Barrington John Weatherley
Living in North Crawley
My name is Barrington John Weatherley and , although not a native of this small but historically interesting Village in Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes, I have lived here for 27 years . North Crawley, in conjunction with Little Crawley, is located adjacent the Bedfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border and about three miles East of the Town of Newport Pagnell. The present population is approximately 950 persons and consists of a main High Street with three spur Roads leading off, namely, Folly Lane, Chichely Road ( leading to Orchard Way ) and Pound Lane . The High Street is listed as a “Conservation Area” and its architecture is interesting, depicting various examples of properties throughout the years.
Modern North Crawley has a good community spirit encompassing a Norman Church (St Firmin’s), a Village Institute for meetings, a Community Hall two Public Houses ( ‘The Cock’ and ‘The Chequers) and a large Recreational Ground supporting a ‘MUGA’, Cricket and Bowls Clubs. Until recently there existed a general shop which ,regrettably, closed in an unwelcoming, economic climate. As an indication of its spirit, events were held and well supported on four separate days during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Interestingly, the two Public Houses were the subject of mention in a song (‘Hasten the day’’ ) written by one of its life long residents, Jim Lancaster, when he was serving in Burma during World War two and wondering if he would ever see his beloved, Village again!
By the mid nineteen seventies the Village probably required the benefit of a little regeneration : generations rotate, young people leave, School numbers decline and face closure . To this end a pleasant, Georgian development of some seventy properties was established behind the High Street : this succeeded in a longer term, social injection which ultimately saw the School numbers increase and other attendant advantages given to a declining population.
Geographically, the Village lies on the head of a small valley formed by Chicheley Brook at an elevation of some 300 feet ( 92 metres ) above sea level In the rural distance it enjoys Westerly views of Newport Pagnell and Milton Keynes. The name of ‘Crawley’ is an Old English Language word meaning “clearing frequented by Crows”: in the “Domesday Book” of 1086 the Village was referred to as “Craulai” . In Manorial records in 1197 the area was split into Great Crawley and Little Crawley: the prefix of ‘North’ was added sometime before 1398 – probably to distinguish from the Town of Crawley in West Sussex. The Hamlet of Little Crawley still exists under that name. Ancient North Crawley was the location of a Monastry dedicated to Saint Firmin . The Monastry was recorded in th “Domesday Book” but had fallen into such decay by the “Dissolution of the Monastries” that little notice was taken of its existence : it fell into a ruinous state shortly afterwards.
North Crawley is one of those Parishes where a somewhat complicated system of Land ownership over the years has ensured that the pattern of small, hedged fields ,close to the Village centre, has survived almost in tact since 1773 . The further from the Village the larger become the fields: these are remnants of the “open field system”: as a consequence, there is a pleasant mix of pastoral and arable lands. Some of the field names are modern forms of names relating to previous Owners, especially the Scandinavians: they originally cleared the Forest along with the French, and then the latter took possession following the “Norman conquest”. One example is that of a field, named “Alwoldshey” , meaning “Aethewald’s Enclosure”. When I personally conveyed my own property , as a ‘newbuild’ house, it required a good title of a minimum of fifteen years, From searching the land it became apparent that the surrounding lands were in the ownership of two persons only : this probably indicates that the lands had been inherited by families and a form of Landlord’s ‘ feudal system’ had existed. One such ‘Squire of the Village’ was much loved by them and became both a benefactor, in terms of physical buildings bequeathed and of monetary care of the poorest residents.
The ‘Squires’ former grand , Grade 11 listed home and extensive gardens, ‘Crawley Grange’, lie at the end of a long, private roadway situated at the edge of the Village. In the early seventies the main house and some outbuildings were converted into flats with large, habitable rooms: some of the residents are ‘week.enders’ but the property is still well maintained and its gardens immaculately kept. For several years an annual Village Ball was held within the manicured gardens: a notable event, now sadly gone ( definitive description below).
It is always interesting to hear of the many and varied tales ,apocryphal or not, of bygone days : of extraordinary characters and old, existing properties which were formerly the ‘Village Post Office’ or the ‘Old Slaughterhouse’: old photographs ! One such short, tale relates to a Villager who loved his ale and made the nightly, three mile trip into a Newport Pagnell ‘Hostelry’ by his Pony and Trap’. Suitably stupefied by the end of a good evening’s brotherhood, his friends duly deposited him in the back of his trap and his faithful, beloved Pony trotted him, safely, the three miles back to his North Crawley home.
Present times have seen the opening up of footways providing the opportunity to enjoy the health of walking through the scenic countryside to other areas. As a resident of modern times the Village could be seen, through my eyes, as an active, caring, sharing community whose stabilised centre pieces still remain the Church .School and Public Houses.
NOTABLE VILLAGE LANDMARKS , GEOGRAPHY and PARISH COUNCIL St.Firmin’s Anglican Church:
In the ‘Domesday Book’, compiled in 1086, there are references to only three Churches in Buckinghamshire prior to the ‘Norman Conquest ‘ : these were St. Rumbold in Buckingham, St. Osyth, Aylesbury and St. Firmin , North Crawley. All are associated with local Saints. St. Firmin’s owes its foundation to a small group of religious houses at neighbouring Hardmead Village which had been built by Monks from France and dedicated to St.Firmin , the first Bishop of Amiens : this dedication was carried on by North Crawley Church : There are only two Churches in Britain dedicated to this little known Saint, martyred in AD 287: unfortunately, little information is available as to the reason(s) for this martydom.
External and Internal Architecture and layout :
The Norman Church is sited on the South side of the Village . The walls are covered with a mortar, except for the Tower, which is of stonework: all the walls have embattled parapets whilst all roofing is lead covered . Internally, the 12th Century Nave was probably of three bays: the South Aisle was added in 1210 , whilst later, the Nave and Aisle were lengthened two bays Westwards and the three lower stages of the Tower were built. The Chancel was rebuilt in 1295 and, early in the 14th Century, a Northern aisle, with an arcade of four bays, was added to the Tower . Towards the End of the 15th Century, the “Clerestorey “ was built, the South Aisle widened and the North Aisle and Chancel Arch were rebuilt.
Early in the 19th. Century a North Porch was added .the whole building covered ,externally, with mortar and internally plastered and whitewashed : this Porch was again rebuilt in 1912. During the last 25 years plaster has been removed from the roof of the Nave, Chancel and the South Aisle to reveal a splendid example of 15th Century woodwork.
There are many other features of historical interest too numerous to list but a summary is below:
• The figures in the Nave below the tie beam seem to represent the Apostles.
• The large, Chancel has an incised inscription under the sill of the East window outside of the Church : this is in ‘Lombardic’ characters and contains the name of the Rector in 1294.
• The East window is late 13th. Century : a memorial to the Selby-Lowndes family: the East and West fenestration also belong to that Century.
• There exists a Priest’s doorway (South side ) used by medieval Rectors’ to access the Chancel.
• The 17th. Century, Oak Alter with twisted balusters: a 1665 Chalice : the Registers are completed from 1558 whilst the Rood Screen is late 15th Century. The lower part of the screen which survives is an interesting study.
• In the Nave there remain some early 16th. Century seating, with linen panelling , whilst the Font dates from the 14th Century.
• There are six bells dating back to 1638 and 1652. The tenor bell was re.cast following he Second World War.
Interestingly, the Villagers of Little Crawley resisted attempts in the early 16th. Century to become part of the neighbouring Parish of Chicheley : they wished to demonstrate their allegiance to St,Firmin – after all, they argued, they had paid their tithes, largely repaired the Church walling , registered their burials there and had rights to Church seats. There still exists a warded footpath to carry the coffins from Little Crawley to St.Firmin’s Church.
