Long before England existed, the area surrounding Milton Keynes was at the bottom of a primeval sea. An archaeological survey carried out before the new town was built uncovered a 150,000,000 year old fossil of an ichthyosaur and the tusks of woolly mammoth.
Human settlement began in the area around 2000 BCE, mainly in the valleys of the rivers Ouse and Ouzel and their tributaries Bradwell Brook and Shenley Brook. Archaeological excavations have revealed several burial sites dating from 2000 BCE to 1500 BCE. Evidence for the earliest habitation was found at Blue Bridge a centre for the production of flint tools from the Middle Stone Age.
In the same area, an unusually large round house of 18-metre or 59-foot diameter was excavated and dated to the Late Bronze Age – Early Iron Age, about 700 BCE. Other excavations in this Blue Bridge and Bancroft hill-side uncovered a further seven substantial settlement sites, dating from then until 100 BCE.
The Catuvellauni controlled this area, from their hill fort at Danesborough, near Woburn Sands, before the Roman conquest of Britain of 43 CE
The area appears to have been relatively rich. What has come to be known as the Milton Keynes Hoard was discovered in September 2000 at Monkston, a Milton Keynes village. The hoard is Britain’s largest collection of bronze age gold jewellery, 2.2 kilograms or 4.9 pounds by weight and consisting of two Bronze Age gold torcs and three gold bracelets in a datable clay pot.
Milton Keynes Hoard
The remains of Danesborough hill fort can be found in the woods to the west of Aspley Heath. Not much can be seen on the ground today, as there are only vague ditches and mounds visible. But once it was a well-defended point in the hills overlooking the plain across which the major road now known as ‘Watling Street’ runs.
Catuvellauni hill fort, Danesborough
An archaeological investigation of the site in 1924, reported as “Excavations at Danesborough Camp, by James Berry” unearthed pottery that was partly of Early Iron Age, and partly Romano-British. Nothing was found that could be definitely dated later than the second century A.D. and most was of about 1st Cent. B.C. to 1st Cent. A.D. The causeway was proved to be undoubtedly original. The Danesborough Earthwork is situated on the Duke of Bedford’s Estate in Wavendon Wood close to the Beds border of Buckinghamshire
The boundary of the land controlled by the Danes under ‘Danelaw’ is not far away, near Bedford, but as this was not until the late 800’s, it is not known why the name ‘Danesborough’ was given to this earlier site.
Under Roman occupation, the presence of the major Roman road, Iter II – ‘Watling Street’ – gave rise to the associated Roman town of Magiovinium now known as Fenny Stratford.
Possibly the oldest known gold coin in Britain was found at Fenny Stratford, a gold slater of the mid-2nd century BCE.
Gold Slater coin – this is a superb example of the Iron Age die-engraver’s art. It also represents what is thought to be the first type of coin ever to circulate in Britain. Some of them were eventually buried in coin hoards and not recovered by their owners. Alternatively, the coins may have been intended as permanent, sacred offerings to the gods. They are mostly found today by metal-detectorists, in locations throughout south-east England. This one was found at Fenny Stratford near Milton Keynes.
The foundations of a large Romano-British villa were excavated at Bancroft Park, complete with under-floor heating and mosaic floor. Further excavations revealed that this site, overlooking the fertile valley of the Bradwell Brook, was in continuous occupation for 2,000 years, from the Late Bronze Age to the early Saxon period.
Cremation grave goods from the Iron Age found on the site included jewellery and fine pottery. Other settlements were found at Stantonbury, Woughton and Wymbush. Industrial activity of the period included bronze working and pottery making at Caldecotte, pottery also at Wavendon Gate, and many iron-working sites.
It seems that most of the Romano-British sites were abandoned by the 5th century and the arable land reverted to scrub and woodland. Arriving in the 6th century, the Anglo-Saxons began to clear the land again. Bletchley “Blaeca’s clearing” and Shenley “Bright clearing” date from this period.
Large settlements have been excavated at Pennyland and near Milton Keynes Village. Their cemeteries have been found at Newport Pagnell, Shenley and Tattenhoe.
