Rides on Railways with Samuel Sidney

To continue this series on Victorian writing about Wolverton, I turn to Samuel Sidney. He was actually born Samuel Solomon in 1813 in Birmingham and trained in the law; however he pursued a career in journalism and adopted the name Sidney. His main field of interest was agriculture and he took a great interest in the development of Australia. He gets a mention in the Australian Dictionary of Biography – another example perhaps of an Englishman better known abroad than in his own country.
Our interest in Sidney is that he wrote a book called Rides on Railways, first published in 1851. Mostly he describes his travels on the various lines of the London and North western railway, which by 1850 were quite extensive. Wolverton, naturally is featured, and Sidney offers some insights, in particular the observation about the egalitarian nature of Wolverton society:
When work is ended, Wolverton is a pure republic—equality reigns.  There are no rich men or men of station: all are gentlemen.  
And certainly for a century after this held true. Wolverton people comprised by a large majority skilled tradesmen. There were few professional middle class people and virtually no poor or unemployed. Wolverton people organized their own Co-ops, horticultural societies and light orchestras; nothing was directed from the top.
Wolverton, the first specimen of a railway town built on a plan to order, is the central manufacturing and repairing shop for the locomotives north of Birmingham.
The population entirely consists of men employed in the Company’s service, as mechanics, guards, enginemen, stokers, porters, labourers, their wives and children, their superintendents, a clergyman, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, the ladies engaged on the refreshment establishment, and the tradesmen attracted to Wolverton by the demand of the population.
This railway colony is well worth the attention of those who devote themselves to an investigation of the social condition of the labouring classes.
We have here a body of mechanics of intelligence above average, regularly employed for ten and a-half hours during five days, and for eight hours during the sixth day of the week, well paid, well housed, with schools for their children, a reading-room and mechanics’ institution at their disposal, gardens for their leisure hours, and a church and clergyman exclusively devoted to them.  When work is ended, Wolverton is a pure republic—equality reigns.  There are no rich men or men of station: all are gentlemen.  In theory it is the paradise of Louis Blanc, only that, instead of the State, it is a Company which pays and employs the army of workmen.  It is true, that during work hours a despotism rules, but it is a mild rule, tempered by customs and privileges.  And what are the results of this colony, in which there are none idle, none poor, and few uneducated?  Why, in many respects gratifying, in some respects disappointing.  The practical reformer will learn more than one useful lesson from a patient investigation of the social state of this great village.
Those who have not been in the habit of mixing with the superior class of English skilled mechanics will be agreeably surprised by the intelligence, information, and educational acquirements of a great number of the workmen here.  They will find men labouring for daily wages capable of taking a creditable part in political, literary, and scientific discussion; but at the same time the followers of George Sand, and French preachers of proletarian perfection will not find their notions of the ennobling effects of manual labour realised.
There are exceptions, but as a general rule, after a hard day’s work, a man is not inclined for study of any kind, least of all for the investigation of abstract sciences; and thus it is that at Wolverton library, novels are much more in demand than scientific treatises.
In Summer, when walks in the fields are pleasant, and men can work in their gardens, the demand for books of any kind falls off.
Turning from the library to the mechanics’ institution, pure science is not found to have many charms for the mechanics of Wolverton.  Geological and astronomical lectures are ill attended, while musical entertainments, dissolving views, and dramatic recitations are popular.
It must be confessed that dulness and monotony exercise a very unfavourable influence on this comfortable colony.  The people, not being Quakers, are not content without amusement.  They receive their appointed wages regularly, so that they have not even the amusement of making and losing money.  It would be an excellent thing for the world if the kind, charitable, cold-blooded people of middle age, or with middle-aged heads and hearts, who think that a population may be ruled into an every-day life of alternate work, study, and constitutional walks, without anything warmer than a weak simper from year’s end to year’s end, would consult the residents of Wolverton and Crewe before planning their next parallelogram.
We commend to amateur actors, who often need an audience, the idea of an occasional trip to Wolverton.  The audience would be found indulgent of very indifferent performances.
But to turn from generalities to the specialities for which Wolverton is distinguished, we will walk round the workshops by which a rural parish has been colonised and reduced to a town shape.
* * * * *
WOLVERTON WORKSHOPS.—To attempt a description of the workshops of Wolverton without the aid of diagrams and woodcuts would be a very unsatisfactory task.  It is enough to say that they should be visited not only by those who are specially interested in machinery, but by all who would know what mechanical genius, stimulated as it has been to the utmost during the last half century, by the execution of profitable inventions, has been able to effect.
At Wolverton may be seen collected together in companies, each under command of its captains or foremen, in separate workshops, some hundreds of the best handicraftsmen that Europe can produce, all steadily at work, not without noise, yet without confusion.  Among them are a few men advanced in life of the old generation; there are men of middle age; young men trained with all the manual advantages of the old generation, and all the book and lecture privileges of the present time; and then there are the rising generation of apprentices—the sons of steam and of railroads.  Among all it would be difficult to find a bad-shaped head, or a stupid face—as for a drunkard not one.  It was once remarked to us by a gentleman at the head of a great establishment of this kind, that there was something about the labour of skilled workmen in iron that impressed itself upon their countenances, and showed itself in their characters.  Something of solidity, of determination, of careful forethought; and really after going over many shops of ironworkers, we are inclined to come to the same opinion.  Machinery, while superseding, has created manual labour.  In a steam-engine factory, machinery is called upon to do what no amount of manual labour could effect.
To appreciate the extraordinary amount of intellect and mental and manual dexterity daily called into exercise, it would be necessary to have the origin, progress to construction, trial, and amendment of a locomotive engine from the period that the report of the head of the locomotive department in favour of an increase of stock receives the authorization of the board of directors.  But such a history would be a book itself.  After passing through the drawing-office, where the rough designs of the locomotive engineer are worked out in detail by a staff of draughtsmen, and the carpenters’ shop and wood-turners, where the models and cores for castings are prepared, we reach, but do not dwell on the dark lofty hall, where the castings in iron and in brass are made.  The casting of a mass of metal of from five to twenty tons on a dark night is a fine sight.  The tap being withdrawn the molten liquor spouts forth in an arched fiery continuous stream, casting a red glow on the half-dressed muscular figures busy around, which would afford a subject for an artist great in Turner or Danby-like effects.
But we hasten to the steam-hammer to see scraps of tough iron, the size of a crown-piece, welded into a huge piston, or other instrument requiring the utmost strength.  At Wolverton the work is conducted under the supreme command of the Chief Hammerman, a huge-limbed, jolly, good-tempered Vulcan, with half a dozen boy assistants.
The steam-hammer, be it known, is the application of steam to a piston under complete regulation, so that the piston, armed with a hammer, regularly, steadily, perpendicularly descends as desired, either with the force of a hundred tons or with a gentle tap, just sufficient to drive home a tin tack and no more.  At a word it stops midway in stroke, and at a word again it descends with a deadly thump.  On our visit, an attempt was being made to execute in wrought, what had hitherto always been made in cast iron.  Success would effect a great saving in weight.  The doors of the furnace were drawn back, and a white glow, unbearable as the noon-day sun, was made visible, long hooked iron poles were thrust in to fish for the prize, and presently a great round mass of metal was poked out to the door of the fiery furnace—a huge roll of glowing iron, larger than it was possible for any one or two men to lift, even had it been cold.  By ingenious contrivances it was slipped out upon a small iron truck, dragged to the anvil of the steam-hammer, and under the direction of Vulcan, not without his main strength, lodged upon the block.
During the difficult operation of moving the white-red round ball, it was beautiful to see the rapid disciplined intelligence by which the hammerman, with word or sign, regulated the movements of his young assistants, each armed with an iron lever.
At length the word was given, and thump, thump, like an earthquake the steam-hammer descended, rapidly reducing the red-hot Dutch cheese shape to the flatter proportions of a mighty Double Gloucester, all the while the great smith was turning and twisting it about so that each part should receive its due share of hammering, and that the desired shape should be rapidly attained, sometimes with one hand, sometimes with the other, he interposed a flat poker between the red mass and the hammer, sharing a vibration that was powerful enough to dislocate the shoulder of any lesser man.  “Hold,” he cried: the elephant-like machine stopped.  He took and hauled the great ball into a new position.  “Go on,” he shouted: the elephant machine went on, and again the red sparks flew as though a thousand Homeric blacksmiths had been striking in unison, until it was time again to thrust the half-welded cheese into the fiery furnace, and again it was dragged forth, and the jolly giant bent, and tugged, and sweated, and commanded,—he did not swear over his task.  At length having succeeded in making the unwieldy lump assume an approach to the desired shape, he observed, in a deep, bass, chuckling, triumphant aside, to the engineer who was looking on, “I’m not a very little one, but I think if I was as big again you’d try what I was made of.”
