The Local Historians: 11 Milton Keynes Archaeological Unit

It is not an exaggeration to say that modern archaeology has transformed our understanding of history. Historians tended to rely upon documentary sources and used these as their principal source of evidence and the discovery of a few artefacts to reinforce their theories. Archaeologists in the 18th and 19th centuries (and indeed into the 20th century) were enthusiastic amateurs who often, during the course of rescuing artefacts, destroyed the context. After universities created departments of archaeology in the 20th century the discipline has become more scientific and professional.

When I was at school I was taught that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded the shores of these islands and conquered the native Celtic people who were driven westward to Wales and Cornwall. This theory was supported by the writing of Bede (673-735) whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People said as much, and by the linguistic evidence of place names, which are almost entirely English in the major part of the country. Only rare Celtic words survive, such as Avon (which is the Celtic word for river) in two rivers in this country. Largely on this basis, historians accepted the theory that there had been an invasion, which conjures up pictures of invading hordes. The archaeological work of the last few decades (supported now by DNA evidence) creates a very different picture.

The archaeologists have studied burial patterns, which change as cultures change, and, with modern scientific analysis at their disposal, are able to date their finds with some precision. The overall picture now shows settlement over quite a long period. New arrivals came to the eastern shores soon after the Roman occupation ended and gradually increased in numbers. England was underpopulated compared to what we are used to, perhaps only 1.5 million in total and there was plenty of room, particularly if the new settlers could claim virgin land. The new settlers may have arrived one boatload at a time in small numbers. Over a century the newer arrivals had to move further westwards.

This is probably what happened in Wolverton where the English started to appear early in the 6th century. The work done y the MKAU is able to tell us a great deal. There were established farms that we know of at Bancroft, Manor Farm and Haversham. They were based on the Roman villa farming system, but it is likely that they were still occupied (or the land was still occupied) when the English arrived. They appeared to settle and create their village at Wolverton Turn, on the south side of the Stratford Road, near the copse we used to call the “Happy Morn.” This was probably unoccupied land at the time and since the bones of animals that have been discovered show an emphasis on animal husbandry, they may well have used the rough land on the higher ground, later known as the furies, for pasture. So it is quite reasonable to speculate that the English incomers were able to settle peacefully without threatening the livelihood of the established Celts. Obviously the latter group became dominant in time, but the settlement may be closer in character to the settlement of Europeans in North America than to an actual armed invasion. Later the village was moved to the north.

At the time Milton keynes was created there was much more awareness of the danger of destroying archaeological heritage and it was quite a modern thing to undertake “rescue” archeology prior to land being cleared for development. In 1971 the Corporation appointed two full time archaeologists and the unit grew from there, eventually disbanding in 1991. Over that 20 year period extensive work was done in the area with may now rank as the most comprehensively studied area outside London.

Local Historians: 9 Wolverton and District Archaeological Society

This survey of local historians will not be complete without mention of the Wolverton and District Archaeological Society, formed by a group of enthusiasts back in 1955. The society is still going strong although after the creation of the Milton Keynes Archaeological Unit in 1970 they voluntarily ceased active archaeological work. Founding members included Sir Frank Markham, Keith Tull and Robert Ayers. I have written before about the society here.

The Local Historians: 10 Richard Britnell

I never met Richard Britnell, although I became aware of him. His mother came to teach at Wolverton Grammar School and although she did not teach me, and I believe his sister used to come in with her on the bus every day. Mr Britnell moved to Lavendon to become head of the school there and the village was at the time at the extremity of the catchment area for Wolverton Grammar School.  Richard travelled east to Bedford Modern so although we were near contemporaries I never met him. He was born in 1944 in Wrexham.

He went to Cambridge to read history and after graduation he was offered a teaching post at Durham University. He stayed there for his entire career and became a full professor in 1997.

Naturally enough he cut his teeth on the history of Lavendon, and the articles he wrote, originally for the Bucks Standard, have been preserved on a WordPress site maintained by Nigel Stickells. It can be found here.

In addition to, or perhaps part of his professional studies, he published an article that effectively dated the foundation of StonyStratford. The Origins of Stony Stratford. records of Bucks,. Vol. XX Part3, 1977.

He was well-recognised and highly respected in his professional field but sadly he did not enjoy good health in his later years and died in 1913. I reproduce his Guardian obituary below.

