THE ORIGIN OF STONY STRATFORD

 

There was a long period, up to the middle of the 19th century, when Stony Stratford was

more populous than Wolverton and had by far the stronger economy. Eighteenth century

travellers would know about Stony Stratford but could remain ignorant of Wolverton. By the

mid-nineteenth century the reverse may have been true. The coaching trade went into steep

decline and Stony Stratford returned once more to being a smaller part of Wolverton’s

economic strength. Before the 12th century the roadside settlement had no separate identity

from its parent manors, Calverton and Wolverton, but by 1200 it was able to assert a distinct

identity even though it was still tied economically to the two bordering manors. By the late

middle ages Stony Stratford had become a separate entity, with some independence from the

two manors that had once controlled both sides of the Watling Street, but since much of the

Wolverton side was still owned by the Lord of the Manor this part of Stony Stratford could still

be reckoned as a substantial part of the Wolverton economy. Any history of the manor must

consider the emergence of Stony Stratford as a notable part of the story.

The story of Stony Stratford starts fairly late. Although there have been some claims for

Stony Stratford as a Roman settlement there is as yet little archaeological evidence to support

this idea other than the discovery of some Roman coins and pottery fragments. There were

garrison settlements along the road at Fenny Stratford (Magiovinto) and Towcester (Lactodoro)

but evidence of even a posting station at either Stony Stratford or Old Stratford is skimpy at

best. White Kennett, writing in the 17th century, blithely refers to Stony Stratford as “old

Lactodorum”1 and earlier William Camden (1594) makes the same assertion. Even as late as

1760 the map maker Thomas Jeffreys was able to mark Lactodorum in Old English script

beside Stony Stratford. By the 19th century this placement was questioned and present day

opinion and evidence places the site of Lactodoro at Towcester and although this does not

exclude the possibility of a settlement at Stratford in Roman times, it does pour a certain

amount of cold water on the idea that it was a significant Roman station. If we were to make an

argument against the idea of a Roman station at Stony Stratford we could note that the 16

miles between Magiovinto and Lactodorum could be accomplished in a day’s march. A case can

certainly be made for a station every ten miles or so. From London the known stations are 13

miles to Sulloniacis (Brockley Hill), 9 miles to Verulamo (St Albans), 13 miles to Durocobrivis

(Dunstable), 12 miles to Magiovinto (near Little Brickhill) 16 miles to Lactodoro (Towcester),

12 miles to Bannaventa (Whilton Lodge), 19 miles to Venonis (High Cross), 11 miles to

Manduesedo (Mancetter), 16 miles to Letoceto (Wall), 12 miles to Pennocrucio (Water Eaton),

11 miles to Uxacona (Redhill) and 11 miles to Urioconio (Wroxeter). Interpolation from this

evidence should reasonably predict a station either side of the river at this crossing and

reasonable grounds to plan an excavation. There is no surviving name for this camp. If it

existed, and the case is yet unproven.

If we try to take a Roman view of the matter, military units leaving either Lactodoro or

Magiovinto could reasonably expect to reach the Ouse crossing by the middle of the day, even if

encumbered by baggage, which would mean that the river could be negotiated within an hour

before moving on to the next station in the afternoon. So, far from being a natural stopover

point the Stratford crossing may have been one that the soldiers preferred to manage when the

sun was high.

Professor Hyde points out that the river crossing was never one of the better crossings

and was always liable to flooding. An easier crossing could be found at Passenham and at

Wolverton Mill and indeed there remained ancient roads or pathways at these points until

recent times. By either route it was possible to negotiate the river more easily and continue the

northward or southward journey. However, the Romans had a preference for building straight

roads and coping with whatever engineering problem came their way. In this case it meant

building a stone causeway to negotiate the marsh and laying stones and gravel on the river bed

to ford the river. This is commonly believed to be the basis for the name of the place, although

Hyde advances the view that it is more likely to derive from Stane Street: thus Stane Street

Ford, rather than a stone bed at the river crossing. He notes that in many surviving medieval

documents the place name is written as Stani Stratford. That having been noted, later reports

up to and including the 16th century of difficult river crossings here may have been more

attributable to the general neglect of roads once the Romans had departed rather than the

impassability of the river itself.. The Romans had a military imperative in maintaining good

roads so that they could move troops quickly and effectively across country. Once the imperium

had gone and the country broke up into smaller tribal kingdoms there was no longer any

incentive to maintain roads even if the successors to the Romans had the engineering

knowhow.