Since that day we have learned that the experiment has been completely successful, with a great diminution in the weight and an increase of the strength of an important part of a locomotive.
We have dwelt upon the picture because it combined mechanical with manual dexterity.  A hammerman who might sit for one of Homer’s blacksmith heroes, and machinery which effects in a few minutes what an army of such hammermen could not do.
If our painters of mythological Vulcans and sprawling Satyrs want to display their powers over flesh and muscle, they may find something real and not vulgar among our iron factories.
After seeing the operations of forging or of casting, we may take a walk round the shops of the turners and smiths.  In some, Whitworth’s beautiful self-acting machines are planing or polishing or boring holes, under charge of an intelligent boy; in others lathes are ranged round the walls, and a double row of vices down the centre of the long rooms.  Solid masses of cast or forged metal are carved by the keen powerful lathe tools like so much box-wood, and long shavings of iron and steel sweep off as easily as deal shavings from a carpenter’s plane.  At the long row of vices the smiths are hammering and filing away with careful dexterity.  No mean amount of judgment in addition to the long training needed for acquiring manual skill, is requisite before a man can be admitted into this army of skilled mechanics; for every locomotive contains many hundred pieces, each of which must be fitted as carefully as a watch.
If we fairly contemplate the result of these labours, created by the inventive genius of a line of ingenious men, headed by Watt and Stephenson, these workshops are a more imposing sight than the most brilliant review of disciplined troops.  It is not mere strength, dexterity, and obedience, upon which the locomotive builder calculates for the success of his design, but also upon the separate and combined intelligence of his army of mechanics.
Considering that in annually increasing numbers, factories for the building of locomotive, of marine steam-engines, of iron ships, and of various kinds of machinery, are established in different parts of the kingdom, and that hence every year education becomes more needed, more valued, and more extended among this class of mechanics, it is impossible to doubt that the training, mental and moral, obtained in factories like those of Wolverton, Crewe, Derby, Swindon, and other railway shops, and in great private establishments like Whitworth’s and Roberts’ of Manchester, Maudslay and Field’s of London, Ransome and May of Ipswich, Wilson of Leeds, and Stephenson of Newcastle, must produce by imitative inoculation a powerful effect on the national character.  The time has passed when the best workmen were the most notorious drunkards; in all skilled trades self-respect has made progress.
A few passenger carriages are occasionally built at Wolverton as experiments.  One, the invention of Mr. J. M’Connel, the head of the locomotive department, effects several important improvements.  It is a composite carriage of corrugated iron, lined with wood to prevent unpleasant vibration, on six wheels, the centre wheels following the leading wheels round curves by a very ingenious arrangement.  This carriage holds sixty second-class passengers and fifteen first-class, beside a guard’s brake, which will hold five more; all in one body.  The saving in weight amounts to thirty-five per cent.  A number of locomotives have lately been built from the designs of the same eminent engineer, to meet the demands of the passenger traffic in excursion trains for July and August, 1851.
It must be understood that although locomotives are built at Wolverton, only a small proportion of the engines used on the line are built by the company, and the chief importance of the factory at Wolverton is as a repairing shop, and school for engine-drivers.
Every engine has a number.  When an engine on any part of the lines in connection with Wolverton needs repair, it is forwarded with a printed form, filled up and signed by the superintendent of the station near which the engine has been working.  As thus—“Engine 60, axle of driving-wheel out of gauge, fire-box burned out,” etc.
This invoice or bill of particulars is copied into a sort of day-book, to be eventually transferred into the account in the ledger, in which No. 60 has a place.
The superintendent next in command under the locomotive engineer-in-chief, places the lame engine in the hands of the foreman who happens to be first disengaged.  The foreman sets the workmen he can spare at the needful repairs.  When completed, the foreman makes a report, which is entered in the ledger, opposite the number of the engine, stating the repairs done, the men’s names who did it, and how many days, hours, and quarters of an hour each man was employed.  The engine reported sound is then returned to its station, with a report of the repairs which have been effected.  The whole work is completed on the principle of a series of links of responsibility.  The engineer-in-chief is answerable to the directors for the efficiency of the locomotives; he examines the book, and depends on his superintendent.  The superintendent depends on the foreman to whom the work was entrusted; and, should the work be slurred, must bear the shame, but can turn upon the workmen he selected for the job.
In fact, the whole work of this vast establishment is carried on by dividing the workmen into small companies, under the superintendence of an officer responsible for the quantity and quality of the work of his men.
The history of each engine, from the day of launching, is so kept, that, so long as it remains in use, every separate repair, with its date and the names of the men employed on it, can be traced.  Allowing, therefore, for the disadvantage as regards economy of a company, as compared with private individuals, the system at Wolverton is as effective as anything that could well be imagined.
The men employed at Wolverton station in March, 1851, numbered 775, of whom 4 were overlookers, 9 were foremen, 4 draughtsmen, 15 clerks, 32 engine-drivers, 21 firemen, and 119 labourers; the rest were mechanics and apprentices.  The weekly wages amounted to £929 11s. 10d.
Of course these men have, for the most part, wives and families, and so with shopkeepers, raise the population of the railway town of Wolverton to about 2,000, inhabiting a series of uniform brick houses, in rectangular streets, about a mile distant from the ancient parish church of Wolverton, and the half-dozen houses constituting the original parish.
For the benefit of this population, the directors have built a church, schools for boys, for girls, and for infants, which are not the least remarkable or interesting parts of this curious town.
The clergyman of the railway church, the Rev. George Waight, M.A., has been resident at Wolverton from the commencement of the railway buildings.  His difficulties are great; but he is well satisfied with his success.  In railway towns there is only one class, and that so thoroughly independent, that the influence of the clergyman can only rest with his character and talents.
The church is thinly attended in the morning, for hard-working men like to indulge in rest one day in the week; in the evening it is crowded, and the singing far above average.
To the schools we should like to have devoted a whole chapter now, but must reserve an account of one of the most interesting results of railway enterprise.
There is a literary and scientific institution, with a library attached.  Scientific lectures and scientific books are very little patronized at Wolverton; astronomy and geology have few students; but there is a steady demand for a great number of novels, voyages, and travels; and musical entertainments are well supported.
The lecture-room is extremely miserable, quite unfit for a good concert, as there is not even a retiring room, but the directors are about to build a better one, and while they are about it, they might as well build a small theatre.  Some such amusement is much needed; for want of relaxation in the monotony of a town composed of one class, without any public amusements, the men are driven too often to the pipe and pot, and the women to gossip.
In the summer, the gardens which form a suburb are much resorted to, and the young men go to cricket and football; but still some amusements, in which all the members of every family could join, would improve the moral tone of Wolverton.
Work, wages, churches, schools, libraries, and scientific lectures are not alone enough to satisfy a large population of any kind, certainly not a population of hard-handed workers.
* * * * *
WOLVERTON EMBANKMENT was one of the difficulties in railway making, which at one period interested the public; at present it is not admitted among engineers that there are any difficulties.  The ground was a bog, and as fast as earth was tipped in at the top it bulged out at the bottom.  When, after great labour, this difficulty had been overcome, part of the embankment, fifty feet in height, which contained alum shale, decomposed, and spontaneous combustion ensued.  The amazement of the villagers was great, but finally they came to the conclusion expressed by one of them, in “Dang it, they can’t make this here railway arter all, and they’ve set it o’ fire to cheat their creditors.”
On leaving Wolverton, before arriving at Roade, a second-class station, after clearing a short cutting, looking westerly, we catch a glimpse of the tower of the church of Grafton, where, according to tradition, Edward IV. married Lady Gray of Groby.  The last interview between Henry VIII. and Cardinal Campeggio, relative to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, took place at the Mansion House of this parish, which was demolished in 1643.
About this spot we enter Northamptonshire, and passing Roade, pause at Blisworth station, where there is a neat little inn.

