Wolverton and district in 1824

Very little of the Wolverton area from the early 19th century is now recognisable. Even the Watling Street has now been broken up.
This map was published in 1825 and based on a survey of 1824 by a man called A. Bryant. Little is known about him, not even his first name, but the map survives and pre-dates the Ordnance Survey by a decade.
The Wolverton Road followed its old course along the valley. It was at that time a toll road and toll houses were to be found just outside Stony Stratford, at the Haversham turn and at the turn at the bottom of the hill at what was later New Bradwell. New Bradwell did not then exist and houses could only be found by the canal at the wharf, the New Inn and the Windmill. There may have been more people at that time living in Stantonbury.
There was a direct track from Wolverton to Bradwell, probably going through the Happy Morn and the Haversham road was in a slightly different place, having been moved to the east when the railway embankment was built. The course of the river was also changed at the same time.
Note also the direct track from Stonebridge House to Calverton. This was one of the ancient cross country roads, a ridgeway. Parts of it survive at Wolverton as Green Lane and the track between the Top Rec and the Cemetery.
Stony Stratford was also somewhat different. The Back Lane, now Russell street, had houses of sorts on it and could reach the High Street through Ram Alley, which was demolished later in the century to become New Street.
The main farms were at Brick Kiln, Wolverton Park (now known as Wolverton House), Manor Farm (marked here as Wolverton House), Stacey Bushes Farm (at the time the farmhouse was beside Bradwell Brook) and Stonebridge House Farm. there were also some smaller farms such as Debbs Barn near Stony Stratford and another farm which was later occupied by McCorquodales ad the western end of the Works.
Much of this map could still be recognised by those of us who grew up in the pre-Milton Keynes era, but I rather thinks that as development continues and roads change their course, very little of it can be positively identified today.

The Mansion at Stantonbury

Stantonbury in 1770
By the time this map was drawn the ancient village of Stantonbury had almost disappeared, but there was still a mansion there which was important enough to catch the cartographer’s attention. Three buildings are noted on the manor, the big house, the church and buildings at Stanton High, looking rather isolated.
The story of this mansion is interesting, although details a few and the history of any sort of manor house is extremely sketchy.
At Domesday the manor was in the hands of the baron Miles Crispin and he had probably granted it to one of his knights, a man called Ralph. We assume that he was the progenitor of the family that came to be lords of the manor for the next three centuries, although we cannot support that assumption with documentary evidence. We have to wait until 1202 for that to emerge when the manor was definitely passed to Simon de Stanton, or Simon Barre, as he was otherwise known. The manor was henceforth known as Stanton Barre, later of course becoming Stantonbury.
It passed down through the family until the male line died out in the late 14th century, when it passed to William Vaux.
As the resident lords, the Barre family and later the Vaux family would have had a hall or manor house. This may have started as a simple hall and grown through additions, or the early medieval dwelling may have been replaced by a newer building. Unfortunately we cannot know from the evidence we have available to us.
That there was a manor house is certain. A document of 1326 (Inquisitions post mortem) informs us that there was a capital messuage, a garden, a dovecote and a broken down mill. Another document dated 1565 lists two messuages, ten torts, a water mill and four gardens. A fine of 1617 records two messuages, six torts, two watermills, two dove houses, three gardens and three orchards. A year later there is specific mention of a manor house when the Temple estate was divided “all that the manor house of Stantonberry with the dove houses barnes stables backsides courts orchards and gardens heretofore belonging, and the three watermylles under one roof.” From these at least we can infer the presence of a manor house, possibly 15th century in origin.
In the 16th century the manor was sold several times, beginning with Thomas Lord Vaux in 1535. From the number of sales one might infer that nothing was done to improve the manor or the property. That it produced income from sheep farming was probably enough. Eventually the manor was sold to Sir Peter Wittewronge who was interested enough to do something. He took possession  in 1653. Wittewrnge came from Flemish stock and he had money and influence. His principal seat was at Rothampstead in Hertfordshire, now a centre for agricultural research.
He settled the manor of Stantonbury on his eldest son John and after he was married in 1664 work began on a new mansion.
Building work began in 1664 and was largely complete four years later. It was demolished in 1791 and there are no drawings from any time in that period to suggest to us what it might have looked like. We can only infer from the building accounts and from other sources what it might have looked like. 
The building was of brick construction with stone dressings. There are references to the greate building and the return building which begins to suggest an “L” shaped structure. There are further references to the greate hall and the old hall, which would lead us to conclude that the old manor house was incorporated into the new building. Or, there may have been a central building with two wings, because there are further references to a new leser hall and the folkes’ (servants) hall. Certainly a large hall for the main building with two wings at either end would be conventional for the time and we can speculate that this may have been the structure using the old manor house as one of the wings.
The accounts reveal that the new mansion was not an inexpensive structure. We can perhaps guess at its appearances by taking a look at Rothamstead, which, with its Duch gables, may have been the parent for inspiration. The first rather crude drawing was made in 1624. The photograph below of the much expanded and enlarged Rothamstead manor illustrates the character of the architecture which has maintained its central features over the centuries. Was the Stantonbury house similar?

