In 1994 my book NOT THE CONCRETE COWS was published. It was a kaleidoscope of newspaper and magazine articles I had written about the new City of Milton Keynes. In those days I wrote using the pen name of Jonathan Flie
I am not proposing to republish the book but I am going to take some of the articles and reproduce them in my diary and on Blogger.
Let me start with LEON'S BRIDGE.
Every day thousands upon thousands of rail passengers thunder over it and hundreds of cars, vans and lorries pass underneath it, even the odd pedestrian still walks along its footpath, yet few realise its significance. Officially it is the Denbigh Hall Railway Bridge but to those who know its story it will always be Leon's Bridge.
In 1882, at the age of thirty-two, Herbert Samuel Leon brought his new wife, Fanny, to Bletchley and went about setting himself up as the local squire. he purchased Bletchley park together with the adjoining properties of Home Farm and Denbigh Hall Farm. His land extended over much of present day Bletchley, from Shenley Road to Watling Street and from Church Green Road to the railway.
He was determined to make and leave his mark on the area, both of which he succeeded in. At the extreme south of Milton Keynes one of our schools still bears his name, n area of ground in Fenny Stratford is still known as Leon Rec and then there are Leon Cottages and Leon Avenue. But he did not confine his activities to Bletchley in what is now South Milton Keynes. He was a director of The Wolverton Tram Company, Justice of the Peace and Liberal Member of Parliament for North Buckinghamshire from 1891 to 1895.
Where Leon could make his mark locally he seized the opportunity as he laid down the foundations for a dynasty to rule Bletchley as his personal kingdom. (In face the dynasty lasted only for his generation as his son, George, sold all of the family's Milton Keynes properties in 1933 but that is another story.) One place where he literally carved his name was on the Denbigh Hall railway Bridge.
Approach the bridge from the South and upon its right hand side upright, a little obscured by the undergrowth - BR get your shears out, you will find engraved:
PRIOR TO SEPTEMBER 1838 THE SOUTHERN PART OF THIS RAILWAY TERMINATED AT THIS BRIDGE WHENCE PASSENGERS WERE CONVEYED BY COACH TO RUGBY WHERE THEY REJOINED THE RAILWAY TO BIRMINGHAM. THIS COMMEMORATION BY SIR HERBERT LEON BART OF BLETCHLEY PARK BY KIND PERMISSION OF LRNW RAILWAY AUGUST 1920
"Kind permission" is a little interesting for Leon and the railway were not best of friends. Some years earlier he had taken the company to court in a civil action for depositing soot from their steam engines on his land. The court found in his favour but awarded damages of just one shilling ! (5p in today's money.)
But thanks to Leon this important part of railway history and the role of Milton Keynes is preserved.
A railway journey from London to Birmingham in 1838 was more than a little different to that of today. No Intercity 125's in those days, gliding along at speeds of up to 125 miles an hour. Te line from London Euston to Denbigh Hall and from Rugby to Birmingham were opened on 9th April 1938. Two obstacles prevents a continuous railway journey. The first was a viaduct to cross The River Ouse at Wolverton and the second the construction of a tunnel at Kilsby. Both were monumental projects even by the side of the rest of the line and forced a five month delay to completion during which time coaches carried passengers on the four hour hour journey between stations.
Denbigh Hall was chosen as the terminus because it was there that the railway crossed Watling Street but no proper facilities were installed for the passengers. There was no sanitation, no proper accommodation, tents often being the only overnight shelter and mud everywhere. Railway construction workers were billeted at Denbigh Hall and drunken brawls were commonplace. One passenger described Bletchley as, "a small miserable village where those disappointed at getting from Denbigh Hall must not expect to find accommodation, even for their dog !
The only place to take any refreshment was the Denbigh Hall Inn which had a terrible reputation for previously harbouring highwaymen and criminals and generally for being a bawdy house. at least three murders took place in the locality, which two centuries earlier had been the site for the local gallows.
All these pleasantries must have spurred the railway company to complete the line as quickly as possible.
But all this took place twenty years before Herbert Leon was born and fifty years before her brought his family to Bletchley. Had he been around at the time perhaps the passengers would have enjoyed a slightly better time, not only from Leon's philanthropic nature but also by way of his careful eye to the profit that could have been made out of entertaining the passengers.
I WILL SHARE SOME MORE EXTRACTS FROM NOT THE CONCRETE COWS OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS - Check out my latest writing project at www.lilybedson.com