Milton Keynes

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Milton Keynes
Central Milton Keynes skyline
Grid reference: SP841386
Location: 52°2’10"N, 0°46’12"W
Population: 195,687  (2008 estimate)
Post town: Milton Keynes
Postcode: MK1–15, 17, 19
Dialling code: 01908
Local Government
Council: Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes North
Milton Keynes South

Milton Keynes is a city in northern Buckinghamshire. It was formally designated as a new town on 23 January 1967, with the design brief to become a 'city' in scale. It eventually achieved city status on 15 August 2022 as part of the celebrations of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. It is a rare example of a new town built afresh, not an expansion of an existing core, though it does incorporate pre-existing towns within its area. It is situated mostly in the Newport Hundred, with Shenley Brook End in Cottesloe Hundred.

An area of 21,850 acres (34.1 square miles) was designated to form the new town, within which area the Milton Keynes Development Corporation was given sweeping powers of compulsory purchase and exclusive control over town and country planning, and the task of building the new town. The area incorporated the existing towns of Bletchley, Wolverton and Stony Stratford along with another fifteen villages and the farmland in between. The new town took its name from the existing Milton Keynes Village, lying a few miles east of Central Milton Keynes (the planned centre).

Central Milton Keynes

The Point in CMK

Central Milton Keynes is known locally as CMK, and is in places officially signposted as such. It is the heart of the new Milton Keynes. The main building is the Milton Keynes Shopping Centre.

As a key element of the New Town vision, Milton Keynes has a purpose built centre, with a very large "covered high street" shopping centre, theatre, art gallery, two multiplex cinemas, hotels, business district, ecumenical church, civic offices and central railway station.


Birth of a "New City"

In the 1960s, the Government decided that a further generation of new towns was needed in the South East to relieve housing congestion in London.

Population trend of Borough and Urban Area 1801-2001

Since the 1950s, overspill housing for several areas of London[1][2][3] had been constructed in Bletchley. Further studies[4][5] in the 1960s identified north Buckinghamshire as a possible site for a large new town, a new city,[6] encompassing the existing towns of Bletchley, Stony Stratford and Wolverton. The New Town (informally, "New City") was to be the biggest yet, with a target population of 250,000,[7] in a 'designated area' of 21,850 acres.[8] The name "Milton Keynes" was taken from the existing village of Milton Keynes on the site.[9]

The site was deliberately located equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge with the intention[10] that it would be self-sustaining and eventually become a major regional centre in its own right. Planning control was taken from elected local authorities and delegated to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC).

The Corporation's strongly modernist designs featured regularly in the magazines Architectural Design and the Architects' Journal. MKDC was determined to learn from the mistakes made in the earlier new towns and to revisit the Garden City ideals. They set in place the characteristic grid roads that run between districts and the intensive planting, lakes and parkland that are so evident today. Central Milton Keynes was not intended to be a traditional town centre but a business and shopping district that supplemented the Local Centres in most of the Grid Squares.[9] This non-hierarchical devolved city plan was a departure from the English New Towns tradition and envisaged a wide range of industry and diversity of housing styles and tenures across the city. The largest and almost the last of the British New Towns, Milton Keynes has stood the test of time far better than most, and has proved flexible and adaptable.[11] The radical grid plan was inspired by the work of Californian urban theorist Melvin M Webber (1921–2006), described by the founding architect of Milton Keynes, Derek Walker, as the "father of the city".[12] Webber thought that telecommunications meant that the old idea of a city as a concentric cluster was out of date and that cities which enabled people to travel around them readily would be the thing of the future achieving "community without propinquity" for residents.[13] With both car ownership and ever more emphasis on e-commerce, his ideas, launched in the 1960s, have proved far-sighted.

The Government wound MKDC up in 1992, transferring control to the Commission for New Towns and then finally to English Partnerships, with the planning function returning to local authority control. Since 2004 a Government quango, the Milton Keynes Partnership, has had development control powers to accelerate the growth of Milton Keynes.

