A.J. Clear: Old Winslow (1932)

The text of Mr Clear's lecture was published in the Buckingham Advertiser in three instalments, beginning on 13 February 1932. The text is reproduced below. Please note that some of Mr Clear's ideas have been superseded by more recent findings, and his views on other matters do not always agree with those expressed elsewhere on this website. His history of Saxon Winslow was not based on much evidence. But the lecture is a very good source on more recent history. Some notes have been added in italics to identify the places referred to. There are links to further information.

We publish this week the first portion of a fascinating lecture, on the subject of “Old Winslow”, which was given by Mr. A. J. Clear, the well-known authority on this subject, to the members of the Winslow branch of the Women’s Institute. Mrs. Wise presided, supported by Miss White, hon. secretary, and among those present were Mrs. Greaves, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Holden, Mr. W. Chowles, Mrs. G. Midgley, Mrs. Goss, Miss Dancer, and others. The lecturer said when he had the pleasure of speaking to them a year or two back, they dwelt on the ancient British and Cornishmen, and the way they kept the Romans back from the East and West of the country, fighting bravely under Cunobilin and his son Caractacus until the decisive battle at Thornborough drove the Britons out of their camps at Little Horwood and Great Horwood and Caractacus himself was taken prisoner to Rome.

Then came the time when the Saxons overran this part of the country and a chief named Wini ruled over this district.  Wini was like the rest of the Saxons, a pagan, and was converted to Christianity by Birinus, one of St. Augustine’s Missionaries.  It was said that St. Birinus and Wini burnt down the Saxon temple at Winslow and that St. Birinus, who lived at Dunton, built 12 churches in the district, one of which was at Winslow.

Later on, it was an established fact that Offa, King of the Mercians, dwelt at Winslow, and that while sleeping there, he had a terrible dream.  He had either killed or connived at the killing of his son-in-law, the young King of the West Saxons and had seized his kingdom, making himself a very powerful monarch.  In his dream the bed he was lying on took him down to hell.  Frightened at this, he went to Rome and took counsel with the Pope, who imposed a penance on him that he should build the finest Church in England, so he built St. Alban’s Abbey, and gave it to Winslow and Little Horwood, and Aston Abbots, in addition to other lands. He died and was buried at Bedford.

Then came the Danes and burnt both Winslow and Swanbourne


Now all this referred to Old Winslow before  the Norman Conquest, and the question arises where was Old Winslow, the Winslow where Offa resided and where was the wooden church credited to St. Birinus and which the Danes burnt.  Well, I have little hesitation in saying that I believe Old Winslow – Saxon Winslow – existed along the Little Horwood road and that Offa’s palace or lodge was somewhere in the Park there.  There are even now traces that point to its previous existence as a place of note.  Probably it may have stretched from the roads to the brook and the ancient Saxon Parish Council may have met under that old oak tree which still stretches right over the road.  It is a far cry back to King Offa, about 1100 years;  but they might remember the saying about the oak : 500 years it grows; 500 years it flourishes; 500 years it takes to die.


But how about Shipton.  He took it that Shipton existed pretty well where it does now, but probably reached down to the brook, it certainly was much larger at one time than now. Whether belonging to Shipton or Old Winslow, he could hardly say;  but there was a very ancient farm house opposite, where Ashmead House now stands and built on posts, the inhabitants living upstairs and the lower part used as stables.  The well remains in the field.

When William the Conqueror compiled his famous Domesday Book, Winslow apparently had not yet got over its burning by the Danes, because it appears as if it were only a farm in the possession of St. Alban’s Abbey – there is no mention of Church, Priest or Vicar.   There was a bailiff and just a few tenants at will, but the majority of his inhabitants were bondmen tied to the soil and practically slaves to the Abbot, the whole population being less than 100 souls.  But things must soon have mended after the Conquest.  William the Conqueror was too wise a man to quarrel with the Church and the Abbey of St. Albans was one of the most powerful religious bodies in the country.


In all probability New Winslow was commenced by building a church, where the present one stands and houses were built round it.  But there is mention made in 1150 of Winslow and “its Chapels” as if there were more than one.  Probably, soon after this the Abbot of St. Albans was set to work in earnest to build the present church.  This would be about 1275 or 1300.  The tower itself might have been in existence earlier, as the bottom part of it is of different stone work, shorter and more like Norman towers;  while the body is of the perpendicular style, and the chancel is later still, distinctly Tudor, probably Henry 8th, and the splendid oak gallery, which was done away with by Mr. Hamilton, at the Restoration, was Jacobean, and retained traces of the old instruments and musicians.   The oak came from Tattenhoe Wood to build it.


