A Doctor Calls

One popular and long-running television program of the 1960s was Doctor Finlay’s Casebook – a story about a Scottish country doctor of the 1920s. It developed a following because it presented an image of doctors that we could still identify with – the family doctor.

I don’t know when the term “general Practitioner” (GP) came into use, but in the 40s and 50s we routinely referred to our doctors as “family doctors”. There was good sense in this. If the doctor knew the family then he would have a good basis of knowledge upon which to diagnose illness. There were few tests. The only pieces of diagnostic machinery that doctors carried were the thermometer and the stethoscope.
Our family doctor was Dr. W.E. (Eric) Fildes. He had attended on my grandparents, my parents and ourselves as children so he had three generations of knowledge to work with. He and his wife Marjorie (also a medical practitioner) ran the practice at The Elms at the bottom of Green Lane. I think their son Peter later came into the practice upon qualification. Dr Fildes appeared in the Doctor Finlay mode – tweedily dressed, moustache, soft brown hat, a black pre-war saloon car  and carrying his black bag. 
House calls were a part of life. When I was ill with some childhood disease prior to 1950, Dr Fildes would arrive in his car sometime in the late morning or afternoon and once  his reassuring presence was ushered into my bedroom you knew that recovery was at hand. The routine was to take my temperature, read it, and flick the mercury back with a couple of shakes of the hand. His stethoscope was then produced from the bag and its cold plate placed upon my chest. After a few questions of my mother he would make his recommendations and scribble a prescription on his pad for my mother to take to the chemist. 
There were two other medical practices in Wolverton – Dr Delahunty at “Yiewsley” on Western Road opposite the tennis courts, and Doctor, Lawrence, Douglas, Witheridge and Brown. The latter was a Stony Stratford practice with a Wolverton surgery on the Stratford Road. I think before the war this latter practice was headed by Dr Habgood who lived at Wolverton House and then Calverton House. His son John rose to some eminence in the Church of England, becoming Archbishop of York.
As I mentioned before, the Fildes were a husband and wife team, although I am not sure that I ever met or even saw Dr Marjorie Fildes. She must have had her patients and her husband his.
Surgery hours were usually conducted at the end of the afternoon, probably between 4 and 6. This would allow the “walking ill” so see the doctor. Surgery was conducted on a first come first served basis – there were no appointments. 
After 1948 the National Health Service came into being. All the existing doctors and hospitals remained and carried on as normal – the only difference initially was that the state paid doctors directly rather than the patient. I was too young to know what my parents paid for doctor’s visits, but I have since heard that it was about 10/- , not an inconsiderable sum of money.


The favoured material for pyjamas in the 1950s was called”wincyette” a trade name I think for the material which had a nice furry pile on the inside. And boy did we need it in winter. The clothes felt immediately warm to the skin whereas most coton had a cold damp feel to it.