Along with many other towns and boroughs, Milton Keynes competed for formal city status in the 2000 and 2002 competitions, but was not ultimately successful until 2022. Nevertheless, the terms 'city' and 'city centre' were widely used by its citizens, local media and bus services to describe it.

Prior history

Reproductions of the Milton Keynes Hoard (Milton Keynes Museum)

The area that was to become Milton Keynes encompassed a landscape that has a rich historic legacy. The area to be developed was largely farmland and undeveloped villages, but with evidence of permanent settlement dating back to the Bronze Age. Before construction began, every area was subject to detailed archaeological investigation: doing so has provided a unique insight into the history of a large sample of the landscape of south-central England. There is evidence of Iron Age, Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Mediæval and Industrial Revolution settlements. Collections [1] of oral history covering the 20th century complete a picture of great variety.

By the library is a small mound, an Anglo-Saxon moot hill named "Seclow Mound". This has inspired some of the new town's street names in CMK; Secklow Gate, Saxon Gate (and its continuation Saxon Street), and Witan Gate.

When the boundary of Milton Keynes was defined in 1967, some 40,000 people[14] lived in three towns and seven villages in the "designated area" of 21,833 acres.

Urban design

Since the radical plan form and large scale of Milton Keynes attracted international attention, early phases of the town include work by celebrated architects, including Richard MacCormac, Norman Foster, Henning Larsen, Ralph Erskine, John Winter, and Martin Richardson.[15] The Corporation itself attracted talented young architects led by the young and charismatic Derek Walker. Though strongly committed to sleek "Miesian" minimalism inspired by the German/American architect Mies van der Rohe they also developed a strand of contextualism in advance of the wider adoption of commercial Post-Modernism as an architectural style in the 1980s. In the Miesian tradition were the Pineham Sewage Works, which Derek Walker regarded as his finest achievement, and the Shopping Building designed by Stuart Mosscrop and Christopher Woodward, which the Twentieth Century Society inter alia regards as the finest twentieth century retail building in Britain. The contextual tradition that ran alongside it is best exemplified by the Corporation's infill scheme at Cofferidge Close, Stony Stratford, designed by Wayland Tunley, which carefully inserts into a historic stretch of High Street a modern retail facility, offices and car park. The Development Corporation also led an ambitious public art programme.

Grid squares

The geography of Milton Keynes – the railway line, Watling Street, Grand Union Canal, M1 motorway – sets up a very strong north-south axis. If you've got to build a city between (them) it is very natural to take a pen and draw the rungs of a ladder. Ten miles by six is the size of this city – 22,000 acres. Do you lay it out like an American city, rigid orthogonal from side to side? Being more sensitive in 1966-7, the designers decided that the grid concept should apply but should be a lazy grid following the flow of land, its valleys, its ebbs and flows. That would be nicer to look at, more economical and efficient to build, and would sit more beautifully as a landscape intervention.

Professor David Lock, MBE[16]

Milton Keynes Development Corporation planned the major road layout according to street hierarchy principles, using a grid pattern of approximately 1 km interval, rather than on the more conventional radial pattern found in older settlements. Major internal roads run between communities, rather than through them: these distributor roads are known locally as grid roads and the spaces between them, the districts, are known as grid squares.[17] Intervals of 1 km were chosen so that people would always be within walking distance of a bus stop. Consequently, each grid square is a semi-autonomous community, making a unique collective of 100 clearly identifiable neighbourhoods within the overall urban environment. The grid squares have a variety of development styles, ranging from conventional urban development and industrial parks to original rural and modern urban and pseudo-rural developments. Most grid squares have Local Centres, intended as local retail hubs and most with community facilities as well. Originally intended under the Master Plan to sit alongside the Grid Roads, the Local Centres were mostly in fact built embedded in the communities and some are becoming unviable as a result of this and pressure from the new hypermarkets.


