The Woodville Chronicle

My recent book moves a few miles away from Wolverton, four miles in fact, to Grafton Regis, home to the Woodville family, who gained much prominence in the 15th century, when Elizabeth Woodville became queen of England in 1464. I in the landscape and with some of the stories and legends of the Woodvilles, told to me in some earnestness by my primary school teacher. The “Queen’s Oak” at Potterspury, reputed to be the meeting place of the widow Grey and Edward IV, was still a substantial tree when I was young. At that age I believed the legend without question.
I revisited the Woodville story a few years ago as a by-product of a developing interest in 15th century history and discovcered (not completely without surprise) that historical assessment was somewhat at odds with the innocent tales of my childhood. The family has not enjoyed what we might call “a good press.” Some criticism is fair and justified, but it appears to me that much is an unconsidered reflex founded on snobbery. To characterise them as “greedy and grasping”, for example, when they were doing no more or less than any other 15th century family in a similar position, is a judgement that is founded on prejudice.
This book is a product of my investigation into the family and is not simply an account of Queen Elizabeth’s sudden rise to power. I have tried to give a balanced account, although I am doubtless guilty of giving the family the beenfit of the doubt.
The years when the Woodvilles hit the headlines, so to speak, covered a relatively short period of 20 years, but the longer history of the family was quite an honourable one and part of this book is designed to flesh out the Woodville antecedents
The family reveal themselves to be highly intelligent, athletic and cultured; they showed leadership ability and were able to hold their own in the highest ranks of 15th century society. 
Some families rise and maintain their place, like the Cecils or the Spencers or the Russells, but the spectacular rise of the Woodvilles, coming as it did with the sensational marriage of Elizabeth Woodville to Edward IV possibly could not hold. Such power as they had was entirely due to the king and was immediately vulnerable after his untimely death in 1483, and so it proved. They may have been unlucky. Had the males survived into a Tudor generation they may have taken a firm place in the establishment and their origins may have become rather less than the central fact about the Woodvilles.
The grandchildren of Elizabeth Woodville included Henry VIII and his sister Margaret, whose descendants became the Stuart kings in the 17th century. Jane Grey, was also a great grandchild and she was encouraged to press her claim to the throne in 1553. She lasted nine days.
The 15th century was one of the more turbulent periods in English history and at its close there were some winners and many losers. the story of the Woodville family therefore reflects the story of the century. They began their rise in the first decade of the century and by the seventh decade they were a power in the land. And then Fortunes Wheel turned unluckily for them and by the end of the century the Woodville name had disappeared from history. Their influence lasted a little longer as their bloodlines continued in the royal family and in the aristocracy. 
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The Evolution of The Square

The formal square in towns was a late 17th century development in England. Peviouslycentral area in towns and villages developed int ‘squares’ but there was nothing formal about their development. Towns like Stony Stratford, built on a thoroughfare, developed their market ‘squares’ slightly off the beaten track.

The square, as a conscious element in town planning, was characterised by terraced rows of houses on three or four sides. Squares became very fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in keeping with this trend, Wolverton was planned with its very own square in 1840. This was named after the chairman of the London and Birmingham Railway company, George Carr Glyn. The square was bounded by the railway line on the east side and terraced cottages on the other three sides. While nowhere near as grand as some fashionable London squares, it had its appeal, and rents for Glyn Square cottages were higher than the were for some of the other streets.

Gradually, the quality this square was eroded. Six cottages on the north side were pulled down to make way for works buildings and eventually the space of the square was occupied by the works laundry and eventually the Training School.

The southern terrace of Glyn Square.

Wolverton had not quite fallen out of love with the desirability of a square, so when one of the Marron Fields was purchased on 31 December 1866, the planned development included a square at the heart of it. This new field of 18 acres extended from the church yard in the east to the back lane of Oxford Street in the west. To the north lay Church Street and the southern border was the ancient Green Lane. This land was developed over two decades. Buckingham Street was built in the 1870s with Aylesbury Street. Radcliffe Street and Bedford Street were built in the late 1870s and Oxford Street in the 1880s.The development of the square was mixed.

At some stage someone must have planned this square as a place for a market. “Market Square” was used to described stand the street on the west side of the square was known in the 19th century as “Market Street.” However, that never materialise. The old market continued in the Market House beside Glyn Square and when that burned down in 1906, the market was transferred to the recently vacated school on Church Street. The closest the market ever for to the Square was in recent times after the building of the Agora. Any building on the actual Square, was in any case forbidden after the cenotaph was erected in 1921.

The Cenotaph, opened in 1921. This monument hs since been replaced.

The development of the Square was piecemeal, but was entirely private development. Some of the houses in the middle of the west side were built in the late 1870s. The corner lot on Buckingham Street was reserved for a large private house and in 1882, the re-formed Co-op., known since 1874 as the Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society, purchased the lot on the Aylesbury Street corner for £100, and set about building a large shop, bakery and warehouse. In the first part of the 20th century this became the heart of the Wolverton Co-op empire.

