Friday, December 7, 2012

Wolverton's Grand Houses

Unusually, perhaps, for a manor of Wolverton's size and wealth, it has never been dominated by a big house, occupied by the local ruling family. Most of the surrounding manors - Calverton, Loughton, Hanslope, Cosgrove, Gayhurst, Tyringham, Linford - had one big house that was marked out for the local gentry. Wolverton was probably exceptional, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the ruling family sold the manor in 1713 to Dr John Radcliffe. Thereafter, due to his death a year later, it was managed by a Trust, essentially a committee, none of whom were resident. They employed land agents to manage their affairs and until the arrival of Thomas Harrison, whom I will come to in a moment, none of them were resident either. Thus, the only people of significance on the manor were the four or five farmers and the vicar. This small group made up the middle class with no upper class family above them.

The early "great house" must have been that built by Baron Mainou inside the motte and bailey castle at Old Wolverton. We have no idea what it looked like and no archaeological excavations have ever been undertaken to give us any clue. It seems likely that after 300 years the castle would have been abandoned in favour of a more comfortable house. We have no idea what sort of building was there in the 14th century, but we can assume, given the relative wealth of the de Wolvertons, that it was a splendid enough manor house for the period.  From surviving knowledge of domestic architecture of that era, the house at Wolverton probably had a great hall, where all the activities of the house took place, including providing sleeping places for the servants, and attached to it, possibly at right angles, was the private chamber for the lord and his immediate family, often known as the solar.  Kitchens were usually housed in a separate building set away from the great hall, as a precaution against the all too frequent risk of fire. We do not know if this house was of timber or stone construction; all we can presume is that there was a house there and it was of a standard befitting its occupants. This must have been followed by a succession of medieval houses on or near the site occupied by the de Wolverton and de Longueville families and it is fair to guess that they became progressively larger. There is some evidence that the house was largely rebuilt in 1586 and it probably ranked as a fine Elizabethan mansion. One visitor, Thomas Hearne in 1711, was impressed with the building.
“It stood near a large mount, thrown up East of the Church, & it was a magnificent Edifice, being 145 Feet in length & built with good Free-stone.”
The location was most likely that piece of levelled ground above the former rectory.
At the time of Hearne's visit Sir Edward Longueville was only living in part of it and the house was in a state of general disrepair. Sir Edward's debts and general mismanagement were catching up with him. After he sold the manor to Dr Radcliffe the Trust deemed the house to costly to renovate and the house was eventually dismantled. Parts of it were used to build the Rectory opposite.
Wolverton lost its great house.

The other factor that must be considered is the existence of Stony Stratford on Wolverton's western edge. The commercial opportunities afforded by the Watling Street created an extended middle class of innkeepers and tradesmen as well as some sheep farmers who did very nicely out of wool profits in the 15th century and could live in some style in larger houses at Stony Stratford. But my general observation is that after 1713 there was no "upper class" family living in Wolverton.

In 1773 the intriguing figure of Thomas Harrison became the land agent at Wolverton. He was already the land agent for Earl Spencer and was at the time living in the Wittewonge mansion at Stantonbury. He was also the land agent for the Earl of Uxbridge and seems to have used his connections to make a great deal of money out of copper mining, smelting industries and canal ventures. In 1780, when the proceeds from copper mining in Anglesey were flowing plentifully he decided to build his own pile at Wolverton. The Stantonbury mansion was in a state of decay and I guess that Earl Spencer was reluctant to put money into it. Wolverton, being close to the Watling Street, must have seemed an attractive location for Harrison, whose business dealings were taking him to London, Staffordshire and North Wales.

So, over the next four years Wolverton House came into being. It cost Harrison about £1,840 - a massive sum in its time. It was then, and remains, Wolverton's largest house.

By the standards of the really grand houses that were built across the country in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was a modest building, big enough for the family and a modest number of servants, but it was no Downton Abbey.

Harrison's younger son Richard continued as land agent for the Trust and lived there with his family until his death in 1858. His widow, almost a generation younger than her husband was allowed to live in the property until her death. The house, although built at Harrison's expense, was always the property of the Radcliffe Trust and they continued to rent it out until 1970, when it was sold.

A third house must be considered, The Gables.  This spacious house was built in 1880 for the Works Superintendent and was first occupied by Charles Park. Although it was a large house by any Wolverton measure, it would never have been considered a great house. It was a middle class house, suitable for the family and a couple of servants. In the 1960s the practice of providing tied houses for employees became outdated. House prices were rising fast and while an earlier generation had been able to live comfortably in tied housing all their working life and purchase a house on retirement were discovering that house-price inflation was leaving them high and dry. The Gables was by then out of date. It was demolished and replace by the tower block that now bear its name.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

An early Anglo-Saxon settlement in Wolverton

The excavations at Wolverton Turn in the 1990s added considerably to our knowledge of previous settlement. The Bronze Age settlement I described yesterday was confirmed but more revealing as there was substantial evidence for settlement in Anglo-Saxon times.

The archaeologists excavated the enclosure ditches and found evidence of a grubenhaus and a small rectangular post-built structure. Many pottery fragments were found and over half was dated to the 8th to 9th centuries. They also discovered many domestic animal bones, including a surprising number of horse bones, which led to some speculation that this may have been a horse breeding centre. There were some Roman period pottery sherd and some pre-historic.

The authors of the report are cautious about their findings. Although they found evidence of settlement at different periods, they cannot conclude that the site was continuously occupied for the entire period. The most active period of occupation was during the 8th and 9th centuries. It may be that after this time the villagers moved to a site lower down to the site where the medieval village was known to be. The reasons for this are completely unknown, although it is apparently not a phenomenon known only to Wolverton. It is possible that their pattern of agriculture changed. If these middle saxons were, as is suggested, engaged in horse breeding and animal husbandry, the location on higher ground may have made better sense. But if they switched their focus to arable farming, then the lower fields and meadows might have become more attractive.

Might this then be the location of Wulhere's ing tun? Was this the enclosure and meeting place presided over by the chieftain Wulfhere who gave Wolverton its name? The question cannot be answered but it does open up the possibility that the motte and bailey castle built by Mainou le Breton overlooking the valley may have been a hitherto unoccupied site. And possibly the neighbouring church was not built on a saxon site at all. The earlier saxon church, whatever it might have been, may not have been in this location at all.

For a detailed article on this subject:

Bronze Age Occupation and Saxon Features at the Wolverton Turn Enclosure, Near Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes 1972-1994. Steve Preston and others. Records of Buckinghamshire Vol 47, Part 1 (2007)

North Bucks Emporia

Here's a site worth visiting if you have an interest in North Bucks history.

They have books, collections of postcards, maps and other ephemera.

Take a look.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Lost Barn and Canal Bridge

Following from the previous post, here is a plan in a little more detail for the land acquisition of 1864. This allowed for works expansion.

There are two structures here which had to go, a barn close to the Stratford Road and a canal bridge. Both show on the 1835 OS map, so one assumes that the barn pre-dated the canal and the bridge was erected in 1800 to provide access to this barn and to the Old Wolverton Road. There are some clauses in the bill of sale that require the company to dismantle the bridge and build a new one at their own expense. The bridge was certainly dismantled, but I am not sure that a replacement was built.

I haven't looked into this, but there may possibly be some remaining evidence of the bridge supports along the towpath. I would be most interested if anyone can find them.

Railway Land Purchases

These plans here give some detail about the growth of the railway and Wolverton Town itself in the first 25 years.

The section marked AA was the original purchase, essentially just the line itself because there was no firm intention to build workshops at Wolverton. 27 acres in 1837, one year before the completion of the railway.