Roundabout junctions were built at intersections because the grid roads were intended to carry large volumes of traffic: this type of junction is efficient at dealing with these volumes. The major roads are dual carriageway, the others are single carriageway. Along one side of each single-carriageway grid road there is a grassed reservation to permit dualling or additional transport infrastructure at a later date. The edges of each grid square are landscaped and densely planted, some additionally have berms. The purpose of the berms is to reduce traffic noise for adjacent residents; but traffic noise can be significant at many locations, even some distance from the grid roads.

Traffic movements are fast, with relatively little congestion since there are alternative routes to any particular destination. The national speed limit applies on dual carriageway sections of the grid roads (70 mph) and most single carriageway grid roads (60 mph), although some single carriageway speed limits have now been reduced to 40 mph. Consequently, the risk to unwary pedestrians and turning traffic is significant, although pedestrians rarely need to cross grid roads at grade, as underpasses exist in several places along each stretch of all of the grid roads. However, the new districts to be added by the expansion plans for Milton Keynes will depart from this model, with less separation and using 'at grade' crossings. Monitoring station data[18] shows that pollution is lower than in other settlements of a similar size. This can be partially attributed to the large number of trees, especially as trees line grid roads in most places.

Road names were determined on a regular pattern too; in Central Milton Keynes the three axis roads running generally east-west are "Boulevards" (Silbury Boulevard, Midsummer Boulevard and Avebury Boulevard) while the roads at right angles to them are named "Gate". Outside CMK, the east-west routes are "Way" and the north-south routes "Street". In the districts one finds "Avenue" and "Place" used in a similar way, or "Drive", Street" and "Court".

Serial numbers are given to routes; the east-west routes have codes beginning "H" numbered from north to south, and the north-south routes with "V", numbered west to east; thus the A506 is also "Portway" and "H5", and Saxon Gate / Saxon Street is "V7".

Cycleways: The Redways

There is a separate cycleway network (the "redways") that runs through the grid-squares and sometimes runs alongside the grid-road network. This was designed to segregate slow moving cycle and pedestrian traffic from fast moving motor traffic. In practice, it is mainly used for leisure cycling rather than commuting, mainly because the cycle routes include many underpasses beneath the grid-roads and because they take meandering scenic routes rather than straight lines. Despite what appears to be a desirable facility, rates of cycle commuting in Milton Keynes are well below the national average for urban areas.

The redway network contains 125 miles of cycleways.


Two of the towers of the Hub: MK development, completed in 2008. The taller building is 14 storeys high

The original design guidance required that the town should have "no building taller than the tallest tree". However, the Milton Keynes Partnership, in its expansion plans for Milton Keynes, believes that Central Milton Keynes needs "landmark buildings" and has lifted the height restriction for the area. As a result, 14-storey buildings have been built in the central business district. Some of the pedestrian underpasses have been closed in order to 'normalise' the streetscape of Central Milton Keynes and the character of the area is set to change under government pressure to increase densities of development. These changes are being opposed by pressure groups such as Urban Eden and the Milton Keynes Forum.

Recent large-scale building includes The Pinnacle MK on Midsummer Boulevard. The Pinnacle is the largest office building to be constructed in Milton Keynes in 25 years. Other developments in the pipeline include a 20-storey tower as part of the West End One development and a casino tower adjacent to the Xscape centre.[19]

Linear parks

Caldecotte Lake, Milton Keynes

The flood plains of the Great Ouse and of its tributaries (the Ouzel and some brooks) have been protected as linear parks that run right through Milton Keynes. The Grand Union Canal is another green route (and demonstrates the level geography of the area — there is just one minor lock in its entire 10 mile route through from Fenny Stratford to the "Iron Trunk" Aqueduct over the Ouse at Wolverton. The Milton Keynes redway system of cycleways and footpaths uses these and other routes.

