Extract From Cromwell's Garrison Town

More about Cromwell’s Garrison Town, by author Jack Reynolds


Oliver Cromwell had good reason to be thankful to the garrison at Newport Pagnell.

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.

It was fascinating to be able to piece 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 indispensible 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.

● The author was grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the help and diligent research of local volunteers in the creation of this work

Extract from Salmons & Sons and Aston Martin

Salmons carriage works in the 1920s. The three-storey building still exists under a preservation order. It housed probably the earliest continuous vehicle assembly line in the UK.
Pic: Wiki Creative Commons lic.

In this extract from his Introduction to Salmons & Sons and Aston Martin,

Chris Nelson asks

………….How on earth could the little market town of Newport Pagnell have had such a significant role in the evolution of the British transport industry and nurtured the rise of one of the most stylish sportscar marques in the world, and yet have manifestly failed to receive the recognition it so richly deserves?

This booklet seeks to shine a light on the remarkable story of Newport Pagnell and its proud – although frequently wobbly - steps from the manufacture of horse-led carriages and wooden coach-works (the Salmons family) to body parts for new-fangled horseless carriages (Tickford Ltd) and eventually to the legendary Aston Martin sports and racing cars.

In 2007, after 49 years of hand-built manufacture, production of Aston Martins ceased at their Tickford Works site in London Road, but if the town’s full contribution to the transport industry is counted, then it has been punching way above its weight  for the best part of two centuries.

In that time, it has produced everything from horse-drawn Victorian dogcarts, to mail and passenger coaches on the London to Edinburgh route, bodywork conversions for big brand names in an emerging motor industry, to the sleekest, most sought-after sportscars for royalty and the famous - plus limited editions and even one-off models for the very few who can afford them.

Perhaps the most celebrated of all Astons – the DB5s driven by Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s fictional spy James Bond in Goldfinger (1964) – were built at Newport Pagnell, and helped to cement the brand as the car of choice for the rich, sophisticated and discerning.

But with every step along the way of a low-volume, hand-built car maker – fiercely independent of the major manufacturers, except for one short period – comes a parallel story of how Aston Martin has survived the spectacular ups and downs of its hugely volatile business.

Victor Gauntlett summed it up well in his time as chairman and part-owner in the 1980s when he was asked: “How can you make a small fortune out of Aston Martin?” He replied: “Start with a big one”1

Aston Martin has certainly seen some financial storms (it’s been rescued from administration seven times2), and profitability is a spectre that continues to haunt it even today.

Nevertheless, the marque continues to be considered the UK’s most stylish automotive brand and it came tenth globally, against the likes of giants like Apple and Nike3. Not bad considering most people continue to think of Newport Pagnell only as a motorway services station.

Today, ……  manufacturing has moved to Gaydon, Warwickshire, nearer to the Midlands centres of car-making, and a factory is being built in Wales for their new electric-powered DBX model.

But the iconic Tickford Works building still stands (in the town), busier than ever. Refurbished as a new international showroom and servicing centre, it sees many of the 13,000 hand-built Astons that began their life in Newport Pagnell return from all corners of the globe for servicing and restoration work – some probably using the same tools that built them.

This booklet aims to give an overview of the stories of the companies that have made Newport Pagnell the spiritual home of the world’s coolest car marque, and some belated recognition of all those artisans and craftsmen who helped to create its unique pedigree. ……………

Lift from Bury Field: a thousand years of history

Portrait of John Bunyan by Robert White; frontispiece to the first edition of The Holy War, published in 1682
Detail from John Bunyan's book The Holy War. Was this based on Newport Pagnell?

In this extract from Bury Field: a thousand years of history, Sammy Jones asks:

…for all those who yearn every now and then to throw off the shackles and pressures of modern life, is there anywhere better to commune with nature than Bury Field?

The historic Common is a true haven for wildlife – a treat of spectacular flora and fauna across 180 acres where it is possible to enjoy the wonderful valley of the Great Ouse and all its gifts.

Set on limestone and clay with more recent glacial sand, gravel and river deposits, the large expanse of grassland is at odds with much of the farmland nearby. It changes with the seasons, in appearance, and by those that visit too… especially in winter when gulls, ducks, swans and skeins of geese can often be seen in flight.