Excavations in and around the modern villages have failed to find any evidence of occupation before the 10th or 11th centuries, except in Bradwell where Bradwell Bury is traced to the 9th century. The Domesday Book of 1086 provides the first documentary evidence for many settlements, listing Bertone (Broughton), Calvretone (Calverton), Linforde (Great Linford), Lochintone (Loughton,_Milton_Keynes), Neuport (Newport Pagnell), Nevtone (Newton Longville), Senelai (Shenley), Siwinestone (Simpson), Ulchetone (Woughton), Waletone (Walton), Wluerintone (Wolverton) and Wlsiestone (Woolstone).
The geographical area, later to become the Borough of Milton Keynes, formed part of what were known as the Chiltern Hundreds. A hundred was an administrative area comprising of a number of settlements.
Bletchley, Bradwell, Calverton, Fenny Stratford, Great Linford, Loughton, Newport Pagnell, Newton Longville, part of Shenley, Simpson, Stantonbury, Stoke Hammond, Stony Stratford, Water Eaton, Willen, Great and Little Woolstone, Wolverton, and Woughton on the Green were in Secklow Hundred Sigelai Hundred; Cold Brayfield, Castlethorpe, Gayhurst, Hanslope, Haversham, Lathbury, Lavendon, Little Linford, Olney, Ravenstone, Stoke Goldington, Tyringham with Filgrave, and Weston Underwood were in Bunsty Hundred Bunstou Hundred; and Bow Brickhill, Great Brickhill, Little Brickhill, Broughton, Chicheley, Clifton Reynes, North Crawley, Emberton, Hardmead, Lathbury, Lavendon, Milton Keynes village, Moulsoe, Newton Blossomville, Olney with Warrington, Ravenstone, Sherington, Stoke Goldington, Tyringham with Filgrave, Walton, Wavendon, Weston Underwood, and Willen were in Moulsoe Hundred. These hundreds became “the three hundreds of Newport” [Pagnell] in the middle of the 16th century.
The moot mound of Secklow Hundred has been found, excavated and reconstructed – it is on the highest point in the central area and is just behind the Library in modern Central Milton Keynes.
Only one medieval manor house survives: the 15th century Manor Farmhouse in Loughton. There are sites of other manor houses in Great Woolstone, Milton Keynes village and Woughton on the Green. The oldest surviving domestic building is Number 22, Milton Keynes (village), the house of the bailiff of the manor of Bradwell.
Newport Pagnell, established early in the 10th century, was the principal market town for the area. Stony Stratford and Fenny Stratford were founded as market towns on Watling Street in the late 12th or early 13th centuries.
By the early 13th century, North Buckinghamshire had several religious houses: Bradwell Abbey (1154) is within modern Milton Keynes and Snelshall Priory (1218) is just outside it. Both were Benedictine priories. Many of the medieval trackways to these sites still survive and have become cycleways and footpaths of the Redway network.
Britain’s earliest excavated windmill is in Great Linford. The large oak beams forming the base supports still survived in the mill mound and were shown by radio carbon dating to originate in the first half of the 13th century. The present stone tower mill at Bradwell was built in 1815, on a site convenient to the new Grand Junction Canal.
In 1964, a Ministry of Housing and Local Government study recommended “a new city” near Bletchley. A further MoH&LG study in 1965 proposed that the proposed new city would encompass the existing towns of Bletchley, Stony Stratford and Wolverton. It was to be the biggest new town yet, with a target population of 250,000. A Draft Order was made in April 1966. The Housing Minister, Anthony Greenwood, made his formal announcement on 23 January 1967. The designated area was 21,870 acres (8,850 ha), somewhat smaller than the 27,000 acres (11,000 ha) in the Draft Order (due to the exclusion of the Calverton Wealds). The name “Milton Keynes” was also unveiled at this time, taken from the existing village of Milton Keynes on the site. The site was deliberately located (roughly) equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge. With its large target population, Milton Keynes was eventually intended to become a city. All subsequent planning documents and popular local usage make use of the term “city” or “new city”, even though formal city status has not been awarded.
The designated area outside the four main towns (Bletchley, Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford, Wolverton) was largely rural farmland but included many picturesque North Buckinghamshire villages and hamlets.