There is no doubt the Abbots of St. Albans had a very firm grip of the inhabitants.  There were no farms like we have nowadays;  but the land was all cut up into little strips like the present allotments and perhaps a man might have six strips all in different parts of the parish.  The lower type of inhabitants were strictly bondmen, they could not marry without the permission of the Abbot and they could not leave the parish. The Abbey built a great house at Biggin, which they fortified and used as a gaol.  The site of it can still be seen two fields beyond Granborough Bridge, or a nice little walk from Burleys, by the old road which passed right by the Biggin and came out between Mr. Chas. Dickens and Mrs. Hughes, at Granborough.  Most of the stones of this great house (which had a chapel and places for some monks attached) were taken to Swanbourne in later years and used to build the old houses there.  The Abbot had also a strong place in the parsons close, a little of which still remains.  Why he wanted it so strong is hard to explain, but he stored his tithes in it and perhaps was afraid they might be stolen.  Then Henry 8th swept away all the monasteries and Abbeys of the country, not really for religious grievances or to sweep away abuses, which, no doubt, had crept into some of them; but for sheer greed of their possesions.   Queen Elizabeth, who was also intensely greedy, got hold of Winslow and Winslow must have known it – the “School of the Monks" was done away with;  the charities of the Abbey ceased, and Winslow had to pay very heavy tithes to keep the clergy, tithes and taxes, which have only ceased for the last 60 or 70 years, while the copyhold customs lasted till quite recently.

The Vicar actually used to claim a tithe on milk at Shipton and the inhabitants appealed against him and won the day.


Now let us take a look at Winslow as it existed after the downfall of St. Alban’s Abbey.  At the very top of Sheet Street, close to the Horwood turn, existed what was possibly the oldest public house in the town.  He was sorry he could not give its name.  Next to it was the old Farm Yard, belonging to what, in our time, was known as Curtis’s Farm.  The ancient barn probably one of the oldest in the county – 14th or 15th century – has just been pulled down.  A little lower down are the old houses where the late Edward Abbot and his father before him resided.  Further down was another old Farm House and then the lane we call Tennis Lane – but which then was known as Hobbs bourne (corrupted "Holbouchin”).  There were a number of old houses in this lane, including an ancient blacksmith’s forge, where the family of Jackman laboured.  This road went to Shipton Farm and came out at Shipton ford.


There was also another old road leading from Sheep Street, by Matthews Corner into High Street, and in this road was the old public house called the Greyhound.  This was at the back of Mr. Hornsbys [24 High Street], and, no doubt, had its entrance from High Street.   It was burnt down and never rebuilt.

As far as is known there were no more houses on the right-hand side till you came to the Bell Hotel, but above the Hall Stables there are still some old houses, with the herring-bone brickwork of 400 years ago and one or two were pulled down to make a Salvation Army Barracks not so many years ago.

Sheep Street looking south-east, Black Horse sign front left
This postcard was posted in 1944 but the photo is earlier than 1927 when the Black Horse (front left) closed. Curtis's Farm is at the top of the hill on the left, and the Abbots lived in the last house on the right.

The only private or freehold house, that of the family of Figges, stood a little closer to the Square than the present Hall and a little piece of it is still left at the rear of Brook Hall.   Its fishponds can still be traced and in rainy weather they used to run over the road, to the inconvenience of passengers.

Wendover Lowndes married Jane Figge, and the Rector of Adstock married another daughter.  There appears to have been no male heirs, so the old Moat Hall came into the possession of the Lowndes family.   The lecturer exhibited a rubbing of a memorial brass in church dated 1578.   In 1700 Ways and Means Lowndes pulled down the old hall and built the present one from designs by Christopher Wren.


Where Mr. Fulks shop [2 High Street] now stands, was the Old Meat Market, and almost opposite it the timber-built Market House for butter, corn, etc., while opposite Bell Alley was the Bull Ring, to which the bulls used to be tied and then teased with dogs.  Down the alley was the old George Inn, probably facing to Horn Street, also a block of buildings, used as a workhouse, but now part of the Bell premises, and then in Cromwell’s time, or about 1625, a house down there was turned into a Baptist Chapel.   It still remains;  but is practically closed.   At the corner was the old pillory in which Benjamin Keach was placed, before he was taken to Aylesbury, and there was a pond used for washing carts and horses feet, after they had travelled the muddy roads which prevailed between Buckingham and Aylesbury.   This pond overflowed into the pillory ditch, which ran down into Granborough Brook and lower down, where Mr. Illing’s nice garden flourishes, was the Pest House or small pox hospital.