Section B was an 8 acre parcel which was for the workshop and some housing. The B is not accurately placed on this map as it is really the part north of the Stratford Road.

Section C, south of the Stratford Road was a 13 acre parcel used for the second station and housing. This land accommodated the "Little Streets."

No more land was made available by the Trust until 1858 when the strip that you would recognise as Church Street and the Stratford Road was purchased. Building started here in 1860. At the same time more land was purchased north of the Stratford Road for workshop expansion. It was about this time that some of the early northern cottages were demolished to connect the workshops.

At the end of 1866 the Company purchased another field which was to become Buckingham Street, Aylesbury Street, The Square, Radcliffe Street, Bedford Street and Oxford Street.

I am intrigued by the little yellow square at the western end of the new railway works land which is designated "Foreman's House". I have looked through the 1871 Census but can find no reference there, so I wonder if it was ever built?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


This is my 500th post since I started this blog - so a milestone of sorts. Activity has not been as great this year as in the past, but I am still here and still at it. It is now four years old and since I began counting visitors after the first year the count is now 133.347. The blog seems to have grown its readership from a very small number at the beginning to over 5,000 a month. Thank you for your support.

To mark the occasion I want to tell you about this book which we published last week - I Grew Up in Wolverton. We have used the medium of Facebook to gather a number of conversations about various aspects of growing up in this town. The period spans about 50 years, from memories from the 1940s to the 1990s. Back in January I asked Ruth Edwards to compile the material for this book and we have spent the last six weeks editing the material. We are quite pleased with the result, a 280 page paperback.  The conversations are lively and funny but above all capture the essence of growing up in Wolverton as some of the tiniest details are remembered.
I am very biased of course, but I do recommend that you buy the book. Click on the book and it will link you to another site where you can find out more.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Morland Terrace Revisited

I have written about this terrace on two previous occasions here and here.
Today I would like to write about the end-of-terrace house that for so long has been a shop front, largely because this photograph has come to my attention.

As you can see this was an elegant double-fronted house after its first construction. There were two large front parlours and probably at least four bedrooms upstairs. The house next to it is similar in design and construction and these houses were for their time (mid 1880s) amongst the grandest houses on offer in Wolverton. Note the boot scraper beside the front door.
 The frontage has now been radically transformed. the three upper sash windows have been replaced by two large pvc units. The shop frontage obliterates the original. The slate roof has been replaced by composition tiles and the chimneys have disappeared.

The symmetry and architectural embellishments of the original house have been destroyed by the modifications. Only some of the eave supports remain.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An 1839 Timetable

In 1839 Wolverton scarcely existed. The first workshop was not ready until September of that year and hardly any houses had been built for the workers. What housing there was were no better than temporary wooden shacks.
The station served the towns of Newport Pagnell and Stony Stratford, and Newport was the larger of the two.
This bill, printed in Newport Pagnell, was probably posted in the Swan Hotel, where you could buy tickets for travel on the railway. Note the rather quaint way times are expressed. A train leaves at 1/4 before 7 in the morning and arrives in London at 3/4 past nine. It seems that time expressions such as 6:45 am had yet to be invented.  The journey times vary from Wolverton to London from 2 3/4 hours to 3 1/4 hours - slow by our standards, but an unheard of speed in 1839.
The printer has also not found a way to present timetables in a clear format. The first and second columns list departure times from Wolverton and arrival times in London in no obvious order and uses the third column to list departures to Birmingham in the top part of the column and arrival times at Curzon Street in the lower group.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Bronze Age Settlement in Wolverton

The remarkable achievement of modern archaeology has been to show us a more distinct picture of how our ancestors lived during pre-history, that is before documents provided us with some evidence of life in earlier centuries. This is particularly true of the Milton Keynes area, where the planned development of a new city led to the creation of an Archaeology unit which would salvage what knowledge it could before the bulldozers destroyed the evidence forever.

So until quite recently all we could do is conjecture that people may have lived in the area in the very distant past and that the only insights into how they lived could be drawn from parallels with excavations in other parts of Britain. The Milton Keynes Archaeology Unit changed that and has left a useful legacy of information. The one I want to focus on today is evidence of Bronze Age settlement (3000 years ago) in the area now known as Wolverton Mill.

50 years ago these were still green fields. The only buildings were at Warren Farm and Wolverton Park by the Old Wolverton turn. The first buildings on these fields for the Radcliffe School and the Wolverton College of Further Education disturbed a lot of evidence and the subsequent levelling of the ground for playing fields probably destroyed any hope of useful excavation in this area, However in 1969 some aerial photographs identified a ring ditch and part of an enclosure at Wolverton Turn and the MKAU began an excavation on the site in 1972. 20 years later, in anticipation of the building program at Wolverton Mill, a second archaeological excavation was undertaken.

Taken together, the evidence of a ring ditch and post holes indicate some kind of settlement here during the Bronze Age. A few pottery sherds from the period and the discovery of an infant's cremated ashes are pretty much the only physical evidence of a Bronze Age settlement. No precise dating is possible, as the author of a report ruefully remarks:

Given the paucity of dating evidence, it is dangerous to ascribe too positive an interpretation to these features, but the probability must be that most or all of them can be associated as a Bronze Age settlement. Even if some of the features repre­sent no more than tree-clearance, it seems mainly to have been Bronze Age tree-clearance. The consistent patterning of post holes suggesting irregularly circular structures also points towards a Bronze Age date, and the lack of positive dating for such features is (unfortunately) fairly normal. The existence of the buried soil could also indicate agri­culture. (S. Preston and others. Bronze Age Occupation and Saxon Features at the Wolverton Turn Enclosure.)

The above drawing shows the ring ditch and the lines of the trenches that were dug. All of this is now built over as shown by the satellite map at the head of this post. The archaeologists discovered some post holes which might suggest some circular structures and really there are very few conclusions one can draw other than there was once a settlement here approximately 3000 years ago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pre-Railway Roads in Wolverton

That Wolverton and area has changed dramatically in the past 40 years is plain to all who grew up in the area prior to the Milton keynes development. Less obvious, and now buried, were the old road patterns that were disrupted by the canal cutting of 1800 and the railway construction in 1838.

The Stratford to Newport Road more-or-less follows its 20th century line except there is no canal bridge to negotiate and it appears to go round the the triangle where Manor Farm cottages are located. One presumes that the road was straightened here when the canal was built. Indeed the drawing by JC Hassall made in 1819 does show an abrupt turn after the bridge.

The turn to Haversham has also changed much. On this map it shows as a crossroads, with one branch going north to Mead Mill and thence to Haverhsam and Castlethorpe and turning south to Bradwell. This road was first cut by the canal and since it appears to follow the line laid by the railway was probably obliterated at that date. Part of it survived until recent times as a footpath from the Blue Bridge down to the old Pumping Station and across the brook to Bradwell. From 1837, travellers to Bradwell took the orad that probably marked the boundary between the Bradwell and Stantonbury manors. This road now goes up as far as Bradville before being cut off.

There were two cross country roads: the low road that went through Old Wolverton and a high road, an ancient ridgeway, that linked Calverton, crossed the Watling Street at Gib Lane and continued eastwards on a line that would have joined Wolverton's Green Lane before joining the Newport Road at Stantonbury.

Note too the trackway that runs from Stacey Bushes farm in the south to Old Wolverton and Manor farm to the north. This partly survived in the 20th century as a footpath from the corner of the cemetery,  crossing the Stratford Road, and following the Blackboards to Manor Farm.

The Haversham Road has been much diverted. First the turn off to Haversham had to be moved to the east when the railway line and viaduct was constructed, and 40 years later when the loop line was built. there have been further modifications and road widening in recent times.