When I wander into the Church and open the visitors book it shows visitors from all parts of the world : this is always encouraging.
The Village School :
The ‘ North Crawley First School ‘ was built 167 years ago. Education in the 19th. Century was mainly for the privileged few and, by progression , developed. For example, in 1801, the Anglican and Non. Conformist Churches set up the British and Foreign Schools Society. In 1811 the Anglican Church formed the “Anglican National Society”. These British Schools ( Non.Conformist ) and National Schools (Anglican) provided the mainstream of education in the earliest part of that Century.
Ultimately, the first, State grant for education was awarded in 1833 : this was followed in 1870 by the Elementary Education Act being passed by Parliament and, as result , the creation of State Schools’ for all children.
However, preceding the 1870 Act, in May 1844, a Deed was drawn up for a National School in North Crawley. The donor of the land the School was to be built upon was the Rector , the Rev. Thomas Lowndes, with the blessing and consent of the Bishop of Lincoln. The enrolment as a School took place on the 28th. May, 1844 at the High Court of Chancery, London. As a result, the National School of North Crawley was built jointly by the Rev. Thomas Lowndes and Thomas Alexander Boswell,, (owner of ‘Crawley Grange’) ,and received a subsidence of a Parliamentary Grant.
During the nineteen eighties School numbers became alarmingly reduced but, due no doubt to the additional house building which had taken place, the numbers increased to a very healthy level. Today, the School thrives and places are sought for children outside of the Village boundaries. The School has a small collection of Archives which inform of Class sizes, educational lessons taught and even punishment books. Interesting!
Crawley Grange ;The area of Crawley Grange, at the Southern end of the Village, was originally the site of Franklin’s Farm, Dault Manor, Braybrook and the Mathias Manor . The Grange buildings date from the early 16th. Century. The ground plan of the two storied house ( plus attics ) is H-Shaped, with brick built walls , dressings of ‘Ketton Stone’, and tiled roofs.
The buildings have been extensively restored but still contain some old features, including the principal stairway in the Hall : this has square newel posts with moulded and pierced heads , a plain handrail and turned balusters. Three of the windows , virtually all foreign made, contain 16th./ 17th. Century glass whilst the Dining room is lined with early, 17t Century panelling. purchased from elsewhere . One of the carved panels, beside the fireplace , is dated 1686.
In approximately 1527, the Rector of the Parish ( Sir Edward Jones) let his Parsonage, along with tithes and profits, to Mr. William Johnson . A dispute arose over these tithes and the Dean of Cardinal College, Oxford, commented that the Parsons of North Crawley had been possessed of the tithes “time out of mind “ : Johnson had to appear before the Lord Cardinal at Hampton Court. Wolsey, without hesitation, committed him to Fleet Prison for 12 weeks because he refused to part with the tithes. It is recorded that, during this period, the Cardinal may have stayed at Crawley Grange. Eventually, amongst the ‘Articles of impeachment’ against Wolsey was his treatment of William Johnson.
When Henry V111 confiscated Church property the ‘Grange Estates’ passed to the Hackett family, then to Selby Lowndes and thence to Thomas Boswell of Auchinleck. Through the female lineage it continued through to Cumberledge Ware who then sold it in 1894. It was repurchased for the Boswell family by Dr. John Irvine Boswell J.P. He undertook various restorations compatible with earlier works. On the modern Porch is the Boswell ‘Coat of Arms’ with the Latin inscription, “the Lord bless thy going out and thy coming in “. Henry V111’s daughter, Queen Elizabetth 1, visited someone at ‘The Grange’ in 1575 : this led to her ‘Coat of Arms’ being displayed inside the building .In 1848, Lady Chatterton also visited and related, in one of her subsequent books, of legends and ghost stories associated with the house.
A previously mentioned the house, together with a small area of surrounding land, was sold in the early 1970’s and was subdivided into s small number of private residences.
A small but interesting Village : when passing, near or through it, why not stop and view its tranquillity!