Now it can be told… Ian Fleming, author of the mega-selling James Bond books spent much of his lifetime in Buckinghamshire… visiting the car-makers at Newport Pagnell, the Codebreakers at Bletchley Park, golfing with Jock Campbell of Milton Keynes and secretly training his commandos on a disused farm near Amersham.
A thousand years of history lies behind the rolling parkland of Newport Pagnell's green ‘oasis’. From an ancient burial ground to Civil War defences, horse-race festivals, first-class cricket, an Observation Post in WWII and a railway train that never arrived.
Two centuries of an extraordinary contribution of design and ingenuity to the British transport industry from a market town that has brought the UK everything from horse-led dog carts, to horse-drawn carriages, body parts for early motor vehicles and the sportscar phenomenon that is Aston Martin.
In the momentous Civil War of the 17th century, the town's location was of great strategic importance on the Front Line between the opposing armies.
The controversial General always had an affinity for the place – fighting alongside its troops, sending his son to join the young conscripts, frequently visiting his friend the governor, and selecting it as the muster point for most of his army on the eve of the decisive Battle of Naseby.
Other than 12 days when it was under Royalist control, the fortress stayed faithful to the Parliamentary cause. But for the small market town with its quaint white-washed houses, cobbled streets and a happy mix of stalls and hostelries, being thrust into the national limelight was always going to be a trauma.
Almost overnight, regiments of men were converging on the place with their horses and their helmets and their guns and a way of life that was often violent and frequently brutal.
In this fascinating book, local author Jack Reynolds has pieced together, for the first time, what happened during Newport's tumultuous military occupation; revealing amongst other things, how…
… The governor was a diminutive hunch-back who fought with a cut-down sword and made himself indispensable by running a network of battlefield spies and informants;
… The fortress was base for 1500 troops including Cromwell's ‘greatest joy’ of a son and John Bunyan, the much-celebrated writer;
… Martial Law was required to restore order when
the restless men turned to vice, gambling and debauchery;
… Soldiers were paid in worthless IoUs and their officers had to beg, borrow and steal to get by;
… Radical sects began advocating free love and group land ownership with aims reminiscent of the ‘hippy’ movement of the 1960s.
With considerable effort, much diligent research and support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project team have re-constructed a remarkable account of what happened to the town when fame – and the Lord Protector – came to call.
The opening chapters of this book set the scene, placing the town in its regional setting, and describing its early history and strategic location – on a high spur of land at the confluence of two rivers. This location, midway between London and the North, and between Parliamentarian East and Royalist West, became of considerable importance with the outbreak of the Civil War.
This book tells the story of the history of the town as a Parliamentary Garrison during the Civil War. Not since the Revd H. Roundell's extensive work, published in Records of Buckinghamshire in the mid 1800s, has this subject been so successfully brought to life. Use has been made of the Letter Books of Sir Samuel Luke, the Parliamentary Governor of the Garrison, a work published 50 years ago, and also other sources, which with the addition of artist reconstructions and photographs, colourfully presents life in the Garrison. It is particularly useful to see a reproduction of Dutch engineer Cornelius van den Boom's excellent plan of the defences of the town, reproduced at a decent size and in full colour.
Reynolds describes the construction of the fortifications, the amount of tools, the manpower required and the sheer organisation that such a massive task required. Another important inclusion is the illustrations, from original paintings and prints of the worthies of the period that were involved in this episode of the town's history. To my knowledge, these have never been previously published together. There are also interesting biographies on most of these people. The Garrison at Newport Pagnell was held from 1642–8, the author and his team have revealed details of the everyday life in the Garrison.
The participation of troops from the town in local skirmishes, sieges and their involvement at larger conflicts are described in detail. It is suggested that possibly the lack of surviving earthwork evidence today, is the reason why so little has previously been written about the Civil War era in the town. The parliamentary troops were ordered to destroy the earthworks after the war, and they obviously made a good job of it. In fact, the few surviving earthworks were not recognised as such until 1973, and have only recently been scheduled as an Ancient Monument. An interesting book and a good read, the text casts light on the Garrison and life within its confines as a Parliamentary Garrison town during the Civil War.
The book, researched by the author and a team, was funded by the ‘Hidden Histories’ initiative of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and published by Mercury Books WordGo 2013. A good read, and excellent value at only £10.