Houses were typically uninsulated – the nearest you could come to insulation in those days was a double cavity wall which provided and inch or two of air insulation. Stone built houses had some natural insuating properties by absorning heat from the outside during the day and radiating it inside during the night, but brick houses, which we all lived in were poor insulators.
 Glass windows were of the sash variety and were single pane – so on a frosty morning you could discover frozen condensation on the inside oof windows in elaborate “Jack Frost” patterns. 
Our house was of Victorian build and had a fireplace in every room except the bathroom and scullery. We did not light any of the fires in the upstairs bedrooms, so getting into bed meant undressing very quickly, jumping from the cold floor into bed and trying to quickly generate enough heat to take the chill off the cotton sheets. Usually i slept under three layers of blankets and an eiderdown. Sometimes my mother would make up a hot water bottle to warms up the sheets.
Coal of course was the winter fuel of choice. There were two coal merchants in town, Tilleys, on the south side of Church Street and the Wolverton Mutual next to Swain’s sports shop. I don’t know which coal merchant we used but every now and then the coal lorry would appear and the men unloaded black hessian hundredweight sacks into our coal bunkers. We used coal for open fires and coke for the close stove in the kitchen, which in addition to heat, provided us with hot water.
A coal fire was started with newspaper and wood kindling and once it was going gave strong heat close to it and moderate heat at a short distance. The edge of the room was always cold and typically chairs and settees were grouped around the fire. A lot of the heat, it has to be said, went up the chimney.
Electric fires were available, usually of a single or double bar. They provided immediate local heat but were expensive.
In the mid-50s everyone discovered paraffin stoves. Theye were easier to light than coal fires and much less messy and I think they were relatively economical to run. The oil companies marketed their paraffin by colour – pink paraffin or blue paraffin. Paraffin when all is said and done is paraffin so the refiners used colour to create product differentiation and I suppose there were people who believed that pink coloured paraffin was better than blue coloured paraffin.
As I write this today from my well-insulated, centrally-heated house it is hard to imagine that we lived as we did and that present day comfort has only been avaliable for 40 years. In the 1950s the technology to manufacture practical insulating materials for home was not there. In public buildings asbestos was the insulating material of choice – and we know the consequences of that. And coal (the fuel of choice) did not lend itself to central heating furnaces in domestic dwellings. I suppose it took the development of the compact gas furnace to make central heating a practical solution for English homes.

Strike up the Band!

In those days before TV took over our lives (and yes there was life before television) people organized their own entertainment. Music took a major role. Most Wolverton residents (and if not most, certainly many) had a piano in the front room, used by children for piano lessons and by some neighbour or relative at parties or festive occasions for a sing-song. sually the piano stool housed a small library of sheet music published by Boosey and Hawkes and probably bought from Fred Anstee on Church Street.

There were six outlets for the musically gifted in those days: the church choirs, variety shows, concerts, dance bands, brass bands, and banquets.
Church choirs were well subscribed. I can only speak from my own experience as a choir boy at St Georges in the 1950s but this choir had sixteen boys and about a dozen men. The choir practised on Thursday evening and performed Sunday Eucharist and Sunday Evensong, so it was quite a commitment.
In the 1950s we were in the last days of the Variety Show, although we did not know it at the time. This was a full evening’s entertainment of a mix of acts, comics, jugglers, singers, conjurers and probably acts involving animals. The Variety Show transferred to TV in the early days – Saturday Night at the London Palladium was a prime example – but eventually withered as people lost interest. In Wolverton someone would organize such an event at the Works Canteen or the Top Club. The acts would come together according to their billing and then reappear the following week at Bletchley or Newport Pagnell. I know my father did quite a number of these shows in the 40s and early 50s until he was able to focus his singing career as an after dinner singer.
Those with a more serious interest in music could attend concerts which were organised periodically. Often they would feature oratorios; orchestral concerts were rarer.
In the early 50s we were still in the era of the big band. There was no amplification and a good sound for a dance band could only be achieved through numbers. Labour in any case was still quite cheap in those days, so a good sized semi-professional dance band could be readily assembled for saturday night performances. Two bands I recall from those days were the Tommy Claridge band and the Joe Lovesey orchestra. The Rhythm Aces, featuring the musically talented Dytham brothers, Doug and Sid, was smaller but more jazzy. Leslie Bray, who had that earthy baritone so popular with jazz bands back then, sung with them.
Music for public functions was provided by the brass bands. The Wolverton Town Band and the New Bradwell Silver Band, were, as their name suggests, based in their respective communities. The Wolverton Band was led by Bill Blackburn. I think they regularly performed at half-time at football matches and big occasions like Remembrance Day and Christmas. They marched through the town on Carnival Day of course.

The population of Wolverton

The ancient Wolverton manor was bounded by the River Ouse to the north, the road to bradwell and Bradwell Brook to the east and south, and by Watling Street to the west. Those boundaries did not change for about 900 years when the Wolverton Urban district was created to include the parish of Calverton and Stantonbury. So it is possible to view population change in a well-defined area for a long time.

