A Brief History of Milton Keynes

This page briefly outlines the history behind Milton Keynes.

The Early Days
Imagine seeing a woolly mammoth in your back garden. If you were one of Milton Keynes original residents years ago, that’s what you could have seen! Along with woolly mammoth tusks, flint hand axes belonging to Palaeolithic times (half a million years ago) have been found in what are now the Bletchley and Bow Brickhill areas. Further findings include early examples of horses and Milton Keynes cows around Willen, Northfield and Caldecotte. If you live in the Bradwell area, you may well notice prehistoric pieces of flint in your garden, which are the remains of Neolithic/Mesolithic tool kits.

Bronze Age barrows found in Newport Pagnell, Wolverton and Castlethorpe, and the roundhouse in Bluebridge are about 4,500 years old, and they show that some sort of civilised society existed here in Milton Keynes even then.

Iron Age pottery, coins and jewellery have been found in places such as Bancroft, Pennyland, Caldecotte, Furzton, the Shenleys, Bow Brickhill, Wavendon Gate and Middleton, Milton Keynes Village. They show that a developed social structure and hierarchy were established in this area as long as 2,500 years ago, and that long distance trading with different regions was taking place. Proof of this has recently been unearthed in the form of solid gold torcs.

The Romans
The Romans came along about 2,000 years ago and despite much turmoil with the local people, they eventually co-existed, though in different settlements and with different life-styles. The Romans used their civil engineering abilities to build the small town of Magiovinium, close to where the old tribal fort was, between Little Brickhill and Fenny Stratford. It housed about 1,000 people, making up half the population of Milton Keynes at this time (around 50 AD). The Romans also started the transport network by building Watling Street (A5) and what was to become the A421 to Thornborough and Buckingham. There must have been clashes with the Romans here when Queen Boudicca marched up Watling Street to Towcester in 61 AD.

The Romans’ construction skills were not the only things that they brought to this area. It was from this time that ‘new’ vegetables got onto the Milton Keynes menu, including cabbage, carrots, celery, coriander, parsnips, and turnips. These have been found whilst excavating the grounds of the large Roman Villas at Bancroft and Stantonbury.

During the Roman reign, transport links improved, and so more settlers gradually migrated to this area from around 500 AD. The Angles, Saxons and Danes were the largest groups, establishing themselves in such places as Caldecotte, Wolverton, Bancroft, Bradwell, the Shenleys, Wavendon Gate, Pennyland and Great Linford. Boundaries around the manors developed into parish boundaries and these were grouped into ‘hundreds’ for administrative purposes; the Bunsty, Moulsoe, and Secklow Hundreds. Meeting places were built as mounds where these boundaries met, and the Secklow Hundred Meeting mound can still be seen behind the City library where it was used up to the 13th century. You can also see a 150 million year old fossil of an Icthyosaurus found around Caldecotte in the reference library.

At this time Stony Stratford was being developed as a result of the lords of the manors of Wolverton and Calverton getting together in maybe the first example of ‘town planning’ in the Milton Keynes area, and was granted permission for fairs and markets.

11th to 17th Centuries
With the coming of the Normans around the eleventh century, the originally Anglo-Saxon village Middle Farm (Middleton) became known as Middleton Kaynes under the Norman lord of the manor De Cayennes. This later became Milton Keynes. The oldest domestic building still standing in this area is 22 Milton Keynes, a 14th Century manor house.

Around the late 16th, early 17th centuries, the Plague hit the area killing off much of the population including the Clergy that kept population records of their parishes. These records are therefore few and difficult to interpret for population information but indicate the surviving peasantry was in demand to work the land and could bargain for higher wages, slowly gathering pace into a peasants revolt.

After the Civil War had passed in the late 17th century a new era of improved trade began in Stony Stratford in the form of the opening of a regular stage coach service from London to Birmingham in 1673.

18th and 19th Centuries
Education was developing so that by the mid 1700s even some of the poorest children could be taught the three Rs, and as lace making was by now an established local trade, lace making schools were set up in Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell.

The population of MK borough around 1700 was about 16,000 people, equivalent to the population of Newport Pagnell now. This was found from parish records from the time.

In 1764 John Newton a former slave ship captain was made curate at Olney. He was later influential in the abolition of slavery. He was a friend of poet William Cowper, who also settled in Olney.

During the 18th century our population slowly grew to 18,900 people, and these were counted in the first Census in 1801.

The 19th Century really sees Milton Keynes blossoming due to industrial advancements, particularly in the ‘New Town’ of Wolverton started in 1838.

Although the Grand Junction Canal had already been opened and the network expanded over the Great Ouse with the Iron Trunk Aquaduct in 1811, the railways had also begun to snake through industrial Britain at pace. As Wolverton was a central point on the London – Birmingham line it became a pivotal works station for servicing both trains and passengers en route. On the same line, Bletchley also became a popular station with further cross country links introduced from Oxford in 1851, then Bedford and Cambridge in 1862.

With all this productivity and expansion it is not surprising to see that the population had risen to 35,800 by the time of the Census in 1901.

The 20th Century
Bletchley becomes the centre of attention, albeit secret at the time (1940), when Bletchley Park is the location for the hub of code-breakers spurring victory at the Battle of Britain. During the war years, Bletchley Council had had plans for a ‘Bigger Better Brighter Bletchley’, which finally came to fruition shortly after the war with the help of the London County Council. In 1951 Londoners had started to move into the new areas of Bletchley, boosting the population to 42,800 altogether in Milton Keynes.

By 1967 the M1 was providing a direct road link to London and the Midlands and a Designation order establishes the New Town Development Corporation. They designate the ‘city’ area of Milton Keynes to incorporate the previously ‘new’ towns of Wolverton and Bletchley – the population at this point had swollen to 40,000 for the city area (DA) alone and 60,000 including the rest of the borough.

The first section of the LA-style grid road system is completed in 1970 and Earl Mountbatten formally opens the world’s first Open University which had located to Walton Hall the previous year.

As the city takes shape, the infamous Concrete Cows are unveiled in Bancroft 1978, the following year sees the Shopping Centre open its doors (although it was originally without doors, until so many complaints of cold persuaded the developers to finally add them!), and the Bowl played host to its first pop concert – Soul in the Bowl, with Desmond Decker and Geno Washington.

Massive housing and commercial growth attracts many international companies and cultural groups into the city. Buddhist monks and nuns of Nipponzan Myohoji settle and dedicate the Peace Pagoda at Willen Lake, in 1988 Granby Mosque was built and in 1991 the Ecumenical Church of Christ the Cornerstone was completed.

Between the 1981 and 1991 censuses, the population inflates from 95,800 to 143,700 and 124,300 to 178,300 people in the DA and borough respectively. There was continued growth in housing, jobs and leisure facilities such as the Theatre/Gallery complex, Xscape and Midsummer Place.

The 21st Century
The continued development of Milton Keynes has further sustained an in-migration of people to Milton Keynes so that the current (June 2011) borough population figure stands at 249,900. The growth is set to continue, for more information on the projected population growth of Milton Keynes, including ward and estate projections, please click on the link below.


  • The Changing Landscape of Milton Keynes – Croft and Mynard, ISBN 0 949003 12 3
  • A History of Milton Keynes and District (Volumes 1 and 2) – Sir Frank Markham, White Crescent Press Ltd, Luton