Stokers and Pokers

When his diplomatic and government career ended after his disastrous excursion into Canadian politics, Sir Francis Bond Head turned his hand to travel writing. One of his books, published in 1849, entitled Stokers and Pokers, includes a whole chapter on Wolverton, where he describes with great enthusiasm and detail the Workshops, the Refreshment Rooms, the Reading Room and the schools, as well as the “242 little red-brick houses.”

Head’s writing style lives up to his nickname of “Galloping Head”. To our modern ears it comes across as breathless and overwritten; however, it is a valuable contemporary record of the new town.

A word on the Refreshment Rooms. In the 1840s they were something of a contemporary marvel, much as the Fortes Motorway restaurant was at the opening of the M1, 120 years later. Trains were slow by present day standards – the original timetabled journey between Euston and Wolverton was 3 hrs 15 mins. These times slowly came down in the 1840s and rather more dramatically with the more powerful engines of the 1850s and 1860s, and the Refreshment Rooms went into decline as passengers no longer needed to stop at Wolverton. Head’s description illustrates the Refreshment Rooms in their heyday.

I reproduce the Wolverton Chapter from Stokers and Pokers below:



Flying by rail through green fields below Harrow Hill and thence to Watford,—stopping for a moment in a deep cutting to hear a man cry ” Tring !” and a bell say ” Ring!” until the passenger gets so confused with the paltry squabble that he scarcely knows which of the two competitors is vociferating the substantive and which the verb,—we will now conduct our readers to the Station and little town of Wolverton.

As every city, village, or hamlet on the surface of the globe is usually inhabited by people of peculiar opinions, professions, character, tastes, fashions, follies, whims, and oddities, so there is always to be witnessed a corresponding variety in the allinement and architecture of their dwellings—the forms and excrescences of each often giving to the passing traveller a sort of phrenological insight into the character of the inmates. One street, inhabited by poor people, is as crooked as if it had been traced out by the drunken Irishman who, on being kindly questioned, in a very narrow lane across which he was reeling, as to the length of road he had travelled, replied, ” Faith! it’s not so much the length of it as the BREADTH of it that has tired me!” Another—a rich street —’is quite straight. Here is a palace—there are hovels. The hotel is of one shape—the stock-exchange of another. There are private houses of every form—shops of every colour—columns, steeples, fountains, obelisks ad infinitum. Conspicuous over one door there is to be seen a golden pestle and mortar—from another boldly projects a barber’s pole —a hatchment decorates a third— the Royal Arms a fourth—in short, it would be endless to enumerate the circumstantial evidence which in every direction proves the truth of the old saying, ” Many men, many minds.”

To all general rules, however, there are exceptions; and certainly it would be impossible for our most popular auctioneer, if he wished ever so much to puff off the appearance of Wolverton, to say more of it than that it is a little red-brick town composed of 242 little red-brick houses—all running either this way or that way at right angles—three or four tall red-brick engine-chimneys, a number of very large red-brick workshops, six red houses for officers—one red beer-shop, two red public-houses, and, we are glad to add, a substantial red school-room and a neat stone church, the whole lately built by order of a Railway Board, at a railway station, by a railway contractor, for railway men, railway women, and railway children; in short, the round cast-iron plate over the door of every house, bearing the letters L. N. W. R., is the generic symbol of the town. The population is 1405, of whom 638 are below sixteen years of age; indeed, at Wolverton are to be observed an extraordinary number of young couples, young children, young widows, also a considerable number of men who have lost a finger, hand, arm, or leg. All, however, whether whole or mutilated, look for support to ” the Company,” and not only their services and their thoughts but their parts of speech are more or less devoted to it:—for instance, the pronoun ” she” almost invariably alludes to some locomotive engine ; ” he ” to ” the chairman,” ” it ” to the London Board. At Wolverton the progress of time itself is marked by the hissing of the various arrival and departure trains. The driver’s wife, with a sleeping infant at her side, lies watchful in her bed until she has blessed the passing whistle of ” the down mail.” With equal anxiety her daughter long before daylight listens for the rumbling of ” the 3 A.M. goods up,” on the tender of which lives the ruddy but smutty-faced young fireman to whom she is engaged. The blacksmith as he plies at his anvil, the turner as he works at his lathe, as well as their children at school, listen with pleasure to certain well-known sounds on the rails which tell them of approaching rest.

            The workshops at Wolverton, taken altogether, form, generally speaking, an immense hospital or ” Hotel des Invalides ” for the sick and wounded locomotive engines of the Southern District. We witnessed sixty of them undergoing various operations, more or less severe, at the same time. Among them was Crampton’s new six-wheel engine, the hind wheels of which are eight feet high, weighing thirty-eight tons, and with its tender sixty tons. It is capable of drawing at the usual speed twelve carriages laden with passengers. The workshops at this station are so extensive, that it would be tedious and indeed almost impracticable to describe them in detail; we will therefore merely mention that in one of them we saw working at once by the power of an 18-horse steam-engine twelve turning-lathes, five planing-machines, three slotting-machines, two screw-bolt ditto— and, as a trifling example of the undeviating accuracy with which these contrivances work, we may state that from a turning-lathe a shaving from cold iron will sometimes continue to flow for forty feet without breaking. There are a large cast-iron foundry, a brass foundry, machines for grinding, and also for polishing ; sheers for cutting, and stamps for punching cold iron as if it were pasteboard; an immense oven for heating tires of wheels; a smith’s shop containing twenty-four forges, all of which were in operation at once. Two steam-engines—one for machinery, the other for pumping water for the town and offices only, for the Company’s well-water here, as at Camden Station, disagrees with the locomotives. A large finishing store, in which were working by steam fifteen turning-lathes, five slotting-machines, five planing ditto, one screwing ditto, two drilling ditto, two shaving ditto. Beneath the above we entered another workshop containing sixteen turning-lathes, two drilling-machines, one slotting ditto, one screwing ditto, one nut ditto, one cylinder-boring ditto, one shaping ditto. In the great store-yard there is an hydraulic press of a power of 200 tons for squeezing wheels on to their axles, or wrenching them off. Another workshop is filled with engines undergoing repair, and adjoining it there is a large store or pharmacopoeia, containing, in the form of oil, tallow, nuts, bars, bolts, &c., all the medicine which sick locomotives occasionally require.