The other interesting points about this map is that it was drawn a decade before Wolverton House, Wolverton Park Farm House and Warren Farm House was built. The mansion at Stantonbury, demolished a few years later, was still standing, and noted on this map as one of the more important houses in Norty Bucks.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Official Beginning of Stony Stratford

As I have discussed in an earlier post, there was almost certainly commercial activity and some settlement along what we now know as Stony Stratford High Street from early medieval times. But on either side of the road they were under the jurisdiction of thanes or lords. There was no entity as Stony Stratford.

This changed towards the end of the 12th century after Henry II's long reign had brought peace and prosperity to the country. In these conditions trade increased and improvement in trade brought traffic along the Watling Street. Since 1066 various parcels of land abutting the Watling Street had been granted by the lords on both side to their followers, who had consequently improved their own economic standing so it is possible that those who lived on the Watling Street were a little more sophisticated than those who farmed land on the remoter parts of the two manors.

One such was a man called Gilbert Bassett who was married to Egelina, daughter of Reginald de Courtenay, probably before 1194. Neither had an obvious commection to Stony Stratford until we discover that Egelina had first been married to Walter de Bolbec, Baron of Whitchurch. One of Walter's manors was Calverton and it is probable that part of the manor, approximately that part from the Calverton Road north to the river, had been given to Egelina in dower. Walter died in 1190 and as a widow with property Egelina would have been of great interest. Gilbert was the successful suitor.

The couple understood the economic potential of this neck of land and in the late 12th century there was money to be made through the establishment of a market. Because of the money involved, markets were restricted, and were only possible through a king's charter. This the couple sought, and first managed to get a charter under Richard's seal on 30th April 1194. It was granted at Portsmouth on one of the rare occasions that Richard I was in the country.

The lucrative potential of this market was confirmed by the Bassett's anxiety about their charter, which must have cost them a good deal of money. The charter of 1194 was authenticated by the king's seal, but this seal had fallen into Austrian hands when Richard had been captured on his return from the Crusade. A new seal had since been made, but the Bassetts, fearing that their first charter might be open to legal challenge, took the precaution of seeking a second charter under the new seal. This was granted on 20th January 1199. And again, after John had succeeded to the throne, the couple acquired a third charter under John's seal on 21st March 1200. John, always on the lookout for additional revenue, was only too agreeable.

The date of 1194 offers an "official" date for Stony Stratford as an entity. Commercial settlement had preceded that date but now there was a critical mass of activity that made its recognition inevitable.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wolverton and District Archaeological Society

Yesterday I came across a booklet prepared for an exhibition at the Radcliffe School in 1968. It cost 2/ - and has lain in a box for over 40 years. I have now read it and there is a lot within the booklet that is of interest, partly because it reflects the knowledge of the area in the late 1960s, before the arrival of Milton Keynes.

The society was founded in 1955 by a group of enthusiasts who organised digs in the district and spent a lot of their spare time and energy making some important finds about our past. They were able to identify a number of Roman villa sites, although not, as it turned out, the spectacular Roman villa at Bancroft. They were also assiduous in collecting and preserving artefacts that had stories to tell about the past, many of which must have been on display at this exhibition.

The establishment of Milton Keynes only a few years after this exhibition brought with it a unit of professional archaeologists. The buzzword of the day was "rescue  archaeology" and resources were afforded to any location that was subject to development in order to record as much of our ancient past as was possible. The amateur archaeologists were to some degree sidelined, although their contributions were respected. However, a small team of professionals working throughout the week was bound to be more productive than a handful of amateurs working at the weekend.

The society survives today and is a healthy organisation, although it has adapted itself. It is now called the Wolverton and District Archaeological and Historical Society.

I am reproducing an article from the booklet describing the state of local archaeological studies in 1968.  It is initialled by G.K.T. better known in his time as KeithTull, a teacher of history at Wolverton Secondary Modern School and the Radcliffe School from the 1950s.


To the general public the work of the archaeologist often seems very difficult to understand. He often seems to become quite excited over small fragments of bone and pot and to make statements about his finds which the ordinary observer finds difficult to believe. It may therefore assist the understanding of the importance of these seemingly insignificant pieces if the methods of the archaeologist are briefly explained.

The work of discovering the past from the remains left by previous generations in the soil is based upon two processes. The first is the careful recording and study of all the remains which are found in the layers in which they occur. This is known as stratification from the Latin word strata, a layer. It is obvious that the most recent objects, that is the objects nearest to us in time, will be found near the surface of a dig while the oldest will be found deeper down. However this is only true if the layers have not been disturbed. Frequently however the layers will have been disturbed as latter folk dig down and disturb earlier layers. It is therefore most important that the archaeologist recognises these layers as he digs down through them because each has a special meaning. This is particularly so because as he digs the archaeologist destroys his own evidence and if a mistake is made valuable evidence may be destroyed for ever.

The great importance of each layer is that in it are found the remains of a particular period on the site.   If the layer is sealed, that is if it has not been disturbed since a certain time, all the objects found in it will come from that particular time. If only one of the objects can be dated this automatically dates all the objects found with it in that layer. Thus they are dated by association. Once the date of a particular shape of pot has thus been established, the same shape can be used to date a layer on another site. Thus as historical work progresses a knowledge of the dates of various objects has been built up. The growth of a knowledge of styles and types of this type has been built up in this area during the last few years with medieval pottery. A piece of decorated dish which was found during the excavations at Stanton Low in 1955 was stated to be at that time by no less an authority than the British Museum, to be a piece of pottery of the type made in Staffordshire in the seventeenth century. Ten years later excavations on the site of a new house at Potterspury revealed a pottery kiln which had made this very type of ware. A knowledge of the green glazed roofing tiles made in the fourteenth century at Potterspury which were used to tile the roof of the church at Stanton Low and the manor house by Whaddon Manor is also being built up in the area.

The other main method available to the archaeologist to date his finds is by a knowledge of how the "type" has developed, a study known as typology. In the same way as the modern eye can roughly date a motor car from its style and design, so can the archaeologist date his finds, albeit roughly, from its design and the materials used. With pottery it is the rims and bases of the vessels together with their decoration which are most valuable for this purpose and so it is these which interest the digger more than the sides of a pot although these may be larger.
There are also an increasing number of scientific aids which can help the archaeologist in his work. A count of pollen seeds can indicate seasons, the electrical resistance of the ground may indicate sites; pottery kilns may be dated from their magnetic field and organic remains by their radio activity. By and large however these are expensive specialist techniques which are not available to the local enthusiast unless he stumbles upon a particularly important site and this is usually then taken over by a more experienced digger.

The area of North Bucks contains relics from very early times. The oldest object on display is the scapula or shoulder bone of a mammoth found in the quarry at Cosgrove. If allowance is made for the neck of the animal an estimation of the shoulder width of the beast may be obtained. Such an animal roamed what is now North Bucks during one of the ice ages, the last of which is now thought to have ended some 10,000 years B.C. This part of Britain was covered by the ice at its greatest extent and a striking reminder of this can still be seen in the village of Soulbury, south of Bletchley, where a boulder of millstone grit still stands, a menace to the modern motorist in the modern road, where it was deposited by the ice which had brought it from the Pennines.

Both the rough chipped tools of Old Stone Age Man and the polished tools of the New Stone Age have been found in the gravels of the River Ouse and it is likely that many more would have been found but for the fact that they appear as ordinary stones to the untutored eye. Indeed many an academic argument has been waged for many hours over the authenticity of supposed hand axes. It is said that a genuine hand axe will only spin in one direction if it is laid flat on a polished surface and it has been known for erudite gentlemen to spend several hours on the counters of local public houses attempting to prove their point by spinning their hand axes!