Early 20th C photographs of the Co-op on the Square

On the eastern side, a private developer built Morland Terrace in 1884. This was obviously planned as an above average terrace for some of Wolverton’s middle class. The houses were spacious and the occupants had an unobstructed view of the Square. A draper occupied the house on the south east cornere; otherwise these houses all started out as residences. It was only in the 20th century that some of them were converted to shops.

These two views of Morland Terrace illustrate the relatively limited shop development in the early days.

The southern frontage to the Square was purchased by the Congregational Church. Their movement started off by meeting in a back room at the North Western Hotel in the 1860s, but they soon had sufficient money to build their own church, which opened in 1878. For almost a century this large church dominated the Square but in 1970 it was demolished. The replacement building, which is still standing, initially accommodated a supermarket on the ground floor and provided church rooms on the upper floor.

The Congregational Church, before demolition.

Supermarkets have been a development of my lifetime. In the 1940s and 50s packaging was a rare phenomenon, limited to cereal boxes, tins of Ovaltine and little else. Coventionally, if you wanted a pound of sugar, the grocer weighed it out for you poured it into a container made out a of a folded sheet of stiff blue paper 9known of course as ‘sugar paper’). A quarter of a pound of biscuits would be picked with tongs from a Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit tin  and weighed for you in a white paper bag. The idea of customers serving themselves was unknown.

Dudeney and Johnston, a Bedford grocer who developed queue a chain of shops in the region, took over the drapery on the south west corner of the Square, and were the first to develop anything like a sled service grocery. The Co-op followed suit and introduced wire baskets and ‘supermarket’ shopping by 1960. Each of these shops would be no larger than a convenience store today, but the were the start of this revolution. Budgens followed in 1970 on the site of the former church. Today, in town supermarkets without parking are no longer viable.

The Co-op Corner in the 1960s

As I mentioned earlier, shops around the Square began to develop in the first decade of the 20th century.On the Buckingham Street corners, at numbers 36 and 38 respectively. Albert Leeson had a grocery. The last occupant of 38 in this capacity was Fred and Grrace Old, who retired in the mid 1950s to devote themselves to Salvation Army work. they moved to a house in Cambridge Street and the shop became a gas showroom for the newly nationalised East Midlands Gas Board. At Number 36 John Nichols ran a boot repair business and ran a shop listed as “Domestic Stores”, which seems to sell various non-perishable items such as furniture polish and brass cleaner.

Travelling up Morland Terrace, from north to south, the corner shop, as I have already described, was a drapery and became a grocery after WWII. Whatever happened to Dudeney and Johnston, I don’t know. They were a significant cain in Bedfordshire, northamptonshire and Buckanand Heerts for many years. I suppose they were brought out by bigger fish.

Number 3 was residential for a number of years but Number 5 was first opened by Olive Sanders, who was a confectioner.In the early 1950, the Davies’s took over the shop. They were then a young couple and held the shop for many years. It i still open today with a similar profile.

Number 7 was residential and Number 9 first opened as a butcher. In the  1960s, at the beginning of the DIY craze, it became paint and wallpaper shop. I can’t immediately recall the name.

Numbers 13 and 15 were established as a jeweller and a tobacconist. At the opening of WWII number 13 was established as an optician and after the war functioned as such under the proprietorship of F Blagrove. Doug Roberts took over number 15 in the mid 1950s as a chemist and optician. He also, like his mentor Ewart Dale, sold a range of Kodak cameras.

Number 17 became a butcher’s shop after the war. Initially under the name of Dewhurst, it became part of the Baxter’s empire in the 1950s. The cheery fred Griffiths moved down from Leamington to manage the shop.

The house on the corner remained residential for a long time but in the late 1930 the Co-op took them over. They ran a fruit and flower shop at 21, and I think I am correct in saying, a fishmongers at number 19.

This large house on the corner of Aylesbury street and Morlnd Terrace was very much  a fine residence for many years.

Commercial development of the west side was mainly the Co-op. In time they held the southern half of the terrace, with shops, offices and a savings bank. The shop at number 9 (Buildings were originally numbered 1-11, starting at the south end. Today they have been renumbered.) was a butchers shop for many year. In the 1950s it was occupied by Woodwards. He was an enterprising man who also made his own ice cream. He sold the business c 1960 or earlier and a few years later was taken over by Terry Beckwith. He was a single man in his late 30s living with his elderly parents.  After some years he moved and the shop was taken over by a hard working couple who retained that name.

The very large house on the corner was owned by Fred Tilley. He had a coal business, the Empire Cinema, various properties and other enterprises. He was therefore quite well off. The downstairs part was converted into two shops at some stage. Number 10 was occupied by a printer, Frederick Clarke in 1915 and number 11 by the “India and China Team Company”, Grocers. Frederick Clarke later moved his press to 51 Church Street and the business continued into a second generation. 51 Church Street was demolished to make way for the Agora. In the mid century there was a ladies hairdresser on the corner and a shoe repair man in another shop.