The old Free School, founded by James Rogers, a rich currier or tanner, of the town, stood at the top of the Walk, in later days and part of it is used as a warehouse by Mr. Illing.   There was also a Cage or temporary lock-up, where the Fire Engine House now stands.


Mr. Grace's old house is probably the only one remaining of the Market Square and is a really fine example of the overhanging house of ancient days.  Down Horn Street, the old Ship Inn has passed away;  several old cottages are still left and there was a pound, all the rest was tanyards, till one came to Tinkers’ End, called in Feudal times Swine Hill, but which, no doubt, became the resort of numerous  gipsies and so much so that it is said the King of the Gipsies was buried in the Churchyard in 1689.

In Western Lane there were a lot of old cottages and the road led to an old windmill, situate on the Knob and then across by Biggin to Granborough.


Coming up past Western House, between Mr. Stocks and Mr. Chowles garage [=Burleys Road], was another ancient road, which can clearly be traced leading to another Windmill in the Nordens and coming out into Buckingham Road close to Mr. Chapman’s and the railway bridge.

And then the High Street (but then called Cow Street), stretching from Mrs. Hornsbey's.  There really is not a great deal of actual alteration.  Where Miss Sarah Walker’s shop is [20 High Street] was the Post Office, owned and occupied by one of the old family of Gibbs, Stephen, a glover by trade, who owned all that block which includes Miss French’s and it had been said that the post office door was up the passage.  At any rate there was a public right of way through, past my printing office, to Winslow Hall, then adjoining, came the premises of the Greyhound, which was burnt down and probably the King’s Head took its place.   All where Mr. Powell lives was a fairly modern tannery, with an old house in front occupied by Mr. West, an old Winslow family.   When Mr. Willis got married this tannery was done away with and the present house built.  On the other side of the road and now occupied by Mrs. Holden, was a public house called the Pigeons, a great resort of cattle dealers, especially Welsh ones [29 High Street].


With the exception of a clump of old cottages standing endwise, he doubted if there were any more houses till you got to Mr. Benbow’s, lately pulled down.  Mr. Benbow always said it was the last house in the town and belonged to the parish, but he thought he forgot three or four cottages which stood endwise and where his house now stood.  At any rate, the last house on the other side was Mr. Sear’s, which still stands;  while on his side, but not touching the street, there was a row of about 40 cottages reaching out in the fields.   These were sold by auction about 1840 and the proceeds used to build the present workhouse.  They appear to have been all pulled down.

High Street looking north, Benbows shop right
This postcard was posted in 1915 but may be rather older. Benbow's shop is front right, and the white building next to it was the original workhouse. Beyond that is the shop which is now the Co-Op. The buildings on the left include Mr Sear's house and the others described below.

Cantell’s shop was then the dwelling place of the Gibbs’ and a builders’ yard.

On the other side of the street were a tinman’s (Mr. Samuel French), a curriers (Mr. Lewis Clarke), who, on market days, hung out a side of leather as a sign;  while Mr. Wm. Keys and Mr. George Mayne had extensive premises for the sale of hay and corn.  Then came the old gas works, with the furnace close to the road, where the school boys used to go and warm their hands in the winter, the gasman’s house and the weighbridge, the latter in the road.   Next to the boys school, low roofed and badly ventilated, Mr. Sear’s old house and Mr. Coxhill’s old house, now pulled down, and then Mr. Grace’s commercial school.


On the other side of the street, were four old cottages, standing up the alley on the side of the house where he now lived [68 High Street], just one part of the end wall, nearest the Oddfellows’ Hall is left, built of timber and wattle and daub.  They were occupied by old Mr. Saving, Mrs. Holt’s grandfather, Phillip Budd and Ned Brockless, as far as he could remember, although he had been told one was an old Winslow character named Neddie Piggott, who used to promenade the town in a great old hat like the Cavaliers used to wear in the Civil War, and smoke a clay pipe, about half a yard long.  When he remembered him he lived in a cottage in Bell Alley, with an inscription on the door “No. 1 Angel Row, Dancing Academy Bless your legs when your feet keep time.”   Four of/or five cottages standing end way to the street have been pulled down and the houses occupied by Messrs. Rowe, R. Langley and Mrs. Hendley [36-40 High Street], built in their place.


