The Land Enclosures in Wolverton

Medieval agriculture was undertaken in open fields where each peasant had traditional rights to grow and harvest crops in strips. The fields were “open” in the sense that they were not enclosed by hedgerows, but there was in no sense a free-for-all. Strips of land were passed down through generations, usually on payment of an entry fine. Thereafter the peasant was entitled to make use of the land and everyone knew where the boundaries were. Some peasants had acquired more land rights than other over centuries and some were landless labourers working for day wages. Sheep and cattle were driven out to graze on “waste” (land that was hard to cultivate), sometimes known as common land. Common rights were critical to the peasant economy; without them it was hard to maintain livestock.
The Tudor period witnessed the beginning of land enclosures which continued to the 18th century. What we now see as a familiar pattern of fields and hedgerows in the countryside was developed during these centuries.
In the 16th century common rights were held by all the residents of the manor, that is the inhabitants of the village of Wolverton and outlying cottages and the fifty or so dwellings on the east side of the Watling Street.
The enclosures began in a tentative manner. Sir John Longueville enclosed 10 acres around Bushfield School in 1530 and his son Thomas enclosed 32 acres called the Dickens, but revoked the action on his deathbed. In 1541, Arthur Longueville, then the inheritor promptly re-enclosed the land and in 1554 enclosed another 50 acres in the Stacey Bushes area. However, he also relented and re-opened the field.
His son, Henry, was more determined. In 1566 he enclosed those lands that had formerly been enclosed and in 1579-80 enclosed a 158 acre tract of land known as the Furzes. These combined actions took some 250 acres out of common usage.
The local population at first responded by pulling down the fences. Henry Longueville retaliated by hiring ruffians to beat up the objectors and sometimes to kill their cattle. Local justice was not much use here, as Sir Henry Longueville himself was the Justice of the Peace, so the inhabitants of Wolverton and Stony Stratford petitioned the Lord Chancellor in 1584. Three men had the courage to sign thee petition, Thomas Furtho, John Hinders and Christopher Carne. It appears that their complaint was upheld, although it is not clear how it was enforced.
The final phase of the enclosures occurred around 1654 when Sir Edward Longueville was Lord of the manor, chiefly, it seems, under the instigation of his wife Margaret. We should perhaps bear in mind that the Longuevilles were at the time in somewhat straitened circumstances due to their heavy committment to the royalist cause in the Civil War and may have acted with more ruthlessness than they might have in more affluent times. Not a bit of this mitigation would have impressed the villagers who were uprooted from their homes, and in many cases from their livelihoods. There was probably some compensation, although this is unrecorded, and was probably little enough. Some may have found employment on the manor for low wages, but many would have had to find new ways of making a living in (probably) Stony Stratford. Dame Margaret’s name was infamous in the popular mind.
The location of the ancient settlement can still be seen in the field beside Wolverton Park. I have a post about it here.

Enclosure meant exactly that. Hedgerows were planted to mark off the fields and separate cattle and sheep from arable land. Dr. Francis Hyde published a map of these fields, together with their names, in his A Short History of Wolverton. I have discussed these names (some of which are very old indeed) in these posts.

It has been estimated that there were about 30 families still living in the old medieval village in the middle of the 16th century. However, by 1654, when the Longuevilles completed their objective of enclosing the entire manor, the village had ben totally depopulated.

The Lord’s Demesne

A lord was the pivotal figure in the manorial system which emerged after 1066. His wealth came from appropriating the best land for himself and requiring the peasantry on his manor to work his land for him. You could view this as a modified form of slavery or as a kind of tax in kind. In return the peasant got sufficient land for himself and his family and a certain security of tenure. Most scholars now believe that the so-called Feudal System never quite operated in the pure form I have described and that certainly after the plague years in the middle of the 14th century the old system gave way to one based upon money.
The first invader, Maigno le Breton, established a motte and bailey castle near to the present site of Holy Trinity church and laid claim to the adjoining land for his demesne (domain). This would include the later fields, Great Dickens,  Ratcliffe Close, Fiddler’s Butts, Morter Pitts, Home Park, High Park, Park Meadow, Low Park, Kiln Close and Ludwin’s Closes.
Fiddler’s Butts was probably used for archery practice and Francis Hyde suspects that Ratcliffe Close was also used for recreational purposes. The Morter Pitts would have been used to extract lime and there were obviously kilns on the present site of Wolverton Park House. Low Park was the original village settlement.