The park system was designed by landscape architect Peter Youngman, who also developed landscape precepts for the whole town: groups of grid squares were to be planted with different selections of trees and shrubs in order to give them distinct identities. However the landscaping of parks and of the grid roads was evolved under the leadership of Neil Higson, who from 1977 took over as Chief Landscape Architect and made the original grand but not entirely practical landscape plan more subtle. A policy of creating "settings, strings, beads" for landscape features was introduced: 'settings' for historic villages and landscape features, 'strings' of landscape to make the linear parks hang together and 'beads' of public space where residents might linger. Higson also made the landscaping of the Grid Roads, one of the features of Milton Keynes, more subtle, with 'windows' cut into the roadside planting so that motorists travelling through had a sense of the major town they were in; early critics had said of Milton Keynes 'there is no there there', as the town could not be seen by the motorist just passing through.

"City in the forest"

The original Development Corporation design concept aimed[12] for a "forest city" and its foresters planted millions of trees from its own nursery in Newlands in the following years. As of 2006, the urban area has 20 million trees. After the Development Corporation was wound up, the lavish landscapes of the Grid Roads and of the major parks were transferred to The Parks Trust, a charity which is independent from the municipal authority and which was intended to resist pressures to build on the parks over time. The Parks Trust is endowed with a portfolio of commercial properties, the income of which pay for the upkeep of the green spaces, a maintenance model which has attracted international attention.[20]

Public sculpture

Liz Leyh's iconic "Concrete Cows"

Public sculpture in Milton Keynes[21] includes work by Philip Jackson, Nicolas Moreton, Ronald Rae and Elisabeth Frink.

Other amenities

Part of the Blue Lagoon
  • The Redway system of cycle paths. The national Sustrans[22] cycle network runs to and through the town. The Swans Way long distance path does the same.
  • Central Milton Keynes is home to the National Badminton Centre. There is a new football stadium in the Denbigh districtnear Bletchley, home of Milton Keynes Dons FC
  • Near the station, the "Planet Ice" ice rink, used for professional and amateur ice hockey plus leisure skating and amateur figure skating.
  • Also near the station there is a covered "urban skateboarding" arena known as the Buszy, but the wide expanses and slopes of the station plaza remain very popular among boarders.
  • Willen Lakeside Park hosts watersports
  • The North Lake is a bird sanctuary.
  • The Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve in Bletchley.

Original towns and villages

During World War II, British, Polish and American cryptographers at Bletchley Park broke a large number of Axis codes and ciphers, including the German Enigma machine.
The 1815 windmill near New Bradwell village, beside the playing fields
Stony Stratford high street in festive mood
The Peace Pagoda

The remainder of the designated area outside the four main towns (Bletchley, Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford, Wolverton) was largely rural farmland but included many picturesque North Buckinghamshire villages and hamlets: Bradwell village and Bradwell Abbey, Broughton, Caldecotte, Fenny Stratford, Great Linford, Loughton, Milton Keynes Village, New Bradwell, Shenley Brook End, Shenley Church End, Simpson, Stantonbury, Tattenhoe, Tongwell, Walton, Water Eaton, Wavendon, Willen, Great and Little Woolstone, Woughton on the Green. The historical settlements have been focal points for the modern development of the new town. Every grid square has historical antecedents, if only in the field names.

Bletchley was first recorded in the 12th century as Blechelai. Its station was a major Victorian junction, which gave it substantial urban growth in the town in that period. It expanded to absorb the villages of Water Eaton and Fenny Stratford.

Bletchley Park was home to the Government Code and Cypher School during the Second World War. The famous Enigma code was cracked here, and the building housed what was arguably the world's first programmable computer, Colossus. The house is now a museum of war memorabilia, cryptography and computing.

Bradwell had a Benedictine priory, Bradwell Abbey until the Reformation, of major economic importance in the area during the Middle Ages. The routes of the mediæval trackways (many of which are now Redways or bridleways) converge on the site from some distance. Nowadays there is only a small mediæval chapel and a manor house occupying the site.

