Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Origins of Stony Stratford

The first official record of Stony Stratford comes as late as 1194. when it was given a charter (confirmed in 1199)  to hold a market. See here. This alone would indicate that Stony Stratford had already reached a size of some importance, although the land on either side of the Watling Street was under the jurisdiction of the manors of Calverton and Wolverton. Dr Francis Hyde, in his History of Stony Stratford, is of the view that there was a settlement there in Domesday times. He infers this from the rather high assessment of Wolverton at £20 compared to much lower assessments for equally fertile land along the Ouse valley - Beachampton at £7, Thornton, Haversham and Stanton at £6. Calverton, even though heavily wooded in the Weald part of the manor is valued at £12. Hyde's conclusion is that this relatively high valuation must include the economic life of inns and commerce along the old Roman road.

I can't disagree with this so the core of Stony Stratford must go back at least 1,000 years.

The Romans believed in taking the direct route and they had sufficient confidence in their engineering ability to plan and build straight roads. The Ouse crossing at Stony Stratford is not the best fording point. It is at the centre of a loop in the river which is liable to flooding. The river can be much more easily forded at Calverton and Wolverton Mill. The only way the river can be successfully crossed at Stratford is by building a causeway. We know of a causeway in Medieval times but we can reasonably infer that such a causeway existed in the Roman period. The clue is surely in the name - stony, because stones were built up for a causeway and even laid on the river bed to allow a crossing.

It is during the reign of King John that specific documents make their appearance with references to Stony Stratford, the first surviving one being in 1202 when a grant of land is made to Richard the Clerk from John de Calverton. Other references to property grants occur in the reign of Henry III and by the mid century there are sveral surviving grants in the papers of the de Wolverton family. Certainly by the middle of the thirteenth century a separate manor has emerged, possibly on the land known as The Mallets, according to a charter of 1257, and from this time forth Stony Stratford comes to be thought of as an entity, although the lords of Calverton and Wolverton continued to maintain a strong and active interest.

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