Wolverton was a Railway Town, to state the obvious, but what this really meant in the early years was that everything was owned by the Company. Shops as well as houses were rented from the Company, which also, as we have seen, provided public buildings. When new land for development was finally agreed to by the Radclffe Trustees, the L&NWR had a change of policy and the new plots on the Stratford Road and Church Street were made available for private purchase. The first two sales, on August 23rd 1859, were made to Charles Aveline and John Reeve. More about these gentlemen in a moment.
This lock-up shops on the left were later built on the Engineer’s property, but the group of three here, since broken into two or three units were built by Charles Aveline. He started out on Bury Street as a cabinet maker but this was his beginning as a builder. His father was a cabinet maker in Leighton Buzzard and his grandfather practised the same trade in Great Horwood. He also had an uncles in Stony Stratford and Great Horwood who were also cabinet makers. After this he did further building work on Church Street and built the new Stacey Farm house, now the MK Museum.
The next unit, numbered 9a and 9b was built by John Reeve. He was an established Stony Stratford Grocer who opened up a branch on Bury Street when those shops were built. They were pulled down round about this time and I imagine this new building filled his need for an outlet in Wolverton.
Wolverton Station was in its infancy when the need for a school became apparent and so the London and Birmingham Railway built a school in 1839 on the corner of Creed Street and the Stratford Road. This sketch is my rendering of how the original building may have looked. There is some guesswork here. I have arbitrarily provided chimneys on the north side for example, although the fireplaces may have been centrally-place or on the south side. There is little available in the way of fact. There is one detailed description of the school from the 1840s, a partial plan from 1845, a plan of the extended school buildings from 1861, and some trade direcory references. There are, surprisingly, hardly any surviving photographs from its 20th century use as a Market Hall. In any case, by this time the building had been much modified and extended. I only wish I had done this ten years ago; then I would have had the opportunity to inspect the original school building on the north side, which at the time was still standing. On balance, I think I am close to the original. The eastern wing, that is the central section, facing east and the south-eastern corner was the boys school. The infants school was at the western end and in the middle was the girls school. The southern building, still standing as the children’s library, served, I believe, as the schoolmaster’s house. In 1851 the schoolmaster was Archibald Laing. He lived in the schoolhouse with his wife, five daughters and a son. He was paid £100 a year. The school mistress for the girl’s school at this time was Emma Hassal. For her pains she was paid £40 a year and lived in lodgings. Lower down the pat scale, at £30 a year, was Amelia Prince, the infant school teacher. The attendance at this time was about 95 boys, 55 girls and 40 infants. The main school building was about 70 feet long and 20 feet wide. There was probably a wall around the building but I have not drawn this.
The house was built around 1720 in spacious grounds just off the Old Wolverton to Stony Stratford road. When the new road was cut through to Wolverton Station the Park House found itself on the corner, where it remains. It has been enlarged and added to over the years but there has not been much visible exterior change for the last 50 years. Among the notable residents was James E McConnnell, the locomotive engineer who designed the famous “Bloomers” that were built at Wolverton Works. He succeeded Edward Bury as Works Superintentdent in 1847 and remained as chief until 1862. McConnell was born in Fermoy, County Cork in 1815. I don’t know much about his parentage but he was apprenticed to a Glasgow engineering firm in 1828, By 1837 he was working at Edward Bury’s works in Liverpool and here learned what there was to learn about steam locomotive design. In 1842 he got the job of locomotive superintendent for the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway but the L&NWR recruited him in 186 to take over from Bury in Wolverton. By this time he had married Charlotte Addison, daughter of an Essex surgeoon and they moved with their into Wolverton Park House. McConnell was paid the princely sum of £700 per annum and could afford to live in some style. This probably made him Wolverton’s highest earner. If you put this aside the £30 a year paid to Amelia Prince, the infant school mistress, one can get some idea of the scale of McConnell’s earning power. McConnell’s locomotives were among the most successful of the period but they were not always (at least in the eyes of some Board members) cost effective and there was a parting of the ways. McConnell resigned in March 1862 and moved to Great Missenden where he practised as a civil engineer. He was not replace. Engine building was consolidated at Crewe and Wolverton was given over to carriage building.
