I’ve been working today on a drawing of those houses at the south end of Creed Street opposite the Church and the former Science and Art Institute. I should be able to finish it tomorrow.
I think I now have a clear picture of the evolution of Public Baths in Wolverton.
The first building was proposed in 1846 and probably built shortly thereafter. It was located between Cooke Street and the canal at the north end of town.
The Public Baths on the Stratford Road were built in 1891. The building still stands and was modified a few years ago to accommodate the offices of the Living Archive. I have been addressing myself to what existed before that.
There are some drawings in the National Archives dated 1856 for a proposed bath house to be located beside the canal at the very northern edge of the town, just to the north of Walker Street, which was demolished before 1860. I do not know at this stage if they were ever built. Certainly they could have been and functioned alongside the extended workshops.
I have also read in the Wolverton Society for Arts & Heritage website that there were baths on Green Lane prior to the 1891 baths on Stratford Road. If so I am not sure where they would be. Green Lane was not developed until the 1890s. There was however a “Tank House” or “Pump House” at the bottom of Green Lane on Ledsam Street. It housed a pump and supported a water tower but I had not heard before that this was used for public baths. It was not an especially large building and in the 1890s was converted to a residential house for the schoolmaster.
This requires further investigation
I have been looking at some of the old salary registers for Wolverton in the late 1840s. Most men’s weekly age was equivalent to the cost of a daily newspaper today and if you were very well paid, such as an engine driver, yur weekly earnings would buy you a coffee at Starbucks.
However these comparisons are not very meaningful other than to show how money has become inflated over a century and a half. It is more meaningful to look at the relative incomes of the time. Currency is expressed in pounds, shillings and pence. There were 20 shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling. So 10 shillings would be half a pound and 6s 8d. one-third of a pound.
Agricultural labourers in the 1840s could expect to earn 6s to 8s per week (and that was not always certain) so we can use this as a yardstick to measure Wolverton wages.
According to the registers Engine Drivers at Wolverton were paid between 6s 8d per day to 7s 10d per day so on a six day week they could expect to earn over £2. Firemen, who did the hard work of stoking the boilers were paid between 2s 8d and 4s 2d, giving a weekly income of over £1. Porters earned a weekly wage of 19s and tipping was forbidden. Policemen (i.e. men who did the signalling and point switching) were also paid 19s and their inspectors (the men in charge) paid £1 10s.
Clerical staff were much better paid. Babazon Stafford, the senior accountant earned £300 per annum and Alfred Blott, the Station Master, was paid £200 p.a. The schoolmaster, Archibald Laing, earned £100 p.a. and had a house provided. His female colleagues did less well. Emma Hassall, who taught the girls, was rewarded at £40 p.a. and Amelia Prince, the infants teacher, received a measly £30 p.a.
George Weight, the vicar, had a stipend of £50 and the Vicarage, but presumably he had other means to supplement his income.
All of this pales into insignificance beside Richard Creed, the Company Secretary, and Edward Bury, the Locomotive Superintendent, who were each paid a princely annual income of £1400 each.
Alfred Blott was Wolverton’s first Station Master. That is not quite true because the original appointee was G. Kendall, but he was dismissed after a few weeks. Blott, who was about 20 at the time, took up his post on September 29th 1838, two weeks after the London to Birmingham line fully opened
He appears to have been quite successful in what was a brand new job. He took lodgings at Old Wolverton and when the Villas were built in 1841 moved into one of them, which thereafter became the Station Masters’s house. He married in 1843 and started his family. His starting salary was £100 and by 1850 he was earning £200 a year – a big salary in those days.
So all was well with the world and he may well have seen out his career at Wolverton but for the fact that he appears to have lost his head, and perhaps his heart too, to a “young lady” whose name is probably unrecorded.
I discovered this tidbit of Victorian scandal yesterday while looking through some records at the National Archives in Kew. The year is 1851 and apparently Blott eloped with this young lady. Lter he seems to have repented this action and returned home to face the consequences. Wolverton was a small community and in 1851 this was a big scandal. His employers reprimanded him and decided to move him to another station. There was then an intervention by various worthies of the district to try to retain Mr Blott, who appears to be well thought of. The Board changed its mind and reinstated him at Wolverton. Then there was a further change of mind, possibly prompted by Blott himself, and he was transferred to Oxford where another Station Master had been sacked for fiddling the books.
Unmentioned in any of these accounts is his wife Cornelia, but she stayed with him, so one must assume that he was forgiven, even though the adventure might not be forgotten.
Blott stayed with the L&NWR for a few more years and then found a job as Deputy Bursar of an Oxford College. He died in 1868 at the comparatively young age of 50.
Early public acts by the London and Birmingham Railway were the building of schools for children and the establishment of a Reading Room for adult self improvement. The Reading Room was built on a corner of the first tract of land beside the canal and the new road. See plan below.
It is claimed by the developers of the new Wolverton Park housing development that the Reading Room has been preserved. If this is so, this is not in its original form.
I have taken this photograph recently which show the view from the canal of the site of the Reading Room. It shows buildings that have been much enlarged and added to over the years since 1840.
Consider these factors:
The original canal bridge must have been lower, one of the hump-backed bridges that were still common when I was young and the road had not been built up to its present level. I suggest that the road level was probably raised in 1881 when the third station was opened and it was certainly raised again in 1960 when electrification of the main line caused the railway bridge to be raised.
Plans for adaptation of the Reading Room as a Wesleyan Chapel in 1845 show only a single story building.
It is possible that the lower part of the building seen in the photo, with the blue-painted doors was part of the original but most plans from the 1840s show it set back further from the canal.
The original Reading Room became redundant when the Science and Art Institute was opened in 1864 and the Wesleyan Chapel in 1892. After that the buildings here, including the workshops, were much modified to turn them to newer useful functions.
This plan, from the PRO, shows the Reading Room in its Chapel adaptation, complete with pews. Note the number and spacing of the windows on the long side, which are by no means apparent in present day pictures.