Perhaps the big surprise is the apparent lack of change between Domesday (1086) and the first 19th century census in 1801. Dr Francis Hyde, the eminent economic historian, and a local bative, estimates the population at the time of Domesday as 200 to 250. In 1801 it was 238. 
There is a reason for this. In the 17th century the Longueville family (then lords of the manor) enclosed all the land in the manor, divided it into three farms and effectively dispossessed the population from its ancient common rights. The land became depopulated and the village abandoned. Stony Stratford grew somewhat on the Calverton side.
If the enclosures had been handled in a more humane way then I suppose that Wolverton might have been a village the size of Haversham, say, but the Wolverton of 1801 would have been an empty place with only a few clusters of cottages around each farm. Most of this 238 probably lived along the Watling Street on the Wolverton side.
Another accident of history and of geography transformed this rural backwater – the arrival of the London to Birmingham Railway. Wolverton was not Stephenson’s intended route; he instead wished to take the line through Winslow, Buckingham and Brackley, but the powerful voice of the Duke of Buckingham vetoed this route and the alternative was implemented. Thus Wolverton Station ended up by being exactly half way between London and birmingham, and since the engines needed to be changed and their boilers rebuilt, a works (and indeed refreshment rooms) was established. The future of the new Wolverton began here. Were it not for this I imagine Wolverton would have continued unpopulated and rural well into the 20th century.
The population jumps from 417 in 1831 to 1261 in 1841 nd then increases by about 500 per decade until 1891 when the population was 4,147. By this time New Bradwell had been built. 
1901 figures show a significant surge – up to 5,323. During this period the town extended to include Cmbridge Street and Windsor Street and in the first decade of the 20th century the town west to Anson Road had been completed.
So by 1911 the district population had risen to 7,384. There it steadied for a number of years before surging again in the 1930s. I amnot quite sure why this was so.
The population of the Urban district reached its peak at 13,426, after which other economic forces came into play.

Identity Cards

This is my father’s wartime ID card found in a box. It was introduced as a wartime measure and abandoned in 1951 when the government found that the cost of maintaining the card far exceeded any cost benefits there might be. ID cards have generally been a failure in this country and have only been tolerated by the public in wartime. The only function of this one that was tolerated was its need to be produced for the issuance of food coupons.

Everything that was printed seemed to be a grey-green in those days; I wonder if this had anything to do with the recycling of paper?
My father was reassigned to work for Sperry Gyroscopes during the war and obviously lived there during the week and returned home at the weekend. I assume from the date stamp that he returned to Wolverton permanently after 9th October 1944

Creed Street

Here is a view from Ledsam Street to St. Georges taken about 1967. This was probably the first time ever that you could get this view without it being blocked by the terraces of Ledsam and Creed Street.

The streets have been demolished and the new flats erected. There is still a lot of rubble lying around. You can see the sole surviving building on Creed Street – Billinghams Fish and Chip shop. You can also see the Science and Art Institute in the right of the picture. this too was demolished a few years later.

Pay day

Seeing this pay cart at the MK Museum reminded me that one of my great uncles, a senior accounts clerk, was actually responsible for the payroll in the 1930s. This cart has B.R. painted on the side so it must have been used after nationalization in 1948, although it continues to use LMS livery colour.

Workers were paid only in cash until the transition was made to bank accounts in the last quarter of the 20th century.  the pay cart was wheeled over to the bank to pick up the money and taken back under guard of course, where the money was counted out in pounds shillings and pence into each pay packet. Checked, sorted by workshop. All this work would take the betterpart of the morning, then the cart was wheeled throughout the works where the men would sign for their packets. The name, hours worked, rate and total pay was written on each packet, an open brown manilla packet with holes punched through so that the money was visible.
Pay was weekly on Friday and usually before lunchtime at 12:30. Some would go up to the building society to make their mortgage payments (probably about 10/- a week) and others would add to the lunchtime trade in the four pubs and the bottom club. 


