Main Street, Mursley

Village History

Mursley lies in the north east corner of Aylesbury Vale District midway between Milton Keynes to the east, and Buckingham to the west and some 11miles north of Aylesbury, the county town. The total population (2001 census) is 602 distributed among 243 households. The local authorities are Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) and Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC).

Muselai or Mureslai developed during the medieval period and is included, with the hamlet of Salden, in the Domesday Book of 1086. The land, valued at £5, was divided between ‘Count of Mortain’ or ‘Count Mortain’; Walter Giffard; Leofwin of Nuneham. The name is believed to derive from old English, being a person’s name plus leah, meaning ‘woodland clearing of a man named Myrsa’.

The granting of a Market Charter for a weekly market on Thursdays was made in 1230 to the Prior of Snelshall (Whaddon); however this market was stopped following complaints that it reduced the attendance at the market in Leighton Buzzard. In 1242 Warren Fitzgerald was granted a charter from Henry III for a market on Wednesdays and a yearly Fair to last three days on the Vigil, Feast and Morrow of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary (7th, 8th and 9th September). This is one of the oldest Market and Fair Charters in the country and it made Mursley a place of note, lying on a principal road to London, almost equidistant between Buckingham and Dunstable.

In 1580 Sir John Fortescue, cousin, tutor and Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I, became the owner of the manor of Salden. He built a magnificent palace at a cost of £33,000 which entertained Royalty and nobles of the realm. After 150 years of wealth and splendour the property was divided and the noble seat demolished, except for a small portion, which served as a passage from the kitchen and Great Parlours, this is now used as a farmhouse.

Mursley is situated in an elevated spot about 500 feet (152m) above sea level, commanding extensive views of the surrounding district. The countryside surrounding Mursley is an area of rich agricultural land. During the medieval period the landscape was dominated by ridge and furrow cultivation, several areas of ridge and furrow survive today. Subsidies were introduced, after WWII, to enable those who had fought for their country to come back to jobs on the land. The houses opposite Beecham’s Cottages on Station Road were built by the Council as homes for farm workers. Dairy cattle and wheat were the mainstays. Fifty years ago five farms in the centre of Mursley milked cattle, Manor Farm, Cedar’s Farm, Lower Church Farm, Churchill Farm and Mursley Hall Farm. As in other areas, agriculture has since declined in Mursley and today, there are 5 working farms on the outskirts of the village, Cold Harbour Farm, Richmond Hill Farm, Salden Crabtree Farm, Springfield Farm and Mursley Hall Farm, and one working farm on Main Street, Cedars Farm.

Farming in Mursley

The majority of villagers earned their living from the land. For example, seven households were able to make a living from the milking parlour at Manor Farm, a farm tenanted from Bucks County Council, because the Milk Marketing Board took their milk, guaranteeing smallholders, who perhaps had two fields to turn their cattle onto, a regular income from their land. Shutting your garden gate was of vital importance, as cattle were turned out to graze ‘the long acre’, the village roadside verges.

Mursley is built on a hill of gravel surrounded by Oxford Clay. Rainwater percolates through the gravel and numerous springs are formed as it reaches the clay. These are the highest permanent springs feeding the Great Ouse, East Anglia’s major river and the fifth longest in Britain. Spring water from Mursley flows through Milton Keynes, Bedford, Ely and King’s Lynn to the Wash and the North Sea, a journey of around 140 miles, taking nearly three weeks.

Mursley water tower is a well-known Bucks landmark. Built in l938 it offers a wonderful panorama in all directions for 20 miles and more. The development of the new town of Milton Keynes increased the water requirements of the area, capacity of the tower was insufficient so two underground reservoirs were built on the opposite side of the road.

Until C20th Mursley consisted of one long, broad street. Much of the area is now designated as a conservation area, affording extra protection to the character of the village by imposing strict criteria for any development within it. In 1970’s The Beechams was developed on the site of Mursley Hall, built by Thomas Beecham, developer of Beecham’s Pills in 1881 and later passed on to his grandson, the world famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. 1977-78 saw the development of the trout lakes on Church Hill Farm. In 1990’s Tweedale Close, a development of 31 homes and 4 houses in St Mary’s Close were added, together with 2 extra houses for the Beechams. Also during that period First House in the Beechams was built, making a total of 18 altogether in the Beechams.

Within the conservation area development has been confined to individual infill or replacement builds. In 2005, 7 homes were built in the centre of the village in what was previously the farmyard and milking parlour of Manor Farm. In 2006/7 planning permission is being sought to add a further 18 homes as Phase II of this development, although this proposed second phase is outside of the conservation area.

Community

The village has traditionally enjoyed a strong sense of community. That has enabled residents to mobilise to raise funds to complete local projects without an increase in the precept; most notably Charter Fairs which were revived for several years in the 1950’s to raise funds to build the village hall. Numerous events have been held since to mark national celebrations. Village children compete annually in Coronation Sports, a sporting event with cups being presented to mark their achievements which has been held annually since 1952 to celebrate the anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The last Charter Fair was held in 1999 to raise funds to celebrate the Millennium.

The community has also pulled together to fight against various threats to the continuing existence and pleasantness of the village. The first of these in the 1970’s was the proposed building of the ‘Third London Airport’ at Cublington / Wing when local farmers proceeded in convoy around the area in their farm vehicles. In the 1990’s plans were initiated to extract gravel from the centre of the village but the relatively low quality of the aggregate, together with a hard fought campaign by locally organised STUMP (Stop The Unwanted Mursley Pit) meant that the proposal was rejected.

The oldest surviving building in Mursley is the parish church. Dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, the church was originally granted by Richard Fitzniel to the Prioress of Nuneaton before the year 1166. The chancel, the arcades of the nave and the two side aisles were built in the C14th in the decorated style. The west tower was added in the C15th. Of particular interest are the fine Fortescue monuments of the C16th and C17th, a Jacobean carved oak pulpit and two C14th piscinae. The east window was commissioned as a Millennium initiative with elements of Mursley life, past and present, incorporated into the design.

Homestead Moat, the area adjacent to the Church Yard extension, is a scheduled ancient monument known locally as The Pits. It is thought to be a medieval moat, dry and under pasture, with the splayed gap within the external bank of the south arm being the remains of a sluice gate1. It is believed by some locals to be a gravel working pit.

There have been three hostelries in the village on Main Street, The Wrestlers, The Green Man and The Royal Oak. There was also one on the Swanbourne Road, The Windmill. Until recently, only one public house, the Green Man, remained, although this is currently closed pending re-sale, and will hopefully re-open in due course.

The opening of the Tesco supermarket in Buckingham was the final straw which led to the closure of the last shop selling groceries in the village in 1990’s, (having already lost a butchers in mid 1980’s) The florist and bridal wear shop closed in 1999 and the full time post office in 2002. A post office is currently held in the Rectory Room one morning a week.

1 Bucks County Council archaeological desk based report 2002 notes

Note from the author:

I started to collect photos and memories about Mursley from residents past and present about ten years ago. Through their generosity I have been able to piece together quite a jigsaw.

The project continues to grow and I’m always learning. Though far from being an 'expert', I'm happy to try to answer any questions.

If you have any memories you would like to share, any postcards or photos you've unearthed, even if you don't know where they were taken or who is on them, I would love to see them, that way we can add pieces to the Mursley jigsaw together.

Melinda
email: mursleyhistory@btinternet.com