medieval house.
This small village, situated to the east of the new city area, is mentioned in the 11th century in the Domesday Book. It contains many thatched cottages and a 17th century pub called The Swan.
Moulsoe lies to the south-east of Newport Pagnell, between the two tributaries of the River Ouzel. The church stands on a mound, which was used, in Anglo-Saxon times, as a meeting place where local people could decide on matters of local interest. The village is now a mix of thatched cottages and late-Victorian buildings.
New Bradwell developed in the 19th century as a residential area for workers from the Wolverton railway works. It lies on the Wolverton to Newport Pagnell road and largely remains unchanged, from its earliest days. Bradwell windmill is situated on banks of the Grand Union Canal, and was built in 1817. It has been restored to its former glory, although these days, the sails are operated by electricity!
This village is on the banks of the River Ouse, and it takes its name from the Blossomville family who lived here in the 13th century. It is eight miles from Bedford, and is now included in the Area of Attractive Landscape.
North Crawley is to the east of Newport Pagnell, and has a lovely 13th century church called St.Firmin after the first Bishop of Amiens. Inside, there are examples of 15th century Jacobean carving. Just outside the village, is Crawley Grange, which is mostly Tudor, and it still has the original chimney stacks and mullion windows.
Ravenstone is a pretty village that is situated three miles to the west of Olney. It has views over the surrounding countryside, and has a large church in its centre.
Shenley Church End and Shenley Brook End are two villages that lie close together near the old Roman road of Watling Street. The earthworks of a large fort can still be seen at Shenley Church End and the church dates from the 12th century.
Sherington is on the Newport Pagnell to Olney road, and has several note-worthy stone-built houses, including Bancroft Manor house. The village green is known as The Knoll, and is said to be precisely halfway between Oxford and Cambridge!
Simpson lies to the west of the River Ouzel, where the mediaeval moat and fishponds may still be seen. The church is late 13th century, and the nearby houses and cottage date from the 17th century.
Stantonbury used to be a very thinly-populated village, but it now consists of a new housing development, educational campus and leisure centre which includes a theatre. Near the village, is Linford Wood, which has carpets of bluebells in the spring.
In the Domesday Book, this village is listed as ‘Stoches’. The name ‘Goldington’ was added in the Middle Ages from the family who lived in the Manor house. The village lies close to the Northamptonshire Border.
Tattenhoe is in the south-west part of Milton Keynes, next to Howe Park Wood, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The church of St. Giles is built on the site of the old manor house, the moat of which still partly surrounds the church. The church was rebuilt in 1540, using the stone taken from the ruins of Snelshall Priory.
Tyringham cum Filgrave
The twin villages of Filgrave and Tyringham are surrounded on three sides by the River Ouse. Tyringham House was built in 1793, and is now used by a charitable trust as a naturopathic clinic.
Walton is a small parish two miles away from Bletchley, and is now the site for the Open University, with Walton Hall as the campus centre. Close by stands the De Montfort University, whose campus opened in 1991.
Wavendon is a large parish that is divided into three parts, Church End, Cross End and Lower End. There are two nice 19th century ironstone buildings, The Old Rectory and Wavendon Tower, the latter was used by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation in the early days of the new city. The village is also home to ‘The Stables’ theatre, which is a centre for all types of music and entertainment.
Weston Underwood is a few miles from Olney, and was the home of the poet William Cowper from 1785 to 1795. It is a picturesque village, and has won the Best Kept Village competition many times.
The village of Willen is to the south of Newport Pagnell, and near the edge of North Willen Park and Willen Lake. The lake is popular for windsurfing and sailing and is home to plenty of birdlife. A Peace Pagoda built by Buddhist monks, stands on the shores of the lake.
To the south of Willen Lake lie Great Woolstone and Little Woolstone, each having their own church. The Grand Union Canal passes to the west, and the River Ouzel to the east, so the area is very popular with anglers!
Woughton-on-the-Green, is listed in the Domesday Book, and has a 14th century church. It lies between the River Ouzel and the Grand Union Canal, and on its western edge is Woughton Vineyard, which produces white and rose wines.