The only source of milk, the other staple in our lives, was the Co-op. Reuben “Pop” Bremeyer had run a small dairy at 115 Windsor Street before the war, but he had retired when I knew him andhis sons had left home and his daughter Alice operated a small greengrocery/corner shop at that address.

The Co-op dairy was on Jersey road at the back of the Co-op grocery on Church Street. The building have been changed and adapted now but there were stables for the horse here and a shed for the horse-drawn dray. This was another job that required an early start and each morning Mr & Mrs Odell (I think that was the name) would don their brown smocks, harness the horse known as “Dobbin”, load the dray with crates of milk bottles and work their way quietly around the town.
Milk was paid for by the purchase of tokens from the Co-op on the Square. These were aluminium disks about the size of a penny, smaller for a half pint and coloured red for special items like cream. Tokens for whatever you required could then be left on the doorstep overnight. The milk carton had yet to be invented, so all milk came in bottles sealed with cardboard caps with a pull tag – they fitted into the slightly-recessed bottle top. Later on in the 50s the aluminium seal began to appear.
Milk was either tuberculin tested (TT) or pasteurised before it was bottled. Co-op milk was pasteurised. Cream was not entirely separated from the milk and each pint bottle would have an inch or so of cream rising to the top. On the occasional frosty winter morning the milk would freeze and the expansion would pop the cardboard cap and poke up a finger of frozen milk.


In the early years of my life there was no such thing as sliced bread because it had been banned by the government as an economy measure, so it was something of a revelation to me and my contemporaries when the ban was lifted in 1950. No more diagonal cuts or “doorstep” wedges; each slice came beautifully uniform. I don’t think we were conscious of the nutritional price we were paying for this machine made consistency but there must have been a dawning of understanding since advertisers a few years later were making a virtue of the addition of niacine and thiamine.

Looking back it appears that one of the unintended consequences of this government ban was to allow small bakers to survive a little longer.
Wolverton had four bakery outlets – The “Brighton” Bakery at number 6 Church Street, King’s at number 41 Church Street, the Co-op Bakery at the back of the Co-op Grocery on the Square with its retail outlet on the corner of Aylesbury St and Bedford St. and Faithfull Brothers on the Stratford Road, who had their actual bakery in New Bradwell.
My mother bought her bread from King’s, so I can’t speak to the quality of other bakers, but I do believe that each baker had a different taste because I remember people asserting that so-and-so’s bread was the “best”.
Mr King used to deliver bread in the afternoon in a pony and trap very much like this photo of the bread van in the MK Museum. Of course if yu wanted oven fresh bread you would have to go down to the shop early and join the queue.

Red Cross Appeal

I am not sure that this photograph has any particular interest. It shows my grandfather, then Chairman of the UDC, introducing Lady Burnham, patron of the Red Cross in Buckinghamshire. The date is August 28th 1943 and the Red Cross Appeal is being formally announced. Volunteers in those day collected door-to-door using tins with a coin slot. Since my grandmother and mother were active in organizing this appeal I have some sense of the scale of the operation. At the end of the week volunteers brought in hundreds of tins, usually full to the brim with coins. The seal at the base was then broken and the metal catch opened to release the coins, mostly pennies and ha’pennies, threepenny bits, some sixpences and a few shillings. All of these were sorted and counted on the front room table.

I think it is true to say that there were relatively few charities in those days. The two big collections were for the Haig Fund before November 11th and the Red Cross Appeal in August. The RNLI and the National Institute for the Blind had cllections, but they were never as big as the first two. Some charities would leave collection boxes in pubs and the Salvation Army collected every week, I think.
My grandfather noted on the back of the photo that this was at the Market Hall. Probably the platform was set up in the yard facing the Royal Engineers.