At a short distance towards the south we entered a beautiful building, lighted during the day by plate-glass in the roof, by gas at night, and warmed by steam. In its centre there stands a narrow elevated platform, whereon travels a small locomotive, which brings into the building, and deposits on thirteen sets of rails on each side, twenty-six locomotive engines for examination and repair. On the outside, in the open air, we found at work what is called ” a scrap drum,” which by revolving cleans scraps of old rusty iron, just as a public school improves awkward boys by hardly rubbing them one against another. The scrap iron, after having been by this discipline divested of its rust, is piled on a small wooden board for further schooling, and when sufficiently hot the glowing mass is placed under a steam-hammer alongside, whose blows, each equal to about ten tons, very shortly belabour to ” equality and fraternity ” the broken bolts, bars, nuts, nails, screw-pins, bits of plate-iron, &c., which are thus economically welded into a solid mass or commonwealth. In another smelting-shop, 150 feet in length, we saw at work fourteen forges, six turning-lathes, one drilling-machine, and one iron shaving machine. Lastly, there are gas-works for supplying the whole of the Company’s establishment with about seventy or eighty thousand cubic feet of gas per day.

            The above is but a faint outline of the Company’s hospital at Wolverton for the repair and maintenance merely of their locomotive engines running between London and Birmingham.

            The magnitude of the establishment will best speak for itself; but as our readers, like ourselves, are no doubt tired almost to death of the clanking of anvils—of the whizzing of machinery— of the disagreeable noises created by the cutting, shaving, turning, and planing of iron—of the suffocating fumes in the brass-foundry, in the smelting-houses, in the gas-works—and lastly of the stunning blows of the great steam-hammer—we beg leave to offer them a cup of black tea at the Company’s public refreshment-room, in order that, while they are blowing, sipping, and enjoying the beverage, we may briefly explain to them the nature of this beautiful little oasis in the desert.

Wolverton Refreshment-Room.

In dealing with the British nation, it is an axiom among those who have most deeply studied our noble character, that to keep John Bull in beaming good-humour it is absolutely necessary to keep him always quite full. The operation is very delicately called ” refreshing him;” and the London and North-Western Railway Company having, as in duty bound, made due arrangements for affording him, once in about every two hours, this support, their arrangements not only constitute a curious feature in the history of railway management, but the dramatis ‘persona we are about to introduce form, we think, rather a strange contrast to the bare arms, muscular frames, heated brows, and begrimed faces of the sturdy workmen we have just left.

The refreshment establishment at Wolverton is composed of—

1. A matron or generallissima.

2. Seven very young ladies to wait upon the passengers.

3. Four men and three boys do. do.

4. One man-cook, his kitchen-maid, and his two scullery-maids.

5. Two housemaids.

6. One still-room-maid, employed solely in the liquid duty of making tea and coffee.

7. Two laundry-maids.

8. One baker and one baker’s-boy.

9. One garden-boy.

And lastly, what is most significantly described in the books of the establishment—

10. “An odd-man.”

” Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.”

There are also eighty-five pigs and piglings, of whom hereafter.

            The manner in which the above list of persons, in the routine of their duty, diurnally revolve in ” the scrap-drum ” of their worthy matron, is as follows:—Very early in the morning—in cold winter long before sunrise—” the odd-man ” wakens the two house-maids, to one of whom is intrusted the confidential duty of awakening the seven young ladies exactly at seven o’clock, in order that their ” premiere toilette ” may be concluded in time for them to receive the passengers of the first train, which reaches Wolverton at 7h. 30m. A.m. From that time until the departure of the passengers by the York Mail train, which arrives opposite to the refreshment-room at about eleven o’clock at night, these young persons remain on duty, continually vibrating, at the ringing of a bell, across the rails—(they have a covered passage high above them, but they never use it)—from the North refreshment-room for down passengers to the South refreshment-room constructed for hungry up-ones. By about midnight, after having philosophically divested themselves of the various little bustles of the day, they all are enabled once again to lay their heads on their pillows, with the exception of one, who in her turn, assisted by one man and one boy of the establishment, remains on duty receiving the money, &c. till four in the morning for the up-mail. The young person, however, who in her weekly turn performs this extra task, instead of rising with the others at seven, is allowed to sleep on till noon, when she is expected to take her place behind the long table with the rest.

            The scene in the refreshment-room at Wolverton, on the arrival of every train, has so often been witnessed by our readers, that it need hardly be described. As these youthful handmaidens stand in a row behind bright silver urns, silver coffee-pots, silver tea-pots, cups, saucers, cakes, sugar, milk, with other delicacies over which they preside, the confused crowd of passengers simultaneously liberated from the train hurry towards them with a velocity exactly proportionate to their appetites. The hungriest face first enters the door, ” magna comitante caterva,” followed by a crowd very much resembling in eagerness and joyous independence the rush at the prorogation of Parliament of a certain body following their leader from one house to the bar of what they mysteriously call ‘ another place.’ Considering that the row of young persons have among them all only seven right hands, with but very little fingers at the end of each, it is really astonishing how, with such slender assistance, they can in the short space of a few minutes manage to extend and withdraw them so often—sometimes to give a cup of tea—sometimes to receive half-a-crown, of which they have to return two shillings —then to give an old gentleman a plate of warm soup—then to drop another lump of sugar into his nephew’s coffee-cup—then to receive a penny for a bun, and then again threepence for four ” lady’s fingers.” It is their rule as well as their desire never, if they can possibly prevent it, to speak to any one; and although sometimes, when thunder has turned the milk, or the kitchen maid over-peppered the soup, it may occasionally be necessary to soothe the fastidious complaints of some beardless ensign by an infinitesimal appeal to the generous feelings of his nature—we mean, by the hundred-thousandth part of a smile—yet they endeavour on no account ever to exceed that harmless dose. But while they are thus occupied at the centre of the refreshment table, at its two ends, each close to a warm stove, a very plain matter-of-fact business is going on, which consists of the rapid uncorking of, and then emptying into large tumblers, innumerable black bottles of what is not unappropriated called ” Stout” inasmuch as all the persons who are drinking the dark foaming mixture wear heavy great-coats, with large wrappers round their necks—in fact, are very stout. We regret to have to add, that among these thirsty customers are to be seen, quite in the corner, several silently tossing off glasses of brandy, rum, and gin ; and although the refreshment-room of the Wolverton Station is not adapted for a lecture, we cannot help submitting to the managers of the Company, that, considering not only the serious accidents that may occur to individual passengers from intoxication, but the violence and insolence which drunken men may inflict upon travellers of both sexes, whose misfortune it may be to be shut up with them ; considering moreover the ruin which a glass or two of brandy may bring upon a young non-commissioned officer in the army, as also the heavy punishment it may entail upon an old soldier, it would be well for them peremptorily to forbid, at all their refreshment-rooms, the sale by any of their servants, to the public, of ardent spirits.

But the bell is violently calling the passengers to ‘ Come! come away !’ —and as they have all paid their fares, and as the engine is loudly hissing—attracted by their pockets as well as by their engagements, they soon, like the swallows of summer, congregate together and then fly away.

It appears from the books that the annual consumption at the refreshment-rooms averages—

182,500 Banbury Cakes
5, 110 lbs. of moist sugar.
56,940 Queen cakes.
29,200 pates.
16,425 quarts of milk.
2,920 ” coffee.
10,416             ”             soda-water.
43,800 ”       meat.
45,012             ”             stout.
5,110 ”      currants.
25,692             ”          ale.
1,217 ”       tea.
5,208   ”          ginger-beer.
5,840 ”     loaf-sugar.
547      ”          port.
And we regret to add,

666 bottles of gin. 

464    ,,    rum. 

2,392    „    brandy.

To the eatables are to be added, or driven, the 85 pigs, who after having been from their birth most kindly treated and most luxuriously fed, are impartially promoted, by seniority, one after another, into an infinite number of pork pies.