One fact we do have is the existence of the road itself and it would be unusual indeed if

the river crossing did not attract residents who could enhance their livelihood by providing

services to the itinerants. It is not until the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086 that we

encounter any documentary detail, and even there no mention of Stony Stratford is made. In

his History of Stony Stratford, Hyde is of the view that there was a settlement there in Domesday

times. He infers this from the rather high assessment of Wolverton at £20 compared to much

lower assessments for equally fertile land along the Ouse valley – Beachampton at £7, Thornton,

Haversham and Stanton at £6. Calverton, even though heavily wooded in the Weald part of

the manor is valued at £12. Hyde’s conclusion is that this relatively high valuation must include

the economic life of inns and commerce along the old Roman road.

The other question that ought to be posed is why the settlement was built on the south

and not the north side of the river. The bank is higher on the north side, less prone to flooding

and closer to the river itself. It was also at the crossroads for the high road to Buckingham and

the road to Northampton. Any garrison, if indeed there was one there, would find this a much

more commanding position for the river crossing. So in many obvious respects the “Old

Stratford” site was a better location and we should at least consider the theory that a Roman

station was located on the north side of the river and that in the more secure Middle Ages the

inns relocated south of the river. With the passage of a few hundred years, the settlement (if it

existed) was forgotten. Theory is all we have because when it comes to evidence there is little to

be found. Despite its name, Old Stratford as a recognised settlement was never older than

Stony Stratford and throughout known history never amounted to much. The community,

even in more recent centuries, never had a church or a school, and any development that is

there is more recent than Stony Stratford. It remains a puzzle.

There may not be a ready answer as to why a settlement grows on one side of the river

and not the other. The name “Old” Stratford did not make an appearance until the 15th

century when Stony Stratford was well established. Earlier references call the place West Stratford

or Far Stratford. The name “Old” Stratford does suggest that there was some belief, possibly

based on oral tradition, that the settlement was older. Stony Stratford was a focal point for the

several crossings over the River Ouse and this may be one reason for the settlement on the site.

A glance at the map will be sufficient to show the relative importance of Stony Stratford’s

position in this road system. The town stood at the very focal point of a number

of fords across the river, and thus was the junction for traffic coming in from many parts

of the country. From early times its streets saw the passage of soldier, trader, and

pilgrim; and their needs, military, commercial, or religious, led to the multiplication of

trading facilities, which in turn reacted on the economic nature of the town’s

development.2

The choice of Stony Stratford as a settlement may also be as simple a matter as access to

water; wells were easier to dig on the lower land.

What gave Stratford its later importance was the intersection with the Watling Street of

the cross country trackways. There appear to have been two, both ridgeways in that they

followed the high ground above the river. The northern side was crossed at Old Stratford and

followed a line through Cosgrove and Castlethorpe to Haversham. The southern route came

through Calverton and crossed at Gib Lane along the line of the road now known as

Ridgeway), taking the route eastwards across to Stantonbury and Linford. The core of the

eventual settlement is at a mid-point between these two cross country roads. As commerce

developed in the early middle ages the crossing of these two roads and the ancient road from

London to the North West gained more significance and businesses to serve travellers grew up

here. Later another cross country road, from Horse Fair Green to the old medieval village of

Wolverton and continuing towards Newport Pagnell became the more used cross country road.

There was probably no compelling reason to travel on cross country roads until 1061

when Walsingham acquired fame as a shrine. The Middle Ages were dominated by Christianity

and the fervent desire of all to achieve salvation. The rich could achieve this through good

works, such as building churches or priories and going on expensive pilgrimages to Jerusalem or

Santiago de Compostela. The merchant classes, could make smaller bequests or travel on

pilgrimages closer to home. These opportunities expanded in the later Middle Ages and one

such related to a woman who became known as The Lady of Walsingham. She was the Lady of

the Manor of Walsingham Parva in Norfolk. Her name was Richeldis. In 1061 her devoted life

of prayer and good works brought her a vision, in which she was taken by Mary and shown the

house in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel had announced the birth of Jesus. Mary then urged

Richeldis to build a replica of this house at Walsingham. Accordingly the house was built and

Walsingham acquired a reputation as England’s Nazareth.

As the news spread across the country Walsingham became a magnet for pilgrimage and

travellers from the west tended to take a route that would bring them close to Stony Stratford.

The other significant event was the breakaway of Oxford scholars and their foundation of

a new university at Cambridge in 1202. Any journey between the two centres of learning would

take them close to Stony Stratford.

One further thought (and this is simply a theory) is that the growth of a town in medieval

times may have been due to the central presence of a powerful baron in Wolverton. Even when

not in residence on the manor he would always have retained an armed contingent of sorts,

however small, and this alone may have proved a deterrent to footpads and brigands who were

wont to operate on the highway. This security may have allowed trade to develop along the

Watling Street at Stony Stratford, while other potential sites remained risky. The siting of new

development on that part of Watling Street would place it within view of the castle and could

be quickly reached by the castle guard if necessary, whereas any possible settlement at the Gib

Lane crossing would have placed it beyond view.

