Travelling performers had been a feature of European life since at least the Middle Ages so it is no particular surprise to find a group showing up in Wolverton in the 1851 Census, although it is pure chance. Travelling players could have been in Wolverton on any other week in a ten year period and we would be entirely ignorant. There are, to my knowledge, no surviving playbills or contemporary accounts of such goings on, and local newspapers were yet to be invented in that part of the world. This accidental vignette does show us that there was money to be made in what must have been a hard life on the road. I imagine that after a 56 hour working week, Wolverton’s citizens were only too happy to be entertained.
On the night of the census in 1851, both the Radcliffe Arms and the New Inn accommodated the players.
The Rogers family were at the nucleus of this group, spanning three generations: Thomas and Mary Rogers, both 64, their son, also Thomas, with his wife Ann and four children, their daughter Caroline and the man she later married, John Wade Clinton, and two actors in their early twenties, just starting on a career, Charles and Caroline Brown. There was certainly enough of them to form a small acting company, capable of taking on most of the popular dramas of the day. The emphasis was on “light” entertainment and heavy tragedy left to the sophisticates of the London stage. The melodrama was the great favourite. These plays had a plot line which usually boiled down to Dick Dastardly threatening the Virtue of the pale, innocent and defenceless heroine, but thankfully foiled by the manly hero. In addition they might perform short sketches from the Commedia del Arte tradition and do a few comic “turns”. They are all recorded in the Census as “Comedians”, which would mean that they would perform the repertoire described above rather than do stand-up comedy as we would understand it today. In later censuses the women style themselves as “Actress” and John Wade Clinton gives his profession as “Lecturer and Comedian” which might suggest some changes in their repertoire.
Thomas Rogers the elder was born in Christchurch, Hampshire in 1786. His wife Mary was born in London so it is fair to assume that they met while touring. The family turns up in Warminster in 1841, all of the part of the family business. Their son Thomas is married to Ann with the beginnings of their family. There are three daughters, Amelia, 20, Augusta, 18 and Caroline, 15. Amelia and Augusta disappear from the Census after this date, presumably due to marriage. It is possible they continued their careers.
Some measure of the itinerant lifestyle can be taken from the places of birth of the children of Thomas and Ann Rogers -Agnes in Arlesford, Lavinia in Wimborne, Leonard at Henley in Arden, Amelia at Christchurch, Alfred at Wimborne, Clara in Somerset. After Caroline married John Wade Clinton, their children were born in Arlesford, Shaftesbury, Stallbridge and Bridport. In every census they are staying at Inns or in lodgings.
Thomas and Mary Rogers probably died with their acting boots on but the next generations appear to move towards more settled professions. Thomas Rogers the younger, his wife Ann, and two of their daughters settle as Innkeepers at Wootton Basset in their 60s. One son, Leonard became a telegraph supervisor in derbyshire and another, Alfred, a bank manager. John Wade Clinton started up a photography business in London’s West End. I have not been able to follow Charles and Caroline Brown.
On 30th March 1851, Thomas, the elder and Mary Rogers, John Wade Clinton and Caroline Rogers were staying at the Radcliffe Arms. The New Inn put up Thomas and Ann Rogers and their four children as well as Charles and Caroline Brown. We don’t know how long they stayed – I suppose for as many performances as could be booked, possibly a week. I imagine they performed at the Reading Room at Wolverton, this being the only building (apart from the school) able to accommodate this sort of activity.
There is something very attractive about windmills and they appear to generate more interest than watermills. Bradwell Windmill still stands after two centuries but it was only used for 71 years of its life as a working mill, closing in 1876.
I have reproduced the text below of a duplicated sheet produced by the Council. It is dated 1956 and someone in my family paid 3d for it. One curiosity is the last paragraph:No responsibility can be accepted by the Council for any accident, injury, or loss sustained by any person while in, or in the precincts of, the windmill. Obviously this disclaimer was sufficient in 1956 to protect the Council from lawsuits.
WOLVERTON URBAN DISTRICT
Prior to the new railway houses what later became New Bradwell didn’t amount to much. There was a Windmill House above the canal occupied by George James, the miller, and his family. Nearby, and still occupying this site, was the New Inn, and there were two houses listed at Bradwell Wharf, which I think may have been on the east side of the Bradwell Road.
The area also records a “Roadside Cottage” and a “Grove Cottage”, although there is no way of determining the location from these documents. A Toll Gate House is presumably located on the Newport Road – then called the Turnpike. The only other occupied house in this area, occupied by Thomas Clarridge and his family and some lodgers is called “Puddle House” in the 1851 Census. The same house is unnamed in 1861, although occupied by the same family. Clarridge was employed by the Grand Junction Canal, so it is safe to assume that he was living beside the canal.
On March 9th 1853, a sub-committee of the L&NWR Works Committee met at Euston to review tenders for a new development at Wolverton. The committee of four included Joseph Ledsam, Richard Moon, Admiral Moorsom and the Honourable P. Pierrepoint. Ledsam and Moorsom had both been involed with the railway from the early years and Richard Moon was subsequently to become Chairman of the Company. Wolverton needed to expand but the Company had reached an impasse with the Radcliffe Trustees who felt that they had given up enough land and refused to part with any more. Accordingly, the L&NWR had acquired 19 acres from Earl Spencer of Althorp in Stantonbury, just down the hill from Wolverton Station. 15 acres of this was a sloping field bounded by the Newport Road, Bradwell Road and what later became St James Street, and at the south end, a line bounding the canal property. A further 4 acres was later developed as Corner Pin.
The minute reads:
In accordance with Minute of Locomotive Committee Feby 22nd. 1853 Tenders were received by advertisement for Houses and Cottages at Wolverton including,
14 Houses for Foremen
4 Cottages with shops
60 First Class Cottages
40 Second Class Cottages
Fifteen tenders were submitted ranging from £20,611 to £28,632 and the lowest, from a Mr. Parnell for £20,611 9s 4d was accepted and recommended to the General Committee. It is noteworthy that the committee were careful to ask their own engineer to make an estimate for comparison with the bids. His was £21,516.
Additional tenders for roads and drains were also scrutinied and again the lowest bid from Mr. Firbank for £1341 4s 8d was recommended.
The first parts of the new village were the south side of the High Street, Spencer Street and Bridge Street. These streets were not so imaginatively named originally, being High Street, Middle Street and Top Street. Middle Street and Top Street were renamed Spencer and Bridge Streets at the end of the century.
At the same time as construction of these new houses was going on three streets to the north of the Engine Shed in Wolverton, Garnett St., Cooke St. and Walker St., were being demolished to make room for worskshop expansion. This amounted to approximately 40 cottages, which were in any case much inferior to the new ones in Stantonbury, so I expect the new cottages were filled as quickly as they were built.