Sunday, 7 June 2020

Milton Dreams - The City That Never Was - Chapter Twenty One

CHAPTER TWENTY - ONE – Riding Along In My Automobile

It was a long time before anyone dreamed of a new city to be called Milton Keynes that Chuck Berry had a number one hit with his automobile, translated into English an automobile is a car. Milton Keynes was built as a city for cars, when I moved here in 1971 I could not drive and if I could there were very few roads on which to drive.

In those early days we all knew what the map of Milton Keynes Development Corporation's strategic plan looked like. The logo for the new city was built around the area the city would encompass. The 1970's were exciting times as the strategic plan was put into action.

The first thing was to put in a system of grid roads. The roads which went up and down, north and south, were V roads - Vertical roads. The roads which went across the city were the H roads - Horizontal roads. People would joke as new roads were constructed within the grid system that Milton Keynes was a place of signs and wonders, there was an abundance of signs and nobody knew where they pointed to. Remember there was no thing as satellite navigation for cars back then. Actually the system of signs was simple and good. Approaching a junction the first sign told you the distant location you were driving towards, the second told you what you could find within the grid squares around the junction. The junctions were then roundabouts, many still are. Roundabouts often a source of jest.  Today street signs are scruffy, a big mess which do not properly reflect the locations they indicate. It is not the fault of the present Milton Keynes Council which has responsibility for maintaining the signs. The signs reflect the 1970's style in which they were first introduced. Milton Keynes Development Corporation did not invest sufficient quality into the design and constructions giving us the legacy we now have.

It was at the same time that Chuck Berry was riding along in his car aka automobile that Little Eva was inviting us to Do The Locomotion. I will come back to our roads.

It is said that Bletchley Park was chosen for the wartime decoding centre as it was half way between Birmingham and London, half way between Oxford and Cambridge. and it was adjacent to the railway station. Could be or that may just be a legend that has grown up over the years. Who knows. It is said, and again this could be little more than a myth within a legend, that the site for Milton Keynes was chosen because it was in the cross hairs of Birmingham and London. Oxford and Cambridge. By the 1970's the railway to Cambridge was defunct thanks to a certain Doctor Beeching.  Work is currently underway to restore and re-open the line.

We are talking here of British Rail and not of Virgin and all that lot. There was no such thing as Network Rail with its headquarters close to Central Milton  Keynes train station. Where both now stand was open fields. At the north of the new city was Wolverton Station and in the south Bletchley.

Do you know W H Auden's poem The Night Mail ?

This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

In the film version of the poem postal workers can be seen loading mail bags onto the contraption for the moving train to grab them. The commentary says this was happening near to Bletchley.  I suspect it was where The lakes Estate currently stands.

For those of us living in the early days of the new city British Rail introduced what it called The 50p Flier.  For fifty pence you could travel from Bletchley to Eustion and back. You could not leave Bletchley until after five o'clock and leave Euston before midnight.  Many, many times as a student I went to London, to The Palace Theatre, to watch the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.  It was easy for me living in Bletchley Park, a short walk to the station but away from Bletchley and the other hamlets included within the designated area of Milton Keynes it was not easy. As the grid roads were being built plans were needed for a 'bus system.

In the early days buses were nationalised, a bit like the railways, but deregulation gave us Milton Keynes City Bus. By the time that company took to the road Milton Keynes Development Corporation had its plan. Having qualified as a teacher I lived very briefly on Tinklers Bridge, one of the very early estates in the New City. At the same time Netherfield, Bean Hill and Eaglestone were established. Shortly after came Coffee Hall. Residents were picked at random, I being one of them, were paid to keep a diary of their travel for a week.

Who remembers Milton Keynes Dial-a-Bus ? We re talking decades before mobile phones, few houses had their own phones and there was a six month waiting list for The Royal Mail, pre British telecom, to install one into a house. There was a shortage of public telephone boxes. At the end of each street on these early estates was a telephone from which you could call for a Dial-a-Bus to pick you up and take you to Bletchley Railway Station. It was a brilliant system and the Dial-a-Bus terminus is still there at Bletchley station,today it is just a slip way to the main drive into the station and is always clogged up with commuter cars.