From surviving 13th century records we tend to see more early development on the

eastern side of the Watling Street and we can deduce from some of the recurrent names that

the early barons accommodated some of their knights through grants of land. Before too long

the income possibilities through serving travellers must have quickly come apparent and this

led to a cluster of houses and inns.

And who knows? Perhaps there was once an inn at the corner of Gib Lane but after the

baron and his knights began to develop Wolverton the centre of gravity moved northwards.

For, if as I suggest above, the new development closer to Manno’s castle offered greater security,

then the extra detour for east-west travellers would not have seemed onerous.

The idea of early settlement at Stony Stratford is highly speculative and to this date, as

the previous discussion has perhaps shown, no real evidence can be brought forward to support

that idea. Historians from the 16th century onwards have tended to work backwards from the

fact of Stony Stratford. As there was an historical settlement there the likelihood of an earlier

settlement was assumed without rigorous questioning; however, as I have tried to show, its

location at a river crossing and at a medieval crossroad cannot be defended as a plain fact. If it

were to grow organically at a cross road then why not at Gib Lane or at Old Stratford? If at a

river crossing, why on the south side and not the north? There are answers to these questions

but they do enter the realm of speculation.

My own view now is that the placement of the buildings that evolved into the town of

Stony Stratford had much to do with the way it was colonised after the Conquest. Later

evidence shows that Manno granted land to his retainers in the lower valley close to the

Watling Street. Most of this was good pasture land which held a higher value than arable land

in that period. It may have been the case that earlier inns (if they ever existed) might have been

found at the Gib Lane crossing in the Fuller’s Slade area prior to 1066 and moved northwards

after that date because of the greater security of the new settlement. As we have already seen on

the manor of Wolverton settlements did become obsolete as newer economic forces came into

play. There is no reason to assume that this may not have happened along the Watling Street.

The Birth of the Town

The first official record of Stony Stratford comes as late as 1194. when it was given a

charter (confirmed in 1199) to hold a market. This indicates that Stony Stratford had by this

time reached a size of some importance, even though the traders on either side of the Watling

Street were under the separate jurisdictions of the manors of Calverton and Wolverton. It was

during his reign that Stony Stratford came of age. Up till then it must have been a growing

collection of inns and dwellings on both the Wolverton side and the Calverton side to service

travellers, but (and I am increasingly coming to this view) may have only started a few years

before with Baron Hamon’s allocation of a few one acre plots along the street. However in

1194, under King Richard’s seal, Stony Stratford was given the right to hold a market – a muchprized

licence in those days as it allowed a community to grow economically, often at the

expense of nearby communities It may appear curious to us now that a small market was a

matter for royal dispensation, but as with many of these things it comes down to money. A

commercial market was a opportunity to make money and the regulation of such markets was

an opportunity for the king to increase his revenue by charging a fee. Richard was an expensive

king who led a large crusade, was captured on his return and the country had to pay a huge

ransom to redeem him, and for the last five years of his life was engaged in war with the King

of France to recover lost territory. The king’s agents would be looking for any opportunity to

fill the king’s coffers and the application by Stony Stratford burgesses could only be favourably

considered in these circumstances.

The first charter was issued to Gilbert Basset and his wife Egelina on 30 April 1194 and

this charter was confirmed with the king’s seal on 20 January 1199 for a Sunday market at their

manor of Stratford. Egelina, a daughter of Reginald de Courtney, had previously been married

to Walter de Bolbec, who held the Calverton manor as part of his barony and Britnell suggests

that Egelina may have received this land in dower after the death of her first husband in 1190.3

This part of the manor, possibly centred on the present Market Square, may have extended

north to the river. On it’s own it was not especially productive for agricultural purposes, but the

commercial potential was great, which was why Gilbert and Egelina were anxious to secure a

charter twice during Richard’s brief visits to this country and a third time under John in 1200.

On the Wolverton side there are some extant deeds which show that small parts of the

manor on the Watling Street had been granted to others. There are not very many – only three –

dating from the 12th century, but these, together with inferences which we can draw from the

13th century deeds in the Radcliffe Trust deposit, are probably enough to conclude that there

was already sufficient commercial activity on the road to make grants of land as small as one

acre worthwhile.4 Gilbert and Egelina could see clearly enough what was happening on the

other side of the street and were anxious to garner a piece of the trade.

There is other evidence that small portions of the Wolverton Manor had been sold and

even though these were small acreages compared to the main manor they were referenced in

other deeds as manors. One example of this is land owned by the Priory of Chicksand which

makes reference to their land on the east side as their manor at Wolverton. In another grant

Simon Barré makes a gift of some land he holds on the Watling Street to the Priory at

Bradwell. There are several other examples that show us how lands that had once been granted

for service three generations earlier were now being transferred for its monetary value. Simon

Barré’s piece, for example, was worth 9 shillings a year for its intended recipient – not a small

sum in those days. At any rate this appears to be the beginning of Stony Stratford as an entity.