The Open Fields

Medieval Farming was based upon large open fields which were communally farmed. The lord controlled rights of access to the land, usually in return for payment of a portion of produce, or services, or money, or sometimes a combination of all three. From the labourers point of view these rights were customary and could be passed from father to son and so on. Typically 30 acres was held to be sufficient to support a family. The local picture was often more complicated than this, but as a general description this is how the manor worked. The large fields were divided into strips and crops were rotated each year. I think there was originally a two field system, but in time this gave way to a three field system, so that a field could be left fallow one year in every three.

Francis Hyde explains that one of the fields extended from Stony Stratford to the mill drive and was bordered to the south by the Wolverton Road. Thus all the fields named Rylands – a good giveaway to the arable properties of the soil – were in this field.

The second field was to the south of the Wolverton Road, starting at the corner turn and encompassing Barr Piece and Barr Close, Marron Fields, Dean’s Close,  Roger’s Holm and Lower Slade.  This, as you can see from the overlay, is mostly covered by the Railway Works, McCorquodale’s and the 19th century town.
Barr (OE baere) means barley and plainly takes its name from what was grown there. It is likely that the name Atterbury, often found in Wolverton and area, can trace its origin from this or a similar named field in the area. When surnames originated in the 14th century people were quite as likely to take thier name from the place where they lived. Thus John atte Barre (John at the Barley Field) became in time, Atterbury.
I am not certain of the origin of Marron, but it may possibly come from the Old English maere, meaning great

The third field included Colt’s Holm, Linces, Upper Hey, Kent’s Hook and Debb’s Hook and the Severidge. Great Dickens (great diggings) was probably part of the lord’s demesne. Linces, from linchets meaning ledges of ploughed earth gives us a clue as to how this land was traditionally used. Kent’s Hook and Debb’s Hook, meaning Kent’s and Debb’s corner respectively are also ancient Saxon names.
Nash Meadow, beside the river, was always pasture land.

Field Names on the Wolverton Manor

After discussing the Pancake Hills and the Happy Morn, I thought I would look into the names of the fields  around Wolverton. As I remarked before, just as we now name streets, our predecessors named fields and local landmarks, like “Two Mile Ash” for example.
The pioneering history on this subject was undertaken by Dr. Francis Hyde, formerly a professor of Economic History at Liverpool University. He was, I believe, a Stony Stratford boy who went to the Wolverton County School at Moon Street and from there to university. He wrote a small 40 page history of Wolverton about 1939 (I am not sure of the date) and collaborated with Sir Frank Markham on a History of Stony Stratford in the 1940s. In his subsequent academic career he became an expert in the 19th century shipping trade to the Far East.
The Wolverton Manor was cleared by the ruling de Longueville family in the 17th century. It was one of the earliest land clearances and thus there are no legal records. In fact the predatory Longuevilles appropriated most of the land illegally. I’ll return to this subject in another post.  After The Radcliffe Trust took over in 1713 the manor came under more responsible management and a map of all the fields was drawn up in 1742. Many of these field names date from Saxon times.
Some of these names have been preserved in the names of housing developments, first by Wolverton UDC and latterly by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. Stacey Avenue, built in the 1930s, took its name from Stacey Farm, which had previously taken its name from the field called Stacey Bushes. In the 1940s, the post war construction of Furze Way, was named after the fields known as Hodge Furze. More recently, the 1960s development of Fuller’s Slade, took its name from one of the fields in that area, and the subsequent development of Greenleys assumed the name of the fields over which it has been built.
The names of these fields tell us that this higher land was probably not the most fertile on the manor. “Stacey” comes from the Old English word stocc, meaning stock or stump. So Stacey Bushes would have meant stumpy bushes – land which had been partially cleared of woodland but leaving a lot of stumps in the ground and some growth of bushes, and presumably mainly used as grazing pasture. Those of us who remember the Moon Street school in its earlier years will recollect how rough and undulating some of the playing fields were, as was the field rising up to Stacey Farm.
Furze is a common name given to spiny evergreen shrubs which still grow abundantly today on waste land. One can therefore infer that Hodge Furze, presumably named after a man named Hodge, was more or less waste ground. Much of Hodge Furze was built up in the first half of the twentieth century, while parts were converted to allotments – so there must have been some fertility in the land.
Greenleys covers a number of fields with slight variations in name – Great Greenleys, Greenleys, Greenleys Ten Acres, Little Grindley and Front Grindley (bordering on the Watling street). This was green meadow land – pastures.
A slade (OE slaed) is a patch of green land, sometimes in a valley, but probably in this case between wooded area. The name possibly comes from the man who owned it – Fowler, perhaps.