One of the earliest sites known in the area has been discovered this year by pupils of the Wolverton County Secondary School (now the junior section of the Radcliffe School) when excavation of a tell tale ring of grass greener than that around it discovered what is believed to be the ditch of a Bronze Age burial mound or tumulus. This with the other evidence now known, the mound at Passenham and the Bronze Age hoard found some 100 years ago at what is now the Corner Pin at New Bradwell less than half a mile from what appears to be another mound near the Haversham Road, is all evidence for the occupation of this area by men in the Bronze Age some three thousand years ago.

Around 500 B.C. the people known to history as the Celts first came to Britain and, overcoming the residents of these parts with their inferior bronze weapons, introduced the Iron Age. With their iron tools these people began to clear the ancient forest from the clay soils of the area. Whereas earlier folk were only to be found on the light gravels of the river valleys, small settlements began to be established in the forest. For defence against alien tribes these people built hill forts with ramparts to which they could retire with their flocks and herds in time of danger. There is no hill fort in this area to compare with the grandeur of the great one at Maiden Castle in Dorset, but the high land in our area has a number of these at Stoke Hammond, Stoke Goldington, Sherington, Danesborough, Clifton Reynes, Wakefield, and, in all probability, Whaddon. This number of defensive points seems to indicate a considerable population of this area at this time. In the first century B.C. a number of gold coins of the period were hidden in the ground in what is now Whaddon Chase. These were discovered in the last century and one was given to each of the workers on the estate so some may still be found in the village.

The Roman invasion of Britain by the Emperor Claudius in 43 A.D. began the period which has received most attention from the Society. Until Mr. Charles Green began his work on the Roman roads of the area it was thought that the only Roman road in the area was the Watling Street built by the army across the forest and swamp of the area connecting Londinium with the north west. Watling Street was undoubtedly an imperial Ml but it ran across not forest and swamp but a densely farmed agricultural area. A complex of buildings beside the River Ouse, now destroyed by gravel working, stored corn before it was transported to the fens along the river and then on to feed the garrisons of the Wall and the more distant frontier posts along the Rhine. A series of country houses or villas has been discovered along the northern bank of the river facing the warmth of the summer sun (although the Romans who came to Britain complained as bitterly about the climate as we do today and the most popular god of the soldiers on the wall was Mithras the Persian Sun God). Each of these substantial houses, Foxcote, Deanshanger, Cosgrove, Hill Farm at Linford and Gayhurst, were the centre of substantial agricultural estates. Of these Cosgrove has stood the test of time the best. Here the remains of the bath house were found. An underfioor flue heated the warm and hot room of the bath in which the civilised Roman loved to sweat and lose some of the weight which sumptuous living could produce. The small cold plunge in which he could immerse himself can still be seen and from here the bather would proceed to the masseur's table. The floors contained mosaic paving and although none of this was found in position a large number of the small cubes or tesserae from which they were made were found on the site. Other structural materials from the building are the box shaped flue tiles which ran inside the walls and carried the warm air from the furnace below ground level which centrally heated the building. The roofs of such villas' were covered by two types of tile both of which are much larger than those in use today. The roof was first covered by flat tiles called tegula. These were some 18 inches wide and 30 inches "long and placed so that each tile overlapped the tile below it in the roof. To prevent water seeping down the sides of the tile a curved tile or imbrex was placed over the sides of the flat tile the edges of which were turned up to hold them in place. Both types of tile were substantial and pieces of them are frequently found amongst the scatter which marks the site of such buildings on the modern surface of the land.

The excavation of such villas usually uncovers considerable evidence of the way of life of the people who lived on these estates. Fragments of Samian pottery are found. This was the highest grade of pottery in the Empire which was exported from the potteries of Gaul and Germany.  A pleasing red in colour it was made and decorated in moulds and so well fired in the kiln that the vessel was baked all through. In this respect it is unlike most other pottery found on sites which has a band of improperly fired clay running through it. Samian ware is so well known to the archaeologist that each shape produced by the potteries is given a form number and the time each type was made is known as is often the name of the potter stamped on the base. The high grade pottery made in Britain came either from the New Forest with a lustrous dark brown surface with white painted strip decoration or from Castor in the nearby Nene Valley which was frequently decorated with animal motifs. Most of the pottery found however is not of this standard but is rough ware made locally with the possible exception of the large storage jars or amphorae which were imported containing wine and olive oil and had pointed bottoms so that they could be stood into soft ground. The other interesting pottery is the grinding bowls or mortaria which were made with small pieces of grit in their bases. Other domestic material frequently found includes ornamental brooches used for holding the Roman toga or gown and more infrequently other jewellery and toilet articles.

The Angles and later the Saxons who took over this area from the Romano-British probably in the sixth century did not build as substantially as the Romans and none of their buildings has been found locally although traces of their settlement have been found at Passenham and Newport Pagnell where a fine piece of Anglo Saxon glass ware was found. A Bronze Guilt saucer brooch used also to hold a cloak has been found at Leighton Buzzard. From later Saxon times there is in the area the Church of Wing where the early part of the church is based on the basilica plan which was copied from the temples of Rome itself. To the North there also remains the Saxon tower of the church at Earls Barton while in our own area the now ruinous church of Stanton Low also contained signs of Saxon work. Place name evidence suggests that Wolverton itself was a small settlement founded in the sixth century by a band of Angles who had rowed their way across the North Sea and up the River Ouse. Unfortunately there has, as yet, been no discovery in the north of the county to compare with the gold buckle set with semi - precious garnets and lapis lazuli as was found on the Thames at Taplow in the south of the county.

When the Normans invaded England in 1066 their army, having defeated Harold at Hastings, advanced northwards and crossed the Thames at Wallingford where was the barracks of Harold's Housecarls or bodyguard and advanced north as far as Aston Clinton, near Aylesbury. William in the autumn of 1066 did not yet feel strong enough to advance on London fearing attack by the earls Edwin and Morcar whose forces had laid waste to Northampton the year before. However to enable his army to feed itself from the land it was divided into three parts and to the north a cavalry screen was deployed to give warning of the approach of a hostile force. Part of this cavalry screen was across the Watling Street and based for at least a short time at Passenham where King Edward the Elder had camped with his army nearly 150 years before as he reconquered land from the Danes then based upon Northampton. The possible attack on William did not come and he entered London from the north to be crowned in the newly completed Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066.

Some forty years after William's death the throne was disputed between Stephen and Matilda. Once the strong government of the earlier Norman rulers was removed the local barons began to increase their power and illegal or adulterine castles sprang up all over England. These were not the strong stone keeps like those built by the Conqueror himself at London and Windsor but timber structure with a motte, a steep sided mound of earth which in some places was 50 feet high, and possibly with a bailey, a larger less well defended area for cattle in time of siege. Castles of his type abound in North Bucks and although none has been properly excavated, most probably date from this time. Examples which may be quoted are at Old Wolverton under the modern church, Castlethorpe, Old Bradwell, and Lavendon.

Potterspury tile was also used to roof the medieval manor at Whaddon excavated this year and here the interesting discovery was made of wooden bowls preserved below the modern water line. This manor appears to have been in use in Elizabethan times as were the pottery kilns at Potterspury which continued into the seventeenth century. Indeed the archaeological finds in the area continue almost to the present day. The work at Stanton Low last year was on the deserted medieval village but earlier work on the church uncovered one wall of the manor destroyed by fire in the mid eighteenth century. Blisworth abounds with earthworks which date from the problems of the canal at the beginning of the nineteenth century while the fast changing twentieth century still has its relics which like those of the more remote past are still adding to our knowledge of this area.
G. K. T.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Coaching Inns on the Wolverton side

The Watling Street is an ancient trackway, taking a line from Dover to London and then north west from London to Chester, and travellers to the north west had been passing between the Wolverton and Calverton manors for many centuries before Stony Stratford emerged as a place at the end of the 12th Century. It's fair to assume that there were roadside hostelries there from an early date, although we don't know their names, and it is quite possible that the presence of a baron at Wolverton, with a small retinue of armed men, may have provided the security for this trade to grow at Stony Stratford.