The grant was confirmed by King John on 21 Mar 1200.

This period is also important as it marks the beginning of a transition of Wolverton from

as purely rural to a mixed agricultural and mercantile economy. Overall, agriculture was still

dominant, and was to remain so for hundreds of years, but now Woverton had an economy

which included a commercial centres – subsequently known as towns or market towns. Stony

Stratford therefore had a transforming effect on both Wolverton and Calverton. King John in

particular encouraged the growth of new market towns, largely because he was able to see the

tax-gathering potential in such a policy. Liverpool, for example, was his own personal creation

on his own land. There were great attractions to these new towns for those who wished to free

themselves of the bondage of being tied to the land. From this point Stony Stratford begins to

grow as a commercial entity and the population starts to outstrip both Calverton and

Wolverton.

During the reign of King John specific documents make their appearance with references

to Stony Stratford, the first surviving one being in 1202 when a grant of land is made to

Richard the Clerk from John de Calverton. Other references to property grants occur in the

reign of Henry III and by the mid century there are several surviving grants in the papers of the

de Wolverton family. From this time forth Stony Stratford has its own identity, although the

lords of Calverton and Wolverton continued to maintain a strong and active interest in the

affairs of the town.

The development of a town on the borders of Wolverton and Calverton was a genuine

innovation. Urban living had been unknown in England since the Roman departure in

400AD. The native population and the Anglo-Saxon incomers preferred to live and work in a

rural economy. Specialist workers were rare and virtually the whole community, with the

exception of the lord and his family were directly employed in agricultural production. With

the development of money it became possible for a miller or a blacksmith to earn a living from

their trade without tilling the soil. But most rural economies remained rooted, so to speak, in

their agricultural production. Production surpluses and other goods from Wolverton could be

satisfied through seasonal fairs held at Buckingham or Newport.

The emergence of towns in the Middle Ages brought out a new class of people into being

– the merchants, who could, by buying and selling products and commodities, earn their living

and generate wealth. These new men of the merchant class could acquire capital and deal with

the lords to acquire land for themselves. This process is illustrated in the surviving deeds of the

13th century and 14th centuries. By the 15th century men of the merchant class, such as John

Edy, were prosperous enough to make public benefactions on the scale that had once been the

preserve of the earlier lords of the manor. What this must have meant to the residents of

Wolverton and Calverton was that there were employment alternatives without leaving the

manor or the parish – something that was generally difficult to do until modern times Stony

Stratford therefore became important to the economic life of both manors. It is instructive to

contrast the impact of Stony Stratford on the two manors with with the neighbouring

Loughton and Shenley manors, also divided by the Watling Street, which remained completely

rural until late in the 20th century because it never developed a town alongside the road. A

similar observation could be made about Passenham and Furtho to the north.

A Child of Two Manors

While this book is about the manor of Wolverton, it is impossible to account for Stony

Stratford as the child of one manor. Calverton of course was the other parent. In 1066 the

Calverton Manor was held by Bisi, a thegn, with a smaller part, assessed at two hides, held by a

“man of Queen Edith”. After the conquest the manor was given to Hugh of Bolbec who may

have been a relative of the Giffard family. The manor was not as wealthy as the Wolverton

manor which had a lot more cleared land, but it was not insignificant. After almost two

centuries the male line died out and the estate came into the hands of the de Vere family

through marriage to Isabella de Bolbec. Robert de Vere, who came into the manor in 1244, was

then Earl of Oxford and quite powerful. In fact the rise of the de Veres seems to correspond to

the decline of the de Wolvertons and this provides a counterbalance, encouraging more

development on the Calverton side. The competition between the two lords must have

generated a creative tension which might have been smothered if the town had come under the

control of a single lord. Hugh, the son of Robert and Isabella, began to apply some energy to

the development of Calverton, and thereby Stony Stratford. In 1257 he established a separate

manor on the west side, which may in part have been the historical manor belonging the the

man of Queen Edith but it would probably correspond to that neck of land between the river

and Watling Street. The manor once owned by Gilbert and Egelina Bassett was now formally

its own place. In 1257 he acquired fair rights for a three day event “on the vigil, the feast and

morrow of St Giles.” In 1290 his son Robert was able to get a further grant for an annual fair

on the vigil and feast of St Mary Magdalen. It appears also that the de Veres were able to buy

land from Sir John de Wolverton, some 40 acres, probably the meadow land bordering the

river. This gave the de Veres control of the river crossing tolls.

