In that same year the mansion at Stantonbury was damaged by fire, the extent of which is not known. The Duchess of Marlborough died the following year and bequeathed this manor, along with many other huge estates, to her grandson John Spencer. He became the first Earl Spencer and founded the family which continues to hold its principal seat in Althorp, Northamptonshire.
Earl Spencer never had any occasion to live at Stantonbury but the house may have been used as a residence for stewards of the estate. Certainly this must be the case for Thomas Harrison who built Wolverton House in the 1780s. Harrison’s older children were baptised at Stantonbury church in the late 1750 and 1760s, so they were evidently living in the parish and given the almost complete absence of houses for a middle class family of that status one can only assume that they were living in the Wittewronge mansion. Thomas Harrison was the land agent for Earl Spencer and he performed a similar role for the Earl of Uxbridge. In 1773 he took on this same task for the Radcliffe Trust and later established his “seat” at Wolverton. Thomas Harrison, as I have described elsewhere. was an 18th century entrepreneurial spirit who appears to have made a lot of money.
I would speculate that in the 1770s the 100 year old house was in a state of disrepair. The fire of 1743 must have left residual damage and probably the cost of maintenance was no longer worth it. It is quite possible that the Harrisons were the last residents and a decade later, in 1791, the only practical course for Earl Spencer was to demolish the building.
I have posted several times about the old church at Stanton Low. It is not strictly speaking a Wolverton topic, but it has had long Wolverton associations and many people have asked me about the village, so why not.
The manor itself emerged as a distinct unit in the 9th or 10th century, sandwiched between the manors of Bradwell and Great Linford. It stretches from the river Ouse in the north to the higher ground above Bradell in the south. It covers 806 acres and is roughly one third of the size of the Wolverton Manor.
The Domesday survey of 1086 provides us with a snapshot. There were 7 villeins, perhaps cultivating 30 acres each, and 3 borders, who had less land and less status. There was also a mill. From the number of recorded ploughs, economic historians have estimated that about half the manor was under cultivation, approximately 400 acres. About 200 acres of this was reserved for the lord’s demesne.
These figures may also tell us that the population living on the manor was about 40 and it seemed that it never at any time after got to be much more than that. For comparison purposes, Haversham, across the river, and a population that approximately doubled that of Stanton in 1066.
The manor was known as Stanton. By 1200, when the ruling family had adopted the surname of Barre, the manor was called Stanton Barre, Stanton Barry and eventually Stantonbury. The Barry family became quite prominent in the area and in time acquired most of the Bradwell manor.
At the end of the 15th century the lord of the manor, Sir Nicholas Vaux, pursued an aggressive policy of enclosing his estates in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire so as to convert the land to pasture. This meant that he could make more profit out of the land by raising sheep than through arable farming. In consequence as many as forty people lost their homes and livelihood. We are told this through the findings of a commission set up by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Vaux was prosecuted but appears to have escaped fine or punishment and the end result for the unfortunate peasants of Stantonbury was that they lost their livelihood and Sir Nicholas Vaux achieved his objective. Some of you may observe that nothing changes.
Thereafter the manor had a very low population. A document of 1617-18 records two messuages, six tofts, two watermills, two dove houses 3 gardens and three orchards. A messuage would describe some land with a dwelling house and various outbuildings. If there were two of them, one would certainly be the manor house and the other, either the rectory or a farm house. We will not know for certain but if the land was given over to sheep farming it is less likely that there would be a farm house such as the ones later appearing on the Newport Road and at Stanton High. It may have been a rectory. The torts were single room peasant dwellings, each supporting a family. Although two watermills are described, archaeologists believe that there was only one miller operating the two mills.
It was a very small village and it was to grow even smaller. By the time of the 1841 census there were only two cottages left at Stanton Low, the big house and rectory had disappeared in the previous century and there were two farmhouses.
|Photo of Stantonbury taken in 1957|
This photograph was taken before the further encroachment of the gravel pits so you can see in the top left hand corner the evidence of ridge and furrow faming. These would have been the villagers strips of land which they farmed for sustenance. The village dwellings were closer to the church and the manor house and mansion to the south.
The development of New Bradwell in the 1850s transformed Stantonbury in much the same way that New Wolverton overshadowed “Old” Wolverton and for almost a century there was no development. The Church gradually fell into disuse and in time became a complete ruin.
There were some encroachments on the manor in the 19th century with the construction of Harwood Street and North Street on the east side of the Bradwell Road and in the 20th century the Bradville estate at Stanton High brought the “garden city” concept of housing development to the area. Post Milton keynes the old manor is scarcely recognisable.
The church ruin is the only remaining identifiable part of the ancient village.
This map pre-dates the canal and the railway. In this context Stantonbury, although small, was not entirely insignificant. The established villages of Great Linford, Haversham and Bradwell had the sie and shape they had 200 years later. Stantonbury still had the big house which I will describe in the next post.
