The unique site of Milton Keynes Arts Centre (MKAC), in Great Linford has a long and varied history.
St Andrews, a 13C Church, is the first building you see as you approach MKAC. During restoration in 1980, many interesting features were revealed in the church, including a late medieval timber roof and carving of a medieval woodland hidden under the 18th century additions. In the Belfry are hidden a medieval Green Man and a commemorative portrait of Charles II.
Once you come into the Courtyard the principal
focus is the Manor House. This
was originally built c.1680,
on the site of one of two older medieval manors, by Sir William Pritchard, who bought the estate from the
Napier family. Pritchard was Alderman of the City of London and
President of St Bartholemew’s Hospital. He is now also known to have had interests in the
Royal African Company and the East India Company, both of which were
significant in the trade of African enslaved people in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 1718 Sir William’s widow Lady Sarah Pritchard died and the Manor was
inherited by their great nephew, Thomas Uthwatt. He extended the Manor Park to
the west in the 1720s, to the north c.1754, landscaped the gardens and built the two Pavilions,
which were in fact for grain and stables. There also stood on the grounds
otterhound kennels, where the Radcliffe Building now stands, and the Thatched
Barn – this area was the site of the second medieval manor. The Almshouses and
School House were founded and endowed by Sir William Pritchard c.1683. His will endowed
£24 to be divided equally among six poor people inhabiting the Almshouses, which were used for
retired servants of the Manor, as was often the custom. They were lived in as
recently as the 1950s.
In 1971/2 Great Linford was one of the first existing villages within Milton Keynes to be absorbed within the new city development and in 1971/2 MK Development Corporation bought the Manor freehold to become a ‘unique amenity accessible to the city’s residents’. To that end they restored the Thatched Barn and Almshouses, for the latter to be let to artists. Money was raised from various bodies including the Radcliffe Trust to set up the Arts Centre and in 1974 The Great Linford Arts Centre Trust was created. The Centre was based in the Manor with studios, workshops, a performance space and gallery, bar, restaurant both there, in the Almshouses and in the purpose- built Radcliffe Building built on the site of the otterhounds kennels in 1981. The studios were for jewellery, woodworking, pottery and sculpture, with the jewellery provision being unique in Bucks. The gardens to the east of the house showed sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. The Manor House closed as an Arts Centre in 1984 and the School House and Almshouses were closed as artist studios in 2021.
Photograph by Andy Stagg
Photographs by Cat Lane
Today Milton Keynes Arts Centre continues to occupy buildings around the
main courtyard: the Thatched Barn, Radcliffe Building, North and South Pavilions.
Here, MKAC presents a
programme of artist residencies, events and educational activities inspired by our
unique location. We provide artist studios and access to specialist resources
and the space to explore new ideas and directions in the development of craft,
design and the visual arts.
Research by Melanie Bush