The Reform Act stripped away the so-called “rotten broroughs” i.e. places where nobody lived who were still returning members. I suppose the outstanding example was Dunwich which had fallen into the North sea a hundred years or so earlier. The Act also extended the franchise to men who had property of a rateable value of £10 and above. Thus the franchise was extended from 13 voters to a whopping 360! It was not much of an improvement but it was a start and it did open up a tiny chink of light of democracy to our system of representation. The 1832 election brought a Whig or Liberal into the new parliament in the person of Sir Harry Verney. He and his descendants held the seat for about 60 years.
If you think our parliamentary system is fairly corrupt and undemocratic now, you will be even more astonished if you look back to the election of 1831 – the last election before the Reform Act of 1832 was implemented. Buckingham was entitled them to two members of parliament, and indeed was for many years after, but you will be surprised to learn that there were only 13, yes 13, eligible voters. Each of these voters were aldermen who were appointees of the Duke of Buckingham. The two members returned for Buckingham from this tiny electorate were both nominees of the Duke of Buckingham – General Sir George Nugent (his cousin) and Sir Thomas Freemantle. One of the consequences of this parliamentary stitch-up was that Wolverton became a railway town. The Duke of Buckingham had enough parliamentary votes in his pocket to veto the originally planned line through Buckingham and Stephenson had to develop an alternative – hence the route through Wolverton.
It’s General Election time. Since this blog is about Wolverton’s past before 1960 I have no need to comment about which bunch of scoundrels I might vote for. I was between 8 and 9 years old when the 1951 General Election came around so this was probably the first one of which I had any consciousness. The two candidates were Frank Markham and Aidan Crawley and they had both been candidates the year before when the Labour Government had been to the polls. Crawley won on that occasion, retaining the seat he had won in 1945. The backgrounds of the two candidates were strongly contrasted. Crawley came from a well-to-do family with lots of connections to the aristocracy. Markham was the son of a Stony Stratford Prudential Insurance Agent. Crawley went to Harrow and Oxford and effortlessly moved into the ranks of the governing classes. He was also a good cricketer, playing for Oxford University and later for Kent. I remember Donald Morgan, Headmaster of Wolverton Grammar School, once telling the story of how Aidan Crawley, playing in some sort of charity match, hit a six through one of the school windows. Frank Markham started work at McCorquodale’s as an office boy for 5s per week. He subsequently studied at night school and won a scholarship to Oxford Univerity. My Aunt told me that he worked on the famous “Tutankhamun” archaeological site in the 1920s. I haven’t been able to verify that. Both men did war service. Markham campaigned as Major Markham. In those days people liked to advertise their war service and military rank was frequently carried into civilian life. Wolverton and New Bradwell were solidly Labour in those days. Both towns were in the literal sense of the word “working class”. That is, they had skilled tradesmen’s jobs and drew a weekly wage. They were not oppressed but they had a firm sense of their own identity and where there interests lay. Unemployment was non-existent in Wolverton in 1951, but those in the professional classes were few in number and the so-called upper classes were non-existent. Clement Attlee came to Wolverton during the campaign and spoke on a soapbox outside the Wolverton Building Society – on the corner of Church Street and Radcliffe Street – to the assembly of cloth-capped workers one lunchtime. I wasn’t there, but I was told that he couldn’t be heard. There were no microphones back then. Markham won the contest in 1951 by a mere 54 votes. He probably didn’t draw many votes from Wolverton and New Bradwell, but made them up in the rest of the Buckingham constituency. He went on to retain the seat in subsequent elections until he retired in 1964, when the seat went back to Labour in the person of that egregious chancer, Robert Maxwell. The careers of Markham and Crawley continued to draw contrasts. Whereas Markham had begun his political career as a Labour MP for Nottinghamshire and ended it as a Conservative MP; Crawley started as a Labour MP and, after a career with ITV news, became a Labour MP for a Derbyshire constituency.
I’m getting a bit bogged down in some of the complexities of the mediaeval Manor documents and will return to the theme when I have made some sense out of them. In the mean time we can go back 1000 years earlier.
I write this at a time when the Cross Country running season (January to March) is mercifully over. I don’t know whether this is still done any more, but in the 1950s, once a week, clad only in a singlet type vest, running shorts and canvas running shoes we were sent out on this toughening experience. The course was Two-and-a-half miles for 11 year olds and Four-and-a-half for 13 and above. Our route took us up the field to Stacey Hill Farm, across the Blue Bridge with a nice downhill run beside the railway embankment to the pumping station, usually, by this time, with lumps of clay flying off our feet. I had no idea at the time (and nor did anyone else) that we were running down one of the earliest cleared fields in the Wolverton area.