And this last point might offer a clue as to why the larger inns developed on the Wolverton side; the presence of a resident baron may have created the circumstances for more secure dealings than with a steward representing the interests of a non-resident lord, such as was the case on the Calverton side. growth on the west side (which did include inns) was more connected to the development of markets and fairs, this part of history surviving in Horse fair, Cow Fair and the Market Square.

The east side development was purely linear, with frontages on the street and acreages stretching to the east at least as far as the footpath bordering late19th century Stony Stratford. The larger inns had extensive acreages behind them , and more besides, as we can see from 18th century records.

Evidence of a number of inns at Stony Stratford in medieval times must be taken from the stopovers of the royal court. The early Plantagenet kings conducted government on the hoof, as it were, and were travelling almost constantly over their vast territories to maintain control and minister their government. This necessitated the movement of all court officials and the sells and administrative paraphernalia of government, including the treasury, which King John famously lost with his baggage in The Wash in 1217. It is to King John's reign that we have a detailed record of a king's movement as his entire reign is covered by the records of various charters and deeds being approved. From this we know that John moved from his royal manor of Brill, through Stony Stratford and Silverstone was to Northampton between February 19th to March 5th 1215.  Along the way he signed a deed, dated February 20th at Stony Stratford. Those details need not concern us, but the point is to be made that Stony Stratford in 1215 was large enough to accommodate the royal court. A similar observation could be made about the progress of Queen Eleanor's cortege in 1286. It moved from Northampton to Stony Stratford and from there to Woburn, Dunstable and St Albans, each time staying in places that could accommodate the royal entourage.

The earliest documented reference to any sort of inn is to Grik's Herber in a deed dated. The Herber might be loosely translated as an orchard and by the 18th century this field was known as Gregg's Arbour. This record does allow us to identify Grik's Herber with the site latterly occupied by the Barley Mow. It is of course on the Calverton side, but there does appear to have been some exchange of land on both sides over the centuries and the fact that this deed appears in the Wolverton deeds might suggest that this too was under the control of the Lord of Wolverton at one time.

It has been suggested that Grik may have been a Greek and this is how he got his name. This is entirely possible, but we know little other than these references.

The major inns on the east side were the Cock, the Bull, The Swan, The Red Lyon and The Horseshoe
 Previously he had stayed at The Cock and The Bull, both now hotels, are great survivors of the days of the coaching trade. The Cock is probably older (as discussed in this post) but by the 18th century the Bull equalled it in importance. The phrase "Cock and Bull story" is said to have originated in Stony Stratford as a result of the rivalry between these two comparable establishments. Believe that or not as you will. I have discussed it here.
The Bull inn makes its first appearance in the Parish Registers in 1671. Since it rented land from the radcliffe Trust we can get a clearer idea of the scale of the enterprise from the recorded rents it was paying, first to Sir Edward Longueville and then to the Radcliffe Trust.
this document shows us that The Bull was renting about 50 acres from the Trust, and while nowhere near as big as the larger farms on the manor, which varied from 200 to 300 acres, this appears to be a sizeable small holding and suggests a scale of production that would be needed to satisfy their guests. Unfortunately we do not have equivalent figures of the Cock for comparison and it appears that the Cock had owned its own land for some centuries. The fields, parts of West Rylands and East Rylands and The Leys were all to be found between Stony Stratford and the later Wolverton House. In addition the Bull has a close (that is an enclosed field) of four acres at the back of the Inn. For this they paid the Trust £94 per annum. It was a large sum and compares with the three main farmers who were paying £270, £210 and £225 respectively.

It is possible to make comparison with three other inns of comparable importance from the same document. The Horseshoe has a lease for 74 acres in total for an annual rent of £107: The Red Lyon, 42 acres for £55 2s; and the Three Swans 36 acres for £67 14s.

Certainly we could conclude from this that there were five large inns on Stony Stratford's east side, each of them with a small farm attached.

It would be nice to have more detail. Was The Bull an older establishment? Had it been re-named, as some of the others undoubtedly were? What we can know is that it was there as a late 17th century establishment and that it was obviously prosperous in the 18th century when the Turnpike Act of 1702 led to improved roads. The stage coaching days of the early 19th century must have been heady days for the Stony Stratford Inns and tradesmen. All this came to an abrupt halt in the 1840s after the railways had made stagecoach travel outmoded.

All of the inns went into decline and the Bull, like the others, must have suffered from this loss of trade. The Cock appears to have weathered the downturn rather better.

The 1841 Census shows The Cock kept by John Battams and his wife, with five staff. The 1851 Census, which is a bit more specific, shows it in the hands of the widow Mary Chapman. Her staff include a barmaid, House Maid, Waitress, Kitchen Maid, Post Boy, Porter and an Ostler. She also had five guests staying there that evening. Yet next door, John Reeve the Grocer (who also had a branch at Wolverton) was also employing six live-in staff, and the detailed line says that he was employing 3 men and 1 boy indoors and 11 men and boys outdoors. In 1851 the grocery was a bigger business than the coaching inn.

The Bull appears to be on hard times. In 1851 it records Henry Wilmin as the victualler with only two servants. In 1841 it was kept by Samuel and Sarah Rich. They had four daughters, aged between 14 and 3 living there. There is no hint of staff or guests.

One can only guess that it was so much different in the 18th century. The landholdings of all the inns would suggest that they had a large number of mouths to feed and they must also have maintained a large complement of staff to serve their guests and maintain the household and farm.

The suicidal demonstration of John Harries

Henry VI was arguably England's most incompetent king, although he was not alone in that category. He was born in 1421 and succeeded to the throne as an infant after his father's untimely death in 1422. During his minority the kingdom was competently governed by his uncle John, Duke of bedford and his great uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester. Once he attained his majority the government of the country began to slip away from the centre. Foreign policy was a disaster and the legacy of his father was entirely undone. At home, there were serious grumblings about the men around the king who were unfairly enriching themselves at the expense of others; in many instances the law was being subverted.

Henry seems to have been incapable of making consistent decisions and it later became apparent that he did not have the mental capacity to grapple with complex issues. Eventually his mind went altogether, but by the time people around him realised this the damage had been done and the country was in a state of civil war. 15th century men and women had difficulty in imagining that their king could be questioned, so even when he made decisions which were plainly barmy, the men around him, by and large, shrugged their shoulders and tried to make the best of it. Even after he had plainly lost his mind there were people who chose to believe that he had become a holy man. This was a myth that persisted until the 20th century.

By 1450 the people of England had become fed up. The French dominions had been lost, taxation was arbitrary, and the economy was in a poor state. Rebellion erupted in Kent and Essex in a mirror of the Peasants' revolt of 1381, except that these rebels were largely landowners and merchants. It was, in the end, the respectability of these rebels that made them desist from attacking the king and the rebellion was quieted with assurances that new advisors would be appointed to key posts in the king's household. Henry had failed to show much leadership during this revolt. While the rebellion was at its peak he scampered off to the safety of Kenilworth castle and left his lieutenants to handle the problem. When it appeared safe he returned to London on the 28th July. However, indications of further unrest prompted him to make his way north again in September. This brought him on the road through Stony Stratford and to the event I will describe, but first a brief word about Richard, Duke of York.

