28 January 2023

The real Milton Keynes,
the economist, the poet and
the mediaeval village at
the heart of Milton Keynes

The Swan Inn in Milton Keynes Village … almost as old as the village that gives its name to Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Until I moved to this area almost last year, I accepted the popular assumption that Milton Keynes was given its name to honour the poet John Milton and the economist John Maynard Keynes.

I was soon dissuaded of this popular belief, and quickly learned that the name of the new city comes from one of the historic villages that already existed in this part of north Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes Village.

Charlotte and I celebrated my birthday earlier this week in Milton Keynes Village, where we had lunch at the Swan Inn, a thatched country pub and restaurant that claims to date back to the 13th century.

This could be chocolate-box-cover England or picture-postcard England. The village has many pretty houses and cottages that are half-timbered with thatched roofs. Certainly, the Swan Inn was known in the village of Milton Keynes since 1550, and the present building dates largely from the 16th and 17th centuries. The dates point to the antiquity of Milton Keynes, and provide clues to its centuries-long history.

Milton Keynes Village is at the heart of Middleton, a district of Milton Keynes, and part of the historic civil parish of Milton Keynes, which predates the foundation of the new city in 1967. The village was originally known as Middeltone in the 11th century, and was later known as Middelton Kaynes or Caynes in the 13th century, Milton Keynes in the 15th century, and Milton alias Middelton Gaynes in the 17th century.

Many of the houses and cottages in Milton Keynes Village are half-timbered with thatched roofs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Before the Conquest, Queen Edith held this manor, which in 1086 was held of the king by Godric Cratel. The de Cahaines family held the manor from 1166 to the late 13th century, as well as other manors that they gave their name to, including Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire, Somerford Keynes, Gloucestershire, and Horsted Keynes, West Sussex.

The Keynes suffix was added in the 12th century when members of the de Cahaignes or Keynes family were the lords of the manor. The village became known as Middleton Keynes, eventually shortening to Milton Keynes, although ‘Mydilton Keynes’ and ‘Milton Keynes’ appear on the same record in 1452.

This name Middleton means the middle of three settlements or farmsteads; the two other settlements were Bro(c)tone (Broughton) and Waltone (Walton).

The Middleton part of the name was gradually shortened to Milton, although some documents used the form Middleton until the 19th century.

There is no record of Milton for almost a century after Domesday, but it appears to have been held by the Bereville family, whose line ended in a daughter and heir Mabel, who married Hugh de Kaynes (Chahaines, Caaignes, Kahaignes) ca 1166. He owned land in other parts of Buckinghamshire and in neighbouring Bedfordshire and Berkshire.

Hugh de Kaynes died at the beginning of the 13th century, and Mabel de Bereville died ca 1221. Their son Luke de Kaynes was the lord of Milton in 1234. When he died ca 1259, he was succeeded by his son John de Kaynes, who died ca 1283.

Abbot’s Cottage … the Abbey of St Albans acquired land in Milton in the early 14th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Abbey of St Albans acquired land in Milton in the early 14th century, and the abbey continued to acquire property in the area until the Reformation.

Milton Manor passed to Philip Aylesbury who married Margaret de Kaynes, and who was holding the manor in 1302 and 1316. The Staffords obtained the whole of Milton and Broughton in the early 15th century when Humphrey Stafford married Eleanor Aylesbury. He was slain in Jack Cade’s Rebellion in 1450, and was succeeded by his son Humphrey. A later Humphrey Stafford was executed as a traitor 1486. Milton Keynes was then granted to Sir Edward Poyning, who gave his name to ‘Poyning’s Law’ in Ireland.

When Poyning died in 1521, Milton Keynes was restored to Humphrey Stafford, and Milton Keynes remained in the hands of the Stafford family for almost a century.

William Stafford inherited the estate in 1643, but by then the estate had been mortgaged by his father to Sir Lewis Watson, afterwards Lord Rockingham of Rockingham, and Henry Stafford sold the manor in 1677 to Daniel Finch, who later succeeded as 2nd Earl of Nottingham, and then as 7th Earl of Winchilsea.

When George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea, died unmarried in 1826, the manor passed to his illegitimate son George Finch of Burley-on-the-Hill, near Oakham in Rutland. The Finches lived in a Palladian house in Rutland and never lived permanently in the village of Milton Keynes, although they held on to the estate until just before World War II. Their control of the village made it a ‘closed’ community that changed little for many centuries. The only other land holder in the village was the church, and the rectors were appointed by the lords of the manor.