Farm buildings dating from the second century AD were first discovered in 1971. Excavations were undertaken between 1973 and 1978 with a further investigation between 1982 and 1986. The archaeological team found evidence of a south facing house 28 x 12 metres in size.The placement is entirely consistent with other villa-type farm buildings of the period.
They tend to select a rather special type of site: a valley-slope facing south or east, not too high up, with shelter from the wind, exposure to the sun, and water close at hand.
The archaeologists discovered limestone foundations and post holes inside the building to support the roof and interior partitions. The roof covering was probably thatch and the walls were likely to have been “wattle and daub”. The wattles were made by interleaving thin branches into a kind of lattice. Once the lattice was in place the wall was daubed with a mixture of sand, earth, straw mixed with a binder. The mixture dried quite hard and was often sealed with whitewash, It was an effective wall-making material, although it had no structural strength. The plan of this building was a large living area with two small rooms, probably for sleeping, at the west end. The north side had a corridor. Later in the second century a bath suite was added. This had two heated rooms and a cold room.
The team found a cobbled farmyard and additional farm buildings and two large circular stone buildings, which were living quarters for the farm workers.
Much of this is consistent with what we already know. Circular or round buildings are easier to build and roof and tend to be warmer in the winter. It is possible that each of these buildings accommodated several families.
The archaeologists also found evidence of an earlier settlement on the hilltop above Brook Field which was later used as a place to cremate their dead. By the second century AD funeral customs had changed and this site was now used to bury the dead. These farmers now built a Mausoleum – an underground burial vault under a central tower some 10 metres high. This was surrounded by a verandah with columns. There may also have been a water mill beside the brook.
It is probably impossible to tell how much land was farmed here, but if 200 to 300 acres had been cleared this would have been more than enough to support the farm family and their workers. I imagine they used the banks sloping down to the brook, part of what later became known as Stacey Bushes Farm.
It appears that in or about AD 170 the farm was destroyed by a serious fire and that it was thereupon abandoned. The archaeologists present this as a fact but don’t explain why. And we don’t know, but we can speculate. My theory is that the destruction and abandonment of this farm may have been due to a slave revolt. Slave labour was integral to the economy of the Roman Empire and practices were no different in Britain. For most slaves the deal was food and shelter and clothing in exchange for work. With a reasonable master I suppose this was just about tolerable but situations arose where the conditions became intolerable and there were slave revolts. This may have been one such. The slaves rose up against their master, killed him and his family, burned the house and retreated into the forest and into outlawry. They may subsequently have been caught and executed.
This is only a theory, but it would explain the complete abandonment of the farm for almost 100 years. Had it been an accidental fire, surely it would have been rebuilt as the survivors would have been on hand to do the work.
A hundred years later another family decided to settle here and they built another house partly over the remains of the original. This house was 31 x 10 metres and built entirely of stone and had the luxury of a concrete floor. The house had three large rooms with a bath suite at the south end.
In both cases advanced Roman technology was used – in the first case more obviously the baths, but in the second, in the use of concrete, stone building, mosaics and painted decoration of the walls, and an efficient heating system for the baths and the house.
Scholars are revising their view about Roman settlement. At one time it was thought to be predominantly urban with villas fairly close to a major centre, but Bancroft would tend to disprove that. North Buckinghamshire remained distinctly rural until the nineteenth century and one would have to go a long distance to find a town of any size. It is more likely that these villas represented an economic model for the organization of agriculture. Whoever built the villa clearly had the resources and power to do so and there were probably a number of families engaged in and drawing their livelihood from the farm. The villa owner obviously lived in some style and directed operations and probably arranged for the produce to be sold at market – although where these markets might be we don’t yet know.
How far this farm extended along the banks of Bradwell Brook can only be estimated. There are instances of villas of this period having 1000 acres under their control but 300 acres would have provided a prosperous economic unit. Given the location of Bancroft it is arguable that all or part of those south facing slopes leading to Bradwell Brook could have been cleared for cultivation.
I am not sure where the name Bancroft comes from. It is from the Celtic meaning Bank Farm or Farm on the bank, but I am not aware of any historic records using this name, so I guess it is a 20th century assignment.
 R.G. Collingwood and J.N.L. Myers. Roman British and the English Settlements. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937. P. 209.
