Milton Keynes (pronounced mill-tun keens) is a purpose-built, high technology city in the south east of England approximately 50 miles (80km) north of London and mid-way between Oxford and Cambridge. Although legally still a town (since City status in the United Kingdom is only possible through grant of Royal Charter), it was designed to be, and behaves as, a full city. Its administration is through the Borough of Milton Keynes, a unitary authority, of which it is the dominant part.
The New City was designated in 1967 and deliberately located roughly equidistant between London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Oxford and Cambridge so that it would be self sustaining and become a major regional centre in its own right. It contains within its boundaries the towns of Bletchley, Wolverton and Stony Stratford and the villages of New Bradwell, Shenley, Loughton, Woughton, Broughton and of course Milton Keynes Village. (See footnote 1 for pronunciations.) Milton Keynes is the largest of the so-called "new towns" built during the 1960s to allow for urban expansion in the southeast of England. When Milton Keynes was designated, some 60,000 people lived in what is now the Borough. By the 2001 Census, the population had reached 210,000 and is planned to reach 320,000 by 2030.
Design and planning was delegated to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (Chair: Lord Campbell of Easkan; CEO Fred Lloyd Roche). Their strongly post-modernist designs featured regularly in the magazines Architectural Design and the Architects' Journal. Regrettably, the Government wound up MKDC in the early 80s, transferring control to the very much less imaginative English Partnerships. Design guidance was weakened and subsequent built environment developments are barely distinguishable from the anonymous suburbs of other towns and cities around the UK. Conversely, the "river valleys, water courses and extensive landscape buffers within Milton Keynes provide a good example of how environmental assets can be integrated into new development." (MK&SM Study). Fortunately, the superb organic environment is under control of the Parks Trust and continues to be one of the major attractions to living in the city.
Contrary to popular misconception, Milton Keynes was not named after the poet John Milton (nor the economists Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes!), but after a village that already existed on the site of the proposed New City. The village was renamed Middleton in 1991, to distinguish it from the larger city.
Another misconception, that there is "no history to speak of," has been amply laid to rest by a collection of archival photos and recorded interviews compiled by residents of the older villages incorporated within Milton Keynes, and assembled on the CLUTCH Club Milton Keynes site. Larger MK-related historical collections have been created at The Living Archive, and a broader family of sites and links to archeological studies of Milton Keynes is maintained by the Milton Keynes Heritage Association, which "exists to encourage and develop co-operation and co-ordination between all members having an interest in heritage within the Milton Keynes district."
The city has a 750 seat theatre/concert hall, whose high booking rate allows it to lay claim to the title "Britain's most popular theatre". (The theatre has a unusual feature: the third tier (gallery) can be lifted up into the ceiling to create a more intimate space for smaller scale productions.)
In Wavendon, on the south-east edge of the city, [The Stables] provides a venue for jazz (especially), blues, folk, rock, classical, pop and world music and is closely associated with jazz artists Cleo Laine and John Dankworth.
Apart from the building itself (surface by Michael Craig-Martin), the city art gallery (next to the main theatre) does not have a permanent collection. This allows it to host edgy shows to critical acclaim.
The city is home to the UK's largest University, the Open University, though only some post graduate students are resident on campus.
Cranfield University, another postgraduate school, is located just outside the city, in Cranfield.
Milton Keynes College provides Further Education to Foundation Degree level.
Primary, middle, and secondary schools in Milton Keynes are connected to the internet through a mixed wired and wireless broadband network, known as MKSchools.net that serves over 25,000 pupils in 90 schools (listed on the MKSchools.net site and also in an older listing with links to many schools on the UK SchoolsWebDirectory.
Central Milton Keynes has a huge shopping district with major department stores. It is in the Guinness Book of Records 2001 for having the longest shopping mall, at 720 m long. It also has Europe's largest indoor ski slope, with real snow.
Milton Keynes is home to the National Badminton Centre and the National Hockey Stadium, (which is also the temporary home ground to Milton Keynes Dons F.C., pending completion of a permanent 26,000 seater stadium near Bletchley). The National Bowl has hosted major rock acts. There is a Youth Hostel in Bradwell Abbey (near junction of Monks Way (H3) with A5).
The city is a major venue for street skateboarding: unfortunately the high fashion stone cladding has not resisted well the punishment of titanium trucks! Fortunately, there is now a dedicated "urban" skate park (no BMX bowls) next to the bus station.
Urban design: Layout of the New City
The city's layout was planned on a grid pattern of approximately 1 km interval, rather than the more conventional spider-web pattern seen elsewhere in older settlements. Consequently each grid square is semi-autonomous, making a unique collective of 100 urban spaces within the overall city milieu. The grid squares have a variety of development styles, ranging from normal urban development and industrial parks, to original rural and modern pseudo rural developments.
Although these roads have conventional names such as Portway and Saxon Street, their original planning designations have stuck and locals are more comfortable with the shorthand "H5" and "V7" (where V is vertical or north/south and H is horizontal or east/west).
The road that goes through the city centre, Midsummer Boulevard, is named because it is aligned so that the sun shines directly along it on midsummer each year.
