The Way We Were: Buttons and Browne Willis

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I NEED a woman. Not permanently of course because they can sometimes be quite annoying.

But more for the essential skills which they bring to this planet; primarily sewing buttons on shirts.

Aylesbury Street, Fenny Stratford

Aylesbury Street, Fenny Stratford

And on which subject there was once a button making factory in Fenny Stratford, where among the 200 families in 1685 was that of the Hinchleys.

Within premises that during the 19th century would be converted into three cottages – nos 22-26 Aylesbury Street – they began the production of buttons turned on a simple pole lathe, and as business flourished apprentices from as far away as Buckingham were taken on.

Apart from button making, Joseph Hinchley was involved in raising finance for the building of a church in Fenny Stratford, and this was also the passion of the lord of the manor, Browne Willis.

Eventually Joseph sold his property for £66 to Samuel and Thomas Linnell, the father and son bakers of Stony Stratford, and they added new chimneys to the premises, constructed new walls at the back, and built an oven to bake their bread.

However, in more recent years the premises – now demolished – became the shop of the award winning ice cream maker Mr Golding.

As for Browne Willis and the church, by the beginning of 1727 sufficient monies had been raised to allow the construction of the walls, and the year also witnessed the building of the leaded roof. Browne Willis was also lord of the Bletchley manor, and therefore had the right to appoint the rector of St Mary’s Church.

Not that his judgement centred much upon ecclesiastical prowess for, being always attired in a wig, and suffering no one else to do the same, he selected his former tutor at Oxford, Edward Wells, simply because ‘Your wearing your own hair is a circumstance so very agreeable to me, that it has determined me to offer you the living ---.’

However, when Edward suddenly took to wearing a wig the pair very soon fell out, and matters deteriorated further when, on a visit to Edward at his other rectory of Cotesbach, in Leicestershire, Browne Willis was served a dinner of bacon and beans.

This he deemed an unworthy offering, and so the morning after Edward’s arrival at Bletchley he sent a messenger to deliver a present of beans to the rectory, a ritual repeated every day thereafter.

Then having been invited to dine with Browne Willis, on making his way home from Whaddon Hall Edward found that on the orders of his host all the fence stiles had been smeared with fresh cow dung.

Thus it was of little surprise that Edward spent most of his time at Cotesbach, where he would end his days.

Regarding Browne Willis, in later life he became slovenly and none too particular about his attire, and even wore an old blue coat that he had purchased in 1705.

Another none too particular about their appearance was ‘the Duke of Whaddon,’ not the more locally well known second Duke of Buckingham, by whose spendthrift ways the estates had to be sold, but Jonathan Mackerness.

He was known throughout the county as ‘The Duke,’ and with his chief companion being a cat lived for many years at Whaddon in a wooden hut of his own making.

He was visited out of curiosity by many strangers, and when asked when he would have his hair cut, which he had allowed to grow to an enormous length, he replied, “I always have it cut at Whitsuntide, whether it wants it or not.”

Being disappointed in love during his early life was thought to have been the reason for his eccentricity.

But back to the modern day. And in consequence of the initial rant on buttons, and with memories still vivid of the wrath that can be incurred in female readers, this piece has of course been penned from a place of suitable refuge.

In fact garbed as a Mongolian yak herder from the remoteness of a hermitage perched high in upper Nepal.

And who knows, here I might even find a nice lady Yeti with needlework skills. Apparently they’re big hairy creatures with bulging muscles and a stunted vocabulary.

But hang on, didn’t I meet some near relations in Milton Keynes. ONLY JOKING!