When Wilfred Finch died, the estate was sold in 1939. It was bought by William Mitchell, who sold it to the Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol at the end of World War II. The society held several estate villages in the area, and for a time its estate office was at Sunnyside, a house on Willen Road.

The Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol sold Milton Keynes village and estate when the new city was being planned in the 1960s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

When the new city of Milton Keynes was planned in the 1960s,the society was sold the estate to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. Those searching for a name lighted on the ancient village of Milton Keynes, which was within the designated area and appeared to have attractive associations with the poet John Milton and the economist John Maynard Keynes.

John ‘Jock’ Middleton Campbell, Lord Campbell of Eskan, was the first chairman of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. He would recall the decision on a name for the town had been given to Dick Crossman, a minister in Harold Wilson’s cabinet.

Crossman’s wife Ann had worked at Bletchley Park during World War II. He was looking at a map of the area where the town was going to be built and spotted the village’s name, before remarking: ‘Milton the poet, Keynes the economic one. “Planning with economic sense and idealism, a very good name for it”.’

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation re-used the name Middleton for the ‘grid square’ in which the village sits. The original core village of the district, along Walton Road and Broughton Road, has retained its Milton Keynes road signs and has several rural village houses and the thatched Swan Inn. It is now known as Milton Keynes Village.

After lunch, we strolled around the village, visiting All Saints’ Church, the old rectory built at the turn of the 17th and 18th century, and the village school, built in 1859.

As dusk enfolded Milton Keynes, we returned to the Swan Inn. The inn lost its thatch in a fire in 1970, but was fully restored. Sadly, fire visited the Swan again on the afternoon of 7 December 2011, but not all the building was affected, and the Swan reopened partly on 23 December and reopened fully on 23 November 2012. The staff called us a taxi, and we were back in Stony Stratford late in the evening.

The story of All Saints’ Church is for telling another day.

Dick Crossman, a minister in Harold Wilson’s cabinet, is said to have elected the name of Milton Keynes Village for the new city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 28 January 2023

Tamworth Castle and the Moat House, the former Comberford home on Lichfield Street, decorate the welcome sign at Tamworth Railway Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation on Thursday next (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

I interrupted that pattern to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which came to an end on Wednesday.

I have an appointment in Milton Keynes University Hospital later this morning. But, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection.

Inside Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I was back in Tamworth earlier this week, visiting some places associated with the Comberford family. So, my choice of poem this morning is Mal Dewhirst’s ‘We are Tamworth,’ a poem commissioned for ‘This is Tamworth’ at Birmingham Symphony Hall on 3 July 2014.

Mal Dewhirst, who died in 2021, became Staffordshire’s first poet laureate in 2012. He lived in Tamworth and Tamworth inspired a number of his poems.

He was a writer and film maker, and his plays have been performed across the Midlands, including ‘The Fell Walker’ in Tamworth and ‘At the Crossroads’ at the Garrick in Lichfield, which was commissioned by the Lichfield Mysteries.

Mal was a poet-in-residence in a town market and an archaeological dig, his work has been published in many magazines and journals, and he appeared on BBC Radio and Radio Wildfire. He was also responsible for the Polesworth Poets Trail.

Mal was a regular reader on the Midlands poetry scene and was part of the Coventry Cork Literature exchange in 2011, performing readings in Cork City and Limerick. As a film director, his film Double Booked was shown at the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival in Ireland in 2014.

He hoped to bring ground-breaking writing to new audiences, always seeking to redefine boundaries, and wanted to develop and improvise new work as collaborations with other artists and performers in unexpected places as a melding of ideas, skills and talents.

Sir Robert Peel’s statue outside the Town Hall in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

We are Tamworth, by Mal Dewhirst:

We are Tamworth
We are Tamworth
We are Tamworth
From the Lamb
from Stonydelph, Wincote, Belgrave, Amington, Two Gates, Lakeside, Riverside, Coton Green, Gillway, Perrycrofts. The Leys, Leyfields, Glascote and its Heath, Bolehall, Dosthill, Kettlebrook, Bitterscote, Castle and town and all our blessed lands.
We are Tamworth.

