What you might not know about Milton Keynes…

A taster for Marion Hill's new publication

A medieval hospice recorded close to one of Milton Keynes’ most respected modern charities, Willen Hospice; huge disused brick-works transformed – one into a beautiful nature reserve, another becoming the UK’s biggest outdoor arena; the world’s largest steam tram and the UK’s most comprehensive cycle network; more wildlife species recorded since the new city’s creation than when the area was predominantly agricultural; the nation’s oldest working iron bridge and its newest aqueduct; river flood plains that once plagued the countryside now tamed by balancing lakes used for water sports…

All these hint at just some of the astonishing transformations that have evolved in the new city of Milton Keynes, but particularly over the last 45 years. Construction workers, who unearthed fossilised bones while digging the city’s Caldecotte Lake in 1972, little knew that they belonged to Milton Keynes’ first known resident – an ichthyosaurus (fish lizard) that swam and hunted 150 million years ago in an earlier lake. Or that the sites of new homes they built at Pennyland, Loughton and Fenny Stratford were first inhabited by stone-age people who left their flint weapons there 10,000 years ago. But the new city’s heritage is evidenced in more than archaeological digs…

The Romans’ famous Watling Street, still passing through Fenny and Stony Stratford, served no less than eight large Roman villa estates in the city area 1,600 years ago – and hosted the busy stagecoach service between London and the North over a thousand years later. It is no coincidence that the nation’s major transport arteries – the canal, the railway, the motorway – all traverse the area now known as Milton Keynes: it is not only halfway between the country’s two major cities – London and Birmingham; it is also midpoint between the country’s principal seats of academia – Oxford and Cambridge – which proved to be such a critical factor in the secret cerebral war effort based at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes.

And there’s more: a modest manor house becoming the base for the world’s first distance-learning university, the Open University; a successful boat-building company whose early apprentice went on to design the Titanic; a vast railway works, internationally renowned as a leader in industrial development, becoming the first in the UK to have its Power House completely lit and powered electrically… These are no fanciful ‘cock and bull’ stories as told in the two famous eponymous pubs in Stony Stratford. When Milton Keynes becomes the nation’s 10th largest urban area in 2031 with around 350,000 people (it is already ¼ million), our future generations of MK citizens will have inherited a most precious microcosm of English history.

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