On the subject of cars, Milton Keynes Development Corporation put into its plan that there would be no car parking charges in the new city. Well we are not a city but that does not excuse Milton Keynes Council trashing this foundation stone. £2 an hour to park ! These charges apply if you need to visit Central Milton Keynes Police Station, a tax on the law. They apply if you want to visit the court, a tax on justice. Visit the council offices and you have to pay, a tax on democracy.  Visit the library and the charge applies, a tax on knowledge. There is even a tax on faith as you have to pay to go to church.

Sorry about that little rant, Back to Milton Keynes Dial-a-Bus. Some people who can remember these little yellow Mercedes vehicle complain that did not last long. They were not meant to, it was all part of the information gathering system to plan bus and transport needs.

The first major road to be built in Milton Keynes was The H8 Marlborough Street. My memory tells me that it was a dual carriageway from the start as it connected the northern and southern areas of the new city. Some roads began as single carriageways but were upgraded as the city developed and traffic demanded. On every road bridges crossing were built to accommodate dual carriageways. As you drive round Milton Keynes you will see some wide bridges where half of of the land below them is road and half is grass. These are roads which never had sufficient traffic to be expanded.

In those few months I lived on Tinkers Bridge the bus connected this estate and Netherfields with Bletchley. One bus an hour went to Eaglestone. Beyond Eaglestone there was nothing but fields.

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation's plan did include a monorail if travel indicated one would be well used. It never happened and probably would not have been used.

Surely one reason for building Milton Keynes where it is was to have it adjacent to The M1 Motorway. Convenient junctions at 14 and 13 serving the north and south. There was talk of a Junction 13A linking to the city centre but just like the city it did not happen.

Those of us who lived in Milton Keynes at the time it was built call it The A5 D with D meaning diversion. Newer residents call it The A5. The old A5 following the Roman Road of Watling Street became Watling Street while The A5 D has become the new A5. When it opened I thought it would become a bit of a white elephant but how wrong I was. This is the main arterial road in Milton Keynes. You can get from one end of the "city" in inverted commas to the other in a very short space of time.

Hey I should have mentioned this before. Lovely Rita Metre Maid from The Beatles Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wind back seven paragraphs to where I was talking about Milton Keynes parking charges. It's not much of a good song and not known by many Beatles fans, perhaps applicable to parking wardens, attendants or whatever they are called these days.

I should perhaps take a ride up to Central Milton Keynes Railway Station before writing this but I can not afford the £2 parking charge to check if I am right in saying the station was opened by HRH Prince Charles The Prince of Wales.  If I am wrong well send the bill to Milton Keynes Council's parking rip off department.

People did when it first opened and I guess they possibly still do get off a train at Milton Keynes Central and say where is Central Milton Keynes ?  It's a mile up that way ! Then in ignorance some say well why didn't Milton Keynes Development Corporation build Central Milton Keynes next to the railway station ? In a single word reply to that question I would say Saxon.

What is address of Milton Keynes Council's civic offices ? 1 SAXON Gate ! Central Milton Keynes is located where it is because this is the site of the ancient Saxon Court. Our ancestors had no use for the railway and their day there also was no £2 an hour parking charge ! Central Milton Keynes may be a bit of a carbuncle as Prince Charles, who did open the railway station - I have just checked, would describe its architecture but the station was opened on 14th May 1982 and the Saxons date from around in the fifth century. The Saxons take precedence.

Milton Keynes Development Corporation but Central Milton Keynes on ley lines it set up with three parallel roads:

Avebury Boulevard ?  Avebury Stones near Marlborough.  Marlborough Street was the first new road to be built connecting North and South Milton Keynes. 

Silbury Boulevard ?  As in Silbury Hill not far from the Avebury Stones ?

Midsummer Boulevard ?  Better today to be referred to as DEAD END STREET !

Three major roads set down on the Milton Keynes Development Corporation's Strategic Plan as ley lines within the new city. Three parallel lines of roads crossing Central Milton Keynes, the location of the original Saxons.

Midsummer Boulevard aka Dead End Street is now in twenty-four hour darkness since the short-sighted planners in Milton Keynes Council gave permission for a totally unnecessary shopping building - The Intu. What does Intu mean ? Intruder ? It has intruded and destroyed the Midsummer Boulevard ley line ! How could Milton Keynes ever become a city when one of its fundamental ley lines has been destroyed in the way it has.  Knock down the Intu, plant  trees and help take a small Saxon Step to the dream coming true.

And with that I will end my ramble through Milton Keynes Development Corporation's transport planning

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