REVEALED IN PICTURES: Remembering Milton Keynes ‘the Village City’ before it was built

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Most towns come to being over the course of centuries but not Milton Keynes, which is now 51 years old.


Perhaps the best known of the 20th Century “new towns”, MK has its detractors but is also much loved by its residents.

The town was born with an Act of Parliament in 1967 which approved the building of a new community of 250,000 people covering 8,850 hectares (21,869 acres) of Buckinghamshire farmland and villages.

Built to ease the housing shortages in overcrowded London, its founding principles were for an “attractive” town that enshrined “opportunity and freedom of choice”.

Back in 1973 the British Film Institute produced a piece titled Milton Keynes - A Village City which featured footage of the area before it was built up to become what we see before us today.

Just because MK is only 51 years old, though, does not mean it doesn’t have a rich history. There is evidence of human settlement dating back to the 2nd millennium BC.

The evidence of earlier human settlement on the site of today’s Milton Keynes were found before the construction works started in the 1960s. Most of the archaeological finds are housed in the Milton Keynes Museum (previously known as Stacey Hill Museum), while a few such as the Milton Keynes Hoard (two gold toros, three bracelets and a fragment of bronze wire dating to about 1,500-800 BC) can be seen in the British Museum in London.

When the UK Government decided to build Milton Keynes in the 1960s, the area was mostly farmland and undeveloped villages but the archaeological finds revealed that earlier history of the area is incredibly rich. In addition to the mentioned Milton Keynes Hoard which is the largest hoard of Bronze Age jewellery excavated in Britain to date, the archaeologists also discovered that the area was everything but undeveloped during the Roman period. The most notable find from the Roman period is a gold coin from the mid-2nd century BC which is perhaps the oldest gold coin in Britain discovered so far.

Following the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the early 5th century AD, the site seem to have been abandoned but the finds from the Anglo-Saxon period reveal that it was not abandoned for long. Despite that there is no firm evidence of occupation of today’s villages until the 10th century. 18 villages sprung up during the Middle Ages most of which still exist and form the heart of their districts. With the arrival of the Grand Junction Canal and the London and Birmingham Railway to the Area in the late 18th and mid-19th century, respectively, the area went through profound changes and saw the new town of Wolverton and new village of New Bradwell.

The greatest change in the history of the area, however, came in 1960s when it was chosen as the site of a new town intended to relieve housing problems in London. It was planned to be the biggest of all new towns yet, while the designated area of 89 square kilometres should become a home to 250,000 people. And the 2009 census reveals that the plan has succeeded as the area is today home to about 241,000 people. Since 1997, Milton Keynes is a unitary authority independent from the Buckinghamshire County Council.

Initially, no building was allowed to be taller than the tallest tree, however, this was later changed by the Milton Keynes Partnership which decided that the town needs “landmark buildings” and elevated the allowed height. Despite that the tallest building in Milton Keynes is only 14 floors high. In 2004, an expansion plan for Milton Keynes was announced which foresees doubling of the population by year 2026.

Milton Keynes may be a new town but the designated area was not unpopulated until the 1960s. It included three smaller towns and a number of villages and hamlets which today form the core of the new town. Milton Keynes itself was named after the existing village of Milton Keynes which, just like the majority of other original settlements, is today a district of Milton Keynes.

Original settlements in Milton Keynes:

Bletchley. The constituent town in south-west Milton Keynes entered history in the 12th century but it grew to prominence only after the arrival of the London and North Western Railway in the mid-19th century. Bletchley is best known for the Bletchley Park, the current National Museum of Computing which was the home to the Government Code and Cypher School during World War II. It was the Bletchley Park where the British intelligence enciphered the famous Enigma code.

Stony Stratford. Another constituent town in north-west Milton Keynes has a history dating back to the Roman period. In 1194, it was chartered as a market by King Richard I and as a town only two decades later when it was grated letter patent by King John. The town was an important stopping point for travellers on the road to Ireland from the 15th century until the arrival of the railways from London to Birmingham when its importance as a stopping point began to decline. But it again rose to prominence for travellers, most notably motorists after the arrival of the A5 road.

Wolverton. History of the modern Wolverton starts in the 19th century but north and west from modern town was a medieval village which was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The original village, however, disappeared. All that is left from the medieval village are field patters. The area of the original settlement is called Old Wolverton.

New Bradwell. Just like Milton Keynes, New Bradwell is a modern settlement which entered history only 150 years ago when workers in the Wolverton Works started to build dwellings here. It was originally called Stantonbury, while the change of the name it thought to occur in the early 1920s.

Willen. This ancient village is today a district of Milton Keynes. Willen which was first recorded in the 12th century is today best known for the balancing lake on the River Ouzel which is a favourite spot of many rare bird species. At the lake is also found a 17th century parish church designed by Robert Hook, a Buddhist temple and the so-called Peace Pagoda which is the first of its kind in the western hemisphere.

Walton. The historic hamlet that is located along the Walnut Tree district and Walton Road was first recorded in the 12th century. Walton Hall - the ancient parish is home to The Open University, a distance learning and research university which is with 250,000 students enrolled one of the largest universities in the world.

With thanks to MK Inspire and the British Film Institute.


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