            Having, in the refreshment sketch which we have just concluded, partially detailed, at some length, the duties of the seven young persons at Wolverton, we feel it due to them, as well as to those of our readers who, we perceive, have not yet quite finished their tea, by a very few words to complete their history. It is never considered quite fair to pry into the private conduct of any one who performs his duty to the public with zeal and assiduity. The warrior and the statesman are not always immaculate; and although at the Opera ladies certainly sing very high, and in the ballet kick very high, it is possible that their voices and feet may sometimes reach rather higher than their characters. Considering, then, the difficult duties which our seven young attendants have to perform—considering the temptations to which they are constantly exposed, in offering to the public attentions which are ever to simmer and yet never to boil—it might be expected that our inquiries should considerately go no further than the arrival at 11 P.M. of “the up York mail.” The excellent matron, however, who has charge of these young people—who always dine and live at her table—with honest pride declares, that the breath of slander has never ventured to sully the reputation of any of those who have been committed to her charge; and as this testimony is corroborated by persons residing in the neighbourhood and very capable of observation, we cannot take leave of the establishment without expressing our approbation of the good sense and attention with which it is conducted; and while we give credit to the young for the character they have maintained, we hope they will be gratefully sensible of the protection they have received.


We quite forgot to mention that, notwithstanding the everlasting hurry at this establishment, four of the young attendants have managed to make excellent marriages, and are now very well off in the world.

Gardens, Libraries, and Schools.

Before leaving Wolverton Station our readers will no doubt be desirous to ascertain what arrangements, if any, are made by the Company for the comfort, education, and religious instruction of the number of artificers and other servants whom we have lately seen hard at work. On the western boundary of the town we visited 130 plots of ground, containing about 324 square yards each, which are let by the Company at a very trifling rent to those who wish for a garden ; and, accordingly, whenever one of these plots is given up, it is leased to him whose name stands first on the list of applicants. A reading-room and library lighted by gas are also supplied free of charge by the Company. In the latter there are about 700 volumes, which have mostly been given; and the list of papers, &c. in the reading-room was as follows:— Times, Daily News, Bell’s Life, Illustrated News, Punch, Weekly Dispatch, Liverpool Albion, Glasgow Post, Railway Record, Airs’ Birmingham Gazette, Bentley’s Miscellany, Chambers’ Information, Chambers’ Journal, Chambers’ Shilling Volume, Practical Mechanic’s Journal, Mechanic’s Magazine.

            Besides the above there is a flying library of about 600 volumes for the clerks, porters, police, as also for their wives and families, residing at the various stations, consisting of books of all kinds, excepting on politics and on religious controversies. They are despatched to the various stations, carriage free, in nineteen boxes given by the Company, each of which can contain from twenty to fifty volumes.

            For the education of the children of the Company’s servants, a school-house, which we had much pleasure in visiting, has been constructed on an healthy eminence, surrounded by a small court and garden. In the centre there is a room for girls, who, from nine till five, are instructed by a governess in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar, history, and needlework. Engaged at these occupations we counted fifty-five clean, healthy faces. In the east wing we found about ninety fine, stout, athletic boys, of various ages, employed in the studies above mentioned (excepting the last), and learning, moreover, mathematics and drawing. One boy we saw solving a quadratic equation—another was engaged with Euclid—others with studying land-surveying, levelling, trigonometry, and one had reached conic sections.

            At the western extremity of the building, on entering the infant-school, which is under the superintendence of an intelligent looking young person of about nineteen years of age, we were struck by the regular segments in which the little creatures were standing in groups around a tiny monitor occupying the centre of each chord. We soon, however, detected that this regularity of their attitudes was caused by the insertion in the floor of various chords of hoop iron, the outer rims of which they all touched with their toes. A finer set of little children we have seldom beheld ; but what particularly attracted our attention was three rows of beautiful babies sitting as solemn as judges on three steps one above another, the lowest being a step higher than the floor of the room. They were learning the first hard lesson of this world—namely, to sit still; and certainly the occupation seemed to be particularly well adapted to their outlines ; indeed their pinafores were so round, and their cheeks so red, that altogether they resembled three rows of white dumplings, with a rosy-faced apple on each. The picture was most interesting; and we studied their cheerful features until we almost fancied that we could analyze and distinguish which were little fire-flies—which small stokers—tiny pokers—infant artificers, &c.

On leaving the three rooms full of children, to whom, whatever may be the religion of their parents, the Perpetual Curate, the Rev. G. Weight, is apparently devoting very praiseworthy attention, we proceeded eastward about 100 yards to the church, the property of the Radcliffe Trustees, the interior of which is appropriately fitted up with plain oak-coloured open seats, all alike. In the churchyard, which is of very considerable area, there are, under the north wall, a row of fraternal mounds side by side, with a solitary shrub or a few flowers at the foot of each, showing that those who had there reached their earthly terminus were kindly recollected by a few still travelling on the rails of life. With the exception, however, of the grave of one poor fellow, whose death under amputation, rendered necessary from severe fractures, has been commemorated on a tombstone by his comrades, there exists no interesting epitaph. Besides this church, a room in the library is used, when required, as a Wesleyan Chapel; at which on Sundays there are regular preachers both morning and night—and on Tuesdays and Fridays about 100 of the Company’s servants attend extempore prayers by one of their brother artificers.

Sir Francis Bond Head

Sir Francis Bond Head, 1st Baronet KCH PC (1 January 1793 – 20 July 1875), is better known in Canadian history books than he is in this country.
He was born to parents James Roper Mendes Head and Frances Anne Burgess and was descended from Spanish Jew Fernando Mendes, who accompanied Catherine of Braganza to England in 1662. His grandfather Moses Mendes married Anna Gabriella Head and took on the Head name following the death of his wife’s father. Francis was born into comfortable circumstances at Higham in Surrey. He entered the army and served from 1811 to 1825, retiring as a major in that year. He married Julia Valenza Somerville in 1816, and they eventually had four children. Subsequent to his army career he attempted to set up a mining company in Argentina and it was here that he earned the nickname “Galloping Head” for his rides across the Andes, although the nickname became apt to his diplomatic dealings.
He seemed to be on the rise. He was appointed Assitant Poor Law Commissioner in 1834 and a year later Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. Upper Canada was what  later became the Province of  Ontario. This was a difficult time for the colony who. like their American counterparts a generation earlier, were getting tired of arbitrary British rule. The reformers were well organized under a man called William Lyon Mackenzie and Head was seen as a man who could pacify the reformers.  He appointed reformer Robert Baldwin to the Executive Council, though this appointment was opposed by the more radical Mackenzie. In any case he ignored Baldwin’s advice, and Baldwin resigned; the Legislative Assembly then refused to pass any money bills, so Head dissolved the government. In the subsequent election campaign, he appealed to the United Empire Loyalists of the colony, proclaiming that the reformers were advocating American republicanism. The Conservative party, led by the wealthy landowners known as the “Family Compact, won the election.
In December 1837, Mackenzie led a brief and bungled rebellion in Toronto. Head sent the colonial militia to put down the rebellion, which they did within a day. 
Head cannot be held primarily responsible for the rebellion of  1837 in Upper Canada, but his unprecedented interference in the election and his uncompromising hostility to the Reformers encouraged extremists, as did his decision to denude the colony of British troops. His excesses led to his recall early in 1838 and he never held office again.
And this leads us to Wolverton. He settled down to writing books and essays once back in Britain. One of these books, Stokers and Pokers, published in 1849, gives us a lively and detailed account of his visit to Wolverton Station. More of this in the next post.

Hugh Stowell Brown and Wolverton.

Hugh Stowell Brown was born on the Isle of Man in 1823. His father was an Anglican minister there. In 1839 Hugh came to the mainland and found employment with a land surveyor and in 1840, like many other men of his time, he found his way to the new railway works at Wolverton. There was nothing especially remarkable in this except that he recorded his experiences later in his life when he wrote his autobiography, Notes of my Life. He was by this time a famous man.