Sir John may not have been immediately conscious of the significance of the sale. From

his point of view the land was mostly liable to flooding and unproductive. He was thinking in

old economic terms. The de Veres were very much awake to the opportunities coming from the

new economy and that unproductive land in the right location could yield far greater revenues

than traditional farming. Sir John, later, realizing his blunder he tried to redress the balance by

acquiring land on the west side. Through one of his kinsmen he obtained “two closes there

containing two acres of land” from “Watlynge Street to Mill Lane”. It was not a large amount

of land but this strip gave him some control of the river crossings and the revenue therefrom.

Markets or Fairs were a lucrative business and represented an opportunity for people to

sell their products. In that economy everything was made by hand and tools were limited in

their application so it took a long time to make, say, a pot or a pan or weave a cloth or make a

bracelet. The fair was an opportunity to sell the product of several months work. There were no

shops as we later came to know them nor was there a retail distribution network as we might

understand it. Most villages or manors were self-sufficient but if your production exceeded local

demand then the fair was the opportunity to sell the surplus. Valuable goods were often

transported over long distances but everyday items were likely to have been made locally within

reach of the market. He who held the rights to the fair collected the tolls and dues and

probably administered the law in the case of disputes – again a source of revenue.

So the opportunism of the de Veres was probably the spur to the growth of Stony

Stratford. The 13th century saw the two sides of the street begin to coalesce into a town – still

not a borough, nor entirely independent of manorial control, but emerging as the place we can

recognise as Stony Stratford.

And due to the de Vere initiative the town development on the west side of the High

Street was around a square. Naturally enough the prime space was on the high street itself and

this ribbon development was the pattern on the Wolverton side until the 19th century. The

Calverton side experienced the development of a Market Square, Horsefair and Cowfair and

some associated back lanes. Almost all the properties on the Wolverton side of Stony Stratford

stretched back to what is now Russell Street and Vicarage Road, both built in the last quarter

of the 19th century. Previously this was known as the Back Way. It probable that these plots

stretched further east at one time and enveloped one acre of land. Each plot served as a garden

and pasture for the house or inn and are generally known as burgage plots. Their extent can be

seen on the map on page 13. Possibly as much as two thirds of these plots on the Wolverton

side were in private hands by the 13th or 14th centuries, which is the period when we have

surviving deeds relating to manorial property and it must be assumed that some at least had

been sold or granted before the early 13th century when we have surviving deeds to work with.

The Cock Inn, for example, never once features in any deed, and by the late 17th century, when

lease documents survive, some of the inns, like The Bull or The Three Swans are detailed,

whereas The Cock is conspicuously absent.

Economic Development in the 13th and 14th Centuries

Stony Stratford’s divided lordships led to the eventual foundation of two churches on either

side of the Watling Street. The church on the Wolverton side was dedicated to St Mary

Magdalene; on the Calverton side to Saint Giles. Their dates of origin are obscure but we can

begin to find references to chaplains and buildings from the first half of the 13th century. So we

might infer that chapels of ease were established in the early decades of the 13th century for

travellers and some of the local inhabitants. An undated deed in the time of William, baron of

Wolverton (d 1246) records the grant of a ó virgate of land to William, chaplain, land once

held by Hugh Capellanus. So even if this were dated at, say, 1240, William the Chaplain at

least had a predecessor.5

Hyde6 interprets church activity as underlying a unity in Stony Stratford. Possibly so but

administrative differences persisted until almost the 20th century. The Watling Street became a

de facto parish boundary and 19th century censuses record two distinct parishes. There must

have been differences, such as more favourable land arrangements, which caused the largest

inns, such as The Cock, The Bull, The Three Swans, The Red Lyon and The Horseshoe to establish

themselves on the east side. There were also disputes arising from men of Calverton using their

property holdings on the east side to entitle them to use of Wolverton’s common lands, and

vice versa. Bradwell priory, founded in the 12th century had been endowed with the Wolverton

Church and later received gifts of land in the Calverton manor, so it did have interests on

either side. This does not necessarily speak to the unity of the two parishes. The Wolverton

Church and the Calverton Church would both interpret their missions as administering to

their own parish and the parishioners would likewise attach their allegiances to their respective

churches.

The Church of St Giles may be the earliest foundation, although perhaps by not many

years. The documents mentioned earlier, surviving from 1202-3, relate to a grant of about 3

acres from John de Calverton to Richard Clericus who put some buildings on it. Subsequent

documents mention Peter the Clerk, Roger the Clerk and William the Priest and while it is

clear that a transaction has taken place the succession is not. However we can say with some

assurance that a chapel or some such structure dates from this period and that was likely on the

site of the present church.

The church of St Mary Magdalen appears to have its origins in a similar set up, as a

chapel of ease for travellers under the jurisdiction of the parent church at Wolverton. In 1238

we learn of Hamo the clerk living in the house which formerly belonged to Richard the

Weaver. The house was attached to a chapel on the Wolverton side. So we do get a sense of

parallel development on both sides of the street, even allowing for manorial variations.

