St Andrews, a 13C Church, is the first building you see as you approach Milton Keynes Arts Centre (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.
Research by Melanie Bush
Today Milton Keynes Arts Centre continues to occupy the Thatched Barn, as well as the North and South Pavilions. Here, we present a programme of Artist Projects, Events and educational activities inspired by our unique location.
Take a look at our work, how you can get involved and support our work.