Notes on Stony Stratford


When I was a child, Blind Barley, his dog and his concertina,were a familiar sight in our little town. He was a tall, spare, white-haired old man. He never came out until dusk when, led by his dog, he began his evening round, stopping at street corners to play a hymn from his repertoire. Some of the tunes were sad, others were lively rollicking Salvation Army ones. Occasionally he uttered a fervent 'Alleluia', or 'Praise the Lord'.

When the evening was still and star-lit you could hear him from a long way off, even the gay tunes sounding melancholy in the cold night air. When or where he died I do not know but the memory of his gentleness, piety and patience has stayed with me to this day.

Mrs Elstone lived in our little town at the corner where the Horsefair Green joins Silver Street. In one of her windows stood a glass-topped case in which were displayed a fascinating collection of bone and wooden bobbins, lace collars, cuffs, borders and edgings  of gossamer fineness and a necklace of many-coloured beads. These beads of soft blue, gold and yellow, delicately ornamented with tiny flowers had been used to weight the bobbins on the lace pillow, for Mrs Elstone dealt with Buckinghamshire pillow lace.

She was perhaps one of the last remaining lace buyers in the district, for by the 1920's lacemaking as a cottage industry had practically died out.

In the early 1900's when life was uneventful, one of the most eagerly awaited events of the year was Stratford Fair. It arrived at the beginning of our summer holidays, and for days beforehand we strained our eyes for the first glimpse of the traction engine with its gleaming barley-sugar-stick columns of brass that headed the procession. Of the van dwellers, the one I remember best is the shooting gallery lady. She always drove her own van, sitting proudly erect in the front, her strong brown hands loaded with gold rings. Her dress was a tight black bodice and long black skirt, while on her pile of grey hair she wore a fine big hat of black velvet, lavishly adorned with feathers. Her profile was aristocratic, her cheeks tanned and deeply wrinkled. From her ears hung long gold peardrops that swung rhythmically with every movement of the wagon. When I first remember Stratford Fair it stood on the Market Square, overflowing into Silver Street and on to the Horsefair Green. The steam organ was an impressive sight. Made in Brussels, it sported little painted plaster boys and girls, staring woodenly ahead as they tapped their drums and triangles. 'George Billings and Sons. Famous Galloping Horses. Patronised by Royalty and all the Leading Gentry and Nobility'. Mr Billings was a short, plump, rubicund man. I never saw him without his bowler hat.
Between the wars the Fair was transferred to a field in the Wolverton Road and there it continued until the shadow of Milton Keynes fell upon North Buckinghamshire. Then the field was scheduled for building and people now live where once the Fair stood.

Mabel Coleman, Mursley

Extracted from 'A Pattern Hundreds' (1975) and reproduced with the kind permission of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes


Description of Stony Stratford, from J.J. Sheahan, 1861.

Stony of Stony Stratford is a small market town on the northern verge of the county, separated from Northamptonshire by the river Ouse. It is situated 8 mile N.E. from Buckingham, 6 miles W.S.W. from Newport Pagnell, 2 miles from the Wolverton Station of the London and North Western Railway, 7 miles N.W. from Fenny Stratford and 52 miles N.W. from London. The town comprises the parishes of St Giles and St Mary Magdalen, and has little land (about 75 acres) belonging to it, besides that on which the houses are built. The rateable value of St Giles, or the West Side, is £2,058; and that of St Mary's, East Side, is £1,450. The present population of the West Side is 1,356; and the population of the East Side is 649, making a total of 2,005 souls. The number of inhabitants here were 1757; and in 1841, ten years previous, it was exactly the same. In 1811 the population was 1,488.

The Market every Friday is held in the Market Square, for corn, etc.; and a monthly market is held, at which cattle is disposed of by public auction. Fairs take place on August 2nd, the Friday following October 10th, and on November 12th: the first and last for cattle; the second for hiring servants.

Petty sessions are held at the Cock Inn, every alternate Friday.

The Baptist Chapel, a spacious building of red brick with with stone dressings, standson the north side of Horse Fair Green. It was originally erected in 1657, rebuilt in 1823, and a new Sunday School added to it in 1857. The Rev. Ebenezer Leonard Forester is the pastor. The Independent Chapel, Wolverton Road, was built in 1823, and is of red brick with stone finishings. The Rev. John Ashby is the minister. The Wesleyan Chapel, erected in 1844, situated in Silver Street, is composed of similar materials to the other chapels.

The National School was erected in the centre of the High Street, in 1819, and rebuilt on an enlarged plan in 1858. It is built of red brick with stone dressings, and attached is a house for the teacher and a large garden. The rooms for boys and girls are spacious, well lighted, etc.

The British School was erected is a spacious building at the south end of the High Street, erected in 1844, by subscription, at a cost of about £750. The upper room of this school is used for lectures, public meetings, concerts, etc.

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