By 1290 when Queen Eleanor’s body was carried through Stony Stratford it is thought

that overnight it rested in the church of St Mary Magdalene, so a building must have been

established at this time – although the towers came much later.

This is evidence enough that Stony Stratford was a settlement of some size. The funeral

cortege of Queen Eleanor was a large royal party that could only be accommodated in a town

with well-developed provisions for hospitality. She was the much-loved consort of Edward I and

the mother of 16 of his children, the last one, Blanche, born only a year previously. Eleanor,

born into the royal family of Castille was between 45 and 49 years old at her death at Harby in

Nottinghamshire.

It has to be said that she was not a popular queen. She was acquisitive and often took

advantage of distressed sales to take over manors and then to run them in a manner that might

be considered exploitative. She also avoided, or showed no interest in such acts that might have

won her some favour such as distributing alms to the poor. In addition she was Spanish and

had throughout her life demonstrated little empathy for the English. Edward however was

devastated. She had been his constant companion as he had travelled the realm, pausing only

to give birth on at least sixteen occasions. And so he set about extravagant preparations for her

burial and for her memory. Her body was first taken to Lincoln where it was prepared in

medieval fashion for eventual interment. From here, the cortege started its two-week procession

to its final stopping place at Charing between London and Westminster. The royal party

probably reached Stony Stratford at the beginning of December and those who could be

accommodated in the inns must have welcomed the warm fires.

After the funeral at Westminster Abbey the King commissioned a series of memorial

crosses to be erected at each stopping place on the way to London. One of them was Stony

Stratford. The monuments were known as “Eleanor Crosses”. Only three have survived the

passage of 700 years, at Geddington in Northamptonshire and Hardingstone, just outside

Northampton, and at Waltham in Hertfordshire. Each of these survivors gives us some idea of

the appearance of these memorials although it appears that some were much more elaborate

and expensive than others.

The Stony Stratford Cross did not survive the 17th century Civil War, when it was

deliberately destroyed by Parliamentary soldiers during the occupation of Wolverton, and

Browne Willis, making notes in 1755, records a conversation with an 80 year-old who

remembered the base still standing. Most agree that the cross was erected at the north end of

the town, probably opposite the old Horseshoe Inn, which would have provided accommodation

for some of the travelling escort. The High Street widens at this point suggesting that houses

were built around the cross which may have been placed at the side of the road.

The monument itself may not have been one of the more expensive crosses. Camden

(16th C) describes it as “none of the fairest”. The mason, John of Battle, was paid £63 13s 4d.

for making the cross, not a small sum in those days but relatively paltry when compared with

some of the others. The marble decorative elements were provided by Ralph of Chichester.

The medieval royal court travelled constantly and this was not only the king and his

entourage but the entire administration of government. Judgements were made, justice

dispensed, fees paid on the hoof as it were. This was not merely the king and a few retainers

but every court functionary. There were two consequences to this: travel was slow and a large

party had to be accommodated. From Northampton, the party managed the 14 miles to Stony

Stratford and the next stop was off the highway at Woburn Abbey, there being no

accommodation large enough before Dunstable to accommodate the royal party. What this

should tell us is that by 1290 Stony Stratford was sufficiently organised to provide food and

accommodation for the English government.

The 14th Century Gough Map showing Stratford. The top of the map is East.

By then, almost 100 years had passed since Stony Stratford first got its market charter and

it was clearly a significant stopping place by this time. King John, constantly on the move,

during his reign stopped over for a few days in 12157 After staying at his royal manor of Brill, so

there must have been sufficient accommodation even at that time. What exactly there was we

do not know but there must have been adequate provision for the accommodation of people

and stabling of horses, together with the victualling of both horse and man. In 1314 we have

another deed which relates to building “in le cheapingstede de stonistratford”8 – one of these

curious medieval documents where Latin, French and English are freely mixed . A cheapingstede

is a place for buying and selling. It is found in some place names such as Chipping Norton,

which is as good evidence as any that not only was a market established but that building was

going on around the marketplace. And finally, as proof of Stony Stratford’s quick rise to

prominence, there is the early 14th century Gough map, which clearly marks Stony Stratford as

a place of significance north west of St. Albans and Dunstable, with branch roads to

Northampton and Buckingham.

The Beginnings of Stony Stratford

Professor Hyde’s study of the economic development of Stony Stratford in these years

provides us with some data whereby we can assess the growth of Stony Stratford. He has

estimated that during the period 1150-1185 there were three houses in Stony Stratford. In the

period 1200-1230 he counts 19, 16 in the period 1250-1280 and 29 in the period 1290-1310.

Thereafter the figure appears to stablilize until his assessment end in 1500. The figures are not

presented as an accurate census but as an indicator of the growth of the town. Each of these

houses or cottages would have some land attached.