One of the interesting stories to come out of the Stantonbury-Wittewronge connection was that of the third baronet, also Sir John Wittewronge. At the Saracen’s Head in Newport Pagnell he murdered a man called Joseph Griffiths. The facts are obscure. Griffiths is described as a mountebank. Mountebanks in the 18th century were variously imposters or swindlers. These days we would call them “con-men”.
Elsewhere Griffiths is described as a surgeon and appears to have originated in Kent.
What is not in dispute is that Wittewronge murdered Griffiths. It may have been the outcome of a quarrel or perhaps the unlucky Griffiths had tried to swindle him. At any rate, Wittewronge quickly skipped out of the country to be beyond the reach of the law. he probably went to Flanders where the Wittewronges originated.
Some years later, he returned, probably believing he was safe after the hue and cry had died down – probably about 1727 when he sold Stantonbury and some other properties to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. He seems to have been at liberty for some years but he could not keep his head down and was cast into the Fleet Prison in London on the original charges. The story does not end happily for Sir John Wittewronge. While in prison he got into a quarrel with another man and was severely beaten. A few days later, on March 28th 1743, he died of his wounds.
The Stantonbury estate descended to his brother, William, who died without issue in 1761.
Sir John Wittewronge’s behaviour does suggest that he was of a violent disposition and one may suspect that the mountebank story about Griffiths was put about to mitigate Wittewronge’s behaviour. We really don’t know, but Wittewronge did get away with murder – almost.
On Sunday I paid my first visit to the ruin of St Peter’s Church at Stanton Low since 1955. In 1955 it was not a ruin, although it had been disused for a number of years. In 1956 the roof fell in and since then much of the interior has been dismantled and placed elsewhere. My companion wondered why anyone would live in such a remote place. Good question! All I could answer was that in those times people could comfortably live in relatively remote locations. There was no electrical grid to connect to or a gas pipeline. All you needed was a water supply. You could build a house anywhere and be self sufficient.
|The ruined Church from the East. The Mansion probably stood beyond this.|
After the 16th and 17th century land enclosures Stantonbury had become quite depopulated and remained so until Milton Keynes started to develop.The Stantonbury Manor extended from the river to the highlands beside Linford Wood, almost into Milton Keynes Centre. What remains in the meadowland below the canal is typical of what you might have found in the Stantonbury landscape even as little as 40 years ago.
George Lipscomb in his 19th century history of Buckinghamshire writes this about Stantonbury.
Sir John Wittewrong was created a Baronet 2 May 1662; and having made a purchase of this estate (certainly before 1667), he built a mansion-house, and settled it on his eldest son, John Wittewrong Esq. (p347).
This is very much the only evidence we have of the mansion on this property. It would appear (again from Lipscomb) that it was sited to the west of the church.
The whole fabric (of the church)has been much contracted, and part of the west end of the church yard taken into the court of the Mansion-house. (p.349)
This does make some sense because there is some more-or-less level ground to the west of the church which could have been a site for a big house. However there has not been evidence for it since the late 18th century when it was probably pulled down, most likely after Thomas Harrison has completed Wolverton House in 1786. There are no surviving drawings of the house so it is anyone’s guess as to its appearance. I would guess that it was brick-built, which would explain why it was easy to dismantle.It is possible that Wittewrong’s building succeeded a medieval building on the same site.
When Thomas Harrison came to manage the Spencer estate I imagine that he and his family moved into this mansion and certainly regarded it as suitable for a middle-class family, but after he became land agent for the Radcliffe Trust in 1773 (in addition to his other activities) he turned his attention to Wolverton. The 90 year old Wittewrong house at Stantonbury may have been in a decaying condition, and although Harrison could have afforded the cost of restoration he may have felt that Wolverton, near to Stony Stratford was a better location. Thomas Harrison had a growing portfolio of interests and Stony Stratford, with its better communications may have presented him with a better base for his business than Stantonbury. In addition, Wolverton was on better arable land and he quickly assembled a farm of 400 acres which he was able to put under the management of a bailiff who probably lived at what later became Warren Farm.
So it was through Thomas Harrison that Wolverton and Stantonbury had a connection. Thomas Harrison was an enthusiastic promoter of the Grand Junction canal and saw to it that the canal proceeded through both the Wolverton and the neighbouring Bradwell and Stantonbury estates. He built the wharf at Stantonbury and the first viaduct over the River Ouse. He also had interest in other canal companies.
|St Peter’s Church, c. 1905|
This last photograph, taken from the chancel circa 1950, shows the church stripped of pews and furniture. By this time the church was no longer in use.
I have been asked if there was a lost village at Stanton Low. There is certainly an ancient church there but that doesn’t always mean that villagers clustered their cottages nearby. There are many examples in England today where churches associated with villages are at quite some distance from what we would now think of as a “village”, so one cannot always assume that the presence of a church ruin meant that there was a village in our later understanding of the word. Villages at one time encompassed a certain territory known as the manor after the Norman invasion and often the dwellings were scattered.
I have not been able to find any archaeological excavations recorded apart from the work on the church. Excavations that were undertaken around Stantonbury Campus have turned up Roman developments but there is no mention of any medieval buildings.
