It is widely believed that Milton Keynes has no history and the only thing that exists worthy of note are concrete cows. This is far from the truth and Shenley Church End among other areas are mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 and of course the parish is bounded on one side by the Roman Road of Watling Street. Shenley Church End claims a history linked to Joseph of Arimathea. Many new residents may wonder why there is a road called Holy Thorn Lane and a school called Glastonbury Thorn. Next to the playground in Holy Thorn Lane is a bush surrounded by iron railings which is, as it is told, a descendant from the staff carried by Joseph.
On his visit to England spreading the word of God, Joseph of Arimathea carried a staff he had acquired in Palestine. At that time Avalon (Glastonbury) was surrounded by water and tired from his journey Joseph sat and rested upon Weary-all Hill (Worral Hill). He stuck the staff in the ground and legend has it that it took root and a tree grew. The tree was seen as sacred and blossoms at Christmas. This tree is said to be from a cutting made from the original. It is generally seen as a tree that brings good luck to the owner and prosperity to the land where it stands.
The best documented history of Shenley is after the Norman conquest (1066), but there has been a scattering of Saxon artefacts found and indeed the original name of Scienanleage (bright clearing) may well have indicated a Saxon settlement in the forest. The discovery of a group of 7th century burials at Westbury provided evidence of it. Below the medieval earthworks there were found eight skeletons. Around the neck of one, a woman, there were traces of five silver rings joined with wire to glass and shell beads, hanging from this was a gold pendant with garnet set in the middle. Most of the land belonging to the English nobility was sequested and handed over to the main supporters of William I who in turn made over much of it to their most trusted henchmen. About this time the Barons constructed strongholds in the form of moated manor houses or timber castles, not only to defend themselves against the English but also other Barons. The Toot (lookout hill) was built then or during the Anarchy of 1138-1153 when the Empress Matilda was trying to take the English throne from King Stephen.
The Toot is located within the area bounded by Oakhill Road and Holy Thorn Lane.
Today, the original shapes of the earthworks can be seen and the rest visualised. Milton Keynes Parks Trust, who are responsible for the Toot, have also placed storyboards on both sides and help the visitor gain an insight into what it would have been like.
The castle was a large mound of earth (motte) which was topped with a timber tower. In the main area or Bailey was the living area for the Lord of the Manor, his family and servants. The Hall would probably have been two storey with the bedchamber of the Lord and Lady being on the upper floor and the main hall and storage areas on the ground floor. As can be seen from the picture everything else needed to maintain self sufficiency was kept within the main bailey. In peaceful times the peasants lived outside this area in their crofts and paid for the protection they received from the Lord with their labour.
The Toot as it is today. The mound can be clearly seen with the remnants of the moat surrounding. Milton Keynes Parks Trust are responsible for the upkeep of this area.
Land ownership after the Domesday survey became complicated but some names are known for the settlements that developed into three separate manors. The Maunsells, Vaches, Greys, Daubeneys, Pigots, Ashfield and the Knapps are associated with Shenley Church End. Westbury is linked to the Staffords, Selbys, Fitz-Eustaces and the Selby-Lowndes whilst the Staffords as well as the Selbys and Selby-Lowndes, are with Shenley Brook End. Further earthworks lie near Medbourne roundabout. Here stood a monastic farm (The grange) given in 1190 to the Cistercian Abbey at Woburn and later to Snelshall Priory.
The church of St Mary dates from about 1150 and originally comprised of chancel, nave, north and south transepts and perhaps a central tower. About 1190 the chancel was rebuilt and the only parts of the original structure remaining are the transepts and the west wall of the nave, at this time the south aisle was added. Much work took place on the structure in the 14th and 15th centuries. The large five-light window was added in 1490 and has been considerably repaired. At the west end is a pointed door of the 14th century and above are large 15th century five cinquefoiled lights under a four-centred head, all extensively repaired. In the north aisle is a large monument to Thomas Stafford of Tattenhoe (d1607)
The tower contains a ring of six bells; the treble is modern while the second and third are by Newcome, 1615 and 1616 respectively, and the fourth and fifth by Bartholomew Atton, 1593 and 1610. The tenor, which bears the inscription 'Missi De Celis Abeo Nomen Amen Gabrelis,' was probably cast by Robert Burford in the early 15th century. There is also a small bell with no inscription, but probably of the 17th century.
Shenley was then described in the "Magna Britannia" as follows: "Shenley, in the hundred and deanery of Newport, lies between three and four miles from Stony Stratford, near the great road to London. The manor of Church-end in this parish, was in the reign of King Edward I in the family of Vache, from whom it passed by an heir female to the Greys. Sir Giles Daubeney purchased it of Lord Grey of Wilton in 1505 and, in 1520, sold it to the Pigots. Having been vested in the crown by an exchange this manor was granted, in 1563, to the Ashfields, from whom it passed by marriage to the Fortescues and Whorwoods. It then became the property of the Rev. Primatt Knapp, whose ancestors purchased it from the Whorwoods in 1696.
The manor of Brook-end, or Shenley-Mansell, has been held with Church-end ever since the year 1426. It had formerly been in the Beauchamps and on the attainder of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was granted in 1397 to Thomas Mowbray, afterwards Duke of Norfolk.
The manor of Westbury in this parish was anciently in the family of Fitz-Eustace.
In the reign of King Henry IV it became the property of the Staffords of Totenhoe, and then belonged to William Selby, esq. of Winslow whose ancestor, Mr Lowndes, purchased it from the Staffords in 1695. Mr Selby had also the manor of Giffords in this parish.
Already mentioned is the monument to Thomas Stafford, esq. of Totenhoe whose legacy still remains in Shenley Church End in the form of alms-houses. With the dissolution of Monasteries the destitute could not go to religious orders for help so it fell on the more philanthropic landowners to provide a modicum of financial help and single room dwellings.
The almshouses, erected about 1615 consist of six cottages endowed with a rent-charge of £35 issuing out of the estate at Great Linford. They are regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 17th March 1882. By this scheme inmates to three, the remaining cottages being let in augmentation of the income of the charity.
Westbury was a thriving community in the 13th and 14th centuries but reduced in size gradually until it became virtually deserted by the 15th century. The only surviving building is the manor house (Westbury Farm). It is possible that the Fitz-Eustace family built the original house in the 13th century with the wooden structure dating from the 16th century. Edward Stafford added the Iberian baroque style door in 1670 and partially restored the chimney stacks. The house has been extended between the 18th and 20th centuries. The pond is all that remains of the moat that surrounded the earliest medieval house. Westbury Farm Studios are now located in the house covering many traditional arts and crafts including artists, ceramics and sculpting.
History of Shenley Church End Parish