Sheep in Campbell Park
The original Development Corporation design concept aimed for a “forest city” and its foresters planted millions of trees from its own nursery in Newlands in the following years. As of 2006, the urban area has 20 million trees. Following the winding up of the Development Corporation, the lavish landscapes of the Grid Roads and of the major parks were transferred to the MK Parks Trust, an independent non-profit charity which is quite separate from the municipal authority and which was intended to resist pressures to build on the parks over time. The Parks Trust is endowed with a portfolio of commercial properties, the income from which pays for the upkeep of the green spaces, a city-wide maintenance model which has attracted international attention.
Iconic Concrete Cows
The Development Corporation had an ambitious public art programme and over 50 works were commissioned, mostly still extant. This programme also had two strands: a populist one which involved the local community in the works, the most famous of which is Liz Leyh’s Concrete Cows, a group of concrete Friesian cows which have become the unofficial logo of the city; and a tradition of abstract geometrical art, such as Lilliane Lijn’s “Circle of Light” hanging in the Midsummer Arcade of the Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre.
‘Circle of Light’ Midsummer Arcade
The Secklow meeting mound was excavated in 1978 prior to it being overlain with the development of central MK – the site is not far from the present library. As with many other features of the landscape destroyed by the development it has been commemorated in one of the street names – Secklow Gate. The route of the old Portway, which ran past the Secklow mound, has now been lost although, again, there is a modern road called the Portway.
Another place suggestive of a moot site is the field name Brinklow Hill. Another old field name, Oak Grove, is situated just south of a site where a bronze age barrow, an iron age village and a Saxon settlement were found in close proximity.
The old Watling Street passes through the south of the city, and the old town of Stony Stratford where there is an Eleanor Cross.
Eleanor Cross, Stony Stratford
Many other sites of interest are shown on a heritage map prepared by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. But the MKDC have not only made some effort to evaluate and excavate the archaeological features of the area, they have also created a few ‘earth mysteries’ of their own.
The three parallel roads through the shopping centre are Silbury Boulevard, Avebury Boulevard and Midsummer Boulevard and the midsummer sunrise appears along Midsummer Boulevard, rising over the highest point in MK, the hill in Campbell Park known as the Belvedere.
The terminus of this latter-day geomancy is The MK Rose, created by internationally renowned installation artist Gordon Young as a place of celebration, commemoration and contemplation.
The MK Rose calendar
The MK Rose is a calendar of dates important to the people of Milton Keynes. The calendar is represented by 140 pillars arranged in the geometric design of a rose – hence the name – with some left blank for future dedications. Dates include international events such as Midsummer’s Day and Armistice Day, as well as Milton Keynes specific dates. Some of the Milton Keynes specific dates are: 23rd January (1967) – Formal Designation of Milton Keynes as a New Town, 6th May – Wolverton Railway Day and 21st September (1980) – Inauguration of the first Peace Pagoda in the Western Hemisphere (Willen Lake).
William Cowper Day
The MK Rose is surrounded by a circular hedge and paths leading off in the four cardinal directions.
The hill in Campbell Park, known as The Belvedere (formerly ‘Black Hill’), although not documented, is considered to have been the location for a beacon. The area around it is said to have been the site of a battle at the time of Queen Boudicca’s rebellion.
The Belvedere formerly ‘Black Hill’
MK Light Pyramid
Illuminated Light Pyramid
As part of the national lighting of beacons, to mark to Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the beacon on the Belvedere in Campbell Park has been recreated as the ‘Light Pyramid’ a new sculpture by artist Liliane Lijn.
Silbury Boulevard and Midsummer Boulevard converge at a three-lane-ends at Wood End on the A421, which is an ancient trackway. In the other direction Silbury Boulevard aligns with North Crawley church.
St Frimin Church, North Crawley
Two ley alignments are said to pass through the Open University campus and adjoin sites which cross at St Michael’s church.
St Michael’s Church of the Open University
St Michael’s church also aligns with Willen church, along a straight section of the A509, through two cross-roads near Holywell Farm and Dancer’s Grave (the site of the hanging of a notorious North Bucks Highwayman named Dancer), then appearing to terminate at Norbury Camp an ancient earthworks.