New Bradwell, to the north and across the canal and the railway to the east of Wolverton, was built specifically for railway workers. It has a working windmill, just a few yards outside of the parish boundary. The level bed of the old Wolverton to Newport Pagnell Line ends here and has been converted to a Redway, making it a favourite route for cycling.

Great Linford appears in the Domesday Book as Linforde, and features a church dedicated to Saint Andrew, dating from 1215. Today, the outer buildings of the 17th century manor house form an arts centre, and Linford Manor is a prestigious recording studio.

Milton Keynes Village is the original village to which the New Town owes its name. The original village is still evident, with a pleasant thatched pub, village hall, church and traditional housing. The area around the village has reverted to its original name of Middleton, as shown on old maps of the 1700s. The oldest[23] surviving domestic building in the area, a 14th-century manor house, is here.

Stony Stratford stands on Watling Street, the last town before the road crosses the Great Ouse into Northamptonshire. Stony Stratford has held a market since 1194 by charter granted by King Richard I. The Rose and Crown Inn at Stratford is reputedly the last place the Princes in the Tower were seen alive.

Walton village's manor house is the headquarters of the Open University. The tiny former parish church, now deconsecrated, is in its grounds.

Willen has a tiny parish church built in 1680, which contains the only unaltered building by the architect and physicist Robert Hooke. The "Peace Pagoda" and a Buddhist Temple are nearby. The district of Willen borders the River Ouzel. Here is a large balancing lake, to capture flash floods before they cause problems downstream on the River Great Ouse. The north basin is a wildlife sanctuary and a favourite of migrating aquatic birds. The south basin is for leisure use, favoured by wind surfers and dinghy sailors. The circuit of the lakes is a favoured "fun run".

Wolverton was a sizeable town in its own right before being absorbed into Milton Keynes. The original mediæval settlement lay just north and west of today's town. The Ridge and Furrow pattern of agriculture can still be seen in the nearby fields and the Saxon Church, Holy Trinity (rebuilt in 1819) still stands next to the Norman Motte and Bailey site. Modern Wolverton was a 19th-century New Town built to house the workers at the Wolverton railway works (which built engines and carriages for the London and North Western Railway).

Civil parishes and districts

Milton Keynes is divided into civil parishes that follow the grid pattern of the new town. These are:

  • Bletchley and Fenny Stratford: Brick fields, Central Bletchley, Denbigh North, Denbigh East, Denbigh West, Fenny Lock, Fenny Stratford, Granby, Mount Farm, Water Eaton
  • Bradwell: Bradwell, Bradwell Common, Bradwell village, Heelands, Rooksley
  • Bradwell Abbey: Bradwell Abbey, Kiln Farm, Stacey Bushes, Two Mile Ash, Wymbush
  • Broughton and Milton Keynes (shared parish council): Atterbury, Brook Furlong, Broughton, Fox Milne, Middleton (including Milton Keynes Village), Northfield, Oakgrove, Pineham
  • Campbell Park: Campbell Park, Fishermead, Newlands, Oldbrook, Springfield, Willen and Willen Lake, Winterhill, Woolstone
  • Central Milton Keynes
  • Great Linford: Blakelands, Bolbeck Park, Conniburrow, Downs Barn, Downhead Park, Great Linford, Giffard Park, Neath Hill, Pennyland, Tongwell, Willen Park
  • Kents Hill, Monkston and Brinklow: Brinklow, Kents Hill, Kingston, Monkston
  • Loughton: Loughton, Loughton Lodge, Great Holm, Knowlhill (including the Bowl)
  • New Bradwell
  • Shenley Brook End: Emerson Valley, Furzton, Kingsmead, Shenley Brook End, Snelshall, Tattenhoe, Tattenhoe Park, Westcroft
  • Shenley Church End: Crownhill, Grange Farm, Hazeley, Medbourne, Oakhill, Oxley, Shenley Church End, Woodhill
  • Simpson: Ashland, Simpson, West Ashland
  • Stantonbury: Bancroft/Bancroft Park, Blue Bridge, Bradville, Linford Wood, Stantonbury, Stantonbury Fields
  • Stony Stratford: Fullers Slade, Galley Hill, Stony Stratford
  • Walton: Brown's Wood, Caldecotte, Old Farm Park, Tilbrook, Tower Gate, Walnut Tree, Walton, Walton Hall, Walton Park, Wavendon Gate
  • West Bletchley: Far Bletchley, Old Bletchley, West Bletchley, Denbigh Hall
  • Wolverton and Greenleys: Greenleys, Hodge Lea, Stonebridge, Wolverton, Old Wolverton
  • Woughton: Beanhill, Bleak Hall, Coffee Hall, Eaglestone, Elfield Park, Leadenhall, Netherfield, Peartree Bridge, Redmoor, Tinkers Bridge, Woughton on the Green, Woughton Park, Woughton village.