These data accord with what we already know and we can fairly conclude that, while

there was some settlement on the Watling Street prior to 1200, it is only in the 13th century

that the new economic model for Stony Stratford starts to take off. The produce of the land

was available for sale at markets as was that of manufactured goods. Stony Stratford became a

centre for exchange. Its position on the road also made it a stopping off place for travellers and

inns, together with associated services for the travelling public, and it grew in prosperity. The

gradual freeing of the bonds of service on the neighbouring manors meant also that new

people could come into the town to establish themselves with some craft or trade.

One deed, which, although undated, can be given an inferred date of 1248, right in the

middle of the century, illustrates how a man could accumulate scattered plots of land. Included

are a Messuage with houses and an orchard, 4 acres in the west field six separate ó acre strips

which are in various parts between Fuller’s Slade and the river meadow. In addition he also

bought the mill in the west of Wolverton from Lord William together with a virgate of land

attached to it. The sale is from Richard, son of John, Clerk of Wolverton. It is not clear

whether Richard is also a cleric but the mill and the scattered acres may suggest that he was not

himself tilling the soil but renting out this land for income. There is not enough information

to tell us if he was the practising chaplain at St Mary Magdalen and living off the rents but it

does illustrate how relatively complex society had become almost 200 years after the conquest.9

The houses that do develop during the period were developed around a courtyard or

“place” as it is termed in the deed. This was probably a forerunner of the inn courtyard which

still survives today in the town. We can also infer that these smaller plots were mostly drawing

their income from commercial activity. That a considerable income could be drawn from a

relatively small amount of land might be deduced from the information we have about

Nicholas de Arderne. The man who was probably his father, Ralph, married Isabella, the

widow of John de Wolverton. It was unlikely that she would marry someone without resources.

Isabella herself had the manor of Wick Hamon (Wicken) in dower. In Stony Stratford Nicholas

possessed 2 messuages, 1 croft and 45 acres. This would not have been very much if he had

owned it in 1086, but 250 years later this alone would put him amongst the more well-to-do

citizens on the manor.

Stony Stratford in the early 13th Century

So we can summarise the development of Stony Stratford. At some time between 1150

and 1185 three small plots were granted along the

Watling Street on the Wolverton side. The maximum size was one acre. These we now describe

as burgage plots and they determined the development of the town, at least along the Watling

Street. Possibly the starting point was the present location of the Cock and they grew outward,

at first toward the river and then towards the south. That this was the sequence can be inferred

from the location of the Church of St Mary Magdalen, which was established somewhat later

than the first burgage plots.

The beginnings, at least on the Wolverton side, can be traced to a bequest by Hamo, Son

of Meinfelin, which makes reference to three plots abutting the Watling Street. At least thirteen

of these plots can be determined on the Wolverton side varying in length from 115 to 125

metres, and mostly with a width of 15 metres. These approximate to about half an acre and it

can be inferred that they once extended further beyond the back way.

North of St Mary Magdalen the burgage plots are smaller and it is suggested that these

were later than the early medieval development. In any case, these plots were likely developed

after the building of the church.

The Calverton side developed along the same model and lines of the old burgage plots

can be traced north of church Street. One difference is the planned development in the late

13th century of a Market Square off the High Street. This may have been determined by

available land behind the church. The earl of Oxford was probably the instigator of this

development. The west side does have a different character. Whereas the Wolverton markets

and fairs spread up and down the street, the Calverton side markets and fairs had their own

sections off the min road. This was replicated in the later developments of Horse Fair and Cow

Fair.

The three maps presented here are speculative, but do draw on some actual evidence.

Records gleaned by Professor Hyde in his articles10 do show a trend in growth from our first

awareness of a settlement. One shows the possible start of the development at some date in the

period 1150 – 1180 on page 11, another at 1220 when the town became recognisable and

illustrates the quite rapid development in those years on page 13, and a third at 1300 when the

churches were established (page 15). It is fair to say that there are a lot of assumptions behind

these maps, although they are informed by the available documentary and archaeological

evidence.

Across the road, a similar development took place on the Calverton side, moving

northwards from what is now Church Street. Most of these plots were 1 acre or half an acre,

although some may have been smaller. One deed describes one piece on the Watling Street as

10 1/2 perches long by 3 perches and 5 feet.

Stony Stratford in the 14th Century

Barbara Tuchman draws parallels with the events of the 20th century and the turbulence

of the 14th century in her famous book A Distant Mirror,. She has a point. Just as 20th century

europe was racked by war and social upheaval so indeed was the 14th and we can see a very great

difference between life at the outset of the reign of Edward II and the abrupt end of Richard

II’s reign in 1399. There had been war certainly and even in 1399 France and England were

still locked in the struggle that would come to be known as the Hundred Years war. But there

are always wars. The really dramatic change in the 14th century was brought about by the great

plague in the middle of the century known as the Black Death, which reduced the population

by a full 40%. The steady growth since the conquest was severely cut back in a matter of

months.