Richard Britnell obituary
Economic historian who showed that commerce played an essential part in medieval life
Christopher Dyer, Thursday 26 December 2013

As we struggle with current financial crises, we might be tempted to look fondly back to times when economics were plain and simple. The middle ages are sometimes imagined as a time of self-sufficiency, when we grew our own crops and made our own bread. Richard Britnell, who has died at the age of 69 after a long illness, made his name as a historian by showing that trade and money played a central part in medieval life.

His book The Commercialisation of English Society, 1000-1500 (1993) set out clearly and comprehensively the view that change, most rapid in the 13th century, was driven by markets, urban growth and expanding trade. The inhabitants of even the remotest village and the most traditional feudal lord sold their surpluses of grain, wool and animals, and as money flowed, better methods of keeping accounts were introduced, farmers specialised in the most profitable crops, and industries multiplied in both country and town.

Those reading Richard had to banish from their minds a picture of slow-witted peasants concerned solely with routines of ploughing and planting. They were, for example, often making decisions about the sale and purchase of parcels of land.

Richard’s student days at Cambridge, from 1961 to 1966, had coincided with a period when the ups and downs of the medieval economy were thought to depend on the expansion and decline of population. The idea had a strong logic, but did not explain the dynamics behind, for instance, the rise of towns. As a research student, he analysed landed estates in Essex, explored their sales of grain, and then moved on to look at weekly markets, which operated not only in towns but also in villages in growing numbers in the 13th century.
He immersed himself in the records of the important provincial town and port of Colchester – Growth and Decline in Colchester, 1300-1525 appeared in 1986 – while at the same time keeping track of the farming and rural society of eastern England, both during the period when Colchester was booming, and when its prosperity diminished. All of this culminated in the commercialisation book, which surveyed five centuries of history, and used general economic ideas applied to evidence relating to the whole country.
There had been a general trend among economic historians in the 1970s and 80s to give medieval trade and towns more prominence, but Richard summed up the whole process, gave it a sharper focus, and developed it into a new explanation of change. The concept of commercialisation received the stamp of his authority and the book is still much quoted. He went on to further high-quality work on markets and society, but also ventured into political history, especially in the years around 1500.
After Cambridge, at the age of 22 he was appointed a lecturer at Durham University and there he stayed, initially in the economic history department, in which he taught mainly the modern period, and then in history. He became professor in 1997, but six years later ill-health forced him to take early retirement, and for 10 years as emeritus professor he continued to publish and to be involved in the university and the city. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2005.
Medieval economic historians usually have a local specialism. Richard was born in Wrexham to teacher parents, Ronald and Edith (nee Manson), and brought up in north Buckinghamshire, attending Sir William Borlase’s grammar school, Marlow, and Bedford modern school. However, for his initial studies he found that the documents were more plentiful in Essex. Later he became an expert on the north-east, drawing on the rich archives in Durham.
Not many academics can be said to have moved the boundaries of their subject, yet no one meeting Richard encountered any pretension or flamboyance. He was restrained and modest in manner, but you were soon aware of an acute mind and great reserves of wisdom. He was careful in his writing and presentations, and criticised (usually gently) those who ventured into rash or unjustified generalisations. He was a skilled organiser of conferences, in which he quietly established a friendly atmosphere. He nurtured some talented postgraduate students, helped research assistants to find jobs and edited or co-edited books of essays (nine in all) to which scholars at the beginning of their careers contributed.
Richard found time to co-operate with other disciplines. For example he became interested in literacy and language, on which he collaborated with his wife, Jenny, herself a lecturer in French at Durham, whom he married in 1973. Unknown to most of his academic friends, he enjoyed acting, played the piano and organ (serving as organist in his local church) and helped to run Durham’s Rotary Club.
Jenny died in 2011, and he is survived by his sons, John and David.
 Richard Britnell, economic historian, born 21 April 1944; died 17 December 2013

The Local Historians: 8 Dr Francis Hyde

Francis Edwin Hyde was born at 144 Cambridge Street in 1908, the son of Walter Hyde a railway clerk. He attended the County School at Moon Street, where he was, incidentally, a class mate of one of my aunts, and from there won a scholarship to Liverpool University. On graduation he became a lecturer in history at the university and he spent the remainder of his career there, retiring as a full Professor of History. He specialised in Liverpool’s mercantile history and published several books and articles on the subject. He married Marina Welton in 1935 and he died at his home in Birkenhead in 1978.