Richard of York could claim descent from Lionel Duke of Clarence, the older brother of John, Duke of Lancaster, whose eldest son Henry became Henry IV. It was this connection which gave rise to the later Yorkist claim that their line of descent held precedence. In 1450 this was not argued, but it was increasingly apparent to many that Richard, who had proved himself a competent general and leader, would make a better king than his cousin.

John Harries certainly believed this and while the king was processing down the street of Stony Stratford he jumped out in front of the king waving a flail and enacted a charade to show the king how Richard of York would get rid of all the evil counsellors surrounding the king. Harries was either out of his mind or so consumed with rage at the thought of the constant misgovernance of England that he could not control himself. Possibly a mixture of both. He was quickly arrested and hanged as a traitor.

Curiously, Harries is described as a sailor and it is somewhat odd to find him this far inland. With a name like Harries he could have been a Wolverton or Stony Stratford native, but also he could have come from anywhere.

The incident at Stony Stratford was a demonstration of the huge problems that Henry's government should have been facing up to. John Harries was a lonely demonstrator but he most likely expressed the rage and exasperation that many people felt. The aftermath was Civil War, known to history as The Wars of the Roses.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Adult education in Wolverton

I was told the other day that this year the Milton Keynes College celebrates its 30th year. It was formed in 982 out of a merger of Wolverton and Bletchley Colleges of Further Education. This history of organised adult education is, in truth, much, much older and this year we are looking at 172 years of adult education in Wolverton.

From the very earliest days of Wolverton station the newcomers were looking for opportunities for self improvement. Hugh Stowell Brown, who arrived in Wolverton as a 16 year old in 1840, describes how he and his mates, lodging in a peasant cottage in Old Wolverton, would spend their spare time studying - and they were working 58 1/2 hour weeks! One of his room mates, Edward Hayes, went on to found the Hayes Engineering works at Stony Stratford.

The new arrivals in Wolverton were skilled workers and mostly literate, and having that basis in education wished to learn more. Accordingly, a group got together and founded a Mechanics' Institute - The London and Birmingham Railway Institute for Moral and Intellectual Improvement at the Wolverton Station. (Our Victorian forebears had no interest in short, snappy titles and acronyms.) The date was June 1840, barely one year after the opening of the works and it was probably the second foundation of its kind in the entire country - the first being Owens College in Manchester, for a long time now the University of Manchester.

The LBR also built a Reading Room near the canal and William Pousett, a senior clerk, was given £25 to establish a library. Later, individual benefactors gave money which expanded the library to 700 volumes. This put the two critical components in place, the organisation and a resource library of books. Men who were knowledgeable in one field volunteered their time to teach their fellows. The evening class was invented.

It was also resolve to raise funds for a building for the Mechanics' Institute and men contributed what they could out of their savings. For some reason, progress stalled. McConnell hinted in his speech on the occasion of the Christmas Soiree that there were divisions within the committee, although he did not say what the cause might be. He did express the wish that on this occasion they might go forward with more brotherly unity. Possibly there were differences abut how the money should be spent or how much the railway company should contribute. At any rate, the project was slow to move forward.

Eventually that day did come with a substantial commitment of funds from the LNWR and a new building opened its doors in 1864 on the corner of Church Street and Creed Street - now a car park.
This is the earliest drawing, probably done soon after it opened in 1864. It was called The Wolverton Science and Art Institute.

In this guise it continued to offer evening classes and to function as a library. Demand continued to rise in the last quarter of the 19th century and in 1890, a grant of £300 from the recently-formed Buckinghamshire County Council, enabled the institute to be enlarged.

This is how it appeared in the early 20th century.

In 1908 the Wolverton County School began its life here before the new building opened at the top of Moon Street in 1909. In that year the Science and Art Institute got its first paid Principal - a part time employee.

The evening institute was increasingly successful and many young men and women were educated there. The school leaving age in those days was 13 and most young people left school for work with only a rudimentary education.

In 1925 there were further developments. The Institute gained a full-time Principal and some staff. Part-time day classes were offered and full-time technical education was on offer for 13 year olds. In other words, young people could now continue their education beyond school without going to the County School.

Change and improvement continued over the years. After the 1944 Education Act the day school was free of tuition fees and admission was by examination at 13. Pupils normally continued to 16 and took subjects in the new General Certificate of Education. Formal qualifications through part-time study were ow available through the Royal society of Arts and through Ordinary National Certificate and Higher National Certificate.

The term "Further education" entered the lexicon and in 1954 the Wolverton Science and Art Institute was re-named Wolverton College of Further Education.

In 1956 Bletchley Grammar School opened and all the pupils who had regularly travelled to Wolverton Grammar School attended their own local school. Bletchley residents continued to make the daily train journey to Wolverton.

The days of the"Tech" were now numbered. The educational authorities started negotiations to bring the Wolverton Grammar School and the Tech together in a single institution, and in 1958 this was formalised as a single school - The Radcliffe School. The Wolverton College of Further Education now concentrated on day-release classes and evening classes with a strong vocational focus, returning in some respects to its 19th century roots.

The new college opened on a field site on the Stratford Road, (Innocently, as archaeologists later discovered,  destroying the remains of a bronze age settlement on the site.) These buildings were in use for about 30 years and then demolished to make way for a housing development. Milton Keynes College now has campuses in the centre and south west.

In the meantime the old Science and Art Institute slipped into partial use, to occasional use and then disuse. In its state of disuse it became vulnerable and one night in 1970 someone started a fire, which quickly engulfed the building.

This is what it looked like the following day.

The Council quickly demolished the building without trying to reclaim it.

Further education continues to be important and people of all ages are now offered a large array of training and retraining choices, only they are no longer in Wolverton. So it is with some sadness that we note that Wolverton, once a 19th century pioneer in the held of adult education, no longer has any presence or any physical reminders of its contributions to vocational education.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Mansion at Stantonbury

Stantonbury in 1770

By the time this map was drawn the ancient village of Stantonbury had almost disappeared, but there was still a mansion there which was important enough to catch the cartographer's attention. Three buildings are noted on the manor, the big house, the church and buildings at Stanton High, looking rather isolated.

The story of this mansion is interesting, although details a few and the history of any sort of manor house is extremely sketchy.

At Domesday the manor was in the hands of the baron Miles Crispin and he had probably granted it to one of his knights, a man called Ralph. We assume that he was the progenitor of the family that came to be lords of the manor for the next three centuries, although we cannot support that assumption with documentary evidence. We have to wait until 1202 for that to emerge when the manor was definitely passed to Simon de Stanton, or Simon Barre, as he was otherwise known. The manor was henceforth known as Stanton Barre, later of course becoming Stantonbury.
It passed down through the family until the male line died out in the late 14th century, when it passed to William Vaux.

As the resident lords, the Barre family and later the Vaux family would have had a hall or manor house. This may have started as a simple hall and grown through additions, or the early medieval dwelling may have been replaced by a newer building. Unfortunately we cannot know from the evidence we have available to us.

That there was a manor house is certain. A document of 1326 (Inquisitions post mortem) informs us that there was a capital messuage, a garden, a dovecote and a broken down mill. Another document dated 1565 lists two messuages, ten torts, a water mill and four gardens. A fine of 1617 records two messuages, six torts, two watermills, two dove houses, three gardens and three orchards. A year later there is specific mention of a manor house when the Temple estate was divided "all that the manor house of Stantonberry with the dove houses barnes stables backsides courts orchards and gardens heretofore belonging, and the three watermylles under one roof." From these at least we can infer the presence of a manor house, possibly 15th century in origin.

In the 16th century the manor was sold several times, beginning with Thomas Lord Vaux in 1535. From the number of sales one might infer that nothing was done to improve the manor or the property. That it produced income from sheep farming was probably enough. Eventually the manor was sold to Sir Peter Wittewronge who was interested enough to do something. He took possession  in 1653. Wittewrnge came from Flemish stock and he had money and influence. His principal seat was at Rothampstead in Hertfordshire, now a centre for agricultural research.