Here is one assessment of his life:

In the second half of the 19th Century Hugh Stowell Brown was a household name in Liverpool, but today he is virtually unknown. His brother Thomas Edward Brown is better known as a poet, at least his name appears in my encyclopaedia. He was born in the Isle of Man, his father being the minister of St Matthew’s Chapel in Douglas. He came to Liverpool when he was 16 years of age, and was engaged in secular employment for a number of years until he felt that God was calling him to preach. The death of his father, however, took him back to the Isle of Man for some time, and during this time he did some preaching in Douglas. One day he received an invitation to preach at Myrtle Street Baptist Church in Liverpool (opposite the Philharmonic Hall) which he accepted. After a few weeks he was invited to become the pastor on a 3-month trial. At the age of 23 years, with no experience in pastoral work and little in preaching, he took on the role of permanent minister there. It then had 239 members but by the time he retired this had risen to 849 members. He was an immensely popular speaker both in his church where people crowded to listen to his robust and energetic teaching, as well as in public lectures that he used to give in the Concert Hall in Lord Nelson Street, where crowds of up to 4,000 people used to regularly go and hear him speak. He was especially popular with the many Americans who used to stream through Liverpool every year and the deacons of the church would sometimes struggle to accommodate up to 200-300 strangers turning up in an already crowded chapel. He was very active in the Baptist Church, being a member of the Baptist Missionary Society, as well as being appointed president of the Baptist Union in 1878. He also took a very keen interest in the sailors of the port of Liverpool and was chairman of the Liverpool Seaman’s Friend Society. He was also involved in a number of good causes, and there was no movement for the benefit of the people of Liverpool in which he was not actively involved. His death in 1886 fell with a heavy blow on Liverpool and he was much lamented, so much so that no less than 10,000 people attended his funeral. Spurgeon, who was a long time friend of Brown, was also devastated. In a sermon after his death, he said, “The grief is to us who are left behind. What a gap is left where stood Hugh Stowell Brown! Who is to fill it? A statue was raised to him in 1889 in the churchyard of Myrtle Street Baptist Church, and this was later moved to Princes Road/Avenue in 1954. The now empty pedestal stands close to the Princes Park Gates, the statue having been moved because of its frail condition. Stowell Street, opposite the Philharmonic Hall was named after him.

The author is not quite correct in saying that he came to Liverpool at 16 – in fact he only left Wolverton in 1843 when he was 20.   I reproduce below some extracts from Notes of my Life, published in 1888, where he describes his Wolverton experience.   From the Wolverton historian’s point of view the  writing is invaluable because he gives a first hand account of what life was like on the shop floor and how this new enterprise made its uncertain beginnings.