  1. Accessed 10 October 2006
  2. Accessed 10 October 2006
  3. Need for more planned towns in the South-East.The Times. December 2, 1964 Accessed 2006-09-21
  4. South East Study 1961-1981 HMSO 1964, cited in The Plan for Milton Keynes. Accessed 25 September 2006
  5. Urgent action to meet London housing needs. The Times, February 4, 1965. Accessed 2006-09-21
  6. Volume 1 of The Plan for Milton Keynes (Milton Keynes Development Corporation March, 1970 ISBN 0-903379-00-7 begins (in the Foreword by Lord ("Jock") Campbell of Eskan): "This plan for building the new city of Milton Keynes ..." (page xi) Accessed 25 September 2006
  7. Area of New Town Increased by 6,000 acres. The Times. 14 January 1966. Accessed 21 September 2006
  8. "MK Council General Statistics.". Milton Keynes Council. Retrieved 2008-04-10. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Llewelyn-David et al. The Plan for Milton Keynes 1968. Accessed 2007-01-11
  10. The South East Study 1961-1981 HMSO London, 1964: "A big change in the economic balance within the south east is needed to modify the dominance of London and to get a more even distribution of growth". Accessed 2006-11-27
  11. Jeff Bishop Milton Keynes – the Best of Both Worlds? Public and professional views of a new city. University of Bristol School for Advanced Urban Studies 1981. Accessed 2007-02-13
  12. 12.0 12.1 Walker The Architecture and Planning of Milton Keynes, Architectural Press, London 1981. Accessed 2007-02-13
  13. M Webber (1963) 'Order in Diversity: Community Without Propinquity, in L Wingo (ed.) 'Cities and Spaces Hopkins, Baltimore. Accessed 2007-02-13
  14. Subsequent census data is 1971:46,500; 1981:95,800; 1991:144,700; 2001:177,500. Accessed 21 May 2006
  15. Jef Bishop Milton Keynes – the Best of Both Worlds? Public and professional views of a new city. University of Bristol School for Advanced Urban Studies. Accessed 2007-02-13.
  16. Kitchen, Roger; Hill, Marion (2007). 'The story of the original CMK' … told by the people who shaped the original Central Milton Keynes (interviews). Milton Keynes: Living Archive. p. 17. ISBN 978 090484734 - 5. Retrieved 26 January 2009.  (Professor Lock is Visiting Professor of Town Planning at Reading University. He was the Chief Town Planner for CMK.).
  17. Walker, Derek (1982). The Architecture and Planning of Milton Keynes. London: Architectural Press. pp.  8.  cited in Clapson, Mark (2004). A Social History of Milton Keynes: Middle England/Edge City. London: Frank Cass. pp.  40. 
  18. Accessed 16 August 2006
  19. Milton Keynes Partnership
  20. Accessed 30 October 2006
  23. Accessed 11 March 2006

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