He settled the manor of Stantonbury on his eldest son John and after he was married in 1664 work began on a new mansion.

Building work began in 1664 and was largely complete four years later. It was demolished in 1791 and there are no drawings from any time in that period to suggest to us what it might have looked like. We can only infer from the building accounts and from other sources what it might have looked like. 

The building was of brick construction with stone dressings. There are references to the greate building and the return building which begins to suggest an "L" shaped structure. There are further references to the greate hall and the old hall, which would lead us to conclude that the old manor house was incorporated into the new building. Or, there may have been a central building with two wings, because there are further references to a new leser hall and the folkes' (servants) hall. Certainly a large hall for the main building with two wings at either end would be conventional for the time and we can speculate that this may have been the structure using the old manor house as one of the wings.

The accounts reveal that the new mansion was not an inexpensive structure. We can perhaps guess at its appearances by taking a look at Rothamstead, which, with its Duch gables, may have been the parent for inspiration. The first rather crude drawing was made in 1624. The photograph below of the much expanded and enlarged Rothamstead manor illustrates the character of the architecture which has maintained its central features over the centuries. Was the Stantonbury house similar?

If so it would have been one of the more remarkable survivors in the Wolverton area. Sadly its history was very short. John Wittewronge succeeded to his father's titles in 1693. He kept Stantonbury and his younger brother James inherited Rothamstead. Sir John outlived his father by only four years and in 1697 the estate and titles passed to yet another Sir John Wittewronge. He appears to have led an active life and was colonel of a regiment during the wars in Flanders. He served as member of Parliament for Aylesbury and subsequently Wycombe until his death in 1722.

The fourth baronet, unsurprisingly also named John, got himself into difficulty in 1721 (a year before his father's death) by murdering a man called Joseph Griffith at the Saracen's Head in Newport Pagnell. The Sir John took the expedient measure of fleeing the country and returning a few years later when the hue and cry had died down. Around 1727 he sold the manor to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and the Wittewronges receded from Stantonbury's history. The fourth baronet's ending was not a happy one. He found himself in the Fleet prison in 1743 for his debts and in the course of a drunken brawl received some fatal wounds.

In that same year the mansion at Stantonbury was damaged by fire, the extent of which is not known. The Duchess of Marlborough died the following year and bequeathed this manor, along with many other huge estates, to her grandson John Spencer. He became the first Earl Spencer and founded the family which continues to hold its principal seat in Althorp, Northamptonshire.

Earl Spencer never had any occasion to live at Stantonbury but the house may have been used as a residence for stewards of the estate. Certainly this must be the case for Thomas Harrison who built Wolverton House in the 1780s. Harrison's older children were baptised at Stantonbury church in the late 1750 and 1760s,  so they were evidently living in the parish and given the almost complete absence of houses for a middle class family of that status one can only assume that they were living in the Wittewronge mansion. Thomas Harrison was the land agent for Earl Spencer and he performed a similar role for the Earl of Uxbridge. In 1773 he took on this same task for the Radcliffe Trust and later established his "seat" at Wolverton. Thomas Harrison, as I have described elsewhere. was an 18th century entrepreneurial spirit who appears to have made a lot of money.

I would speculate that in the 1770s the 100 year old house was in a state of disrepair. The fire of 1743 must have left residual damage and probably the cost of maintenance was no longer worth it. It is quite possible that the Harrisons were the last residents and a decade later, in 1791, the only practical course for Earl Spencer was to demolish the building.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Old Village at Stantonbury

I have posted several times about the old church at Stanton Low. It is not strictly speaking a Wolverton topic, but it has had long Wolverton associations and many people have asked me about the village, so why not.

The manor itself emerged as a distinct unit in the 9th or 10th century, sandwiched between the manors of Bradwell and Great Linford. It stretches from the river Ouse in the north to the higher ground above Bradell in the south. It covers 806 acres and is roughly one third of the size of the Wolverton Manor.

The Domesday survey of 1086 provides us with a snapshot. There were 7 villeins, perhaps cultivating 30 acres each, and 3 borders, who had less land and less status. There was also a mill. From the number of recorded ploughs, economic historians have estimated that about half the manor was under cultivation, approximately 400 acres. About 200 acres of this was reserved for the lord's demesne.
These figures may also tell us that the population living on the manor was about 40 and it seemed that it never at any time after got to be much more than that. For comparison purposes, Haversham, across the river, and a population that approximately doubled that of Stanton in 1066.

The manor was known as Stanton. By 1200, when the ruling family had adopted the surname of Barre, the manor was called Stanton Barre, Stanton Barry and eventually Stantonbury. The Barry family became quite prominent in the area and in time acquired most of the Bradwell manor.

At the end of the 15th century the lord of the manor, Sir Nicholas Vaux, pursued an aggressive policy of enclosing his estates in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire so as to convert the land to pasture. This meant that he could make more profit out of the land by raising sheep than through arable farming. In consequence as many as forty people lost their homes and livelihood. We are told this through the findings of a commission set up by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Vaux was prosecuted but appears to have escaped fine or punishment and the end result for the unfortunate peasants of Stantonbury was that they lost their livelihood and Sir Nicholas Vaux achieved his objective. Some of you may observe that nothing changes.

Thereafter the manor had a very low population. A document of 1617-18 records two messuages, six tofts, two watermills, two dove houses 3 gardens and three orchards. A messuage would describe some land with a dwelling house and various outbuildings. If there were two of them, one would certainly be the manor house and the other, either the rectory or a farm house. We will not know for certain but if the land was given over to sheep farming it is less likely that there would be a farm house such as the ones later appearing on the Newport Road and at Stanton High. It may have been a rectory. The torts were single room peasant dwellings, each supporting a family. Although two watermills are described, archaeologists believe that there was only one miller operating the two mills.

It was a very small village and it was to grow even smaller. By the time of the 1841 census there were only two cottages left at Stanton Low, the big house and rectory had disappeared in the previous century and there were two farmhouses.
Photo of Stantonbury taken in 1957
This photograph was taken before the further encroachment of the gravel pits so you can see in the top left hand corner the evidence of ridge and furrow faming. These would have been the villagers strips of land which they farmed for sustenance. The village dwellings were closer to the church and the manor house and mansion to the south.

The development of New Bradwell in the 1850s transformed Stantonbury in much the same way that New Wolverton overshadowed "Old" Wolverton and for almost a century there was no development. The Church gradually fell into disuse and in time became a complete ruin.

There were some encroachments on the manor in the 19th century with the construction of Harwood Street and North Street on the east side of the Bradwell Road and in the 20th century the Bradville estate at Stanton High brought the "garden city" concept of housing development to the area. Post Milton keynes the old manor is scarcely recognisable.

The church ruin is the only remaining identifiable part of the ancient village.

1770 map by Thomas Jeffreys

This map pre-dates the canal and the railway. In this context Stantonbury, although small, was not entirely insignificant. The established villages of Great Linford, Haversham and Bradwell had the sie and shape they had 200 years later. Stantonbury still had the big house which I will describe in the next post.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The 19th century Stationmasters

Here is a review of the station masters at Wolverton in the 19th century. The photograph above is an illustration of how they may have dressed.

