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History of Castlethorpe

Castlethorpe is a village with a population of around 1,100 near Milton Keynes, about three miles north of Stony Stratford and seven miles north of Milton Keynes City Centre. It is separated from the county of Northamptonshire by the River Tove.

There is evidence that the area was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age, with a Bronze Age dagger being found in a nearby field. Roman jewellery was also discovered during the archaeological survey carried out during preparation work for a new housing development.

The village itself was first created around a motte and bailey castle built by Winemar the Fleming who was granted the manor of Hanslope by William I after the Norman Conquest in 1066AD. A settlement of servants and manual workers grew up around the castle and this became the village of Castlethorpe  (thorpe is an Old Norse language, particularly Danish, word for homestead, and it is not unreasonable to assume that there may well have been a Danish settlement nearby as the area was, if not part of, certainly close to, the Danelaw). 

The castle was destroyed in 1215 during the Baron’s Revolt against King John. The castle, despite suffering some disturbance, remains a well-preserved and impressive earthwortk complex, which is preserved in a public open space as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Castle Field, in a play area in the old fish ponds of the castle, and the north-west section of Gobbeys Field.

You can see a video about the castle remains by clicking here.

The parish church is dedicated to St Simon and St Jude, and dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, though the present church is of mainly Norman design. It was originally superior to that of nearby Hanslope but Bishop Grosteste changed the precedence in about 1250. Castlethorpe developed around the church and some traditional old stone cottages at the centre of the village which is now a Conservation Area.

With the opening of the London and North-Western Railway station in the village in 1882, Castlethorpe enjoyed a prominent position on the West Coast line and the village expanded with new housing in Station Road and North Street. The station  was closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts. Castlethorpe ponds were an important water pickup for steam trains on the main line from Euston to the Midlands and the North-West. The water tower that remains is one of only two left in the country.

The Grand Union Canal also runs by on the outskirts of the village, and is a short walk along the towpath to the neighbouring village of Cosgrove. 

Castlethorpe has always had a strong agricultural sector. However, the working farms are now at the edges of the village and have declined in number over the past 20 years but still remain an important influence on the village. Two of the farms have diversified into business units and this now plays a significant part in the local economy. 

The development of Milton Keynes itself and the opening of Milton Keynes Central railway station in 1982 created opportunities for both short- and long-distance commuting. Most of the working villagers now commute out of the village but, nevertheless, the village has retained its rural character and the local facilities critical to the existence of a local and thriving community.

The Great Fire of 1905

On 4 August 1905 a spark from a passing train set light to cottages and barns in the centre of the village. The fire started at about 2:20pm; a village resident spotted flames in a barn opposite Back Street (now South Street). The stone cottages in the centre of the village had thatched roofs and with the prevailing high wind the fire soon took hold.

Although the fire started in Back Street it soon spread through the passage towards Front Street (North Street) destroying a total of 13 houses, Lacks Yard and Varneys Yard; making 36 people homeless who because of the speed and intensity of the fire saved very few of their possessions. 

 Because of the time of day there were few village men available to fight the fire as most were at work, either in the fields or at Wolverton Works. Stony Stratford fire brigade were the first to arrive on the scene. They could do little to save the 13 cottages that were well ablaze, but with the help of a 1,000ft hose and a local pond further disaster was averted. The estimated cost of the damage caused was £3,000, the equivalent of more than £360,000 today.

Only two of the village's thatched houses were untouched by the fire and remain with thatched rooves today, The Inglenooks in South Street and Elm Tree Cottage in North Street.