When I was a boy the resident was Captain Basil Liddell-Hart, the noted military historian. I had the Old Wolverton paper round and would daily deliver almost one third of my bag at his door. He took every daily paper except the Daily Sketch. In the 1950s this meant The Times, The Daily Telegpah, The News Chronicle, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Mirror, The Manchester Guardian, and The Daily Herald. Liddell Hart fought in the first world war but resigned from the army in 1927 to work as a writer and military historian. He was politically well-connected and had access to the D-Day invasions plans and was later invited by Anthony Eden to submit battle plans for the Suez invasion. He died in 1970 and his library formed the basis of the military studies library at King College. It is called the Liddell-Hart library.
I was wrong in what I wote about slated Row a few days ago. I looked at a Google Earth map, couldn’t see the cottages and assumed that they had been pulled down to make way for the Trinity Road development. Sorry about that. Yesterday I went to Old Wolverton to see for myself and they are still very much there. Some of the cottages have been joined together, others have been added-to quite significantly; however, the stone, or rubble-built structure remain. Since I remember it the path has been paved with tarmac to take cars and the outbuildings (wash-house, w.c.) have been converted to garages. The cottages date from circa 1820.
I don’t remember these cottages when I was a boy, but they were recorded on an ordnance survey map in the 1930s. They were located a small field away from the Old Wolverton Road and access was down the road leading to the church. In this photo you can see Holy Trinity Church and the Vicarage on the right. The cottages show on the earliest modern map of Wolverton drawn in the early years of the 19th century show them in situ at this time. Judging from the vernacular style of architecture the cottages probably date from the late 18th century.
Holy Trinity was the oldest church on the Wolverton Manor, but it was not that old. It was built new over a six year peiod and finished in 1815 for £, presumably on the site of the old church, of which there is no useful record. The tower of the old church was retained in part and rebuilt in the new style. It is probable that there was a church dating back to Saxon times but it would take an archaeological dig to establish the evidence.
Wolverton was a poor parish, or had been since the depopulation of the manor through the enclosures of the 17th century, and did not offer a good living and from some accounts tended to attract below par incumbents. Hugh Stowell Brown is disparaging about the Rector of the 1840s in his memoirs and suggests that the church only attracted a few worshippers.
The church however looks impressive and the architect opted for a Norman or Romanesque style for the windows and doors an castellated decoration. The 19th century trend (adopted by St Georges) was for gothic, so the Old Wolverton church is something of rarity.
In the 20th century Holy Trinity used to attract worshippers from the west end of New Wolverton – Anson Road, Jersey Road, for whom the walk was not much further than St Georges. Some preferred the smaller congregation and perhaps the atmosphere. The Church used to have a Fete every year on the raised lawn by the Rectory.
Most dwellings in Old Wolverton were either scattered or clusterd. There was, however, one street, known as “Slated Row”. The cottages were small, low and probably no more than two bedrooms. I don’t know if there are any surviving pictures. The row of cottages followed the present street that retains the name, although it was then a path with the cottages on the south side. I think (although I won’t swear to it) that the outhouses may have been on the north side of the path. The path led to a gate, through which the path continued to the Stratford Road. I don’t know the origin of these cottages but they do appear on the 1830 map which suggests that they pre-dated the railway. It is also just about possible that they were given slated roofs at the outset since slates could be transported by canal to parts of England remote from the quarries. If this was the case then the cottages would have been unique for the time and probably the best-looking cottages on the manor. As I said the cottages could only be reached by footpath, and this was quite sufficient, even in the early 1960s when few people had cars. The cottages represented a different time and a different way of living.
I’m going to talk about Old Wolverton for the next few days. Prior to the coming of the railways, Wolverton was a pretty nondescript place. After enclosure by the Longuevilles in the 17th century, Wolverton Manor was divided into three farms, which still survived until quite recently – Manor Farm, Warren Farm and Stacey Bushes farm. The manor was sold to Dr John Radcliffe in 1713. A year later he died and the Trust in his name administered the manor as an absentee landlord until it was eventually sold to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. The manor scarcely had any significant population at the beginning of the 19th century, possibly 200, no more certainly than the time of Domesday Book 800 years earlier. Early 19th century maps show small clusters of cottages around each of the farms and a few more around the Rectory. There were two mills – Wolverton Mill near Stony Stratford and Mead Mill on the Ouse at the north eastern corner of the Manor. These two mills were as close to modern industry as Wolverton would get until 1838 – and then what a change there was.