The new station at Wolverton opened on September 17th 1838 and the London and Birmingham Railway company installed a very young man called Alfred Denny Blott as the Clerk in Charge. They were boot called Station Masters until a decade or so after the railway was founded, so the job from the outset was conceived as one requiring clerical skills, writing out tickets and collecting money. Young Blott (for he was only 21) must have impressed his superiors at Birmingham, where he had worked for a few months. At the time he was single and found lodgings at Old Wolverton.
In those early days the railway policemen were given the responsibility for the control and flow of traffic, but it became apparent that each station operation needed to be under the control of one man and the position of station master emerged. Alfred Blott was given some handsome salary increases while he was at Wolverton, earning at his peak £200 per annum. This put him firmly amongst Wolverton's top earners, alongside the vicar and other senior works staff.

I have told the tale of Alfred Blott's dalliance with an unnamed young lady, which resulted in his transfer to Oxford on October 1st 1851 here, so I won't repeat myself.

He was immediately succeeded by Samuel shakespeare, who was moved from Stamford. he was there for almost three years until July 1854, when he was dismissed. At the moment I haven't been able to find out the reasons for the dismissal. The salary register simply records that he was dismissed.
On July 10th of that year they transferred Thomas Davies from Euston. He was paid £140 a year, £60 less than Alfred Blott, and as the century goes on that £200 salary begins to look extravagant. It is not clear when Davies left but by 1861 Joseph Parker was installed. Parker served until his retirement on 4th October 1877. He moved to a house on the Stratford Road where he lived until his death.

J Day replaced him from Willesden. he lasted two years before he was discharged on 24th July 1879. No explanation is given in the salary register. Day, who was born in 1838, was the first Station Master to be born in the railway age.

The second was Edwin Bliss, born at Aspley Guise in 1845. He served in the position until his quite early death at the age of 45. By the 31st January 1890 he was too sick to continue and he died on 16th february of that year. In March they brought in Robert Dunleavy, who had been Station Master at Buckingham for ten years. He was 38 years old.

As an interesting side note they start to record the height of these men in the salary registers from 1879. Bliss was 5'9", Dunleavy 6'. Two of his successors were 5'7 3/4" and Thomas Brinnard was 5"11". They were all men of above average height for the times.

Dunleavy was there for five years and then promoted to eight on Buzzard. The Wolverton salary was now fixed at £140 and reflects the decline of Wolverton from one of the principal stations in 1838 to a stop on the line. Leighton Buzzard, with its branch to Dunstable and Luton was a far busier station.

He was succeeded by G T Cable, then about 55 years old. He came from Leighton and it appears to have been a job-swap. Cable looking for a lighter load and the younger Dunleavy wanting bigger opportunities. Cable was probably in poor health at this time as he signed off sick in November 1896 and retired in January 1897.

J. Scott was brought in from Cheddington and served at Wolverton until he moved to Rugby on 30th April 1898.

Thomas Brinnard became the Station Master to see out the century. he arrived in Wolverton to take up his duties on 30th December 1898 and stayed until he retired on 31st August 1910. The salary register notes that he died on 9th September 1921.

He was succeeded by Henry Brinklow.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


For at least 1000 years Wolverton has been unaffected by direct military action. The civil wars of the 12th, 15th and 17th centuries seem to have skirted Wolverton and we can assume that the peasants were able to continue their work without being subject to rape and pillage.

This did not mean that Wolverton men did not fight in wars, and w have certainly seen that in the last century. There are however few records to support this. Usually the lead figure is named and the rest are numbers.

The muster rolls for the 1415 invasion of France remain as an unusually complete document. Here are three men from North Bucks who mustered at Southampton in 1415. If they survived the first battles, they would have fought at Agincourt.

Walter Shyrington
Charles Mydleton
Thomas Tyringham

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where did the Prince stay in 1483?

This building on Stony Stratford High Street is reputed to be the Inn where the Edward, the heir to the throne after the death of his father Edward IV, was abducted by his uncle Richard. He was taken to the Tower of London, at the time no more than a secure royal palace. Later, his brother Richard was also persuaded to move there, in both cases "for their own protection and safety". They never emerged alive and Richard had a brief reign as Richard III until he was killed at Bosworth in 1485. The plaque on the wall proclaims this fact and it is widely believed to be true.

Is it?

The only answer is that it may be, but there is absolutely no evidence, other than hearsay to back up this claim.

The chronicles recording the events mention only Northampton and Stony Stratford. Richard reached Northampton on his way to London on April 29th. The young king, accompanied by his uncle Earl Rivers, had by this time reached Stony Stratford on their journey from Ludlow. Richard and Rivers made contact and Rivers rode back to Northampton. The two men, who were later joined by the Duke of Buckingham, apparently spent a convivial evening together, but at dawn Rivers and his nephew, Lord Grey, were surprised by Richard's men and arrested. They were despatched to Pontefract, one of Richard's northern strongholds.

Buckingham and Richard then rode to Stony Stratford where they explained to the young Edward that they had intercepted a plot to seize the throne. Whether they were believed or not is probably irrelevant. Edward was now under Richard's control.

Very little of medieval Stony Stratford remains, partly due to the inevitable rebuilding and partly due to a series of disastrous fires in the 18th century.

What we do know about the building is that it can be dated to the late 15th century at least and that it was an inn known as the Rose and Crown and it features in the bequest of the owner Michael Hipwell in 1609 in his desire to turn it into a school after 99 years. It is one of Stony Stratford's oldest buildings and it escaped the great fire of 1742 because the winds were blowing north from the Bull rather than south.

One of the inns which had been destroyed during this fire was variously known at various times in its history as the Swan, the Swan with Two Necks, and the Three Swans. It was also one of the inns owned by Michael Hipwell. Now Browne Willis (1682-1760) the 18th century antiquarian who lived at Whaddon Hall, writes in his notes "the two Princes are reported traditionally to have lain at The Three Swans Inn in the centre of the town."

The location of the former Three Swans was where the present hotel now stands, at numbers 92-94 High Street. It is in this section of the town where the larger inns appear to been located. The Red Lyon ( which may have changed its name to The Horseshoe, and is at one time referred to as the "Lyon and Horseshoe") occupied the land where St Paul's School was later built, and the Cock and the Bull are all on this side. There are hints that the Three Swans may have been of equivalent size. In early 18th century account the Three Swans is paying rent of £12 for its adjoining land and orchard, the Bull £4, if that is anything to go by.

So what can we make of this? My intuition tells me that the prince, who would be travelling with an entourage (possibly as many as 2,000 according to one source), would be more likely to stay at one of the larger inns. Would they have been told, "Sorry, we have no room. You'll have to go to one the smaller hostelries up the street."? It is more likely that other travellers would have been turfed out to make way for their more important guests. The former location of Queen Eleanor's Cross would also lead us to conclude that Royal parties stayed at the larger inns at the northern end of the town.

Browne Willis was not a resident of Stony Stratford and had no particular axe to grind. If he was reporting this in the 18th century, then it is probable at least that there was no controversy about the location and that this might have been the oral tradition two centuries after the event. There was, at any rate, no mention of the Rose and Crown at this time.

My guess is that the Great Fire of 1742 changed everything. After rebuilding, all properties from the Bull northwards were 18th century, and when local historians started to take an interest the only standing and visible 15th century buildings were those of the Rose and Crown. It therefore may have appeared "obvious" that this was the place where they stayed. I have seen something similar happen in Romsey in Hampshire, where a 13th century house just outside Romsey Abbey walls was identified by an enthusiastic local historian as "King John's Hunting Box"- in other words a hunting lodge. Recent academic and scientific research has proved that it was in any case built later than 1217 (when John died) and that it was more likely to have been a lodge for abbey guests. The precise date of the building has now been established as 1256. It is still, however, called King John's House.

Of course we have no such information to corroborate or dispute the Rose and Crown claim. It is conveniently still standing and the medieval Three Swans disappeared over 250 years ago. One sentence in an obscure manuscript by an obscure writer is hardly in a position to challenge that claim.