He was Wolverton’s first professional historian and at brought his expertise to bear on the history of his native town. He contributed some valuable work in print. He wrote the first, and at the time definitive, A Short History of Wolverton, which was published in 1948. It was a slim volume of 48 pages and a copy can still be found in Wolverton Library. He provides a broad overview of Wolverton’s agricultural and industrial history and the book is invaluable for providing a map of Wolverton’s fields after enclosure. The map was drawn by his wife Marina (The maps in all these books were attributed to Marian R Hyde) from an 18th century field map which has since disappeared. Thus, until this map turns up, the book is the only source.

He also collaborated with Sir Frank Markham on A History of Stony Stratford. This was published in 1948. Hyde was responsible for the chapters up to the end of the Tudor period and Markham from 1700 to the present day. He also published in two parts, an extensive academic paper called The Growth of a Town in Town Planning Review, 1949. In this paper he describe the economic origins of Stony Stratford at the beginning of the 13th century.

Among his published history books are:

  • Mr. Gladstone at the Board of Trade 1934
  • Blue Funnel: A History Of Alfred Holt And Company Of Liverpool From 1865 To 1914. 1956
  • The Senior John Samuel Swire, 1825-98: Management in Far Eastern Shipping Trades  1967 with Sheila Mariner
  • Shipping Enterprise and Management, 1830-1939 Hardcover– 1 Feb 1967
  • Liverpool and the Mersey: The Development of a Port, 1700-1970 – 1971
  • Cunard and the North Atlantic 1840-1973: A History of Shipping and Financial Management Paperback – 1975

The Local Historians: 7 Sir Frank Markham

Sidney Frank Markham grew up in a modest terraced house on the Wolverton Road in 1898. He was the second son in a large family of three sons and his father was a Prudential Insurance Agent. He was bright and ambitious and even though he started work at McCorquodales for 6 shillings a week he had designs on a greater destiny for himself.

Like many of his generation he enlisted during WWI, signing up on 24 August 1915 and served in France, firstly as a private soldier and then as a Lieutenant. After the Great War he did service in Ireland and then with the Indian Army in Iraq. I do not have a lot of detail and I may have got some of this wrong.

He saved money and when he had sufficient he enrolled at Wadham College Oxford in 1921 to pursue his ambition of obtaining a university degree. He managed to complete his studies in two years but since he was required to spend a minimum of three years there before the university would grant him a degree, he decided to take an M. Litt degree as well. Thus equipped he found a job with the Dictionary of National Biography at £250 a year – quite a good income.

A career in politics seemed to beckon. He contested a seat in 1924 for the Labour party and in 1928 he was selected as the Labour candidate for Rochester, where he won election in 1929. Markham was a supporter of Ramsay McDonald, who was regarded as betraying Labour by entering into a coalition with the conservatives. Markham therefore became  member of the National Labour Organisation and served as MP for South Nottinghamshire from 1935-45.

During WWII he served as a captain and retired in 1945 with the rank of major.

In 1950 he contested the Buckingham seat for the Conservatives against Aidan Crawley the Labour MP. He lost that election by won in 1951 by a narrow margin of 54 votes. It is curious that the Labour party at this election was represented by the patrician Crawley, while Markham, from a much humbler background represented the Conservative party. He held the seat until his retirement in 1964.

His interest in history ran deep and after WWII he began to write his books. A History of Stony Stratford was first published in 1948 in collaboration with Francis Hyde, then a young Professor of History at the University of Liverpool. Hyde wrote the first half of the book up to the end of the Tudor period and Markham brought the history to the present day. He followed this with the Nineteen Hundreds in 1951, about the first decade of the new century in Sony Stratford.

Before the war he had compiled reports on ar galleries and museums in the British Isle, then Australia and the South Africa. His British Isles report was updated and published as a book in 1948 – Directory of Museums and Art Galleries in the British Isles.

In 1930 he wrote a book called The History of Socialism. It was published in 1930.

On his retirement from the House of Commons he started to pull his collected materials together to form his magnum opus  History of Milton Keynes and District, published in two volumes in 1973 and 1975. At the time of writing Milton Keynes, the new town, was on the verge of coming into being and he thought this would be an appropriate title.

In addition to his books he published many articles and valuably transcribed and translated the Wolverton Manorial Documents held in the Boolean Library. This is on typed sheets of paper bound in a single volume held at the County Archives in Buckingham. He was also a founding member of the Wolverton and District Archaeological Association.

He died on 13 October 1975.

