The Manor of Great Linford
Your natural inclination might be to think of the word manor as meaning a grand country house or mansion, which indeed it can, but historically it has a much broader meaning, covering not just a dwelling place, but the surrounding land, the people on it, and the relationship between them and the local lord. The history of Great Linford Manor, and of those men who held the title of Lord (or Squire) is a complicated one. A manor came with prestige, power, responsibility and crucially, a coveted income from the land and rents, and as such the ownership was often much contested over and subject to the whims, political manoeuvrings and benevolence (or not) of monarchs. In this regard, Great Linford has as chequered a history as most, but it is possible to trace with some confidence many of the successive landowners who claimed title to the manor.
Unsurprisingly, the first written reference to Great Linford is to be found in the Domesday Book of 1086, compiled on the orders of William the Conqueror; an earlier reported reference has since been found to be a mistake. The name was then spelt Linforde and may have been coined from the combination of a causeway or ford over the river Ouse near to some Lime (or Linden) trees. Linforde had once actually spanned land on both sides of the Ouse, but by the time of the Domesday survey the land to the north of the river had become incorporated into the Bonestou (Bunsty) Hundred, while land to the south had become part of the Sigelai (Secklow) Hundred. A hundred is an administrative region within a larger geographic region and from this division we arrive by the 13th century at the separate settlements of Great and Little Linford.
The Domesday record reveals that two men held manors at Linforde, Walter Giffard and Hugh de Bolebec, both of whom were Norman barons and possibly related. It was Walter (as a substantial local landowner) who initially installed Hugh at Linforde, but Hugh was then granted a separate manor directly from the king. Both held their manors at Linforde as so called Tenants in Chief, meaning they would have managed the land in homage to the King; amongst their responsibilities would have been a requirement to supply knights and soldiers for the King’s armies. Walter’s father had in fact supplied 30 ships for the invasion of 1066 and in gratitude for this and other services had been bestowed 48 manors in Buckinghamshire, including Linforde.
Two other men also held land (though not manors) at Linforde, named in the Domesday book as the Count of Mortain and William, son of Ansculf. The Count of Mortain was a significant figure in the Norman conquest. Named Robert and a half-brother to the conqueror, the count was present at the battle of Hastings and as a loyal and trusted confidant of William was granted vast tracks of land, largely in Cornwall. At the time of the Domesday survey he held 797 manors worth £2,100, equivalent in modern terms to several million pounds. William, son of Ansculf was William Fitz-Ansculf; his father had been another key player and beneficiary of the invasion of 1066, receiving in the region of 100 estates across a dozen counties. In common with many large landowners, none of these men often (if indeed ever) set foot in all their manors and land holdings, but would have appointed bailiffs to manage the day to day running of their estates. For the common folk of Linforde, their lords were probably thought of as distant and aloof figures to be respected and feared.
The Domesday survey was conducted with the aim of setting taxation levels, so the records are preoccupied with details of the land and its use, utilising an archaic set of measures and terms that are the subject of academic debate as to their precise meaning. Hence we find that Hugh de Bolebec held 2 hides and 1 and a half virgates as one manor. A hide was defined as land sufficient to support a family, and is thought to represent something in the region of 30 modern acres. 100 hides made up a hundred. A virgate might be measured as one quarter of a hide. Also mentioned in Hugh’s Domesday record is that 3 thegns held the manor. A thegn (also spelt thane) had been a lower ranking title in Saxon Britain, somewhere between an ordinary freeman and an hereditary noble, but with the arrival of the Normans and their root and branch reordering of society, it would rapidly fall out of use. But here in this one small account, we can see the complexity of medieval feudal life with its complex rules of vassalage, patronage and obligation. Turning to Walter Gifford’s holdings, we learn that included in the account of his possessions were 4 slaves! Statistics from The Domesday book show this was not unusual, with upward of 10% of the population in servitude, though the influence of Norman Lords saw the rapid decline of the practice.
War and not much peace
The two manors recorded in the Domesday book passed in due course into the hands of the son of Huge de Bolebec, also named Hugh, beginning the process of the two manors and lesser land holdings coalescing into one single manor. Upon Hugh’s death his 9 year old daughter became a ward of Alberic de Vere, earl of Oxford, which resulted in her marriage to the earl’s son, which in turn brought Linford manor under the overlordship of the earl of Oxford. An overlord was one with power over lesser lords, hence though the earl of Oxford retained dominion over Great Linford until the 17th century, a succession of other names are more closely linked to the manor. The Pipard family held the manor from the 1180s until 1310, and seemed to be engaged in something of a tussle for ownership with another family, the Butlers, to whom they had become joined through the marriage of John Pipard’s daughter to an Edmund Butler. The Butlers were the Earls of Ormonde, with extensive Irish estates, as also were the Pipards.
