Willen Lakes and Village

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The name Willen was spelt Wilinges when it was first referenced in the 1100’s and is thought to mean ‘the place of the willows’.

The village never exceeded a hundred people. In the 1700s it had a watermill (the site of which is under Willen Lake), about ten labourers’ cottages, a vicarage (which became Willen Priory), Brook Farm, Manor Farm (now Willen Hospice), and St Mary Magdalene church. The core of the village is still as it was in the 18th century and is a conservation area.

From the North Lake, you can see Manor Farm and St Mary Magdalene church, which is an impressive building for such a small village. It looks more like a building that you would find in the City of London. It is Grade 1 listed and the only known church entirely designed by Robert Hooke, one of Britain’s greatest scientists and polymaths. You may remember having to learn Hooke’s Law at school (it was all about elasticity). He also developed our understanding of microscopic creatures facilitated by the new developments in lenses and microscopes, was the first to use the term ‘cell’ in relation to organisms, invented the first Gregorian telescope, wrote about philosophy and astronomy, and was the surveyor who, with Christopher Wren, rebuilt London after the Great Fire of 1666.

The church was commissioned by the Headmaster of Westminster School in London, Dr Richard Busby, who bought the village of Willen in 1672. It cost £2,202.6.0d which was a fortune in those days. Tradition has it that he paid for it by asking all his pupils for a silver spoon! The government did not pay for schooling back then so those families who could afford to pay for their children’s education were almost always very wealthy. Westminster was also incredibly prestigious, so the story could be true. The church, which has an almost complete 1680 interior, is open on Sundays and Mondays from 10.30am to 4.00pm or by arrangement through churchwradenmm@gmail.com

Excavations in this area took place in 1972 as part of the construction of Willen Lake. Archaeologists expected to find evidence of prehistoric settlement, but none were found. There were minor signs of activity during the Roman and Saxon periods but most of what little was excavated was medieval. The area of land where the lakes are now was mostly farmland.  The fields showed the ridge and furrow of medieval farming which can still be seen in other parks in Milton Keynes, such as Waterhall Park. The map below shows the names of the fields and the location of the lakes.

Willen Lake is one of largest purpose-built balancing lakes in Britain, covering approximately 100 acres. It was created when Milton Keynes was being built to reduce flooding downstream at Newport Pagnell and further along into Bedford. If there is a threat of flood caused by heavy rainfall, sluice gates are raised in the river Ouzel and the river water is diverted into the lake. The lake can rise up to a metre higher to accommodate the extra water. Once the river has gone back to normal levels, water from the lake is gradually released back into the river. The sluice gates as automatically controlled by computers run by Anglian Water.

As well as being balancing lakes, Willen North provides habitats for animals. The lake was designed with variable depth water – so deep areas for fish and shallower areas that would provide exposed banks during drier spells which are great for many species of invertebrates and birds. There is also an island for nesting birds and a bird hide for people to watch the wildlife.

Willen North also has several cultural features – including the Peace Pagoda, Labyrinth, Medicine Wheel, and the Hiroshima sculpture that sits outside the Buddhist Temple .

Willen South was designed as a leisure lake to provide a central activity feature that links from the City Centre, through Campbell Park. In addition to the free trim trail and large children’s play park, the lake hosts running events and is used for leisure cycling and scooting. There are also lots of paid-for activities, including climbing and lots of watersports.


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  • We have received the Green Flag Award for our entire network of parks for the seventh year in a row!
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