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.

An 18th Century Lottery

I have no idea what a lottery ticket would look like in the 18th century. Perhaps it was a token with a number on it or even a ball with its twi to go into the hat.
I was prompted by these thoughts on learning today that Browne Willis, Squire of Whaddon Hall, antiquarian, MP and general benefactor to the community used a lottery to raise funds for the rebuilding of St Mary Magdelen in Stony Stratford.
As many of you know, the great fire of 1742 destroyed much of the east side of the town and with it the church of St Mary Magdelen, which had been standing since about 1290. Almost nothing but the stone shell of the building survived the blaze and with the more pressing issue of rebuilding much of the town, the church became a secondary priority. The church was in effect abandoned and the stones reused in various walls and building projects around Stony Stratford. However the tower was saved and it still stands today.
This was due to the generosity of Browne Willis who put up the money to repair and restore the tower, and, according to Dr Lipscomb, writing in the 19th century “gave a lottery-ticket towards the re-building of it; which ticket produced a prize.”
This not altogether clear how this might work. Possibly Browne Willis offered the single ticket and people bought their stake in the lottery. By some process, perhaps putting balls into a hat with, let us say, 100 black balls and one red one, the hat was passed round until the lucky one drew the red ball. He was then given the ticket to be redeemed for the un-named prize.
Curious, but no doubt effective.

The Wolverton Farms: 19th and 20th Centuries

As the 19th century began, the farms on the Wolverton Estate were entrenched family concerns, with sons succeeding fathers as tenants. Thomas Harrison at Wolverton House farmed about 400 acres and after his death in 1809 the responsibility was taken on by his son Richard. Upon his death in 1858 the farm was managed by his widow Grace until 1869, and then by her son Spencer Harrison until 1892. I should add here that the Harrisons had other business interests and other sources of wealth and they probably employed a bailiff to manage the Wolverton House Farm.

When Spencer Harrison gave up the farm in 1892, the Trust decided to separate Wolverton House from the farm and rent it as a large country house. In this year Warren Farm was created and the trust built a new farm house in the field that used to be known as the Warren. Henry Barrett was the first tenant and he remained there until his death in 1917. The Turney family then took over the tenancy, which they retained until 1970 when the entire estate was sold to Milton Keynes Development Corporation.

Brick Kiln Farm has been tenanted by the Wilkinson family since 1742. Not only did George Wilkinson farm the land but he also made bricks and this tradition continued into the 19th century. The Wilkinsons were there for several generations until the death of George William Wilkinson in 1893 at the relatively early age of 45. This man, although had managed to carry off the idea that he had substantial wealth, was in fact living on borrowed money and was in debt at his untimely death to the sum of £1,100.

The Trustees, themselves owed money, could not consider a further Wilkinson tenancy and this long period of family tenure came to an end. A man called I J Shirley took over in 1893 and farmed there until 1931. After this the Luckett family took on the farm until 1970.

Once established, tenant farmers, were usually able to pass on the farm tenancy to the next generation. thus in all parts of the estate. The Ratcliffe family, for example had been on the estate since 1722, at Park Farm and Stonebridge House Farm. The Gleeds were established at Manor Farm and the Battams at Stacey Bushes Farm.

1834 Map of Wolverton

As you can see from this 1834 map, there were six significant farms on the estate in the 19th century: Wolverton House, Wolverton Park, Manor Farm, Stonebridge House, Stacey Bushes and Brick Kiln. To these can be added Debbs Farm, no more than 90 acres, which was close to Stony Stratford and was later absorbed by the new Warren farm.

When a survey was conducted for the Trust in 1847 the two largest farms were Brick kiln with 468 acres and Wolverton House Farm with 478 acres. Manor Farm had 323 acres under its control and Stacey Bushes 409 acres. Stonebridge House in the east had lost land to the railway and was left with 318 acres. Park farm was smaller at 150 acres and Debbs Farm had only 89 acres.