The flood plains of the Great Ouse and of its tributaries (the Ouzel and some brooks) have been protected as linear parks that run right through the city. The Grand Union Canal is another green route (and demonstrates the level topology of the city - there is just one minor lock in its entire 10 mile route through from Fenny Stratford to the Iron Trunk Aqueduct at Wolverton.
The concepts that heavily influenced the design of the city are described in detail in article Urban planning - see especially "cells" under Planning and aesthetics; but see also article Single-use zoning.
Cycling and walking
Milton Keynes has a 200km network of paths for pedestrians and cyclists called Redways, generally surfaced with red tarmac, which criss-cross the whole town. The majority of these Redways run next to the town's grid roads and estate roads with underpasses or bridges where they intersect grid roads. Others run through park land and along the flood plain of the Great Ouse and its tributaries. One of the aims of the Redways is to make travel for pedestrians and cyclists convenient, safe, pleasant and accident free, and this has broadly been achieved. However, the secluded routes of many of these redways has made some of them no-go areas after dark. Additionally, many longer-distance cycle commuters prefer to use the grid roads since much of the Redway system appears to have been designed for local leisure use.
The national SUSTRANS cycle network runs to and through the city. The Swans Way long distance path does the same.
Milton Keynes in popular culture
Milton Keynes is parodied as "Milton Springsteen: It's Quite Nice, Really!" in Alexei Sayle's book Train To Hell. Rather than concrete cows, Milton Springsteen features "android yokels."
Milton Keynes also appears in Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's book Good Omens, as an example of a town neither heaven nor hell take credit for, but both regard as a success: "it was built to be modern, efficient, healthy, and, all in all, a pleasant place to live. Many Britons find this amusing."
The humourist Miles Kington once had a book cover cartoon with the caption "Miles Kington? I thought that was one of these dreadful new towns" — not simply an observation that his name resembles a place name, but almost certainly also a reference to Milton Keynes.
The UK TV and radio personality Noel Edmonds is credited with tainting the image of Milton Keynes in the 1970s by repeatedly deriding it as a concrete jungle and the natural home of the famous Concrete Cows. The council was quick to point out that Milton Keynes has over 20 million trees. The Concrete Cows are among the earliest examples of conceptual art.
The Travel Writer Bill Bryson also features Milton Keynes in his book Notes From A Small Island, in which he gets lost in the pedestrian subway system.
The city is notable for its number of roundabouts. Their number is far higher than is typical in British towns: for example, within the town limits, the A421 route passes through 13 roundabouts in a 10.7 km stretch, and the A509 route passes through 12 roundabouts in a 6.4 km stretch.
Marshall Amplifiers and speakers, much loved by rock and heavy metal bands, is based in Bletchley. It produced the amplifier with a volume dial that went up to 11, for the spoof 'rockumentary' This is Spinal Tap.
Milton Keynes is the birthplace of Errol Barnett who is an anchor and reporter for Channel One News in the United States. He lived in Crownhill and attended Holmwood First School and Two Mile Ash Middle School before moving to the US.
Milton Keynes has six stations - three on the West Coast mainline (London/Glasgow): Bletchley (south), Milton Keynes Central, and Wolverton (north); and three on the (remnants of the) Oxford-Cambridge line: Bletchley, Fenny Stratford, and Bow Brickhill, for all stations to Bedford.
M1 Northbound: J14 for city centre and north, J13 for south city(Open University and Bletchley).
M1 Southbound: J15A (via A45 then A5) for north city (Stony Stratford and Wolverton); J14 for city centre and south city.
Also A5 and A509
East/West A421 (centre and south city), A422 (north city).
The nearest [50 km] international airport is at Luton, but there is only an hourly coach service from 06:00 to 21:00. This airport is mainly used by low cost airlines, notably Easyjet and Ryanair. The other London airports Heathrow, Gatwick and (especially) Stansted can be rather painful to reach by public transport if you are unfamiliar with local British transport idiosyncrasies.
Birmingham Airport [100 km] is more mainstream, with frequent rail connections from Birmingham International to Milton Keynes Central.
There is an aerodrome at Cranfield [10 km].
The Grand Union Canal runs through the city.
Cities: Birmingham, Cambridge, Coventry, London, Oxford, Peterborough
Towns: Aylesbury, Banbury, Bedford, Bicester, Buckingham, Baldock, Dunstable, Letchworth, Luton, Newport Pagnell, Northampton, Olney, Rugby, Rushden, Wellingborough, Woburn Sands
Pronunciation varies according to the speaker! The RP
prunciation of Milton Keynes is mill-tun keens
), of Shenley is shen-li
, of Loughton is (lau-tun)
, of Woughton is (wuf-tun)
, and of Broughton is (broe-tun)
. Note that these are not local pronunciations - the local accent (mainly, but not entirely, Estuary English
) drops the "t" when not at the beginning of a word or a syllable, generally replacing it with a glottal stop (as in Cockney
). Likewise an "l" that is not the first letter of a word is either voiced as a "w" or dropped entirely, thus Milton Keynes is "miw'un keens"
; Loughton, "Lau'un"
; Wolverton, "Wauwver'un"
and Broughton, "Brow'un"
Last updated: 08-16-2005 22:46:04