Family ties seemed to count for little, as after renting the manor to the Butlers, and having received no whiff of a payment for 2 years, John had taken back possession, only for King Edward II to briefly take control in 1321 on the death of Edmund Butler. The king then restored the manor back to John Pipard in 1323, but by 1328 and presumably upon John’s death, the Butlers had regained control. Machinations of this sort would continue during the following centuries, with numerous changes of ownership, either by inheritance, royal prerogative or in at least one notable case, execution!
James Butler (1420-1461) was a staunch supporter of the House of Lancaster during the War of the Roses. He was considered one of the most handsome men of the realm, but also one of its greatest cowards, having deserted from three battles, in the last of which he allegedly took off his armour and hid in a ditch, before making his escape dressed as a monk; a contemporary observation was made that, “he fought mainly with his heels, for he was frightened of losing his beauty. After a Yorkist victory at the battle of Towton, he was beheaded at Newcastle on May 1st, 1461, by which time he and two brothers had been attainted. A bill of attainder was a process by which a person lost their civil rights including all their property to the crown, and for the Butlers, this included Great Linford. This would have included the medieval manor house built around 1380, the remains of which are buried beneath the arts centre carpark.
But the fortunes of war are a fickle thing and with the eventual Yorkist victory, the Butlers would be back, though in the immediate aftermath of their attainment, the manor passed through a number of other hands, first to a Richard Middleton and his male heirs, then in October 1467 to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and the future wife of Henry VII. It seems unlikely she ever visited Great Linford, the king having likely granted her the manor to draw upon the rents to sustain her in childhood. It does seem likely that the Butlers themselves were never actually resident in the village or even visited, and the de-facto Lords of the Manor would have been other persons occupying the position in their place; one such name potentially associated with the Manor during this period is the de Linford (or Lynford) family, quite obviously named after the village, and a family of some substance and standing in the parish, who were present from at least the late 12th to the middle of the 15th century.
The Italian connection
Next came a particularly unusual new Lord of the manor. Gherardo di Bernardo Canigiani was an Italian representative in London for the Medici bank of Florence. The Medicis were lending vast sums of money to Edward IV to shore up the crown, and Canigiani appears to have been at the heart of this arrangement, ingratiating himself into court life and in offering Edward overly favourable terms creating what seems to have been a conflict of interest between his employers and the king. Things came to a head in 1468 when the Medicis sent an emissary to untangle the mess of debt that Edward had accrued, but after a temporary respite, the arrangement collapsed in 1472 and Canigiani appears to have cut ties with the Medici family. In 1473 he was granted a letter of denization, granting him citizenship with the right to own and sell land, and thus protected restyled himself Gerard Caniziani and married a wealthy English widow with silk trade connections named Dame Elizabeth Stockton.
Caniziani was well on his way to becoming someone of substance in the ranks of the English gentry; all he needed was a country estate, a wheel greased by writing off a debt of £360 held by the king, whereupon he and his wife were jointly granted the manor of Great Linford. Caniziani passed away a wealthy man in 1484, seemingly having pulled a fast one on both the king and the Medicis, but once again given the complex nature of these holdings, it is impossible to say for sure if Caniziani was at any time a resident of Great Linford or simply supplementing his income from the rents; he was subsequently described in contemporary documents as a merchant of London, so clearly had not entirely severed his connections to the capital.
Henry VII ascended the throne in 1485, finally ending the War of the Roses. Amongst no doubt many similar cases, he annulled the act of attainment against the Butlers, restoring Great Linford to the family, though the aforementioned de Linford family may have been the titular Lords of the Manor throughout this period and even during the prior grant to Gerard Caniziani. A tenement attributed in 1460 to a Thomas Linford was in 1485 described as, “a tenement of the Lord of Linford”, which seems suggestive that the de Linfords had been the acting authority in the manor for some time.
