Hardwick past and present

Hardwick, on the A413 just north of Aylesbury is just one of eight places in the UK with the same name – (there are presently also two with the name Hardwicke).

When William the Conquerer embarked on his invasion of England in 1066, there was already a strong Anglo Saxon presence in the Hardwick area, then known as Harduich, Hardvick and Hardwicke. Christianity had not long been established and although no parish organisation existed, local landowners had started to build churches in some settlements. There is clear evidence in St Mary’s church that part, if not the whole, of the nave is Anglo Saxon. There were three landowners recorded in the Domesday Book in 1087, Saewood, Oswulf and Saxi. It is the latter who is thought to have built the first church in Hardwick.

Several Norman noblemen successively held title to the Manor of Hardwick in the Middle Ages and beyond, until in 1523 it was sold to Robert Lee of Quarrendon. It was from this family that the American Civil War Confederate General Robert E Lee is believed to be descended. The Lees are commemorated at St Mary’s church.

During the English Civil war many important battles were fought in the area between the Loyalists and Cromwell’s men. One such was the Battle of Holman Bridge, just 3 miles south of Hardwick, near Aylesbury which took place on 1 November 1642.  Royalist forces, under the command of Prince Rupert engaged Aylesbury’s Parliamentarian garrison at Holman’s Bridge. The Parliamentarian forces were victorious, despite being heavily outnumbered.

In 1818 remains were discovered near to Holman’s Bridge, which were believed to belong to fatalities from the battle. They were buried in a common grave in the churchyard at St Mary’s.

The Rector of Hardwick from 1770 – 1792 was Dr John Bridle. His vision was to bring education to the working class not just the privileged few. History was made when he started a small school at the Rectory (now Hardwick Place) for 20 boys, 10 on alternate days. A man of considerable wealth and property he set up a Trust to finance the school, a Trust which exists to this day.

According to the Census and other records , Hardwick in 1881 had a population of 214, not very different from today. People were engaged in a wide range of trades and crafts –  shopkeepers, boot and shoe makers, dressmakers, lace makers, plaiters, cattle dealers, farmers and blacksmiths. Young children were used to pick soft fruits, haymaking, stone picking and bird scaring.

The latter days of the 19th century and the start of the 20th saw the growth of the British Empire, which was marked by Empire Day in May each year. In 1907 a flagpole was erected at the school building and on Empire Day the Union Jack was raised at noon and saluted. Patriotic songs were sung finishing with the National Anthem, before everyone moved on to the Rectory paddock for cricket and other sports.

The First World War (1914 – 1918), saw many men from Hardwick go off to fight in France. The names of those who did not return are recorded on the War Memorial beneath the Cross of sacrifice in St Mary’s Churchyard. During the Second World War (1939 – 1945), evacuees came to live in Hardwick, 36 children with 4 teachers from Ealing, West London and 28 children from Dartford in Kent. They arrived carrying gasmasks and clutching their few personal belongings.

Although some local authority housing had been built in 1927 and 1936, it was the mid 1950’s through to the 1970’s that saw private development mushroom and with it a change to the character of the village. Thatch gave way to brick and timber and the village shop closed. Many of the residents commuted to Milton Keynes, Oxford and London.

Local school children whiled away one summer’s day in the 1970’s by making the then world’s longest daisy chain (289 feet) achieving an entry in the Guiness Book of Records. Sadly though, the Hardwick School closed at the end of the afternoon session on the 21st July 1982. This was despite the great efforts and public protest of local people to keep it open.

Since then Hardwick children have been bussed to Whitchurch School and the building which housed the old school has become known as John Bridle’s Hall. The hall is now  the hub of social activity in the village. Central to this is the Pre-School group which meets there Monday to Friday during school term time. This is  very much in keeping with John Bridle’s vision to bring education to the village.

John Bridle’s Hall was built in 1871 and was substantially refurbished in 2009 at a cost of over £120,000. The money was raised mainly with the help of various public funding organisations, but a large slice came from local residents organising social events over a two year period, most of the money raised in this way was matched by the John Bridle’s Charity Trust.  Activity at the Hall continues. In addition to the Pre -School, it is regularly used by locals for social events, whist drives, indoor bowling and Young Farmers. The Hall is also often hired for family parties and events and indeed, the money raised from this usage finances the upkeep of the hall.

The hall is one of the more recent buildings in Hardwick, some date from much earlier, for example Manor Farm and Manor House Farm also private dwellings such as the Maltings and Malting Cottage.

Manor House Farm in the 1930’s
Manor House Farm in the 1930’s


In 1236 James de Newmarch died leaving two daughters. One inherited the original Manor (Manor Farm now adjacent to the A413) the other daughter Isabell Russell inherited what is now Manor House Farm (then known as Russell’s Farm).

In 1385 it was conveyed to William of Wykeham (Bishop of  Winchester), who in turn gave it to the scholars of St Mary’s College Winchester which became New College. In 1999, during a period of rationalisation the college sold the farm into private ownership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *