Bury Field is a remarkable survival of a medieval Open Field. The name is most likely to derive from ‘burh’ or borough. This was the Town Field. In the open field system parishes in general had two or three open fields, which were farmed on a rotation system and meadowland for grazing. Such open spaces were divided into strips we know as ridge and furrow.These were divided between the Lord of the Manor, the burgesses, who were freeholders, tenants, who paid rent to the Lord and those, who held land in return for working the land. Because of the way the ploughing was done in a ‘reverse S shape’ we can still see the remains of this in the shapes of the long boundaries of the properties on the north side of the High Street. In this area burgesses built their properties on the end of their strips. Maybe as early as the 12th century it became practical for the Field to be used for grazing and the Lord of the Manor granted grazing rights to tenants, who became the forerunners of the present Common Holders. (These rights still exist today to the Common Holders in the town). So in its early history certainly from 1276 this vast area of common land was termed common pasture, possibly as the remains of common fields of Saxon origin. At this time it was laid down that men of the town had rights of Common in the demesne pastures of the Lord of the Manor between the Feast of St Michael – 14th May- and the Feast of St Martin on the 11th October. Over many years hereafter strict rules of management were enforced and a Field Keeper was appointed to ensure that the rules were adhered to. Parts of it have been chipped away over the centuries, but it is in character still much what it has always been. In all early deeds the right to graze cattle was referred to as the ‘Common Pasture’ Right.and was directly held on the freehold of the property occupied. It was in fact the freehold of the land, which was the governing factor, not what building stood on it. Nowadays grazing rights are not exercised, but it is customary to collect a certain sumyearly as the share of rent paid by the farmer using the land.
There had been connections with the nearby Tickford Priory. (The history of this Priory is elsewhere on the site). However, at the dissolution of the monasteries most of the Abbey’s possessions passed to the High Sheriff of Northamptonshire.
There are some old Court Rolls of Henry VIII in existence. One records the granting of a lease by Richard Moore to William Sheppard of an ‘inclosure’ called “The Kekyle” and besides rent Sheppard appears to have agreed to give 20 calves. Also there was the likelihood of a custom in ancient times that the farmer of ‘Beryfield’ should keep the pasture annually from the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Feast of the Invention of the Cross. The tenants of the town of Newport pagnell should put their beast to pasture until that Feast as was the custom.
During Elizabethan times the Field came into the possession of Henry Adkins at one time personal doctor to the Queen. Freeholders in the town kept a right of pasture on the common. At a later date the ground rights of Bury Field were purchased and added to the Tyringham Estate.
Along by the Queens Avenue entrance to the Field across to Mill House and adjacent to Union Street are the remains of a Civil War defensive boundary and over by the top meadow is an ancient burial mound. When Cromwellian troops were present in the town, which was at that time very compact and enclosed by the two rivers, an attempt was made to completely enclose it by connecting the two rivers with a dyke from the rear of the North Mill across Bury Field to a point on the River Lovat/Ouzel near where the Parchment works is situated. There is no evidence that this ever came to pass, but local historian Newman Cole alluded to the fact that remains of workings were apparent.
The Royalist troops of Charles I took over the town in 1643. Responding to this move the Roundhead troops of Major General Skippon came to the town to occupy it and force the Royalists out. They continued to fortify the town and used it to mount raids to places in the locality like Stony Stratford. As a result Sir Samuel Luke was installed as Governor of Newport Pagnell and made his headquarters in the Saracen’s Head inn, which was next to The Swan inn, now The Swan Revived hotel. The Saracen’s Head now no longer exists. He set out to repair and improve the fortifications. The Royalist troops were not that far away in Buckingham, so it was vital to get the work done and a few thousand labourers were used to do this. In the Market Place barracks were erected and there was a curfew at 9 p.m. Soon there were 1,200 troops in the town including John Bunyan. Wood for the fortifications was brought from Whaddon Chase. During the subsequent hostilities Sir Thomas Fairfax arrived in Sherington after having raised the siege of Oxford. He came to Newport Pagnell to inspect the fortifications at the invitation of Samuel Luke.
However, there were all sorts of difficult situations that arose in the town during the Roundhead occupation and it is probable that the local people were heartily glad when in 1646 there was an order to disband the troops and take down the fortifications.
In 1745 – the time of the ‘Glorious 45’ Jacobite Rebellion, when scottish troops invaded England, the field was used as a camp by the army of the Duke of Cumberland -( or ‘Butcher Cumberland’ as the Scots were to call him after his brutal campaign in Scotland once the rebellion was put down). His army was marching North to meet the threat in 1745.
It is believed that the Field extended as far as the area we now know as Market Hill and High Street areas and joined to what we refer to today as The Green.
At the centre of the common lies a small wooded copse, which is all that is left of a walkway known as Christmas Walk.
At one point the ground rights were bought by Mr. Myers of the Little Linford Estate. He had a great interest in horse racing and wanted to create a race course on the Field. Though he couldn’t bring this into fruition, the rights remained with the Linford Estate until relatively recently. However, horses were raced in the Field in the early 18th century and then again in the early 19th century.
In the early 19th century in 1801 just inside the field from the car park stone was quarried to be “spread on the North Bridge”. In total 65 loads were dug out for the work on the bridge and there is also a record of “cleaning the North Bridge”. These loads were probably carried by horse and cart. We can still see evidence of this digging today. In 1851 a move to enclose and divide up the Field was vigorously opposed and a committee was appointed to safeguard the rights and privileges for all, so the right to enjoy the Field was open to all. The people of the town showed their love of the Field shortly afterwards in 1859, when they rallied to the cause of clearing the common of a huge weed problem, particularly ragwort and thistles. The then 229 commonholders set to solving this. The town was divided into districts and subscriptions obtained to pay for the work. On 25th July at 6 a.m. people started to turn out and by the afternoon several hundred worked tirelessly until the work was done. The numbers included schoolchildren, who were given a day off school to help. Bull’s history states that the Field was entirely cleared, so that valuable space was freed up. The only expense was providing ale. On the following Monday people celebrated the achievement with a public tea and sports.
In the mid 19th century the railway had arrived in the town with a single track line from nearby Wolverton. In the 1860s there was a proposal to continue this line to Olney to link up with another line running through there and this would involve crossing Bury Field. In fact a swathe was cut through the Field for this project. In the end the money was not there to complete such a project, so it never materialized, but the cuttings and mounds created are still evident.
Such buildings as the town lock-up, the stocks, the town pound and houses fringed the Field.
Around the 1840s High Street and Market Hill had developed. The entrance to the common had a gateway from Market Hill. In the 19th century Bury Meadow and the three fields joined to it along the river were just one field. (Today certain ones of these meadows belong to Mill House in the town). Then around the beginning of the 1870s a proposal for a cattle market was made to capitalize on the railway in the town. As a result of this happening later on the main entrance to the Field was moved thus shrinking the common further. It meant that the Lord of the Manor and common holders had to surrender rights to allow this. This area was also used for the branding of cattle when entering the pasture for the season, which seems to have been the 14th of May and was called Stocking Day. The Cattle Market survived only until the 1930s and then fell out of favour until it closed down all together. The old Cattle Sale Yard became a parking area.
A document dated April 1872 prepared by Mr. W. B. Bull is titled:-
BURY FIELD, BURY MEADOW AND MIDSUMMER HOLME
In the Parish of NEWPORT PAGNELL, BUCKS., and the rights of the several Parties therein.
The Freehold of the Field and Meadow is vested in FREDERICK JAQUES MYERS, Esq., of Little Linford, subject to the following Rights:-
(It describes rights and entitlements).
The Lady of the Manor of the town was entitled to stock the field from May 14th until December 23rd with 6 cows and a bull and from December 23rd on to May 14th with 12cows and a bull free of charge.
“The Occupiers, for the time being, of certain ancient Messuages, in the Parish of Newport Pagnell and Hamlet of Caldecot, in the annexed List have a right to Stock Two Head of Cattle, from the 14th day of May until the 11th day of October, on payment to the Owner of the Field of the following Head Money:- Horses, per head, 1s 9d; Cows per head, 1s 1d; Milking Cows, on the Field on Whit-Monday, pay 2d extra; and to continue their Cattle in the Field, up to the 23rd day of December, upon payment to the Owner of half the above Head Money.
In April 1846, at a Meeting of the Commoners, it was agreed that the Commoners Stock with One Head of Cattle only, and the Double Stocking Money be paid.”
It was noted that this procedure continued until 1872.
The document also recorded that ” The Owner is entitled to Stock Sheep, without stint, from the 10th Dec. to the 6th April. All Stock upon entering to be Branded with the Brand of the Field (Sheep excepted).
“This Meadow is closed for Mowing from the 6th April until the first Monday after 6th July. The Owner has a right to the Grass of Cuckoo Acre and Hook Acre. The Overseers of the Parish of Newport Pagnell to Widows’ Acre, upon payment to the Owner of the Field of 25s., for Booking and Tithe Money. The Ladies of the Manor of Newport Pagnell to Upper and Lower Chequer Acre and Goose Half-Acre, upon payment to the Owner of 21s. The Commoners are entitled to a Rood or half a Rood of Grass, as set out in the annexed List ( such Commoners having Stocked their Common) upon payment to the Owner after the rate of 6s. 10d. per nominal Acre”
( Note that the acreage in Bury Meadow being nominal is 2r. 27p., and not a Statute Acre ).
It continues:-” No Claim can be admitted for Grass in less quantities than Two Roods.”
“This Meadow Land adjoins and opens into Bury Field, and is closed for Mowing on the 6th April to the 6th July, the Grass the property of the Owner of Newport Mills.”
For a full list of Commoners entitled to stock Bury Field and to the grass of Bury Meadow see the page titled ‘Commoners list of 1872′.
Apathy over the Field is no new thing. In 1884 it was left to the Church wardens, Mr. George Price and Mr. John Odell to call a public meeting of the Common Holders to look into the state of the Field. A committee of 14 members was set up, including Matthew Knapp, the Lord of the Manor. Each one gave 10/- towards a guarantee fund for the protection of the Field from encroachment and depredation.
The question of purchasing the Field from the land-owner went on over many years. The first documented evidence appears to have begun in 1895, when the Parish Council inquired into the value of the Field following a resolution passed by a public meeting held in Bury Field. This was a result of the powers given to the Parish Council by the Local Government Act of 1894. Nothing resulted from this move.
On 5th September 1899 there were discussions over a scheme for the management of and making regulations for the field under the Commons Act of 1899. This appears to have resulted from an opinion by the Board of Agriculture (August 1899) that, prima facie,Bury Field would appear to be a common within the meaning of the Inclosure Acts and calling attention to Commons Act 1899 under which a scheme could be made for its regulation and management.
On October 31st 1899 the Board of Agriculture stated that it was not necessary for the Council to have a leasehold of any interest in Bury Field to enable them to make a scheme for its regulation and management.
For two years a scheme was discussed, but in the end no action was taken.
On 24th April 1903 the Coronation Committee requested the Council to endeavour to obtain some control over the Field. This was referred by the Council to the Bury Field committee.
On 25th July 1903 it was advised that Bury Field and Bury Meadow were a common within the meaning of the Commons Act of 1899 and a scheme could be devised under the Board of Agriculture or the common could be leased under the Public Health Act of 1875 for a period of years.
In 1904 it was decided not to buy the rights of Bury Field and in 1906 Mr Knapp made clear that he was not prepared to consider any control by the Council of Bury Field.
However, in 1907 there was a proposal for the release by Mr. Knapp of one half of Bury Field including the Market Place on condition that the Council took means to extinguish all Commoners’ rights over the other half and over the whole of Bury Meadow, but the Council decided that consideration of this suggestion was impossible.
In 1922 the annual Long Fair was held in Bury Field with consent from Mr. Knapp but without any sanction from Common Owners. AS a result the Council as Common Owners requested Mr. Knapp to confer with them in order that they may more fully understand the relative positions of the various persons claiming rights in the Field.
On the establishment of the Newport Pagnell District Council in 1897 negotiations began with the Lord of the Manor for the purchase of the Field for the town. In 1925 the right of public access to the Field was confirmed and enforced by the Law of Property Act and this entitled members of the public to access to any land which is deemed a ‘Metropolitan Common’, a manorial waste or a common wholly situated within a Borough or Urban District. The number of cattle and horses allowed to be stocked by each Common holder has changed over the years. However, the rules on Bury Meadow were still the same right up until the 1930s, i.e. that there was to be no mowing from April 6th until the first Monday after July 6th. As a result the Meadow was alive with wild flowers like orchids, lady smock and marsh marigolds.
