Wolverton’s Manor House

I was reminded yesterday that Wolverton doesn’t have a manor house, despite its history as an important manor. It did at one time have a castle, but more of that in another post.

We do not know what the late 16th century house looked like exactly but it may have been similar to this.

The large house, and there would have been several versions of it over the centuries, was built on the higher crop of land at Old Wolverton, next to the church, overlooking the valley. It held a commanding and defensible view. Of the earlier buildings we know next to nothing. It is probable that the Longuevilles improved and enlarged the earlier medieval property during the 15th century. The only reference we have to the building is from the Tudor traveller and writer John Leland, who was passing through around 1540.

The Langevilles of later tymes hath lyen and bilded fairly at Wolverstun in Bukinghamshie (nere Stony Streatford).

We can only interpret “bilded fairly” as that the house was of sufficient size for Leland to take notice, and the reference to “later times” probably indicates an early Tudor building.

Later in the century Sir Henry Longueville decided to embark on his own building project at a cost of £12,000 – a very significant sum of money. This was in 1586. Once again we are short of any drawing or description until Thomas Hearne, writing in 1711 tells us this much:

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. It had 9 large transome windows in the Front, of good polished Free-stone which was very regular; it had in the first Range a spacious lofty Kitchen, Buttery, Hall & Great Parlour, in which last room were painted in the large Escucheons (sic), the Arms of the Longueville Family with their matches quartered & impaled. There were also some arms in the windows of painted glass; particularly of Wolverton & Roche: the first of which bore, B. an Eagle displayed A determined by a Bendlet G. K. the other, viz. Roche, gave G. 3 Roaches A. This front part, as seems to me, built by Sir Hen Longueville in Queen Elizabeth’s time: and Sir Henry & his lady Elizabeth Cotton’s Arms, being placed there in 2 Shields, with this date, 1586, seems as if they were the builders, and that it was begun to be built then; it cost, as I have been informed, above 12 thousand pounds in those days. At each end were several Rooms of an antient tower structure, which were chiefly made use of, & particularly those on the south wing, by Sir Edward Longueville. I visited him in 1711: & several rooms in the new building were never finished, or properly furnished, as appeared to me. 

I also discovered a document in the Nottinghamshire archive which was prepared about the same time as a sale prospectus for the estate and the house. It is able to offer us some supporting (although in places conflicting) detail.

The House is 60 yards in front with two Wings about 15 yards in lenght (sic). Built of Stone is very Strong & in perfect good repair. The Gallary which is a very noble one, the floore was never layed down, all offices that are necessary as Wash houses, Brew house, dary house, larders, Granarys, Wood Barns, Stables for 20 horse, Coach House with 20 Bay of Barning with a Worke House, two Duffcoates & several Houses very necessary for any use in good repair.

The house, as we know from other accounts, was not in “perfect good repair”, but this is a sale prospectus and some glossing is to be expected. We can read from these two accounts that the house was stone built with a frontage of 180 feet (Hearne says 145) with two wings at each side of 45 feet. It is not clear which of the “offices” are included in the wings of the great house but it is probable, given the size of the stables and coach house, that these and almost certainly the dovecotes are separate structures. From Hearne’s description we might infer that the kitchen and buttery (larder) made up one wing of the building. I am guessing that a second floor gallery was designed around either the hall or the “great parlour” but that this floor was never completed, although this phrase never layed down is open to different interpretations.

Hearne’s observations are probably accurate but his interpretations can be modified. The window displaying the date of 1586 is more likely to have been the completion date rather than the date building began; windows are usually the last part of house building. His observation that the greater part of the building seemed unfurnished may have more to do with Sir Edward’s straitened circumstances than the fact that the building was not completed and that he had been selling off furniture to pay debts and was confining himself to one wing of the building. £12,000 was an enormous sum of money to spend on a house in Elizabethan times, and even if that sum had been exaggerated, there should have been plenty of money to complete the building to the satisfaction of Sir Henry and his wife.

The sketch above is a representation of the architecture of the period with only Hearne’s notes as a guide. We do not know the placement or orientation of the building but as Hearne writes of a south wing one would guess that the main part of the house faced south east, towards the Old Wolverton road. It was probably built to the south of the old motte, but within the bounds of the Norman bailey. Those of you who are familiar with the site will know that there is a raised level area above the vicarage and this was more than likely the ground for the former mansion.
This plan shows the possible siting of the old mansion
Sir Edward Longueville completed the sale with Dr John Radcliffe for £40,000 and after paying his debts he dumped his wife and went off to live at Bicester with his mistress. He died a few years later in a hunting accident.