If so it would have been one of the more remarkable survivors in the Wolverton area. Sadly its history was very short. John Wittewronge succeeded to his father’s titles in 1693. He kept Stantonbury and his younger brother James inherited Rothamstead. Sir John outlived his father by only four years and in 1697 the estate and titles passed to yet another Sir John Wittewronge. He appears to have led an active life and was colonel of a regiment during the wars in Flanders. He served as member of Parliament for Aylesbury and subsequently Wycombe until his death in 1722.
The fourth baronet, unsurprisingly also named John, got himself into difficulty in 1721 (a year before his father’s death) by murdering a man called Joseph Griffith at the Saracen’s Head in Newport Pagnell. The Sir John took the expedient measure of fleeing the country and returning a few years later when the hue and cry had died down. Around 1727 he sold the manor to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and the Wittewronges receded from Stantonbury’s history. The fourth baronet’s ending was not a happy one. He found himself in the Fleet prison in 1743 for his debts and in the course of a drunken brawl received some fatal wounds.

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.

The Old Village at Stantonbury

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.

1770 map by Thomas Jeffreys

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.

Getting away with murder, and not!

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.

More on Stantonbury

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 at Stanton Low

There has been some more interest in the ruined church at Stanton Low. I suppose that in the over-developed area of Milton Keynes this may be the only authentic ruin. Little bits of Bradwell Abbey remain, but apart from churches, medieval buildings are few indeed.
Here is a watercolour by the artist John Piper (1903-1992). Piper was well known in his lifetime and had a special interest in churches. He designed the great stained glass window in the new Coventry Cathedral. It is somewhat surprising that this rather humble out-of-the-way church captured his attention. It is the property of the V&A Museum.
St Peter’s Church, c. 1905

Both these views are from the south side. The chancel on the east side, measuring internally 29′ 4″ by 13′ 3″, was probably the original church. The nave, measuring 25′ 6″ by 18′, was an early 12th century addition, although it was apparently 10 feet longer at one time. There is also evidence of another chapel on the south side. The modifications may date from the 15th century.

The east window is 14th century but the arch joining the two parts of the church, decorated with chevrons dates from 1150. This was removed to St James, New Bradwell after the roof of St Peters fell in in 1956. The gothic arch you can see in the picture was probably added in the 14th century to strengthen the arch.

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.

Earlier posts on Stantonbury and its church can be found below:
Stanton Low
Stantonbury
Stantonbury

Stantonbury

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.

Stantonbury

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.

The brick for these houseswas a grayish yellow and never looked attractive to my eyes, yet these were the houses which survived the wrecker’s ball due to a campaign by arriviste Milton Keynesers who were keen to preserve the Railway heritage. I would not have shed a tear if they had been destroyed in the 1960s but today I am ambivalent. Had the houses in Ledsam or Creed Streets in Wolverton survived we would have preserved some of the earliest houses from the 1840s, but at the time of the development of Stantonbury somewhat better looking houses were being erected on Church Street and the Stratford Road in Wolverton so there are plenty of examples of 1860s housing but one gfrom the 1840s!
The ancient parish was Stantonbury with a church near the river at Stanton Low. This church was dedicated to St Peter and although long since abandoned, retains its name in the local footall club – New Bradwell St Peter.
The name Stantonbury fell into disuse as the new settlers here liked the name New Bradwell better. The name of Stantonbury was only revived when the new comprehensive school was built on the hill in the 1970s.

Stanton Low

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.

Stantonbury was no more than a scattering of dwellings but there was a church by the river opposite Haversham, known to us as Stanton Low.

The church pictured here is now a complete ruin. In my boyhood the church was still more-or-less intact. It still had a roof, doors and a font as I remember. At the time it has not been used for 60 years but it was then merely neglected rather than ruined. It was open to us and accessed by a track from the Black Horse bridge at Linford. I believe it was vandalized in the 1960s and the roof eventually caved in.

The church was dedicated to St Peter and the name survives in the local football club – Stantonbury St Peter.

The church was abandoned after the opening of the new church of St James, unfortunately the licence to marry was not transferred to he new church and the error was not discovered for some years. When it was, there was great consternation amongst those married couples who discovered that they had been LIVING IN SIN. I understand there was a rush to get married in the Stanton low church at this point. Common sense did break out when the Bishop decided to permit retroactive consecration of these marriages.