The birdlife is a joy. Water-filled depressions in the old quarry and along the course of the railway attract many waterbirds, and sometimes snape, a small wader. In summertime, skylarks and swallows, swifts and house-martins can be glanced swooping on the host of insects that live close to the wetter areas.

Magnificent hunting herons and their smaller white relative, the little egret, are frequent visitors to the Ouse and while still too occasional for many, a blue flash of the kingfisher can still be seen.

Little owls and buzzards are commonplace, and while mentioning predators, the Daubenton’s bat, or water bat, so-called because of where it feasts, makes the Common a home, one of several species of bat that have moved in to patrol the area and feed on its insect population.

Among the flora – the wetter areas are usually filled with rushes, sedges and reeds, along with the white flowers of water crowfoot and water plantain.

But the drier grassland impresses too, with its yellow-flowered Lady’s Bedstraw and the lush purple blooms of the rare Great Burnet. The rose family member with its bulbous crimson-red head atop a long green stalk is always a treat and shows itself between June and September.

While the Common itself is largely free of trees and shrubs, hawthorn bushes grow along the course of the railway line, and the bordering hedgerows are largely hawthorn and blackthorn, with wild dog roses, ash and pollard willow trees also present.

Some of the ash boughs have woodpecker holes drilled into them.

In recent years Bury Field has again proved a splendid host for activities including scrambling, a parachute drop, Civil War re-enactment battles, walking festivals, dog shows and even games of American Baseball.

Through it all, the Common remains a beautiful, tranquil space; a living history rich in form and substance, just as it always has been for the past 1000 years.

It has been touched by conflict, visited in peace, used as a place of celebration, enchanted courting couples, hosted fun and laughter….   If ever you need a break from the humdrum, Bury Field will be waiting and welcoming….

Extract from Bond in Bucks

Fleming at the wheel of a 4.5litre ‘blower’ Bentley. © Life magazine Oct.7, 1966

Can you spot 007’s real-life characters in this extract from Bond in Bucks ….

Wearing his spymaster overcoat as personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, Director of NID and the subsequent model for ‘M’ in his Bond books, Fleming used to travel down from Whitehall every fortnight in World War Two to check out Bletchley Park’s super-human efforts to crack the German codes.

The recent exhibition From Bletchley With Love told how Fleming would visit Frank Birch and his team of German Naval signal specialists in Hut 4, beginning the reporting chain back up to Churchill and the Allied High Command.

He made regular visits too, to stately Woburn Abbey where a covert operation was being run from a studio in the stables by Sefton Delmer, ex Daily Express and BBC broadcaster, who boomed out “black propaganda” bulletins of hoax information and morale-sapping messages to the Germans, often scripted by Fleming himself.

At Newport Pagnell, scene of that earlier training with Colonel Trevor, there was also Salmons, the car body-building business then busily engaged in various activities for the war effort and destined to become Aston Martin’s historic home.

And then there was his pride and joy – the 30 Assault Unit, an eclectic bunch of tough marine commandos and men with “unorthodox” skills like safe-breaking, forgery and explosives who were dispatched on secret missions, usually in advance of the main military, to capture enemy codebooks and equipment and other assignments.

These men, commanded by Fleming and knick-named his “Red Indians”, requisitioned a farm in Buckinghamshire as their practice ground – another little-known fact which, like the full story of Bletchley Park, has only come out in recent years after the ending of restrictions under the Official Secrets Act.

With Fleming known to have based many of his locations, plots and characters on real-life places and people, it is certainly possible that local characters and places can be found, disguised among his Bond books somewhere.

On the other hand, for those who know Newport Pagnell well, it might take a good deal of imagination to visualise the British Legion Club as a glittering Casino Royale, the infamous Dr No in residence at the Health Centre, or Octopussy swimming in the Rivel Ousel. Surely too, the local traffic warden bears only a passing resemblance to Rosa Klebb?

Still, local Bond book and film buffs buffs might conceivably take a little closer look in future to see if there’s anything they recognise………


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