Tuesday, 3 May 2022

A promise of summer on
a walk to Old Stratford

Old Stratford is just north of Stony Stratford … houses lining London Road or Watling Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

It was a bank holiday weekend, marking May Day. But the promise of summer sunshine also seemed to mark the impending transition from Spring to Summer.

In the afternoon sunshine early one afternoon this weekend, two of us walked from Stony Stratford out along the route of the old Watling Street, crossed the Great River Ouse from Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire, and strolled into the neighbouring village of Old Stratford.

Old Stratford is a much older place than Stony Stratford. The village lies immediately north of where the Watling Street crossed the River Great Ouse; just south of this crossing point is the town of Stony Stratford in Milton Keynes.

The old Roman road of Watling Street runs through the middle of the village, and the ‘Stratford’ part of the village name is Anglo-Saxon in origin, meaning the ‘ford on the Roman road.’ In later years, the ford was replaced by a causeway and stone bridge.

Old Stratford survived independently of Stony Stratford to the south, and many fine houses dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, and one or two former coaching inns, line the east side of London Road, which is part of the old Watling Street.

Kingston House, one of the many fine period houses on the east side of London Road in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The ‘Stony Stratford Hoard,’ now in the British Museum, was probably found in 1789, near Passenham in the parish of Old Stratford, across the River Ouse from Stony Stratford. It is not known where it originally came from or how it got there. Even the location where it was found is now the subject of speculation as the only recorded information is ‘Windmill Field.’

The Buckingham arm of the Grand Union Canal once passed through the village, but it has been disused since 1964. The name of Wharf Lane is a reminder of the importance of the canal in the life of Old Stratford, and there are signs of the path of the old canal in many places in the village.

Today, the combined population of Old Stratford and neighbouring Passenham is about 2,000, and they form the civil parish of Stony Stratford with its own parish council, all within the area of West Northamptonshire Council. It has a primary school, a public house, some shops. But there are few local facilities and people in Old Stratford rely on neighbouring Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes for a broader range of shops and other professional needs.

We caught a glimpse of life in past times as we strolled along Wharf Lane, before walking back into Stony Stratford, and enjoying the first glasses of Pimms of the year in the Cock on Stony Stratford’s High Street.

Wharf Lane offers a glimpse of life in past times in Old Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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