Milton Keynes: A Town with Roots in Technology & Espionage

By Shaan Khan

Image by Roland Steinmann from Pixabay

Old enough to be my young, dazzling mother, Milton Keynes is one of the newest towns to be built in the UK. Established in 1967, the town was created to tackle housing congestion in London due to the town’s proximity to the capital.

Not only is Milton Keynes close to London, but within a 50-mile radius of the town, Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham are also covered. Milton Keynes is thus the crossroads between all these prime urban locations and a central meeting point, where professors from the two top universities in Britain and corporate executives from the two largest cities of the UK can all conveniently get together and party…I mean, talk business & innovations! Then party.

But seriously, the strategic location is partly why the town has the most start-up businesses in the country outside of London, especially for STEM-centric industries. Also, the location is what seeded the town in its history of technology and espionage before it was even known as Milton Keynes. It all began a little under three decades before the town’s conception in a place called Bletchley Park…

Bletchley Park – Codes & Computers in a Country Estate

Image by Julie Clarke from Pixabay

The area known as Bletchley is now just a district within Milton Keynes that’s wonderful for a day out to take your dog for a walk. But in fact, the area was first mentioned in the 12th Century Domesday Book with the first rendition of its name ‘Blechelai’. Since the Bronze Age, famous inhabitants have come, settled and gone from this land—from Celts, Romans to Anglo Saxons and Normans, leaving behind one of the most prominent amounts of gold to be found in Britain. Heh, looks like the Vikings missed out on this jackpot!

It’s then fitting that a Gothic-Victorian, English country house and estate was constructed here in 1883 and came to be known as Bletchley Park. While this lavish site featured state-of-the-art architecture & gardening with luxurious functions, it later took upon a drastic change in operation once acquired by British Secret Intelligence to use the space as a Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) to aid in the war efforts of WW2.

The purpose of the GC&CS was to secretly penetrate communication lines of the Axis Powers and break their codes to uncover enemy plots & schemes. As mentioned earlier, the strategic location of Bletchley Park made it a convenient meeting spot for Oxford & Cambridge university members and secret agents from the nearby major cities to all meet up and work on this new-age weapon of war.

The world’s first programmable digital computer known as ‘Colossus’ was deployed here to aid in their codebreaking efforts. 

It was paramount to uphold the secrecy of Bletchley Park’s operation. Succeeding in their efforts has been regarded by historians as the sole reason why the war had been shortened by two to four years. The achievement highlighted British excellence, with a team proficient in various fields that gathered at this convenient and ever so luxurious location to work together in complete disguise.

Side Note: Search ‘Bletchley Park’ on Google and see if you can spot the cool Easter Egg (surprise reference) that Google has smoothly incorporated at the top of the search results.

Tech Central with a Sprinkle of Fun

Screenshot Courtesy of Telegraph on Instagram

The story of Bletchley Park is intrinsic to the DNA of Milton Keynes today. With Bletchley Park being transformed into a museum showcasing the site’s heritage. Milton Keynes also flaunts its technological roots with other museums such as The National Museum of Computing, The National Radio Centre and even a National Film and Sci-Fi Museum showcasing a little Star Wars, Doctor Who—you name it!

With Milton Keynes being the closest town to the infamous Silverstone F1 Circuit, many fans of the tech-centric sport will station at the town, and when not watching the races, they can check out the nearby Silverstone Interactive Museum.

Apart from the many small tech start-ups, large tech corporations such as Mercedes Benz, Suzuki, Volkswagen Group and Red Bull Racing have offices in Milton Keynes.

The town accommodates its wide array of visitors with a rich list of venues, luxuries and amenities—this includes:

  • 30+ hotels, including the DoubleTree by Hilton; a meetings-focused hotel offering 17 conference rooms and 18 event spaces for all types of functions
  • The Marshall Arena, a multi-purpose space for events that seat up to 5,000 people. Great for large-scale conventions
  • More than 350 pubs, restaurants, night clubs and cafes
  • Snow sports and various other activities at Xscape and Snozone
  • One of the UK’s most popular family theme parks; Gulliver’s Land Theme Park Resort
  • A whopping 10 golf clubs to check out and Mr Mulligans Indoor Miniature golf course with its quirky set designs & artwork for a playful time of mini golf
  • The Stables music venue for lovers of jazz, blues, rock, folk, classical, pop and international. The venue has a track record of hosting over 400 concerts and 250 educational events per year
  • Aside from the museums, the town is rich in other arts & culture, with over 10 art galleries and Woburn Abbey, an estate seeded in nobility, being the family home to the Duke of Bedford since the 15thcentury. Woburn Abbey features a landscape garden, deer park and Woburn Safari Park
  • Willen Lake is a great outdoor space for water activities such as boating, kiteboarding, sailing, surfing and skiing

