The movers and the shakers who came to the manor

Posted 27th August 2020

Linford Manor has a long and varied history; from residence of the Lord Mayor of London, to rock ‘n’ roll recording studio. If its walls could talk, what a lot they would have to say. These days, it is home to Pete Winkelman and his family. Sammy Jones takes a peek into its past for our August history feature.

The present manor house at Great Linford is a jewel in the crown of the park it stands elegantly in, and a jewel in the new city of Milton Keynes which has grown up around it.

It is an evocative, engaging and handsome home.

Great Linford’s earlier medieval manor was purchased from Sir Richard Napier by Sir William Pritchard in the late seventeenth century.

Sir William – who held the position of Lord Mayor of London in 1682 – had the original manor demolished and the present one erected using many of the materials from the original house.

Work was finished in 1690.

Several years later, Pritchard had the almshouses that sit in the park built for six local unmarried poor – in keeping with the expectations of the gentry back then.

The inhabitants each had a single room, with a bed, fireplace, cupboard and a washstand. Privies were located at the end of the small garden.

They would have been quite different from the grandeur of the manor house across the park.

Sir William died in 1704, and he was returned to Great Linford from his city residence. His remains were interred in St Andrews Church, a mere moment away from the house he clearly had quite an affection for.

The significant house passed to relatives, and remained with the Uthwatt family for centuries, until 1972 when Milton Keynes Development Corporation bought the manor from Stella Uthwatt.

It was the end of an era, and the beginning of a new chapter for the property.

In May 1981, following large renovation works at a suitably large cost, the manor was announced to the town as Great Linford Art Centre – a place for all.

And so it would seem to be; a sculpture exhibition commanded use of the manor house and grounds and featured works by renowned sculptors including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth in late 1982. Art and craft courses and performance events helped to make the area a hub for creativity.

There was even a public bar downstairs in the cellar.

But in 1984, less than three years after it was opened to become the focal point of arts in the city, its closure was announced, with Milton Keynes Development Corporation ceasing financial support.

The curtain fell on March 31, 1984.

Lord Campbell of Eskan, president of the trustees and leader of MK Development Corporation told the Citizen newspaper he was heartbroken.

“The centre is a newborn babe and hasn’t had time to grow. I feel desperately sad and I am deeply disappointed.”

Lord Campbell called the manor ‘staggeringly beautiful’ and said the closure was ‘a tragedy,’ but the £60,000 cash injection needed annually was simply too much.

“The corporation bought what is certainly the most distinguished house in Milton Keynes and made it a very successful arts centre. But they are unpalatable costs and it would be folly to go on building up debts.”

In an earlier publicity brochure for the venture, he said: “We are aiming to make something special at Great Linford, a creative centre to which people will really want to come.”

While that didn’t prove to be the case then, his words were truer than he could have imagined; Music would get the manor out of the doldrums soon enough.

Soon, the house proved itself as a stunning recording facility, thanks to the vision of music industry operator, the late Harry Maloney, who took over the building following the failure of the arts centre.

Harry invited London-based singer Jim Price to move to Milton Keynes to help set the studio up.

Under Harry’s guise the manor became one of the first residential studios in the country to invest in digital equipment, and the bands started coming.

John Lydon
Pistol player John Lydon

John Lydon’s post Sex Pistols concern PiL, Del Amitri, and rockers Thunder were among the many who came through the doors.

Harry, whose other musical endeavours included managing Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, drove the recording venture between 1986 and 1992, until it became a casualty of the recession and was put into administration.

At the same time, Pete Winkleman was seeking a new studio. He already had Music Station facilities in London and Birmingham.

Pete & Berni Winkelman
Pete & Berni Winkelman pic Lee Scriven

“We wanted to move those into the ‘musically better’ studio of Linford Manor where the plan was to continue in the same vein as in the previous few years – making records, signing bands, and licensing them to major labels. We arrived in Milton Keynes in August 1993, and the first thing we held here was the official bash for Metallica’s gig at the National Bowl,” Pete said.

“It was a great do, we had MTV come along, and a police escort to take the groups to the venue.

It really was razzamatazz with some big industry types in attendance…

“That was my introduction to Milton Keynes and the manor, and I loved it.

“For someone like me who had been very, very honed in the music business and didn’t even know who my neighbours were in London, it was a chance to get involved in the city,” Pete said.

Babylon Zoo’s number one hit Spaceman was the first smash recorded during Pete’s tenure, but there was much more to come.

Jay Kay and Jamiroquai chose the manor to record their third album Travelling Without Moving, in 1996. It was a multi-million seller.

Skunk Anansie and Biffy Clyro both recorded two albums each at the studio, and Feeder were regulars too.

“Most of the time it is a creative hotbed, but some of the time it is a political nightmare – you’ve got the singer falling out with the guitarist and the producer stuck in the middle of it.

“Or you have the pressure of someone who has been successful trimming back and trying to make the next record just as successful.

“You’ve got the flush of innocence and naivety in people making their first record, and sometimes you can influence things too; I remember when Feeder were here, and I drove up to the manor in my car, a black jaguar, and it ends up in the song Buck Rogers…great little things that made the situation special.”

PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey recording at The Manor

The Charlatans and Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson also spent time recording in the quiet corner of Milton Keynes, and PJ Harvey recorded her Mercury Award winning opus Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea at the house in 2001.

If Sir William Pritchard could have seen what was to become of his beloved home, what would he have made of his ballroom being commanded by bands for recording purposes? How positively alien!

Today, Linford Manor is largely silent again. Gone are the bands and the noise and the fun and the occasional fury. In 2020 it is once again a family home.

But Pete doesn’t just have memories from the era. There are a wealth of albums sitting on stockists shelves all saying ‘Recorded at Great Linford Manor’ to ensure the musical legacy.

Taken from‘Milton Keynes – Wired For Sound’ A history of music in Milton Keynes, by Sammy Jones.

For details visit @MiltonKeynesWiredForSound on Facebook

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