St Mary Magdalene Church, Willen
The construction of Willen Church was funded by the Lord of the Manor, Dr Richard Busby, the celebrated Headmaster of Westminster School. Dr Busby was Headmaster for 58 years at the time of Charles I, the Commonwealth and Charles II and is said to have birched three generations of the great and good. Amongst his illustrious pupils were Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, the latter being a special protégé of Dr Busby.
This splendid church was designed and construction supervised by Robert Hooke who by then was Secretary and Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society and City Surveyor for reconstruction after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Willen church was built around 1678 – 1680 (the date 1680 is cast into the plasterwork of the barrel-vault ceiling of the nave). Three bells were hung in the tower with fittings for full-circle ringing, they have identical rhyming inscriptions “Richard Chandler made me 1683”. The north vestry was originally used to house the library of theological books sent by Dr Busby from Westminster to Willen and perhaps the new rooms were constructed shortly after Dr Busby died on 5 April 1695. The lead-covered cupola of the tower is said to have been removed in 1814 and the proceeds from the sale of the lead used to fund urgent church repairs.
Another possible ley alignment runs through the Open University campus, which has an oak clump at its centre, the near-by St Michael’s church and Milton Keynes village church. The church in Milton Keynes village is very fine, with some interesting gargoyles and other carvings, and an avenue of yew trees leading up to the church porch.
All Saints Church, Milton Keynes Village
All Saints Church with yew trees
The original village of Milton Keynes has remained more-or-less unspoilt. Near the road junction outside the Swan Inn was an ancient elm and it is said that if the elm died no more male children would be born in the village. Sadly this tree succumbed to Dutch Elm disease .
The Swan Inn, Milton Keynes Village
Willen Lake Maze Jason Hawkes/Corbis
Not too far from Milton Keynes village, near the shores of Willen Lake, is the world’s largest maze, laid out near the Buddhist peace pagoda and temple. It is based on the labyrinth at Saffron Walden, which is pre-Christian and is set to the 4 compass points. The labyrinthine path is no less than two miles long and takes about half an hour to follow. At the centre is an oak tree, to further strengthen its geomantic significance.
Labyrinth with oak tree and Peace Pagoda in background
Catuvellauni Grove gather for Imbolc at the ‘Circle of Hearts’ Stone Circle, Willen
The Circle of Hearts Medicine Wheel which was built to celebrate the new Millennium with hope for global peace can also be found near Willen Lake. Geomantically constructed, the stones have been positioned to be in alignment with the earth’s natural powerful energies – a leyline flows across the lake through a large standing stone onto and through the Medicine Wheel – which is set not only to the cardinal compass points, but also to the passage of the rising sun. Between the lake and the stone circle is a much larger stone called the Needle stone, which acts like an obelisk, its energies reaching out to the stones in the circle.
Circle of Hearts Medicine Wheel near Willen Lake
It is said that if prayers are offered at the centre or ‘source’ of the ‘wheel’, those wishes are amplified. At the centre is the Sacred Fire which is lit at some ceremonies. This fire represents the Sacred Spirit in all things, places, people, and for all time. The Guardians of the Wheel believe that its essence is unconditional love, wisdom, peace and illumination.
North Willen Lake is home to one of Milton Keynes’ best-known landmarks, the first Peace Pagoda to be built in the western world. The Peace Pagoda was built by the the monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji as a symbol of world brotherhood .
Willen Peace Pagoda
Above the Pagoda, cherry trees commemorate the victims of war, while prayers and messages of hope decorate the nearby One World Tree.
One World Tree
Alongside the Pagoda is the distinctive Buddhist Temple, where the public is welcome inside or to visit the grounds with their Japanese and Zen gardens.
Buddhist Temple, Milton Keynes
Cathedral of Trees outline based on Norwich Cathedral
Opposite Willen Lake at Newlands, just off the junctions of V10 Brickhill Street and H5 Portway a Tree Cathedral can be found. The Cathedral of Tree’s outline is based on Norwich Cathedral and was designed in 1986 by landscape architect Neil Higson. He chose different species of trees to represent the character of the Cathedral’s sections: hornbeam and tall-growing lime for the Nave, evergreens to represent the central tower and spires, flowering cherry and apple as a focus in the chapels. In springtime colourful bulbs represent the sun shining through stained glass windows onto the ground.