I have taken a 1930s map and drawn over the field boundaries in yellow. With the exception of the development of Wolverton and parts of Stony Stratford, the field boundaries were virtually unchanged from the 18th century. Many of these fields have now gone with the last half-century’s development. Only the northern part of the manor retains some of its fields, and even now these are quickly disappearing.
Francis Hyde describes a large area of waste land, starting at the marshy West Moor by the Stony Stratford Bridge, working along the Watling Street and encircling Warren Farm and taking in most of the southern part of the Manor beyond Green Lane, including Stacey Farm. Brook Fields, to the east, where the remains of Bancroft Villa are to be found, was fertile. All of this land was probably common grazing land or was wooded in medieval times. The three great open fields, farmed communally in the Medieval system, were in the north, mostly beyond the present Stratford Road.
I will show larger versions of sections of the map in subsequent posts and describe them in more detail.

Green Lane continued

I’ve just looked at Dr Francis Hyde’s drawing of a field map from 1742 which confirms what I suggested earlier – Green Lane followed a direct line to Gib Lane beside Gallows Hill on the Watling Street. I have reproduced the map below and added some colour overlays to illustrate the development of the town.

The path of Green Lane is drawn in (what else?) green.
The small flesh pink area, Rogers Holm, was essentially the first piece of land bought by the LBR for the works and cottages. This was soon extended into Shrub Field (yellow) for the southern streets (Creed, Ledsam, Young & Glyn Square). The next phase of development from 1860 goes into the pale green area. This was occupied by works extension, Stratford Road to the back lane of Cambridge Street, Oxford Street, Bedford Street, Aylesbury Street, Buckingham Street, Radcliffe Street and Church Street. The blue area represents the development from Moon Street to Osborne Street, developed in the 1890s and Marron Field (coloured violet pink) is the development from Cambridge Street to the field at the back of Anson Road. This phase took place over a number of years. Church Street reached its western limit by 1910, Western Road and Woburn Avenue was added in the subsequent decade, and I think Eton Crescent and Aylesbury Street West was developed in the 1930s.
The southern development (Stacey Avenue, Marina Drive and Gloucester Road) started in the 1930s. Furze Way (so named after the field Hodge Furze) and the extension of Windsor Street were post war developments and Southern Way was developed in the mid 1950s.
Some of the field names are very ancient but most came about after the enclosure of 1654 when the old three field system and ancient commons were appropriated by the Longueville family. Most of the peasants were deprived of  their ancient rights to land and many settled on the scrub land on the east side of Watling Street – hence the development of Stony Stratford. They were still within the manor of Wolverton, but were more-or-less out of the way of the Longueville’s land ambitions.