Last century the war effort made its mark on the Field during two World Wars. In 1913, when preparations were being made for war, army maneouvres were held in the Field. In the Second World War roughly 184 acres were ploughed up for growing food like cereals. In 1942 The Bucks. Agricultural Executive Committee requisitioned the field and in doing so removed bushes for ploughing. This was proving to be quite a major change to the character of the Field and as a result a public meeting insisted that this destruction of the bushes should stop forthwith. The people of the town also insisted that any structures put up during the war should be removed once hostilities ceased. Nevertheless irreversible changes to the field did take place at this time mainly from the ploughing. Despite the public’s efforts it took over ten years to get the field back to pasture and the structures were not removed and the land involved for these never returned to common land. These buildings were used for storage and repair of farm machinery for cultivation of the Field. It was said that the grass which used to be thick and lush never grew like that again. The lovely show of a large range of native wildflowers never returned to grace the Field again. At this time of war a Royal Observer Corps Post existed on the highest point and was manned continually for plotting aircraft. It was moved to Chicheley Hill in the 1960s. Also after the Second World War the Urban District Council in the town proposed the building of an estate of houses. The place chosen was the three small parcels of land at the rear of what had been the Cattle Sale Yard and so next to Bury Field. The Common Holders agreed to allow the area to be used as road access for the new Queens Avenue and Windsor Avenue. This resulted in the entrance to the Field being removed to what is now the entrance to the car park. For various reasons the area around the entrance was such an eyesore, the Urban District Council decided that a car park for people wishing to use the common should be built. Special dispensation was needed from the relevant government department for this to happen and this was granted.
In 1933 THE BUCKS. STANDARD reported about a meeting of the Newport Pagnell District Council. A reply had been received from Messrs. Durham, Gotto and Samuel, agents for the Little Linford Estate stating that Mr. Knapp would be willing that 6 seats be erected in Bury Field by the Council and maintained by it. Seats had been placed in the Field years before by the Council at an annual payment of one shilling per seat and it was thought that this could be made at this point too. This was agreed. The question of the legality of erecting seats in the Field was raised and the Clerk accepted such a doubt, but nevertheless he said that in this case he would agree to the seats being erected. The Act stated that seats could be erected by the side of a public highway or other public place and Bury Field was a public place. It was left to Messrs. Butler and Lineham with the surveyor to select where to place the seats.
In 1965 the common holders were given the chance to purchase the freehold in preference to the Newport Pagnell U.D.C., but they narrowly voted against the purchase.
In 1969 the Newport Pagnell Urban District Council had purchased the rights to Bury Field for £30,000 and thus became the Lord of the Manor. A grant was given for this purchase by Buckinghamshire County Council and a deed was drawn up with an undertaking that the Field was to remain as a Public Open space. Around the turn of this century the ownership of the Field was passed onto Milton Keynes Council and it demolished the 1942 redundant buildings. This allowed for extending the car park In the middle of the 20th century the Field became a focus for skating when the field was frozen, for a funfair and other recreations. In the 1960s it was a home for cricket and football and the town carnival came to the Field with events like scrambling, parachuting and Civil War battle reconstructions. (These were the days before rigorous health and safety and hefty insurance cover put a stop to such activities). The carnival used to take place over a week.
Nowadays Milton Keynes Council part owns the Field with The Bury Commoners Association. The Field is farmed and grazed and realistically can only be used for events from mid July onwards during the year. However it is still a public common and is used by local people by right for their recreation.
Examples of activities held there in the 20th century:-
In 1908 a golf course was set up with bunkers made from railway sleepers. School children cleared ragwort to improve the course.
In the 1920s the Field hosted aeroplane rides.
In the 1930s Alan Cobham held his Air Circus in the Field giving rides to the public. There were also fox-hunting meets to which local children were invited to spectate.
In addition the Field has seen cricket matches, football matches, School sports, a fair in June, Northampton Hospital fetes, Shrove Tuesday paper chase for school children and model aircraft flying.
Recent moves regarding the Field are as follows:-
In 1962 at a General Meeting of the Bury Field Commoners Association a Temporary Management Committee was appointed. The aim was to draw up a constitution and make a record of Commoners and this was duly completed. Out of this it was established, that the commoner is the OWNER of the freehold of the property giving the right to be a commoner and corporate bodies are only eligible to attend General Meetings through an authorised representative.
In 1962 Mr Knapp was granted permission to plough an area on the north side
More recently Bury Field has been used for ‘Civil War’ re-enactments, WW2 based activities, with displays of items from the period, including a full size model of a Spitfire aircraft.