But regardless if the Butlers ever stepped foot in Great Linford, it seemed they retained their holding for some years more, perhaps as late as 1560, when Queen Elizabeth granted the manor to a John Thompson, whose family then held it for several generations. It was a Sir John Thompson who in 1640 conveyed the manor to one of the most famous families to have lived in the village, the Napiers.
The first of the Napiers to arrive in Great Linford was the renowned Reverend Richard Napier, whose medical practice was much admired by commoner and noble alike. Richard was appointed the reverend in 1590, but spent much of his energies engaged in his medical practice, which employed a variety of methods, some bordering on the occult, as well as using the considerable profits he amassed to buy up much land and property in the parish. He passed away in 1634 and it was to his brother Robert (a wealthy London grocer) that Sir John Thompson sold the original medieval manor house in 1640, which was then in turn passed to his son Richard Napier, who would be knighted in 1647 as Sir Richard. As the favourite nephew of the Reverend Napier, Sir Richard had followed in his uncle’s footsteps. He had attended some of his patients at Great Linford and would gain a number of medical qualifications, becoming in 1664 an honourary fellow of the college of physicians in London. He took up residence in the medieval manor house and then set about a buying spree of his own, aiming to become the principal land and property owner in the parish. He apparently succeeded, but the effort stretched his finances to breaking point, and upon his death in 1676 his son Thomas found his inheritance included shouldering crippling debts of £22,000, an enormous sum of money that would likely equate to two and a half million pounds in today’s money. Unable to service the debt, Thomas had no choice but to sell.
New money and the arrival of the Pritchards
There was a ready market for country estates amongst the monied classes of London, and in 1683 Thomas found a willing buyer named Sir William Pritchard. Pritchard had been apprenticed a tailor, but on inheriting his father’s rope making business, made his fortune supplying “rope and match” to the Ordnance. The Board of Ordnance was the office tasked with procuring military supplies for the army and navy and was based in the Tower of London. William’s rope making business would have been well-placed to also manufacture slow matches, the nitrate impregnated strings used to provide a reliable source of ignition for gunpower muskets. A soldier needed to have his gun ready to fire at a moment’s notice, and the corded “match” was designed to smoulder slowly until needed. It was estimated that a single man on guard duty could burn through a mile of this cord in a year, so it’s easy to imagine how Pritchard could have afforded to not only purchase the manor of Great Linford, but to have demolished the medieval manor house and build himself the house and alms houses that now dominate the manor grounds. Unfortunately it should also be noted that William had another source of income, as he was also a principal shareholder in the Royal African Company, which during its lifetime shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other institution in the history of the Atlantic slave trade.
William Pritchard had married a Sarah Coke of Kingsthorpe and it was her brother Francis who conducted the day to day business of the Great Linford estate. But William himself did not have long to enjoy his purchase, as he passed away in London in 1705 and was conveyed “in great state” from his house at Highgate for burial at Great Linford. His will passed the manor first to his wife Sarah, and then upon her death in May of 1718 to two nephews. One of these, Daniel King, relinquished his holding, leaving Richard Uthwatt as the sole lord of the manor. He was the son of William’s sister Cicely and her husband Richard Uthwatt. This then is how the manor passed to the Uthwatt family, with the next in line being the tragic figure of Thomas Uthwatt, who in 1754 fell into a fit of depression and took his own life. But despite this family calamity, the name of Uthwatt would remain intimately connected to the parish for over 250 years by a complex line of succession, culminating in the sale of the Manor House in 1972 to Milton Keynes Development Corporation by the last of the Great Linford Uthwatts, Stella Katherine Andrews Uthwatt.
It did seem however that the Uthwatts were less and less inclined to actually reside at the manor. Writing in his memoir, Newman Thomas Cole, who lived in Great Linford circa 1855-1868 speaks of the local squire the Rev. William Andrewes Uthwatt who was rector of Maids Moreton at the time. The reverend resided there rather than Great Linford, and left the manor in the care of a "steward", or bailiff, by the name of John Crisp. We thus find John, along with a servant called Elizabeth Valentine occupying the manor on the 1861 census. From the 1880s the manor house was rented out, briefly as a school, then in around 1910 to the Mead family, becoming a fixture in the village until the mid-1930s. In the late 1960s newspaper advertisements give the Manor House as the address of a garden ornament business, and after its sale to the Development Corporation, a new owner converted it into a music recording studio, with one of the Alms Houses serving as accommodation for visiting artistes. The manor house is now a private residence, with the surrounding park grounds maintained by the Parks Trust.