The Local Historians: 6 Victoria County History

In 1899, a year before Oliver Ratcliff printed his History of the Antiquities of the Newport Pagnell Hundreds, the massive and ambitious Victoria County History project was launched. The driving force was Herbert Doubleday (1867-1941), a publisher with the resources to see this through. The general editorship was overseen by William Henry Page (1861-1934) who in particular edited the Buckinghamshire volumes. The VCH project is still incomplete. Northamptonshire for example, has only completed a small part of the intended plan.

Buckinghamshire was completed relatively quickly. The first volume was published in 1905 and the last volume in 1928.

The approach to the history was scholarly from the outset. Many people were approached to make their contributions and they are reinforced by reference footnotes. The result makes for dry academic reading but overall the facts and sources are thorough.

The historical description of Buckinghamshire largely comes to an end in 1900 and there is not much interest in modern developments. The history is very good on describing the manorial history of each parish and the role of the church, principally the established church, yet much else is ignored. The entry for Wolverton for example, devotes little more that a paragraph or two to the canal and the railway, yet, elsewhere in the Buckinghamshire volumes, four whole pages are devoted to the Lace Making industry.

Nevertheless the VCH is an excellent starting point for any serious researcher of local history.

The Local Historians: 5 Oliver Ratcliffe

Oliver Ratcliff was born in Ashby de la Zouche in 1860 and soon after brith moved to Stony Stratford where his father Gilbert was a grocer. Around 1880  he moved to Olney and set up a printing business. Hs older brother William was a harness maker and it appears that they shared the same premises on the High Street in Olney. He adopted the name Cowper Press for his printing business.

Oliver took some interest in local history and in the 1890s conceived of the idea of printing and publishing The History and Antiquities of the Newport Pagnell Hundreds. This was first published 1900.

Some explanation of the term “Hundreds” might be useful here. The ancient Saxon unit of assessing land assessment was the Hide. It probably came into being as the area of land which at one time was necessary to support a family and was used  as a basis for taxation. The actual acreage could vary according to the quality of the land but most economic historians use a rule of thumb figure of 120 acres for a hide. So in the Domesday assessment in 1086 the wealthy Wolverton manor was valued at 20 hides and Bradwell at 5 hides. In the late Saxon period majors were grouped together as Hundreds (i.e. 100 hides approximately) and in our area were were three such hundreds – Seckloe (essentially the west side of Milton Keynes from Wolverton and newport Pagnell in the north down to Newton Longueville and Stoke Hammond in the South; Bunsty (that part of Bucks north of the Ouse); Moulsoe (a long strip of manors on the eastern edge of the county from Clifton Reyns in the North to the Brickhills in the south). Each Hundred had its own hundred court to deal with issues that crossed the boundaries of the manors.

In the 14th century these three hundreds were consolidated into a single administrative unit known as the Newport Pagnell Hundreds and until quite recent times many North Bucks administrative offices were centred in newport Pagnell. In the 19th century the hundreds became redundant. Poor Law Unions after 1832 overlapped the boundaries of the old hundreds. The courts were replaced by a court administered from Aylesbury under an Act of 1867, and the Local Government Act of 1888, placed their former jurisdiction in the hands of the County Council. Oddly enough they were never formally abolished, so in theory the Newport Hundreds still exist.

When Oliver Ratcliff published 1900, the name Newport Pagnell Hundreds was still understood by people. Each entry is organised by community.

Ratliff distinguished himself from Lipscomb by adding another 60 or 70 years of historical information. He also had the advantage in 1900 of being able to use photographs rather than engravings, which were the only source of illustrations open to Lipscomb. As a printer he was able to substantially reduce the cost by essentially donating his free time to the enterprise. The amount of work, quite apart from collecting the information and writing the text, was enormous. This was still the age of letterpress printing, where type was arranged individual letter by individual letter and setting the type with spacing and any decorative elements in  a galley, which could then be inked yo provide the impression on the page. Each page was printed singly, hung up to dry and then turned ver to print the text on the next page. possibly he speeded up the process by printing four pages on a sheet and later cutting and folding. The next step was to sew groups of pages together and, when the book was assembled, hold the book in a press while the spine was glued. The final step was to bind the book with covers. I estimate that it may have taken Ratcliff a whole year of part time work to complete his project.

I don’t know what press Ratcliff used by this Albion press was popular in his time.

Oliver Ratcliff was an amateur enthusiast rather than a scholarly man. He picked up much information from talking to people and absorbing facts in this way. Sometime (possibly most of the time) he was right to record hearsay. One example from my own research may illustrate this. Ratcliff grew up in Stony Stratford and when he wrote his History he mentioned that the Peacock was one of the old inns. Sir Frank Markham noted this but also observed that “Ratcliff gives no authority for this.” This was true in that Ratcliff cites no authority at all, but when I was researching Stony stratford inns I came across a fine in 1619 awarded against William Taylor the Peacock.

Oliver Ratcliff moved himself, his family and his business to Southen on Sea around 1908 and the Cowper Press closed. I don’t know how many copies of the book were originally printed but I imagine that today they are rare. Some reprints are available, although if they have been produced using OCR the quality may not be good,

The Local Historians: 4 George Lipscomb

There is some continuity between the 18th century historians I have so far discussed. Browne Willis was undoubtedly the pioneer in North Bucks and had the energy and financial resources to dedicated to his obsession. He left a vast amount of material in the hands of his protege William Cole who was able to organise his mentors work after his death, although he published little in his own lifetime. That work was left to future scholars.

Edward Cooke was another collector and gatherer and he died at the age of 52 before he could publish his work. This was left to his friend and contemporary George Lipscomb. Lipscomb was an assiduous writer and it is to him that we owe the publication of his monumental four-volume History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham. The last volume was published in 1847, a year after Lipscomb’s death.

He was born in 1773 at Quainton, the son of James and Mary Lipscomb. James Lipscomb was a Royal Navy surgeon and George followed his father in that profession. He studied and practised at Bartholemew’s Hospital in London and was awarded an MD degree by Marischal College in Aberdeen in 1806.

His family had Hampshire connections and in 1794 he became a lieutenant in the Hampshire Militia and in 1798 a captain in the Warwickshire volunteer infantry. It appears that during this period he was practising medicine at Warwick and then Birmingham and later at Coleshill.

Sometime before 1819 he moved to Whitchurch in Buckinghamshire and stayed there until 1832. Thereafter he lived in London until his death 9 November 1846.

One talent that Lipscomb lacked was the ability to manage money. He should have been comfortably off but in 1805 he declared bankruptcy, although he did come to an arrangement with his creditors. It must be assumed that his wife’s wealthy family (he married in 1803) came to the rescue.

He appears to have been less than fully engaged in the practice of medicine, as he was certainly a prolific author. The DNB has this to say about his literary output:

As an author, Lipscomb displayed a wide range of interests. In addition to medical writings on subjects including asthma, hydrophobia, and vaccination, of which he was a staunch opponent, he published five topographical works between 1799 and 1823, one of which, A Journey into South Wales (1802), contains a section on Buckinghamshire. He wrote three novels published between 1809 and 1812, two of them anonymously and one under the pseudonym John English. He contributed numerous articles to the Gentleman’s Magazine, usually signed Viator, and various essays on subjects connected with political economy, statistics, and general literature to the Literary Panorama and other periodicals. He suggested in an essay the plan of the Society for the Encouragement of Agricultural Industry. In 1832 Lipscomb delivered in London a series of lectures on cholera, which he afterwards published in the form of a treatise, accompanied by his correspondence on the subject with Lord Melbourne. Lipscomb also published sermons, edited the Clerical Guide for 1821, and composed hymns and anthems for charity schools.

His friendship with Edward Cooke was certainly the spur to taking on such a challenge as writing the History of Buckinghamshire. After Cooke died in 1824 Lipscomb  set about compiling the History without any understanding of the eventual cost. Book printing in the 19th century was labour intensive and very costly. His enthusiasm may have been in part motivated by believing the he was to inherit Cooke’s estate, but the will was challenged and the estate was tied up for many years in chancery. The decision, finally handed down in 183, went against him, and, according to his own account, Lipscomb had already spent £2000 on the project. Lipscomb resorted to mortgaging his house at Whitchurch for £1000 in 1831 in order to get the first volume published. The first volume was sold using the conventional practise of seeking subscribers, who would pay in advance and receive a copy once printed. I gather that Lipscomb was not very assiduous in promoting his work and the first volume showed a loss after printing costs. It was decided to publish the first volume in two parts and Part I went to press in 1831 and its relative lack of success meant that Part II only reached the press in 1838.