In the last quarter of a century the Square has become almost exclusively commercial.

Milton Keynes and Me

Richard Macer is a recognised documentary film maker. Although not a household name, he has a number of successful credits behind him, created over a twenty year period. He was also raised in the new development of Milton Keynes at the very time that bulldozers were scraping the land and new developments were sprouting, apparently randomly, across the North Bucks landscape. Both he and Milton Keynes reached the age of 50 this year and he would seem well-qualified to make the film Milton Keynes and Me, which premiered on BBC4 on August 17th.

I am sure that there are those who will admire the film, but as one who spent 25 years of his life growing up in the area before Milton Keynes, I found it unsatisfactory. During the film we learned that Mr Macer’s parents, both Londoners, decided to settle in a new house near Great Linford and raise their family there, while Mr Macer senior commuted every workday to London. He seems to have had a conventional and happy childhood and he received his secondary schooling at Stantonbury Campus, at the time the outcome of a belief that bigger could only be better.

Curiously though, the ‘me’ part of the film was a very small part of the essay. There were interviews with his parents, his sister, and a boyhood friend, but this was such a small part of the documentary that the personal part was, in my view, almost irrelevant. The bulk of the footage wanted to explore the experience of newcomers. There was, however, little enlightenment on this aspect.

He started by tediously recycling the old jokes about concrete cows and roundabouts. Is this the only way to introduce Milton Keynes. Aren’t are we not all past that? Much attention was paid to the terraced and block housing developments of the 1970s and to the new city centre on Bradwell Common, which was to accommodate a major shopping centre and many other central amenities. One or two settlers from the 1970s  (other than his parents) were asked for their opinion. We saw old footage of a Fred Roche interview and two of the pioneering architects offered their views. It was a mishmash and I was left with these questions? Was the film a personal memoir about growing up in the new Milton Keynes? If so, it failed to deliver. Was the film designed to reflect on the maturity of a town that started 50 years before with only the planner’s pencil? If so, it was only partly successful.

My principal gripe was that the film paid no heed to the North Bucks that predated the arrival of the first bulldozer. There were settled communities in the area. Some towns like Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford and Fenny Stratford had long histories. Wolverton was a Victorian new town and the post WWII sprawl of Bletchley was a major development in its own right. All of the villages within the designated area had ancient histories of their own. Yet those watching this documentary without this prior knowledge could be forgiven for assuming that there was nothing in the area prior to 1967.  It could have been built on Dartmoor!  There was already a significant population and infrastructure in the area before Milton Keynes and the truth is that it may have been 20 years before the number of incomers matched the pre-existing population. Did they not recognise one another? Was there no interaction between the two groups? History and common sense should tell us otherwise. Young men joined the established football and rugby clubs, some women sought out the Women’s Institute. Choral societies, history societies, horticultural societies attracted new members and those with an interest in politics joined their local parties. Not everything was invented in 1967.

What was also missing was any acknowledgement that anything happened outside of Central Milton Keynes. Apart from a visit to his parents’ home in the Great Linford area, there was no recognition that a great deal of MK development was not merely block housing complexes but many tracts of individual houses in a variety of architectural styles, spread across the landscape. There are small local shopping and service centres in many districts, as well as recreational facilities and other amenities. One of the great provisions in Milton Keynes (in my view) was the ‘redways’, cycle and walkways that link all parts of the city free of road traffic. That surely was an idea that was ahead of its time! I would also observe that many incomers moved into settled past of North Bucks, like Wolverton, Bletchley, Sony Stratford and Newport Pagnell. This was another feature that was absent from the documentary.

As  I said earlier, Richard Macer needed to have a clearer idea of the story he wanted to tell. Had he stuck to his personal story, I think the film would have been more interesting. The other thread to his documentary – how have people settled into the new town after 50 years – was largely unexplored. Milton Keynes is by no means a homogenous city and with time will become less so. There are already great differences between, for example, Stony Stratford, Fishermead and Wavendon, and I expect that in another 50 years, these differences will be even more pronounced. Any telling of the story of a mature Milton Keynes should consider some of these aspects, I would have thought.

My own view is that the new city has been a great success.There are always those who will find fault and there were some mistakes made by the planners, but on balance, I believe that most of the inhabitants are very content. Communications are good and amenities are excellent. The air is relatively clean. Jobs are in good supply. An interesting but little known fact is that 50 years ago the government were considering the area between Portsmouth and Southampton (where I now live) as a potential site for their new city. In the end they chose North Bucks. What I can report 50 years later is that the projected “Solent City” has actually arrived, but instead of a planned new town with proper infrastructure and amenities, we have ribbon development planted by various local authorities, poorly planned roads, bottlenecks which are a daily source of frustration, rotten parking provision and planning departments who make it up as they go along. Milton Keynes residents should be thankful that 50 years ago there were men and women of vision who were able to bring their talents to create a remarkable new town.