Stanton, later called Stanton Barry after the name of the family who controlled the manor, then Stantonbury, was never a particularly wealthy manor. It covered about 800 acres of grazing land and woodland, bounded by the River Ouse in the north and Bradwell Common in the south and bordered by Bradwell to the East and Great Linford to the West.
In the Domesday Book (1086) the manor is assessed at 5 hides. The hide was a Saxon unit of land measurement which is generally interpreted as 120 acres but was generally understood as the amount of land required to support one family, so the hide could be flexible. To put this into context, Wolverton, with quite a lot of arable land was assessed at 20 hides, which more-or-less corresponds to the acreage, whereas Hanslope, then mostly forested, had a much larger acreage but was only assessed at 10 hides. What this tells us about Stantonbury is that there was not a lot to tax. Haversham across the river was far richer.
The population in 1086 was 7 villagers, 3 smallholders and 4 slaves which might have amounted to a population of 40 or 50. There was also a mill. The Thane who owned the manor in 1066 was Bisi of Calverton. It is fair to assume that he was an absentee landlord who probably employed a Reeve (one of the villagers) to look after the affairs of the manor. After the conquest the manor was given to one of King William’s chief supporters, Miles Crispin, and he in turn provided the manor to one of his knights in lieu of service – a man called Ralph.
In 1202 his granddaughter, Amice, granted two virgates of land (about 60 acres) to Simon of Stanton who later used the surname Barry. He may have been her husband or son, but at any rate the name Barry now becomes associated with the manor from this time forth.
It can be inferred from this that there was a Manor House (probably a hall in the early years) and other dwellings for the peasants. Archaeological investigation would probably reveal their whereabouts but it’s a safe bet that they would be above the floodline. There has been a farmhouse and buildings on the Newport Road for the past 200 years. It may have been built on an older settlement or possibly the old manor house used to be here. I’m afraid it’s all guesswork.
The course of the river has been much changed through the excavation of gravel pits but there were once several mills here. The is one in 1086 which is described as broken down in 1324, three corn mills in 1653 and 1695 and four in 1721.
The Manor passed through several families over the centuries and it would be tedious to list them; however, some of the occupants were colourful. In the 1620s it was occupied by Viscount Purbeck who was a lunatic and under the care and treatment of Dr. Napier, then Rector of Great Linford. A hundred years later, John Wittewronge, murdered an actor called Joseph Griffith at The aracen’s Head, Newport Pagnell, and had to flee the country until the hue and cry died down. He returned some years later and sold the manor to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough who then bequeathed it in her will to John Spencer. Thus this manor, and Bradwell, became the property of the Earls Spencer. There is some commemoration of this fact in the name Spencer Street in New Bradwell.
The earliest Ordnance Survey, conducted between 1804 and 1816, shows St Peter’s Church by the river, a cluster of 4 buildings by the path, designated Stanton Low. This land is probably now under water. There are cottages beside the canal and the Newport Road, Stantonbury Wharf and buildings on the Neport Road where the farm now is. Further up, approximately on the site of Stantonbury School, was Clare’s Farm.
The 1851 Census records only a handful of people. At Stantonbury Wharf in one house, William Brooks, a coal merchant and his wife and a 16 year old carter. At Stanton Low, one house only with a family of 6 employed as Agricultural Labourers and lacemakers. On the Newport Road, the Scrivener family with two farms, one of 440 acres and another held by one son of 150 acres. Between them they employed 22 labourers, probably drawn from Bradwell and Linford. And at Clare’s Farm there are three cottages housing agricultural labourers and lacemakers. So it appears that the Scriveners are renting all of the manor except for the woods. The total population of Stantonbury in 1851 was 27.
You could conclude from this that there is a lost village of Stantonbury. There is evidence of a Manor House and a Rectory and cottages at Stanton Low. There were up to four mills beside the river. The farm buildings beside the Newport Road (Wolverton Road?) have been converted to offices. They are probably 18th century, although they may have earlier foundations. There probably was land enclosure in the 17th century which would have reduced the population but there does not appear to have been any recorded protest, which would suggest that there were no great numbers affected. Overall, the manor may never have had a significant population in its history, although it was clearly at its lowest point from the 19th to 20th century.
Here are the origins of New Bradwell. the railways works at Wolverton Station needed to expand; the Radcliffe Trust were unwilling to part with any more farmland, so the railway company directors turned to the neighbouring parish for a solution. Here is a map of those first streets in 1860 – Bridge Street, Spencer Street and the High street – all built up the hill away from the flood plain. What a difference from today when governments quite happily authorise the building of houses on land subject to flooding, whereas in the 19th century no self-respecting builder would have contemplated such an action – unless he was building a watermill.
Wolverton needed to expand but could not do so within the manor of Wolverton because the Radcliffe Trust were unwilling at the time to give up more agricultural land. So they acquired land to the east in Stantonbury. The new town eventually took the name of New Bradwell.