His wife died in 1834 and they had no children, so her fortune, which had sustained Lipscomb for 30 years reverted to her family. He was broke and as a consequence of not being able to pay his debts he spent some time in the Fleet prison in London for non-payment of debts. It is said that he completed his final volume while in the Fleet. Presumably someone came to the rescue for his debts and he was later released.

The publication was still not selling well, but Lipscomb persisted and with the support of his printers the work eventually found its way into print. Volume II followed in two parts in 1841 and 1842. Volume III was published in two parts, both in 1843, as was the first part of Volume IV. The last part of Volume IV was printed during Lipscomb’s last days and published in 1847.

Lipscomb’s History is not always accurate, but for its time is remarkably comprehensive. Nothing quite so ambitious had preceded it and it stands as a landmark in County history studies. Oliver Ratcliffe plagiarised it extensively for his History of the Newport Hundreds published in 1900 and much material was used for the Victoria County History.

The Local Historians: 3 Edward Cooke

Our third 18th century historian is Wolverton-born Edward Cooke, or Edward Cook, as he appears in the parish register of Holy Trinity. The “e was probably added later.

Edward Cook was born at Wolverton Park Farmhouse in 1772, possibly in a house that preceded the present house at Wolverton Turn as that house dates from the 1780s. His father, also Edward, farmed about 300 acres in the central Wolverton farm known as Park Farm. Edward Cook senior farmed until his death in 1795 and his widow, Mary, carried on until her death in 1809. After that the farm was parcelled up with other farms and the farmhouse was rented out. It became the residence of J  E McConnell during his stint as locomotive superintendent from 1847 – 1861 and in the 20th century post WWII period it was the home of the military historian Basil Liddell-Hart.

His father was comparatively well off and able to send his young son to Berkhampstead School and later to Exeter College at Oxford. He proved to be a diligent student and took his master’s degree in 1790. In 1799 he was awarded a law degree. He was given the living of Haversham in 1802 and lived at the rectory until his death.

There are some parallels with William Cole. Both men developed their antiquarian interests while at university and both men remained single all their lives and devoted themselves to collecting and recording.  Cooke also built up an extensive library. Like Cole he did not publish, but this may rather due to not living long enough to finish his work. He died in 1824.
Fortunately his friend and contemporary George Lipscomb inherited his library and notes and went on to compile his History of Buckinghamshire, and this will be discussed in the next post. Edward Cooke was perhaps the first great historian of the Wolverton area, yet he is largely unknown and unrecognised. Were it not for Lipscomb we may have remained unaware of his work.
What follows is Lipscomb’s own account of the life of Edward Cooke.

He was succeeded in this Rectory by Edward Cooke, A.M. and LL.B., instituted 6 April 1802, on the presentation of Thomas Kitelee, Gent., of Castlethorpc, hy grant for this turn only, from Alexander Small, Esq., of Clifton Reynes. He was horn at Wolverton, near Stoney-Stratford, 18 March 1772, being the son of Edward Cooke, an opulent Yeoman, of that village; and received the rudiments of his education at Bcrkhampstcad School, Co. Herts; was matriculated at Oxford; of Exeter Coll. 19 Nov. 1780; took the degree of A.M. 19 April 1790; and LL.B. 13 June 1799: was ordained Deacon 31 May 1795; and Priest 22 May 1800, on a title to the Curacies of Haversham and Hardmead. He was a man of plain and unaffected manners; a diligent Parish Priest; a good neighbour; a cheerful contributor to the relief of distress; and a liberal encourager of honest industry. He erected at his own expense, a Sunday-school, and provided for the instruction of all the poor children in his parish: and was the principal instrument in the establishment of a very extensive and beneficial Society, for the mutual support and advantage of the neighbouring villages and parishes of Haversham, Castlethorpe, Hanslape, Paulerspury, Stoney-Stratford, St. Giles and St. Mary Magdalen, Wolverton, Shenley, Loughton, Bradwell, Stanton-Barry, Great Linford, Little Linford, and Cos-grove (Co. Northampton;) of which Institution, he personally superintended the management and regulation, until prevented by illness, in the year immediately preceding his death. His attainments as a scholar, were of the first order. Few amongst the most eminent literary characters of the age have united to great strength of intellectual penetration and acuteness, so remarkable a degree of zeal and industry, as distinguished him in his literary pursuits. His inclination led him more particularly to the study of the Laws of his country; and he was so intimately well versed in every thing which relates to its history, antiquities, and jurisprudence, that upon these subjects, his mind was regarded a complete dictionary of useful knowledge, over accessible to those who desired bis advice or assistance; and it was well remarked, by a good and experienced judge of character in his neighbourhood, that, although he passed the far greater portion of his time in seclusion and retirement, there was scarcely any individual in the County who had so much advanced the public good: and it might be truly adduced, in support of that opinion, that during the whole course of his residence in a district abounding with contrarieties of opinions, both political and ecclesiastical, scarcely any instance occurred of bis mild and sensible interposition between contending and conflicting parties having failed to effect friendly reconciliation: and that very few instances (if any,) occurred during his constant residence of twenty years, in which the expence of a law-suit was incurred by his parishioners; so that it would only he a honest, not a complimentary tribute to his worth, to apply to him those beautiful lines of a distinguished poet:

