Monday, September 20, 2010

The Radcliffe Trust and Wolverton - Part I

The Wolverton Manor was a complete entity for a very long time. It predate the Norman Conquest and at that time was in the hands of three Thanes. These men I have discussed here. Impact of Norman Conquest
Shortly after 1066 the manor was given to one of William's tenant-in-chief, the Breton, Maigno. He made it the centre of his barony. The First Baron

It remained in this family for about 400 years until the male line came to an end and through one of the daughters came into the possession of the Longuevilles of Little Billing. I have yet to write about the Longuevilles, but will do so. It is not an altogether pleasant story. The Longuevilles began their enclosures early in the 16th century and on a predatory scale. In the course of which the old village of Wolverton was depopulated. More of this another day.

At the time of the acquisition of the manor by Dr John Radcliffe the estate was in the control of Sir Edward Longueville, something of a rake, who was extravagantly in debt.  He had already sold the Manor at Little Billing, but his expenditure continued to exceed his income and and much of the estate, including the 1586 Manor House, was falling into ruin.

The effect of Radcliffe's acquisition was to bring the estate under more responsible management. Radcliffe hired a man called John Battison from Quinton whose father had been estate manager under the Longuevilles. For this service Battison was paid £40 a year. This appears to have been a sound appointment. Two of Radcliffe's trustees, Sir George Beaumont and William Bromley, visited the estate early in 1715 and again in 1716. Some £1400 was spent on building repairs, although not on the great house itself, which was too far gone. They appear to have been quite satisfied:
"You would have the satisfaction of seeing a noble Estate, & the management of it such that I think there is little cause to complain of."
Bromley wrote to his fellow Trustees.

The Trustees and the Estate Management were generally sympathetic to their tenants. Misfortunes such as bad harvests, flooding and even insolvency were met with tolerant arrangements to reduce, defer, or even forgive rents. Christopher Carter, the landlord of The Three Swans had been struggling for some years and in 1728 it was reported that his brewhouse had been "for many years in a ruinous state, and mortar fell into his drink." Sir George Beaumont, one of the original trustees, took an understanding view when Carter was faced with insolvency in 1730:
"I shall always be of Opinion that if we can preserve our tenants from impending ruin, it will be charity well applyd."

From the very beginning the Trust was a benign landlord and this tradition continued for 250 years until the estate was surrendered to Milton Keynes. They were inclined to encourage family inheritance of tenancies, keep up repairs and maintain reasonable, if not low, rents. In terms of community life, they rebuilt Holy Trinity Church at the huge cost of £7,793 and the church and vicarage at St George's for £2,629. They built the Old Wolverton School House in 1856 for £600. Over the years they made various donation or repairs and additions and paid all or part of the stipends for the Rector at Holy Trinity, the Vicar at Wolverton and the curate at Wolverton St Mary's.

No comments: