You would have to spend your life in a bubble not to be aware of the importance of railways growing up in Wolverton. In fact, for the first 110 years there was nothing else. It was a railway town. Railways were life and bread an play. Oddly, as I see it now, the works had no direct impact on my life as a growing boy in the 40s and 50s. What went on behind the wall was, well, unknown, and I had no curiosity to learn. I might have learned my father’s position and job title but I had no inkling about what he actually did between the daily signals of the works hooter. There was a time to learn what went on behind the wall and that would be when you undertook an apprenticeship. It was I suppose a rite of passage like a bar Mitzvah.
I have been thinking about this because of a request for photographs of the works and my subsequent discovery that the works was something I knew almost nothing about. It was not part of my world.
The wall which extended for about a mile was dominant and rightly criticized by Sir Frank Markham in his history. The aesthetic impression for any visitor to Wolverton was terrible.
The only visual relief was a gate at the bottom of Cambridge Street and a cluster of buildings beyond Radcliffe Street. These were the Public Baths, the Main Gate and Offices, the Fire Station and another set of offices at the Ledsam Street end.
The Public Baths building remains, as does the exterior of the Fire Station built in 1911. All other buildings have now been demolished to make way for the Tesco shopping complex.
There are surprisingly few available photographs but this one, taken before the building of the Fire Station, shows the big building which accommodated the Canteen and presumably offices above. The Canteen, apart from its lunchtime function, was used for all large functions like the Remembrance Day concert and the children’s Christmas Party.
The second photo, taken fifty years later, show the buildings as I remember them. The Stratford Road was still relatively traffic free in those days, but at 7:30 am, 12:30 and 5:30 pm the road would have been heaving with men (mostly), buses and bicycles.
So the triple-gable building which became the main gate must have been built in or after 1911. The clockin the centre was the only public clock in Wolverton that I can recall, other than at the station. Watches were relatively expensive and often regarded as a luxury item. In fact the usual gift for a retiring employee, after 40+ years of service, was a timepiece. The irony that it would no longer be required was probably lost on the givers. “Knocker-uppers” were still employed in parts of the town in the 1940s to get people out of bed in time for work.