This photograph show the pub at the first few years of the 20th century. The canal had brought some change. particularly the building of a wharf at Old Wolverton. The owner of the wharf, Benjamin Barter, was responsible for building the pub known as The Galleon, although originally it was known as The Locomotive. The pub was still called the Locomotive at the time this photo was taken and here is covered with ivy.
Men who were once prominent, perhaps even household names, gave their names to streets and then appeared to disappear from history. I have been trying to find out something about Joseph Walker who gave his name to the short-lived Walker Street in Wolverton. In 1846 he stumped up £178,500 for the LNWR so he was clearly a man of some substance. He was an early director of the London and Birmingham Railway and also of the Birmingham and Derby Railway. Other than that there are few clues to his existence. He did not appear to have the public profile of Joseph Ledsam who I wrote about yesterday. There is one tantalizing reference to a Mr Walker in the diary of Cecile Mendelssohn: Saturday September 16 To another local worthy, Mr Walker, for dinner. Rehearsal in the evening, the hall illuminated and splendid. The footnote suggests that this may be Joseph Walker, proprietor of Joseph Walker and Co., Factors in St Paul’s Square. This is in part corroborated by an 1841 Census entry which records a 60 year old Joseph Walker and his wife living on the Crescent with a household of four servants, which would suggest some affluence. This Joseph Walker, born around 1780, is certainly of an age which would have given him enough financial clout to become a director of an early railway company, but he died in late 1846 which may cast a slight question mark about his investment of £178,500 earlier in the year. I could make a case for this man being the Joseph Walker who gave his name to Walker Street but the evidence is sketchy.
On August 13th 1846 The Times listed the individuals who had put up money for “Railway Speculation”. Any amount over £20,000 had to be declared to Parliament and therefore became public knowledge. Ledsam put up £186,000 – a serious sum of money. The Wolverton interest is that a street was named after him, as indeed was another in Birmingham, but it has not been easy to find out much about him. According to the 1851 Census he was a landed proprietor, Deputy Lieutenant of Worcester and a JP. He was living in some comfort on the Harborne Road in Edgbaston. The Ledsams, like many successful Birmingham families, emerge during the 18th century, likely in some manufacturing enterprise. In the 19th century Thomas Ledsam and Sons were button manufacturers and Daniel Ledsam was a merchant in the mid-centry. Joseph was obviously part of the same extended family but his precise place in the family is not apparent from my brief research. What we can say is that he had some capital and was probably smart enough to invest it in the new railway. By 1846 he could easily put up almost £200,000. The following account, extracted from “Modern Birmingham and its Events 1841-1871”, a compilation of local activities, gives a clearer concept of Mr Ledsam’s role in the community.
On December 28, (1861) Mr. Joseph Frederick Ledsam died in his 72nd year. Until a short time before his decease Mr. Ledsam occupied a prominent position amongst the leading inhabitants of the town, but his failing health compelled him to retire from public life.
He was a Magistrate for the three counties of Warwick, Worcester, and Stafford, and a Deputy Lieutenant of the first named county. He had also filled the important position of High Sheriff of Worcestershire. Mr. Ledsam was, however, best known from his long and intimate connection with the General Hospital, especially as regards the great Musical Festival, held every three years for the benefit of the charity. For many years Mr. Ledsam filled the office of Chairman of the Festival Committee, and only resigned it when his health finally gave way. His remarkable courtesy and kindness of manner, combined with his thorough knowledge of business and a large acquaintance with the musical world, enabled him to render invaluable services as the recognised working head of the Festival Committee ; and his enforced retirement from that position was deeply felt and sincerely regretted. Mr. Ledsam was also, for many years, an active and esteemed member of the Government Board of the Free Grammar School, and was also connected, either in an honorary or a working capacity, with many other educational, charitable and religious institutions or societies. He was likewise well-known as having a prominent share in the management of several important commercial undertakings, amongst which may be mentioned the Birmingham Banking Company, the Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas Company, and last, but by no means least, the London and North Western Railway Company, in connection with which, for several years, he performed the laborious duties of Deputy Chairman of the Directors. By those who knew him personally, Mr. Ledsam was highly esteemed, both as a public man and in the relationship of his private life; and the regard generally entertained for him was abundantly justified by his amiable character and his uniformly courteous and obliging disposition.