A Race Track, an Airfield and Maggots

Silverstone (MAP: OS Old Series 1:50,000 – published in 1835)
Silverstone
Silverstone is a village and civil parish in Northamptonshire. The village is listed in the Domesday Book.

Silverstone is also the current home of the British Grand Prix, which it first hosted in 1948. The circuit itself straddles the Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire border, with the current main circuit entry on the Buckinghamshire side and built on the remains of a WWII RAF base.

Even being at the forefront of technical innovation Silverstone has its roots firmly in the landscape’s past. All the corners of the racing circuit have names, many relating to the local area, as shown on the map.

• The first corner on the circuit is Abbey. Named after Luffield Abbey, which occupied the centre of the site from the twelfth century until its Dissolution in 1551 when the land was passed to Sir Francis Throckmorton.
• The second, Farm Curve, simply takes it’s name from a nearby farm.
• The third and fourth corners have literal names in Village, named after Silverstone Village and The Loop, the only corner to be named after it’s shape.
• Then there is Aintree, named after the Aintree course, where the Grand Prix alternated with Silverstone in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s.
• Followed by the Wellington Straight, only named in 2010, which takes it’s name from the Wellington Bombers which flew from RAF Silverstone during WWII.
• Next comes Brooklands, named in honour of the Brooklands Motor Circuit, known as the home of British motor racing.
• Luffield, like the first corner is named after the medieval Abbey.
• Woodecote, like Brooklands, was named in honour of an existing circuit, namely the RAC owned Woodcote Park in Surrey.
• Copse corner is named after the nearby Chapel Copse and Cheese Copse that border the track.
• The oddly named Maggotts actually takes its name from the adjacent Maggots Moor (written with only the one ‘t’ on the map).
• Becketts and Chapel Curve both take their names from the medieval chapel of St Thomas à Beckett which stood near the track features.
• Like the Wellington Straight, Hangar Straight takes it’s name from the time of the RAF base. Two of the largest hangars stood in this area.
• The next corner Stowe takes it’s name from the local area of Stowe, to the south of the track, famous for Stowe School.
• Vale. Although the track is predominantly flat, this is the only undulating area on the track and the probable source of the name. Another theory is that is named after the district of Aylesbury Vale, in which it sits.
• The final corner Club is, like Woodecote, named after the famous RAC club in Pall Mall London.

This weekend sees Silverstone hosing the British Grand Prix with nearly 300,000 people expected to attend. A far cry from the quiet landscape shown on the above 1835 map.

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Map of the month – Tunnels and a World Changer.

Welbeck Abbey  (MAP: OS County Series 1:2500 – published in 1886)
Welbeck Abbey

Welbeck Abbey in North Nottinghamshire was the site of a monastery which, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, became the country house residence of the Dukes of Portland.

William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (1800-79), the 5th Duke of Portland, built a 10km-long network of underground corridors on his Welbeck Abbey estate in part of Sherwood Forest.

Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck instructed his builders to construct pathways under the 69sq km of landscaped grounds. Tunnel No. 1 was about 500m long, wide enough for two carriages and had gas lamps installed overhead and led to a 2km pathway connecting the lodge and the south lodge, where the duke’s carriage was kept. The 910m-long Plant Corridor ran between the main house and riding house and was wide enough for several people to walk side by side. Running parallel to the Plant Corridor was a longer, narrower, rougher-hewn tunnel, which the duke had built for the servants, to ensure they never met.

There are many smaller tunnels including a grotto corridor and corridors with narrow-gauge rails on which warm food could be brought on trolleys to the main house. The Horse Corridor leads to an underground ballroom, the largest private room in England at the time – 50m long and 20m high. All these projects were funded by the duke’s properties in London around Portland Square and other properties in the West End.

Many rumours surround the eccentric 5th Duke. He is said to have spent most of his life in a small five-room suite within Welbeck and that he required that a fresh roasted chicken was available at any time, day or night. On the few occasions he left his house to walk in the extensive park, it was only at night and accompanied by a servant, who carried a lantern 30m in front of him and he was observed to only leave the house concealed under an umbrella, two large overcoats, a two foot high top hat, and a double ruff – even in fine weather.

In 1913, Archduke Franz Ferdinand accepted an invitation from the 6th Duke of Portland to stay at Welbeck Abbey and arrived with his wife, Sophie, by train at Worksop on the 22nd November. This was almost a year before his assassination, which triggered off the First World War.

The Archduke narrowly avoided being killed in a hunting accident during his stay. The Duke of Portland was out shooting pheasants with Franz Ferdinand when: “One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the archduke and myself. I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.”

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Map of the month – Old Sarum. 3 houses, 7 voters and 2 MPs

Old Sarum  –  Map: County Series 1:2500 1881
Old Sarum & Rotten Boroughs

Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, was  a parliamentary constituency in England from 1295 to 1832. The constituency was on the site of what had been the original settlement of Salisbury, known as Old Sarum.

It was a so-called ‘rotten borough’ (or ‘pocket borough’) with an extremely small electorate that was consequently vastly over-represented and could be used by a patron to gain undue influence. Rotten boroughs were one of the curiosities of the British electoral system, where fathers passed on constituencies (and the power as an MP that went with this) to their sons as if they were personal property. In many such boroughs the very few electors could not vote for whom they truly wanted due to the lack of a secret ballot or simply due to the lack of a candidate desirable to their political philosophy. The term rotten borough came into use in the 18th century. The word “rotten” had the connotation of corruption as well as that of long-term decline.

Rotten boroughs had very few voters. For example, Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, only had three houses and a population of seven people. It was a possession of the Pitt family from the mid-17th century to 1802, and one of its Members of Parliament was Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder. In 1802 the Pitt family sold it for £60,000, even though the land and manorial rights were worth £700 a year at most.

Examples of rotten boroughs in 1831 include the following:

Borough Patron MPs Returned Houses in Borough Voters in 1831
Old Sarum, Wiltshire Earl of Caledon 2 3 7
Gatton, Surrey Sir Mark Wood 2 23 7
Bramber, West Sussex Duke of Rutland 2 35 20
Newton, Isle of Wight Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington 2 14 23
Dunwich, Suffolk Lord Huntingfield 2 44 32

With just a few individuals with the vote and no secret ballot, it was easy for candidates to buy their way to victory.

The constituency of Old Sarum was abolished under the Reform Act 1832

Indications of prehistoric settlement at Old Sarum have been discovered from as early as 3000 bc. An was erected around 400 bc, The site continued to be occupied during the Roman period. The Saxons took the British fort in the 6th century and later used it as a stronghold against marauding Vikings. Later the Normans constructed a motte and bailey castle, a stone curtain wall, and a great cathedral. A royal palace was built within the castle for King Henry I and was subsequently used by Plantagenet monarchs. This heyday of the settlement lasted for around 300 years. By the early 13th century the population had moved to New Sarum at the foot of the hill, now known as the cathedral city of Salisbury and the long neglected castle was finally abandoned by Edward II in 1322.

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