In Church Lane, at the back of the Old Windmill Inn, there has been considerable alteration.  Where the little alley goes up, there was another blacksmith’s forge, kept by the Varney’s, but used chiefly for horse shoeing for which they had quite a reputation.  There was a farm yard standing there and the passage through was a short cut to the Church, coming out at the back of Mr. Holdens and with a pond at the corner, into which some Winslow men once threw a young policeman.  The farm house was pulled down and Mr. Preston built a fine big iron Reading Room on the site.  When he died his widow sold it and it is now all cottages.  In the body of the town there is not so much alteration.  Hawleys’ venerable shop, and it really was a curiosity – gave way to the present commodious and modern establishment.   Where Mr. Midgley’s shop is [3 Market Square] were some old buildings in one of which Mr. Lee the old saddler resided.


The post office was at the shop of Mr. Grant King, but if you wanted stamps you had to go up to Mr. Meanwell’s door steps and knock at the little trap door and wait, hail, rain or snow, till it pleased the Misses King to give them you through a little trap door, the size of a pane of glass.  Mr King and a post-office official had a row on the subject one morning.  The Post Office was then moved all in one day to the house formerly occupied by a Mr. Francis and then Mr. Lewin French was formally appointed postmaster and the office was transferred to Mr. Illing’s present shop [1 Horn Street], right hand side and afterwards to Mr. Wilford’s at the Old House in the Square now pulled down.


Speaking of a few alterations in his own remembrance covering a period of about 68 years, the lecturer said that beyond the house recently occupied by Mrs. Geo. George [White House, corner of Great Horwood Road] was then a sort of a temporary Vicarage, in which Mr. Preston and his Curate lived while the Vicarage was being re-built, there were only three houses:  Mr. Edward Lowndes’ house called Selby Lodge [Redfield];  the Gardener’s cottage, occupied by Mr. Lee, whose son Tom died last year;  and where Mr. Chapman lives, then used as a girls’ school, kept by Mrs. Williams [1 Station Road].   The Station Road had no houses down one side and on the other side there were only the small cottages at the back.     High Street had a break opposite the Workhouse garden, and Avenue Road, Park Road, North and South, and Dr. Vaisey’s Norden House had not come into existence, the whole being a grass field.   The houses on both sides of the street were much the same.


Mr. Clear mentioned that the little alley between Mr. Turner’s and Mr. Kemp’s shop [86/88 High Street, now rebuilt], known as Monkey Alley has quite a history.  A Mr. Thomas Piper, whom I remember well, was about 1865, master of the Boys School and lived up this alley.  He was a man of very Radical views (in fact he was a Bradlaughite) and he soon fell out with Mr. Preston, the Vicar.  He started a school of his own in a wooden building, up the alley and as the boys school was inconveniently full and Piper was a clever man, he got a lot of boys to his school.  He had a son, who came home from abroad, bringing a large tame monkey.  This monkey had its liberty and was here, there and everywhere, hence the Alley was and is called Monkey Alley.  Its subsequent history was after Pipers death a few Wesleyans rented the wooden house as a Wesleyan Chapel, but movers in the matter left the parish and the place was closed.   Then a few Old Baptists, for whom the doctrines of the Chapel were not strict enough, took the room and held services there.  However, Mr. Richard Gibbs died and the room was pulled down and replaced by the present Rose Cottages.  Just one word here about the Parish School at that time.   Mrs. Tredaway was mistress of the Girls’ School, which he remembered being opened by a bazaar.  Mary Bellow was mistress of the Infant School, and had a Miss Sharp as assistant.  This was where the War Memorial Institute is now [Church Walk].


“In conclusion,” said Mr. Clear, “let me say that although I have never known Winslow look so smart and nice now, yet 61 years ago she was much more prosperous, especially when the railway was getting into swing, nearly every tradesman was making a fortune.  Bakers, butchers, grocers, shoemakers, ironmongers, chemists, publicans, all could retire on good fortunes.   Where are there any fortunes nowadays?  Some people have found fault with the number of public houses, about 18, in those days, but then consider the difference between then and now.  On market days there would be several hundreds of conveyances come into the town and probably over a thousand visitors, three auctions going on and sheep, cattle and pigs in every available spot.  There must have been a lot more public accommodation required then than now.  Look at the brickyards, tanneries, maltings, brew houses, the big school for young ladies at Brook Hall, with about 40 boarders – Mr. Grace’s big school – all these brought money into the town.  Then there were no rates worth speaking of and very little taxes.  Then we had small houses and big families, now big houses with two or three in each and a yearly shrinking population.   Well never mind as the late Mr. Hy. Monk used to say “Come what will, Winslow shall be Winslow still.”

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Copyright 13 May, 2016