The old manor house did not last much longer either. In a letter dated 24th October 1715 William Bromley (one of the Trustees) wrote that “the Great House was: very ruinous, & since it is now never likes to be used as a Gentleman’s Seat you’ll consider whether it may not be advisable that it be taken down, & the materials disposed of.”

In 1726 it was dismantled. Most of the other buildings on the estate were in poor state of repair and when it came time to rebuild the Vicarage this course of action recommended itself to the Trustees. Parts of the old mansion can be found in the Vicarage which is still standing today. I have also been told that some of the Manor Farm cottages are built of material from the old Manor House and it would not surprise me if much of the stone and timber found its way into houses in Stony Stratford. 

The John Radcliffe Hospital

On Thursday I visited a friend who was being treated at the John Radcliffe Hospital, a great sprawling modern series of buildings in the leafy suburbs of Headington, Oxford.

What has this to do with Wolverton? Well, the forerunner of this hospital was the Radcliffe Infirmary, established by Dr John Radcliffe’s estate in 1759, and, paid for out of the rents collected from the Wolverton Manor. Dr Radcliffe purchased the manor in 1713 for £40,000. He got 2,500 acres of farmland (at the time yielding valuable income) and the whole of the east side of Stony Stratford’s High Street, which had several large inns such as the Bull, the Three Swans, the Horseshoe and the Red Lion – all contributing to the rent total. The annual income from the estate was about £2,700. This seems like a piffling amount today, but in the 18th century it was quite enough to support the Radcliffe Library and pay for the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

The 18th century was a great age for building new hospitals. Northampton’s Infirmary opened in 1743. Edinburgh had a new one in 1729 and Winchester in 1736. In that context Oxford was a little late but the process did begin in 1747. It took time. First there was difficulty about acquiring land and then there were delays in building, but eventually the foundation stone was laid on 27 August 1759 at the 5 1/2 acre site on the Woodstock Road.  The building was mainly completed in 1767 but it took until 3 July 1771 for the formal opening ceremony to take place. The cost had been high. The Trustees had originally planned to spend £4000, but with the delays and additions the total bill came in at £12,791 15s. 6d. – just over 10 years’ net rents collected from Wolverton.

In the next century, new wards were added together with additional buildings to meet the demands of a growing population. The Radcliffe Trust continued to make a capital investment, but that was all. The city and the county and individual citizens were expected to contribute towards the operating costs of the infirmary. Doctors were expected to donate their time as a public service; it being assumed that they were well enough compensated by the fees of their prosperous patients. Nursing too, had yet to emerge as a profession, so the day-to-day operation of the hospital was largely entrusted to orderlies, who may not have been well paid.  In that regard the infirmary was a relatively cheap operation in the 18th century.

At around the same time as the Radcliffe Infirmary’s first phase had been completed the Trust acquired an adjacent field to build an observatory. Nobody at the time saw a conflict but towards the end of the 19th century, as the Infirmary (by this time the County Hospital) needed to encroach upon the Observatory land to satisfy the demands of a growing population. There was resistance from the Observatory who believed that their line of sight would be impeded by new buildings and that chimneys would cloud the atmosphere. They were probably right, but two Trustees, who gave their names to Wolverton streets, Sir William Anson and Lord Peel, found themselves on opposite sides of the argument. Anton favoured Infirmary expansion; Peel did not. In the end the demands of people overcame the unimpeded view of stars.

Wrangling continued for some years in the early 20th century until the intervention of William Morris in 1927. He was willing to make a substantial contribution to the development of the hospital, but only upon the condition that the land housing the Observatory be made available. The Radcliffe Trust, who ha in any case been considering moving the observatory, concluded that this would now be the time. They set a price of £100,000 on the land, which was accepted without demur, and it was sold in 1930. Morris could call upon wealth that far outstripped that of the 18th century John Radcliffe and the combined site became the Sir William Morris Institute of Medical Research, later changed to Nuffield after Morris’s elevation to the peerage.

Map of Headington Manor showing the proposed site development.

The Radcliffe name more-or-less disappeared at this point at the main infirmary, but earlier, in 1919, the Radcliffe Trust had purchased the Manor of Headington as a site to treat tuberculosis patients. In 1960 this site was chosen to build a new hospital, and by this time the NHS was steering the ship. The site was chosen for a maternity hospital and John Radcliffe’s name was chosen.  And in 1982, when Oxford’s hospitals were centralised at Headington the name of John Radcliffe was preserved as the “Churchill John Radcliffe Hospital”. In 1994 “Churchill” was dropped and it has been known since as the John Radcliffe Hospital.