Does lacerated friendship mourn?

Does grief, or want, or age, or sickness ask relief? The good Samaritan allays the smart,

Binding up the wound, and heals the breaking heart!

He was a large contributor to many of the periodical publications of his time; and though not the avowed author of any published work bearing his name, is known to have afforded his co-operative assistance to many distinguished writers;  some of whom have not had sufficient gratitude to acknowledge their obligations to his pen. He was an assiduous collector of books; possessed a very extensive library, particularly in the departments of theology, law, history, antiquities, and classical literature; and including Hint immense collection of books and manuscripts relative to the history of his native County, of which, by his generous beneficence, the writer has so largely availed himself in the compilation of this work. “The History of Whaddon Chase,” which, if his life had been spared, was in such forwardness, that the single sheet which had been printed a little before his death, might have bad the benefit of his corrections and completion, is but a very insufficient specimen of his style of composition; clear, nervous, and precise, without affectation or redundance. He died at his Parson age-house, after a very long and severe illness, 27 Feb. 1824; and was buried in the Churchyard, under a plain flat stone, with the initials “E. C,” and date of the year, according to his own directions: and having a small tablet of white marble affixed over the door of the Church porch, inscribed with the following words:



Rev. Edoarui Cooke, A.M. et LL.B.
Haversham Rector. 

qur ob. 27 Feb. 1824, aet. 52.

The Local Historians: 2 William Cole

William Cole was not a North Bucks man by birth and upbringing. Instead that honour goes to Cambridgeshire. He was born in the parish of Little Abington on 3 August 1714, the only son of William Cole (1671-1735) and his third wife Catherine (1682-1725). In 1726 he was sent to Eton for six years to endure its often brutal regime and he returned to Cambridge in 1733 where he was admitted to Clare College. After his father’s death in 1735 he became a man of independent means and he was happy to stay at the university and explore various studies. He took his BA in 1737 and an MA in 1740. It was here that he began his lifelong interest in antiquarian studies.

He was able to travel and spent these years visiting parish churches and libraries and spent many hours making transcripts of registers and other documents. He took holy orders at the age of 30 and he did take up some positions, but they’re not compatible with his desire for a quiet scholarly life. In 1753 however, the antiquary Browne Willis offered him the living of Bletchley. Willis understood of course that Cole’s commitment to his studies ranked above his commitment to parish life, and with that understanding the two men came to an accord. Cole stayed in Bletchley for 14 years, resigning the living in 1767 in favour of Willis’s grandson. Immediately he  went to a living at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, but after a falling out with hs patron moved to Milton, just outside Cambridge in 1770. In 1774 Eton College presented him with the vicarage at Burnham in South Buckinghamshire, although he never actually moved away from his home at Milton. He died on 16 December 1782.

Cole displayed no interest in women and never married.

His Bletchley years from 1753 to 1767 are the ones that interest us. There he came into regular contact with Browne Willis and had access to his papers. Indeed he substantially revised and brought to a coherent form Willis’s History of the Newport and Cottesloe Hundreds. Curiously Cole was opposed to publication of his works, something he could have afforded had he been so inclined. He was of the opinion that his contribution lay in the collection of the information and that others could make use it in the future – as indeed they have. Coles manuscripts are to be found in the British Library

Extract from Cole’s notes on Wolverton

I found an example of Cole’s work in the Bodleian Library when I was researching the Wolverton Manor. He had written a full account of the history of the manor and transcribed a letter written by a man called Thomas Hearne who visited the Wolverton Manor in 1711. In this document Hearne describes the old manor house, a very large and imposing building. It was pulled down a few years after 1713 and this document is the only record we have of this building and were it not for William Cole’s patient work, that too may have disappeared.