I HAVE sometimes wished that I had continued on the Ordnance Survey, but I had made up my mind to become a mechanical engineer. Mr., afterwards Dr. Carpenter, of St. Barnabas, Douglas, was acquainted with one of the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway, and through Carpenter I obtained permission to go to the Company’s works at Wolverton, whither I accordingly went in the month of August, after little more than a month of Ordnance Survey.
And here begins a new chapter of my poor history. The London and Birmingham was then the pride of English railways. It was indeed the best line of railway in the world, and I don’t know a better even now. It was the greatest of Robert Stephenson’s achievements. He had tried his ‘prentice hand in the construction of the Liverpool and Manchester, and this larger work was his masterpiece. To this day on going from Liverpool to London, after going over the Trent Valley, the traveller, as he proceeds from Rugby to the metropolis, feels that he is on a firmer, smoother, better road. He is then on the old London and Birmingham. It had been opened throughout about two years when I entered the Company’s service, Wolverton station, fifty miles from London and sixty from Birmingham, was regarded as a half-way house, and every passenger-train stopped there ten minutes for refreshments. I believe the Company’s original intention was to take the line by Northampton, and to have their engine-works there, but the wiseacres of that town fought against the Bill, and so far succeeded in cutting their own throats as to divert the line, not allowing it to come within five miles of them. It was a grand mistake; they shut themselves out of the world. When they wanted to go to London or Birmingham they had to jog along those five miles to Blisworth station in omnibuses. Had the engine-works been built at Northampton, the town would have added to its trade perhaps £2000 a week, besides all the profit of building works and houses. For many years Northampton had to be satisfied with a branch line, and now (1879) after more than forty years the original design is in part being carried out by means of a loop from Roade to Rugby, whereby the long tunnel at Kilsby will be escaped. Had the Northampton people been wise that tunnel need not have been made.
The engine-works were then established at Wolverton. They consisted at first of a large, square building enclosing a quadrangular yard, and ordinary smith’s shops, turning and fitting shops, erecting shops, pattern shop, iron foundry and brass foundry, with an engine-shed, and the number of men employed was about five hundred When I went to Wolverton there were not more than about twenty houses for the workmen. The majority of the men lodged in the villages round about—Old Wolverton, Cosgrove, Castlethorpe, Haulope, Bradwell, Calverton, and in fire towns of Stony Stratford to the west and Newport Pagnell to the cast. Wolverton is in Buckingharnshire, on the border of Northamptonshire, and in the valley of the lazy Ouse, which creeps through the railway, half a mile north of the station. Like the parishes which surround it, its occupation is wholly agricultural, with the addition of lace-making, carried on in the cottages by the women and children. The country is prettily adorned with many goodly trees, and many quaint and picturesque old churches; Haulope with its noble spire being particularly fine. Beneath the trees is embowered the little church of Cosgrove, where lie the remains of Dean Mansell. But more interesting is Olney, fragrant with the memories of Cowper and John Newton. It is also a pleasant walk to Wootton Abbey on one hand, and to the stately Stowe near Buckingham on the other. The geological structure of the district is the well-known oolite, so common in Northamptonshire and neighbouring counties. The two towns, Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell, were, as they still are, very dull, dead-alive places. They had just been shorn of their glories. Each, situated on one of the great roads from London to the north, had seen many coaches pass through it every day. The railway had superseded every one of them. No longer was heard the guard’s horn, no longer seen the well-appointed equipages, each with its four fine horses, and its proud driver with a bunch of flowers in his button-hole. Looking along the Stratford High Street, one saw on either side many sign-boards swinging in the wind—’ The Cock,’ ‘The Bull,’ ‘The Cross Keys,’ and at Old Stratford ‘The Saracen’s Head.’ The number of inns, large and small, was numerous, each being patronized by its own coach or coaches. But now, small indeed was the custom at these once busy hostelries; and the grass grew long in Stratford Market-place, and we railway folk were looked upon with much disfavour. We had ruined the trade of the town; but yet I should think that after all Stratford lost little by the change. Most of the wages paid at Wolverton came into the hands of the Stratford shopkeepers, and not less than £100 was spent in the Stratford publics on every Saturday night by the ‘station – men,’ as they were called. And not a few of the ‘station-men ‘ also, when they saw that the daughters of Stratford were fair, took them wives who fared much better than they were likely to have done but for these strangers. Still the talk of the townspeople was full of sad references to the good old coaching days.
IN the summer of 1840, when I went to Wolverton, the traffic on the London and Birmingham differed greatly from that which we witness now after a lapse of thirty-nine years. It should be borne in mind that this line had all the traffic between London and the north. There was no Great Northern Company for the trade between London and Scotland; the Great Western had not gone to Birmingham; the Midland poured all its London traffic into the London and Birmingham at Rugby. The only connection between the metropolis and Northampton, Aylesbury, Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Stafford, Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Holyhead, Leeds, Preston, Huddersfield, Bolton, Bury, Halifax, Bradford, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow, was by that one line from London to Birmingham. In fact, if you exclude the eastern counties, you may say that the whole of Great Britain north of London, together with the larger part of Ireland, depended for its traffic with the metropolis upon the one line of railway of which Wolverton was the centre. The Grand Junction at Birmingham, and the Midland at Rugby, brought goods and passengers from the north; coaches from many places ran to the various stations on the line, which was a gigantic monopoly, its only competitor in goods being the Grand Junction Canal; in passenger traffic it had no competitor at all. And yet to what did its traffic, its passenger traffic, amount? The Company ran per diem nine through trains each way, and two others, one between London and Wolverton, the other between London and Aylesbury, the branch from Cheddington to that town being the first and in 1840 the only branch in existence. And the trains were very light. There were, as far as I can recollect, few trains of more than ten carriages, each containing three compartments. They were little more than half the size of the carriages now in use. Those small trains and small carriages sufficed for all the passenger traffic of the vast district above defined. And now! Well, now, the Midland has withdrawn its share and runs to St. Pancras, taking to a great extent the midland county passengers, competing with the London and North-Western Railway for the traffic with Manchester and Liverpool, and all Scotland, and connecting with Northampton, and much more of the old London and Birmingham ground. The Great Northern, another formidable rival, has a large share of the northern traffic. The Great Northern bids against the old line for the trade with Birmingham, Leamington, Wednesbury, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Chester. Thus the district once entirely monopolized by the London and Birmingham for London is now shared by three other companies. And yet how stands the case? In stead of nine through trains per day, there are thirteen, together with many more which run to and from Rugby, taking in Trent Valley for the north, and many more of a local character; and taking into account the number and size of the carriages, the passenger traffic at this day on the old London and Birmingham must be more than fourfold what it was when it had not a single rival to compete with.
It is interesting to notice the difference in speed. The fastest train, and there was only one such per day, was five hours on the road between London and Birmingham, and now in five hours we go nearly twice the distance—i. a. from London to Liverpool. The greatest distance run without a stoppage was from London to Tring, 31 miles, and now we run from Willesden to Rugby, about 76 miles, without stopping. The fastest train stopped four times between London and Birmingham; it now stops only once at Rugby. There were sixteen stations between the termini; there are now twenty-four. The fares were high: first-class, London to Birmingham, 32s. ; second, 25s.; but there was a second-class which was open to the weather, and the charge by that was 20s. And now to Liverpool, the first-class is 29s. 6d., and the second, as good as the first was then, 21s. 9d. In fact, the present fares are little more than half what they were in 1840. There was no third-class, and working people could not afford second-class fares; so they went on foot. Our workmen at Wolverton came and went on tramp from Lancashire and from London, and when discharged walked back again, or elsewhere, in search of work. Almost every day when we turned out at the dinnertime we found some half-dozen tramps, smiths, fitters, turners, boiler-makers, sitting under the wall of the shop in very shabby clothes, with blistered and bleeding feet, and to show them hospitality by taking them to dinner, was one of the prime duties that devolved upon us. The railway was not of the slightest advantage to workmen who had to travel. It probably was rather a disadvantage. In former days a lift on the coach or on the carrier’s waggon was common, but coaches and waggons were now all driven off the road.
Edward Bury, of the Liverpool firm of Bury, Curtis and Kenedy, was the company’s locomotive engineer. We very seldom saw him, and he did not very often look round the shops. He took care that Bury, Curtis and Kenedy should make a good thing out of the company. The locomotive plant consisted of fifty-five engines, nearly all made by Bury, Curtis and Kenedy at the Clarence Foundry in Liverpool. There was an iron foundry in the Wolverton works, but it was never used, for Bury, Curtis and Kenedy furnished all the castings. Wolverton was simply a repairing shop, and every cylinder, every eccentric, everything in cast iron, was supplied by Bury, Curtis and Kenedy. No railway company at that time built its own engines. The locomotives on the London and Birmingham were small and light compared with those now in use. A few used in the goods department were coupled. The passenger-trains were run by an engine on four wheels, the driving-wheel being about five feet six in diameter. They were swift, but hardly strong enough for the work, and many of the trains required two engines to draw them, and a pilot engine was always on the station at Wolverton ready to go in search of belated trains, and assist them. The Gifford feeder being unknown, the only way of supplying the boiler was the pump; and many was the time the pilot engine, as the steam blew off and the water got less, was trotted up and down a mile or two that its pumps might supply it. Some time afterwards came the device of two blind wheels stationed under the line, their unflanged ones forming a few inches of the line itself.
Thus the engine was slowly drawn until its driving wheels rested on the blind wheels, and then it could pump away without moving; but I believe that to get it off or on the blind wheels it had to be pushed with a crossbar. It was not the infancy, but still the childhood, of locomotion, and Bury, Curtis and Kened having their drawings, templates, and patterns, were in no hurry to introduce improvements.
