The unique site of Milton Keynes Arts Centre (MKAC), in Great Linford has a long and varied history, which contributes to its wonderful setting. The MKAC site now includes the Thatched Barn, the Radcliffe Building, North and South Pavilions, the Almshouses and School House. St Andrew’s is a 13C Church which is the first building you see as you approach MKAC.
During restoration in 1980 many interesting features were revealed, 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. It was originally built c1680, on the site of one of two older medieval manors, by Sir William Pritchard, Alderman of the City of London and President of St Bartholemew’s Hospital; Sir William having bought the estate from the Napier family.
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 c1754, 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 c1683. His will endowed £24 to be divided equally among six poor people inhabiting the Almshouses. The Almshouses 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 1975 The Great Linford Arts Centre Trust was set up.
Photograph by Andy Stagg
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 courtyard has continued as an Arts Centre running workshops, providing studios for artists and hosting exhibitions and events.
Today Milton Keynes Arts Centre present a programme of artist residencies, events and educational activities inspired by our unique location. We provide 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