After this report Debbs Farm, which had been struggling under the last tenant, John Whiting, was absorbed by the Wilkinsons and Park Farm was split between Manor Farm and Wolverton House Farm. Wolverton Park Farm house was then rented to J E McConnell, Superintendent of the Wolverton Railway Works.

Farming was very hard in the last quarter of the 19th century. Cheap corn could now be imported from North America and frozen sheep and cattle could now be brought to England from Australia and New Zealand, again at lower prices. As a consequence the Trust had to reduce their rents by 10% and 20% in the 1880s. Conditions were not to get better for British farmers until after WW II. As I mentioned earlier,, G W Wilkinson was heavily in debt when he died in 1892.

A new farm house and buildings for Stacey Bushes farm was constructed in 1848 on Stacey Hill. The old farm buildings by Bradwell Brook were demolished. The Battams family continued to farm there until 1888. It was farmed by John Richards until 1920 and thereafter by Edward Norman until 1937. He struggled during the depression. He was succeeded by a member of the Luckett clan until 1960 and in the last decade of its existence by B C Gurney.

Stonebridge House was also rebuilt in 1855 but continued under the tenancy of the Ratcliffe family until 1884. The Norman family occupied the farm until 1948. Then for 5 years it was let to Raymond Turney. The last tenant in its history was W E Gurney.

Manor Farm had similar longevity of tenure, coming into the 19th century with the Gleed family it then passed into the hands of a branch of the Wilkinson family, who thereafter farmed it until 1929. The Whiting family then took over the farm for the last 41 years of its life.

Was there a second Radcliffe Arms?

I have described the history of the Radcliffe Arms in other places. It was a story of commercial greed and hasty judgement. The owners of this new venture. Joseph Clare of the Cock Inn and John Congreve, a Stony Stratford lawyer, formed a partnership and persuaded the Radcliffe trustees to allow them to build a new public house and hotel for the new railway. The Radcliffe Trust accordingly leased them a field on the east side of the new railway to the north of the canal and put a clause in the contract with the L & BR that no public houses would be allowed on railway property.  The new station was placed on the north side of the canal and Messrs Congreve and Clare hurriedly built the new Radcliffe Arms within a year, anxious to cash in on the new trade. Subsequently the railway company acquired another 13 1/2 acres to the south and decided upon a new station, which opened in 1841.

Congreve and Clare were furious but there was little that could be done. The trust reduced the rent on the acreage and provided them with another acre on their land for a new public house. Thus the Royal Engineer was born in 1841.
I raise this story again today because a map I recently discovered shows that, at the very least, a new site was considered for the Radcliffe Arms. You can see it on this map, drawn in red, at the location of the third station. Pencilled in beside it are buildings that may have been stables. On the map is written “New Public House”.
Bill West, in a plan in one of his books, places the Radcliffe Arms here. The Milton Keynes Historical Environment Record also notes this (on Bill West’s evidence re-drawn from a Radcliffe Estate plan) as a possible building.
Nothing can be said with certainty but the theory may be supported. The roadside location would surely have been better and the not-so-old original Radcliffe Arms could have been converted into residential accommodation. The censuses of 1851 shows the Radcliffe Arms landlord and family and servants and guests. However, the 1861 an 1871 censuses record The Radcliffe Arms and four Radcliffe Arms cottages. Theses cottages are still there in 1881 but designated “Hell’s Kitchen” after the old nickname for the Radcliffe Arms.
The OS Map of 1880 shows the old Radcliffe Arms still standing in its original location and noticeably not with the initials P.H. against it. The new embankment for the railway is shown on the map, which means that whatever building was standing there had been demolished.
A second Radcliffe Arms on the roadside is plausible. The first building was isolated in the middle of a field and could only have been subject to declining trade. The roadside house would have improved trade and the old buildings could have contributed rent to the pockets of Congreve and Clare. What is needed to confirm this is a plan or some written reference from the 1860s or 1870s.