The immediate impact was an extreme labour shortage. The longer term impact was a

shift towards a wage economy. The feudal model relied upon a system of tied service, but after

the plague years this model was no longer sustainable. Villeins who had been perennially tied

to a plot of land on one manor could now, if they wanted to better their circumstances, move

to another manor where the lord was willing to offer better terms of tenure. Or, even better

perhaps, they could demand wage payments for service they had customarily given free to their

lord.

In these years there was a general improvement in prosperity among the lower orders.

Merchants became richer; tradesmen were able to make a good living. The ruling classes were

so alarmed at one point because members of the lower orders were now dressing in fine clothes

that the upper echelon saw as their traditional and exclusive preserve, that they even passed a

law trying to restrict dress. It failed.

Further unrest developed in 1381 with the so called Peasant’s revolt. It was quashed and

achieved nothing, but it was symptomatic of the kind of eruption that can occur when the old

order is under stress.

Wolverton was almost certainly affected by the Black Death. The death of Sir John de

Wolverton in 1349 and Ralph his heir two years later were in all likelihood plague deaths.

Bradwell Priory lost a number of monks during this period and was scarcely able to function.

Nothing else is documented but we can reasonably say that Wolverton was no less affected than

anywhere else.

What we begin to notice in the Wolverton deeds is that the names of prominent citizens

change. The names of those who were prominent in the 13th and 14th centuries are gone and a

newer range of prominent names make their appearance. The Anketyls, Tourams, the de

Hyntes, for example, families which may have been there from the Conquest, now fade from

the histories of Stony Stratford and Wolverton. Possibly some of their descendants survived but

not obviously through the male line. Instead we discover a new cast of characters. Late 14th

century deeds begin to furnish names which we might regard as typically English – King, Stead,

Ward, Sawyer, Brende, Cole, Bruton. Tradesman’s names, invented as it were earlier in the

century, come to some prominence, which means that some of them, within a generation were

starting to rise in prosperity. The name of Hastings still persists in the late 14th century,

indicating that not all were wiped out, but the name declines in importance, suggesting other

factors. The name Edy first makes its appearance in the later part of this century. It is a name

which will take on more importance in the next century.

1 White Kennett, Parochial Antiquities attempted in the history of Ambrosden, Burcester Vol 1, p 24. 1695.

2 F.E. Hyde. Stony Stratford from the Earliest Times to the end of the Seventeenth Century. p.7

3 R H Britnell. The Origins of Stony Stratford. Records of Bucks. Vol XX Part 3, 1977.

4 Britnell. op.cit. p. 452-3. discusses three small plots granted in the time of Hamo, son of Meinfelin, details in the

Luffield Priory Charters and the Records of the Templars.

5 Bodleian. MSS. dd. Radcl. Deed 49. Since the vicar of Holy Trinity was under the appointment of the Prior of

Bradwell at the time, I think I am right in reading this chaplaincy as separate, and new

6 ibid

7 22 Feb to Mar 5th 1215

8 Bodleian. MSS. dd. Radcl. Deed 255

9 Bodleian. MSS. dd. Radcl. Deed 59

10 F.E. Hyde The Development of a Town: Part II.

Looking at names in documents can only provide us with the roughest guide. There are

no genealogies to guide us. In the normal course of events, in a monogamous society, male

names do eventually die out leaving the genes to be passed on through the female, so this is not

unusual. The unique feature of the 14th century was the extreme impact of the bubonic plague

which, as we can see even in Wolverton, did cause great social upheaval.

Take for example William Sawyer, who was conducting land and property transactions in

the 1370s. Sawyer as a surname could not be earlier than the reign of Edward II so clearly the

Sawyers have risen from anonymity to some prosperity within two generations. The

transactions include a croft in Stony Stratford, a tenement in Wolverton and some small land

transfers, none more than 5 acres, but the deeds do indicate that the Sawyers had in some

small way “arrived”. We learn too that William and his wife Margaret had a plentiful supply of

sons – John, Richard and Stephen. This is probably as good an illustration as any of how

dynamic any society can be at any period in history. Too often we are tempted to imagine the

past as a neat model where everyone dutifully conformed to their allotted role.

Stony Stratford came of age in the 14th century. Poor harvests and famine in the first

decades, plague and war with France in the middle of the century and disruption to the social

order in the last quarter may, perversely, have enhanced the importance of Stony Stratford. The

town, with its ability to create specialised trades and new wealth may have been the bulwark

that Wolverton needed during a period when the old agricultural economy was suffering.