Sometimes writing this blog I find things I never expected. Nomansland next to Watling Street in Milton Keynes is just one of them.
Last week’s post on Woughton on the Green was meant to be a very short post on Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Oak in the village, but it got completely out of control and became a look at changes to the village over the life of the tree.
During my research I had a look at the old parish boundary. Before Milton Keynes came along, there was a very minor lane from Woughton on the Green to the V4 Watling Street. (you can still follow much of it on a modern map, or on foot)
I was surprised to find on a 19th Century map that the last 250 ft of the lane went through a small area called Nomansland; No man’s land.
Now, when you hear this phrase, you’ll most likely think as I did of World War One and the trenches, but this phrase goes back much further; to the late 11th Century where it appeared in the Domesday Book.
There are other Nomanslands, in Hertfordshire and the New Forest, and a No Mans Land in Cornwall.
In this one, I think it was a matter of practicality, as without it the whole of the lane except the very last bit would be in Woughton on the Green parish. That last 250 feet would have the border between Loughton and Simpson parishes running right up the middle.
I suppose it would be simpler to have it looked after by just one parish.
Nomansland. I’ve coloured three of the parishes to make things clearer. Loughton parish is pale green, Shenley Brook End parish is pale yellow, Simpson parish pale blue. Woughton on the Green parish I’ve left as white.
Key to map
Modern roads and estate names Black
19th Century parish boundaries, Red
parish and other names
19th Century hedges and woods Olive green
Local road maintenance was once performed by statute labour. An act of parliament in 1555 obliged every householder to spend four days a year working on the local roads. You could also pay somebody else to perform your part of the work.
Four days didn’t seem to be enough, as in 1563 another act increased the obligation to six days a year.
This obligation was ‘much evaded’. Perhaps this was the true reason for Nomansland; that short stretch of lane if divided down the middle would never be maintained by anyone. In the winter it would be impassable.
Watling Street became a turnpike road in 1740. Tolls charged to travellers on turnpike roads paid for improvements, the plan being to create a good quality main road network across the country.
But statute labour was still used to supplement the workforce, so the locals didn’t get out of any work when turnpikes came along. Minor roads were not turnpiked.
The end of Nomansland where the lane turns is just this side of the row of trees in the background. The route of the lane is metalled (see the map) to just past the bend and the hedge on the right hand side (not quite visible here) still follows the old boundary line.
I don’t suppose the Woughton on the Green locals had to do much work on Watling Street, turnpike or not, but there was another turnpike (from 1709) which ran North-South through the parish. It’s still called Newport Road.
Thanks to M & N Cars who occupy what was once called Nomansland and who let me have a look round. I’ve been past this spot a hundred times, just another place on the grid roads.
I wonder how long Nomansland had been there…