Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Radcliffe Trust

In 1713 Dr John Radcliffe, the most eminent physician of his day, purchased the Wolverton Manor from the dissolute and hard-up Sir Edward Longueville.
Radcliffe became very wealthy through his fame as a doctor and by the time of his death had amassed a large fortune. In the last few years of his life he started to spend some of it and the purchase of the manor for £40,000 not only enabled him to make a shrewd investment with a good return on capital but also to re-enter Parliament as an eligible MP for Buckingham.
Radcliffe died a year later and as far as we know had little to do with Wolverton but in his will he set up a Trust that still bears his name and this Trust built several institutions at the university where Radcliffe studied for many years - Oxford. These were the Radcliffe Camera (a library), the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Radcliffe Observatory.

The library, which is still a prominent landmark on Oxford's Broad Street, was built between 1737 and 1749. It was designed by the architect James Gibbs. Radcliffe allocated £40,000 to the cost of construction.
The second project, more modest in cost, but more far reaching in its impact, was a new hospital, The Radcliffe Infirmary. It was built on donated land about half a mile out of Oxford as it then was for a total cost of £12,791. The original estimate was £4,000, but as is the case with all building projects the budget ballooned. The operating costs for the hospital came through donations and through Oxford physicians giving their services free. The Radcliffe Trust took on the responsibility for repairs and building additions.

The last of these great Oxford institutions was the Radcliffe Observatory, built in the grounds of the Infirmary a few years later. This project was probably not in Dr. Radcliffe's mind but the trusteesn identified a need and had the resources to build it. It continued to be used until 1934, when the problem of light pollution made it impractical. The building was sold and a new observatory built outside Pretoria, South Africa.

What is all this to do with Wolverton? Well each of these institutions, and indeed the Trust itself, was funded from the income from the Manor. In 1713 annual income from rents was £2,187 2s. 4d. The money came from about 50 tenants on the Manor,  four farms, two mills, and all the properties on the Wolverton side of Watling Street in Stony Stratford - coaching inns, other commercial establishments and houses. This may not seem like very much money today but it was sufficient to maintain these important Oxford institutions for over 200 years.

The Radcliffe name was strongly associated with Wolverton until the remaining farms were sold to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1970. The Trust, as landlord of the Wolverton Manor, had a dominant influence until the coming of the Railways, after which it slowly declined The Trust still retains its interest in Wolverton Mill.

The memory of John Radcliffe is tenuously preserved in the street named after him and this was the street that used to connect the Stratford Road with the southern part of town until the town planners decided to block it off with the Agora.

This is the an introductory post to a series about the Radcliffe Trust which was a key influence on Wolverton for 250 years. Wolverton's part in maintaing some prominent Oxford University institutions is less well-known but next time you walk past the Radcliffe Camera you might reflect that it was paid for by the rents of Wolverton's farms and the Inns and houses of Stony Stratford.

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