Cathedral of Trees
The centre of Milton Keynes contains many items of interest which are not apparent at first sight. Perhaps the most important of these is a Winter Solstice Tree Circle facing the winter solstice at sunset, as opposed to the summer solstice at sun rise. This very impressive, tall circle of conifers has a section, to the West, cut out to allow the winter sun to shine in clearly.
Winter Solstice Tree Circle
A Modern Temple to the Sun?
Dowsers and investigators of earth mysteries have discovered many interesting features in Milton Keynes pointing to its geomantic and solar significance. Dowsing is the art of finding things and answers to questions by the means of dowsing instruments, such as L-rods, pendulums etc. Leylines are straight lines of energy that join up two or more sacred sites. Energy lines also join up sacred and other sites but meander across the countryside in undulations much like a river. Over the years and by repeatedly dowsing the same lines, dowsers have discovered that these lines can move and contract and expand according to the weather conditions.
Dowsers Sian and Jackie, the writers of a very interesting blog entitled ‘Milton Keynes a Modern Temple to the Sun‘ were curious to dowse Midsummer Boulevard to see if they could pick up a possible leyline and discover its full length. So over many visits they dowsed the full length of the Boulevard and, contrary to official websites that suggests there might be a ley-line running from the station and on to an island in Willen Lake, they discovered that there definitely is a leyline which runs on beyond the railway station and Willen Island to encompass the old part of the villages at either end.
According to Sian and Jackie the leyline emits very strong energies and they found compelling evidence that MK might indeed be a modern temple to the sun. Link here to their blog to find out more Sian and Jackie
In the grounds of Willen Hospice is an armillary, which is an instrument for recording the passage of the sun through the year.
On 16 September 2014 a UFO was sighted over Milton Keynes before zooming into the clouds and disappearing. The object was described as black with a white light in the centre by the witness, a man in his mid-forties. His account of the UFO was posted to celticwisdom.co.uk after the sighting at 11.36am on Tuesday, September 16. The witness had no explanation for the object, which he initially thought to be a balloon or sky lantern.
After watching it for some time, the witness said “it kept turning around and when it did it was a perfectly flat and long.”
Despite cloud coverage on the day, the object was perfectly visible, and for three to four minutes before “rapidly gaining height, shrinking and vanishing.”
The witness said: “I was in a place called Ouzel Valley Park, which is a beautifully quiet area of Greenland in Milton Keynes.
“I was at the top of a small hill sitting on a bench reading my newspaper. I finished reading and turned around to see an object floating above the trees about a quarter of a mile away.
“I stared at it for quite some time watching what it was doing and trying to figure out what it was.
“It was a black object with a white light in the centre. I thought it could either be a Chinese lantern or possibly a helium balloon the type to advertise companies as it was moving back and forth very smoothly.
“However, it kept turning around and when it did it was a perfectly flat and long and as the closest business was several miles away and we were in a rural area with Greenland the balloon theory was looking doubtful.
“There was no wind, not even a gentle breeze as all the leaves on the trees were still so any type of powered aircraft could be ruled out. Shortly after I stood up and moved closer it began to rise and become smaller very quickly until it became a tiny dot and vanished into the cloud.
“The clouds were very low on that day. As I was walking home a light aircraft flying low was above my head but I could not see it and the weather report that day was for low cloud and mist. Whatever the object was it was below the cloud possibly a hundred maybe two hundred feet high. I am a man in his mid-forties and level headed.
“I am skeptical when it comes to UFO’s as I believe that every sighting must have a rational explanation.
“However, I know exactly what I saw and I simply cannot explain it. It was not a balloon, a lantern or any powered object.
“It hovered at a constant height and moved from left to right again very smoothly for the three to four minutes I observed it before rapidly gaining height, shrinking and vanishing.
“No wish to be contacted but thought someone might have an interest in this.”
Other sightings have also been reported
UFO over Milton Keynes