There are some surviving documents from the late 12th century, mostly land deeds, which allow us to put together a better picture of the successors to Maigno le Breton. However, there are a few generations where we only have the sketchiest information. Sir Frank Markham list the succession to the manor from Maigno as: Mainfelin d. 1155 Hamon I d. 1184 Hamon II d. 1198 William d. 1246 Alan d.1248 (page 63 History of Milton Keynes Vol I) Hamon II, William and Alan are presented as brothers. Having looked at the same documents, I think I can add another generation to this line. Although William FitzHamon and Alan FitzHamon are almost certainly brothers, I rather think that Hamon II (1164-98) was their father. The dates then satisfy generational logic. There is a span of 200 years here, so 6 or 7 generations makes much better sense than than the four in Sir Frank Markham’s book. From the Bodleian documents here are some dates. In some cases they can only be guessed at from the dating of a deed – in other words, a person may have been alive in, for example, 1180, but dead by 1184.
Maigno le Breton b. circa 1042 d. 1114
Mainfelin b. circa 1090 d. 1155-1160
Hamon I b. circa 1120 d. 1184 m. Ambel, Alan, living 1180
Hamon II b.c. 1140 d. 1180-84
Hamon III b.c. 1164 d. c. 1198
Hamon IV b.c. 1186 d. 1211, William 1190-1246, Alan 1195-1248
There will have been other children, sons and daughters, but their names were unrecorded. The three sons of Hamon III may also have had children but only John, a surviving or eldest son of Alan FitzHamon, was there to take over the estate in 1248. He was the first to style himself de Wolverton, and thus the surname enters history.
The likely date for the death of Maigno is 1114 when Mainfelin came in to his inheritance. Maigno lived to a good age, possibly to his mid-seventies. As I have said before, I think we can question the assumption made by some earlier historians that Mainfelin was Magno’s son. He may indeed have been, perhaps born to a younger wife, or he may have been a grandson. The spread of dates between Maigno’s probable birth (1042) and Mainfelin’s probable birth (1090) should at least raise the question. At any rate Mainfelin was Maigno’s heir. We know two facts about Mainfelin: he was appointed Sherrif in 1125 and he founded Bradwell Priory in 1155. From this latter fact it has been inferred that he ws a very devout man. The Bradwell Priory was never very rich but it did survive until the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time. It is thought that Mainfelin died shortly after the foundation. In the normal course of events Mainfelin could be presumed to have several sons and daughters, but we only know of one, his heir Hamon. Since Hamon is referred to as the son of Mainfelin in documents we are on surer ground in claiming him to be his son. He was born circa 1120 and died circa 1184. The dates would indicate that he may not have been Mainfelin’s first born son. Information, such as we have, comes from a 1180 document from the Luffield Priory:
Grant by Hamon son of Mainfelin to Alditha wife of Osmund, the King’s forester, of land in Stony Stratford that Berner the Smith held of him. She shall render 12d yearly for the land, and may devise it to whom she will. For this grant she has given 10s to Hamon, 2s to the lady Amabel, and 12d to Hamo thier son.
These tiny fragments are all we have but we can put together a sort of genealogical line between Mainfelin, his son Hamon, and his grandson Hamon. We also learn the name of Hamon’s wife. Osmund and Adiltha are Saxon names but is is evident from this that some of them are able to make economic progress. Adiltha (presumably widowed) has paid a fee of 13s for the land, with the important right to re-sell it, but the lord still retains an annual income – in this case 12d. or 1 shilling per annum
Somehow I’ve let almost a month elapse without blogging. In my defence I’ve been working on my “Dunleavy” book, which was a fairly short project. That done, back to medieval Wolverton.
Close by Holy Trinity is a mound which was the site of the original castle. It was a Norman Motte and Bailey type of castle with a central mound and buildings protected by a wooden pallisade and a moat. Archaeologists date the construction to about 1100 while Maigno was still alive. You can see why, when looking over the valley why it was built in this location. Although North Bucks is not spectacularly hilly this is one place which can be easily defended. When there was snow, this hill (the steep slope just beyond the rim of the hill) made a great tobogganing slope when we were kids. Once England was more settled the castle was abandoned in favour of a more permanent great house, which, with additions, lasted to the 18th century when it fell into rack and ruin, mirroring the fortunes of the Longueville family. The house was demolished in the 18th century and the materials re-used in the building of the Rectory – no longer a Rectory of course and now appears to have been converted into apartments. Castles were a central feature of the government of 11th century England and those with the resources were able to build bigger and stronger fortresses. This was not the case in Wolverton. Maigno’s descendants, the de Wolvertons, were middling rank lords who could probably depend on their greater lords for their security. The castle here probably did not last even 100 years.