Based on this list, you’re probably scratching your head, thinking, ‘you sure this isn’t a city, not a town?’. Well, I felt the same way! Then it started to make sense to me why many websites dedicated to Milton Keynes are self-proclaiming it as a city despite being rejected of city status multiple times by royal decree. However, Milton Keynes residents are getting their hopes up for 2022, where rumours have it—the Queen will grant them city status in celebration of her Platinum Jubilee! Or maybe at this point, the Queen enjoys getting their hopes up for nothing, the little trickster!

So, it’s clear Milton Keynes makes an exceptional meeting spot or a nice place for a day out, but arguably, there is one distinct staple point to Milton Keynes that not only attracts people to visit but to settle down there.

The Urban Layout Every British Town Wants?

Screenshot Courtesy of drone_mk on Instagram

British towns are synonymous for their cluttered urban designs, bottlenecked roads to central and outward locations, always congested and cutting through residential areas. Well, it was the Brits first time, so cut them some slack, but Milton Keynes was their moment to go back to the drawing board and reassess their past flaws and how to make up for them with this new town.

What Milton Keynes Development Centre (MKDC) came up with was the ‘non-hierarchical devolved city plan’ inspired by Melvin M. Webber’s work on ‘the radical grid plan’.

Over time, it’s been touted as flexible and adaptable because the town’s growth has little impact on traffic & communities, unlike most British towns. To give you an idea of how—here is a comparison between urban plans:

Traditional British Towns: A circular system with the core consisting of shopping areas and many businesses, while the outer area is primarily residential. To get in and out of the town, you cut through tight residential areas that create a noisy atmosphere and reduce the quality of living for people in the neighbourhood. 

Milton Keynes Grid Layout: A less centralised square system made up of grid squares (districts), each encompassing a combination of residential communities and local centres (retail hubs) for business and shopping; instead of one core town centre that would lead all communities to rely upon and cause congestion.

Unlike many traditional British towns, roads are more expansive in Milton Keynes. They don’t cut directly through communities, only around them. Allowing communities to receive less noise pollution and exit their grid square from multiple exit points—leading them onto grid roads that are typically wide dual or single carriageways to deal with a high load of vehicles and transport them between grid squares (districts).

However, the centre of Milton Keynes does feature a sizeable shopping mall called The Centre:mk, covering nearly the entire district with its total retail area of 1,790,00 sq. ft! Housing 190 stores from big brands such as Next, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer. The Centre:mk also has over 17,000 parking spaces nearby which is plenty.

While allowing for smooth transportation, it promotes people to walk more and drive less, helping reduce carbon emissions. In fact, the town has many eco-friendly features tied to the urban plan. Another system is the cycleway network, which covers the entire town with non-intrusive cycle lanes that can bypass the grid road carriageways via bridges & underpasses to connect them between grid squares (districts).

Walking routes are paved alongside the cycle routes that cut past grid roads, and ditching vehicles for a healthy alternative and a breath of fresh air is incentivised by the abundance of nature.

Forest City

Screenshot Courtesy of theparktrust on Instagram

In the development stage of the town, people had become more nature conscious after learning about the benefits of nature & urbanisation in coexistence instead of destroying our native forests and dumping toxic concrete all over them. So they aimed for a concept called ‘forest city’ which they planted millions of trees and built urban settlements around forested nature, leading 25% of Milton Keynes to be covered by parks, lakes and green spaces. Today, there are over 22 million trees and shrubs throughout public open spaces in the town.

Speaking of public open spaces, every grid square (district) has one of them. To make a national comparison, Milton Keynes has more open spaces available to residents than anywhere else in the country.

Conclusion

Each community in Milton Keynes is enriched with nearby access to shopping, businesses and greenery. Travelling to other parts of the town is a smooth & hassle-free process compared to many other UK towns.

You’ve got plenty of places to visit, even the flood plains of the Great Ouse that have been transformed into linear parks which are ten times larger than Hyde Park in London!

Progressive both environmentally and multiculturally, being home to over 100 nationalities with many opening businesses selling international food, clothing and various cultural items or services.  The Islamic community also hosts a community festival known as Mashallah MK that features live music, theatrical plays and international food.

Also, technology still is at the heart of the town since you will even find robots roaming around Milton Keynes today that are used to deliver groceries!

If none of this appeases you, then well, there are concrete cows plotted around the town for you to check out—surely that will do the trick to get you to visit or move here!

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