Where Tame meets Anker,
bringing Birmingham and Black Country tales
to mix with the Anker's Warwickshire words,
all the ripple and flow from here, to the Trent, to the Humber, to the Sea.

Rivers spilling full lap through meadowlands:
where Offa palaced in the castled grounds
of Sandybacks and Plastic Pigs,

Aetheflaeda proclaimed
build me a bridge, a Lady Bridge,
then guard it so that only I might cross.
Build me a mound, a castled mound,
where I might live and watch for dust.

This is Tamworth.
Where Saxon and Viking built their border,
we gave camp to the knights of Bosworth field,
where Roundhead met Cavalier on the Tame bridges
and we gave tea to soldiers as they passed on to the Somme,
always trying to bring some comfort to conflict.

This is Tamworth
where Enigma Heroes learned to swim,
ski’s ride summers of man-made frosts,
Rawlett, preached his legacy of learning,
where Guy built a town hall and gave Alms
then took them away when he didn’t get the vote
and Policeman Peel built his weaving mills,
warp and weft, webbing and tape,
building his new manifesto.

This is Tamworth where the Beatles and the Stones played,
in their constant touring, egg and chip days.
Tamworth, where the original Teardrop Exploded,
and Wolfsbane gave us a massive noise injection,
where every year we see the Assembly Rooms
host the next Battle of the Bands,
which is not when young testosterone filled teenagers
thrash guitars and grunt about being misunderstood.
It is when, just maybe, our Beatles and Rolling Stones might be heard.

Ventura Park and Ankerside, the retail lands
of designer brands and coffee shops,
supermarkets, house and homes,
enclosed by roads that circle and twist and never want to let you leave.

Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays,
for the purveyors of:
fleeces and fruit, cakes and clothes, trainers and towels,
books and batteries, rugs and rollers,
cheese and chutney, shoes and socks, games and gifts.

Town has several co-ops, flower shops, a row of: banks and building societies,
travel agents and estate agents, solicitors and accountants,
they all group together, power in numbers,
creating quarters, where they know each others secrets.
All watched over by the Philosophers of Upstairs, Downstairs, Sidewalk Cafe.

This is Tamworth
Our housing estates that are built on themes; of counties, of plants,
cars, poets, space travel and stately homes – and we don’t waste
people’s time in naming our roads, don’t see the point of adding road or
street or close – makes it so much easier to write an envelope.
And have you noticed that many of our famous people were named after the streets.

Famous people: Marmion, Ferrers, Robert Peel. Thomas Guy, John Rawlett, William McGregor, Colin Grazier, Tom Williams back to Ethelflaeda and Offa, and onward to Julian Cope, Blayze Bailey, Phil Bates, Mark Albrighton. Miss Pym and her suffragettes –
All worthies who have a staked a claim in Tamworth.

Along with the miners of Glascote and Amington, the car workers of Reliant, the spinners and weavers, the potters and warehouse crews. The choirs and bands all hammering the sound of Tamworth.

This is created in Tamworth, along with the crafts and cakes, the paintings and
sculpted forms that bring all the welcomes into the light of valued art.

This is Tamworth
Where the Herald reports our community woes and triumphs
then reminds of how the town used to look.
Tamworth, home where the Tamworth Two were trying to return,
and the Lambs raise goals to the songs of the shed choir.
Tamworth where the town hall is like an orange, it has Peel on the outside,
where the Olympic torch chose to catch its breath,
and jousters, fireworks, skateboarders,
families all strut their thought in the castle grounds.

Tamworth with our French and German twins
Sharing culture and song
Poetry and peace
Bringing markets to share cheese and meat and finest wine.

Tamworth where we race for life.
bring help to heroes
and support those in need.

This Tamworth where our dialect is spoken with a distinction, alright me duck.
These are our words that tell of a proud heritage built on toil
and a strength that sees one Tamworth, perfectly placed
to create our piece of theatre in the world
and remember who we are and where we are from
we can shed a tear and raise a smile
as we share our town with all those who choose to come.

Because we are Tamworth
Super Tamworth
We are Tamworth
from our land.

© Mal Dewhirst 2014

Aetheflaeda ‘enclosed by roads that circle and twist and never want to let you leave’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Myanmar Education Programme.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a reflection from a report from the Church of the Province of Myanmar.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us give thanks for the Myanmar Education Programme. May its work amongst the rural communities of its dioceses resource and empower them.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The former Peel School at 17 Lichfield Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)