We were in all about five hundred hands, a mixed group of Londoners, Lancashiremen, Yorkshiremen Scotchmen, Welshmen, Irishmen; and among us was a man of great stature and magnificent proportions, Polish gentleman, who kept himself very much to himself, and was very taciturn. Our foreman was a Scotchman, named Patch, who afterwards went to be superintendent on the Edinburgh and Glasgow line. I knew most of~ the men, but of the five hundred I don’t think I knew~ more than a dozen who went to church or chapel. Those who in these times so speak of the working men as to produce the impression that they have fallen away from religious ordinances are very much mistaken. Of these in Wolverton, with abundance of church accommodation not far off~ with no counter attraction but the fields, with no reason to complain of being shut up all the week in the close and unhealthy atmosphere of’ smoke, not more than two per cent. ever went to worship. Are things worse now? I very much doubt it, There was, however, very little to induce us to go to either church or chapel. Most of the neighbouring clergy were gentlemen who followed the hounds. The parson at Stony Stratford had spent some years in prison as an insolvent debtor; the remembrance of which must have been strong upon him, for as he droned through the service, he grew animated and earnest in praying that those evils which the craft and subtlety of the devil or man worketh against us be brought to nought. All that I can remember of the old chap is his extreme stupidity and dulness, and that loud emphasis upon the word ‘man.’ Many of the clergy were very hopelessly in debt, and were held in very little esteem. There was not one for ten miles round who could preach so as to interest any mortal creature. One of them, a great fox~hunter, was a magistrate, who occasionally fined a station-man for trespass or for poaching, and, of course, was hated and cursed by all the station-men. The attendance at the churches was wretched; the station-men were not the only men who did not go to church. Not one farmer or farm-servant out of ten was often to be seen within the consecrated walls. The congregation at Old Wolverton Church was seldom a score, and considering what a dismal fool the parson was, I wonder there were so many. He seldom preached; there was some attempt at reading a sermon once in two or three weeks, and it was once too often; and he mumbled the incomparable Liturgy in a most atrocious manner, the object evidently being to get through the thing as soon as he could. There was only one service on the Sunday, and in this good old style, as in the Isle of Man, the parson and the clerk had it all to themselves.
The state of Nonconformity in the district was not much better. At Newport Pagnell there was an Independent Minister, Mr. Bull; but Newport is four miles from Wolverton. At Stony Stratford there were two small ‘interests,’ an Independent and a Baptist. The Independent Minister sang mournfully through his nose, and was very dull and prosy; the Baptist Minister, Mr. Forster, was a man of considerable abilities and a good preacher. There was a Methodist Chapel also in the town; but it was only a poor little thatched cottage. There was nothing attractive about any of these places.
It was in the fine summer weather of August 1840 that I went to Wolverton, having a second-class pass from Liverpool. I arrived on Friday evening, and went into the erecting-shed on Saturday morning; and at the dinner-hour had to pay my footing. This was done at the vile public-house close to the station—a house which went by the name of ‘ Hell’s Kitchen,’ a name it well deserved. An old proverb says, that if an Englishman settled on an uninhabited island the first building he would put up would be a public-house. A public-house was the first thing built at Wolverton by the directors of the London and Birmingham There was no church, no school, no reading-room ; but there was ‘ Hell’s Kitchen.’ And in that ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ that first afternoon, I had to pay about ten shillings for drink. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ was a horrid place; always full of mechanics, navvies, labourers, tramps of all kinds; at least one hundred station-men spent there half the dinner-hour and perhaps half their wages. Working men drank just as hard in those days as they do now. That afternoon, as I came up from ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ I was very much disgusted. I had taken no drink myself. I saw a workman leaning against a paling, who said to me in most unmistakable Cockney, “Well, mate, what are you going to do with yourself to-morrow?” I answered that I did not know, and did not care. “Well,” he said, “I am going over to the Independent Chapel at Stratford; will you go along with me?” I said I would, and we went. That good man was John Page, an engine-fitter, a godly character, a man who said very little about religion; but that quiet invitation to go with him~ unaccompanied by any cant had a quiet power. It had much to do with settling me into good habits ; it made me the companion of a good man, and saved me from other and very different company. I used to lodge with Page at the house of an old man named Stoney in Old Wolverton. Old Stoney had a son named Edmund, who worked in some capacity at the station. I lodged in his father’s cottage for but two or three months, and then lost sight of him. But this year (1879) I had a letter from him. I had, of course, all but forgotten him, having heard nothing of him for thirty-nine years. He informed me that he was a grocer in Sheffield, whence his letter was dated ; reminded me of our old acquaintance, spoke of his business as good and prospering, and would be delighted to see me and have me as his guest when next I might be in Sheffield. I replied, thanking him. In less than a month he wrote again, asking me to lend him fifty pounds to save him from having the bailiffs put into his house. Now I saw why he had written to renew the acquaintance!
My wages at Wolverton were for the first year 4s. a week, 5s. for the second, 6s. for the third; for the remainder of my needs I had to draw upon my father’s scanty means. At that time he had nine children to support upon less than £200 a year; my brother Robert in Liverpool being still the only one in part able to keep himself. The tools employed in the works were of a very simple character in comparison with those now in use. There was no steam-hammer; all the forging was done by hand, and it was a fine sight to see seven or eight stalwart strikers, at the forging of a crank-axle, plant their huge hammers in rapid succession upon the spot indicated by the smith with a piece of rivet rod-iron. We had no travelling-drill; all key-ways had to be first drilled in round holes, and then cut with a crosscut chisel, and finished with the file. With the exception of a small machine for cutting nuts, we had no shaping machine of any account. Every surface that could not be formed by the planing-machine had to be chipped and filed. All the light turning was done by hand, without a slide-rest. Altogether, the work of an engine-shop was much more laborious than it is now, and required much more skill. Machinery has to a large extent superseded both muscle and brain, and a boy set to a machine can do more and better work than would be done by a skilful mechanic. Yet there were men who could do wonderfully true work. I have seen a fitter take two rough pieces of wrought iron of more than one pound weight each. I have seen him chip them to a surface almost perfectly smooth, and then with files so perfect the surface that when placed one upon the other the lower piece would hang to the upper by the force of molecular attraction, as if glued to it. Of course I do not mean that they were so fast joined as glued surfaces, but it required a sensible effort to separate them. I never could do anything like that; in fact, I was but an indifferent workman. My best performances were at the hand lathe ; there I did pretty well. Our best mechanics were, I think, the London men; one of whom, named Airey, a relation of the Astronomer-Royal, could turn out an extraordinary amount of good work. The Lancashire men came next, and I think the Scotchmen were the worst. The fitters’ wages varied from 28s. to 33s. per week; smiths about 30s.; labourers, 16s. to 18s.
I CANNOT say that we worked very hard. It was an idle shop. In the fitting-shop we took our turn to watch for the foreman as he came up the sheds, and the word ‘nix’ saw every man and boy at his place. The lathes and planing-machines had been moving, hut doing nothing else; now the tools were thrown into gear, and all was work and bustle. But we had some shameful idling. I am sure that every set of taps and dies made by Figg the tool-maker must have cost more than its weight in silver. And Mr. Figg was a local methodist preacher, who always wore a white shirt and black trousers, and was quite a swell. Another man who made cross-heads rarely did an hour’s work in a day. Most of his time was spent in arguing in favour of socialism, and turning the Bible into ridicule. There were a considerable number of knobsticks in the shops; men who had gone in on strikes in London and elsewhere. “What are you talking to that fellow for, don’t you know that he’s a —— knobstick ?” So said a society man to me, when he saw me conversing with a shopmate whose knobstickism I was not aware of. There was much angry disputing, much sullenness, much hatred, hard words, and occasionally hard blows over this knobsticlc business. Yet the knobsticks were as a rule good workmen. Airey was one, and so was Cole (called from his cadaverous look, Captain Death), the only man to whom was entrusted the difficult job of -turning the crank-axles. Among our men was one from Birmingham, a brother of a well-known atheist. He was a particularly poor creature in mind and body, and held his brother’s opinions. We had a number of infidels among us. One of these died avowing his atheism to the last in the most horribly profane manner. A few of us went before the funeral to ask the parson old Quarlby, whether he could omit the expression “in sure and certain hope” as he read the funeral service. We told him that the whole band of infidels would be there to sneer and to triumph, as poor Alec was honoured with Christian burial. Old Quarlby had just come in from the hunt, and was taking his boots off. His reply was,” Lord love ye, but what the devil would the bishop say to me if I did as you wish?” So the atheist was buried in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection, and three of our Churchmen from that hour were Non conformists. The talk in the shops was for the most part profane and beastly in the extreme; the least profane and beastly among us, with the exception of the few Christians, were some of the infidels, one of whom, a Scotch-man named William Angus, was one of the finest men whom I ever knew. The Shorter Catechism had made him an unbeliever. The leading infidels at Wolverton and the chief drunkards were Scotchmen. I remember very little conversation upon industrial subjects, and although it was a time of great political agitation in regard to Chartism and Free Trade, there did not seem to be a spark of political intelligence or spirit among us. We never saw a newspaper, excepting the ‘Weekly Despatch,’ a few copies of which came on Sunday morning, but that was read chiefly for the prize-fights and other sporting intelligence which it contained. I should think that one-third of the men were unable to read a single word, and I often wrote their letters for them, and read for them letters they received.
Four of us, Edward Hayes, William Harvey, William Mickle, and myself, drew together. They were journey men, but young, the oldest not more than twenty-five years. We agreed to lodge together with a peasant named Cox at Old Wolverton. Hayes was a little man, a clever, skilful workman ; he came from Manchester, and was great in phrenology, and in Combe’s ‘Constitution of Man.’ Harvey was a Derbyshire man, one of the best workmen in the place, and gifted with a dry and pleasant humour. Mickle was a Scotchman, brought up in London; a boisterous but kindly fellow, whom Hayes pronounced to be a man in whom combativeness and self-esteem were abnormally developed. The four of us slept in two beds placed in one small room. We had our meals in the lower room of the cottage, which was the kitchen, and there was a small room, about eight feet square, which we converted into a study, and in which we tried in the evenings to improve our minds, which, sooth to say, sorely needed improvement. On Sundays, Hayes generally went out into the fields to meditate; Harvey went to the Methodist Chapel at Stratford; Mickle wandered from one place of worship to another; and I went to church somewhere in the neighbourhood, generally to Stratford, because there was an organ there, which, however, was very execrably played. Our studies were various. Hayes went in for philosophy; Harvey for theology; Mickle for mechanics ; I for mathematics. I don’t think we read a novel all the time we were together, and our whole stock of books was not worth £5.
The three years passed with very few incidents to break the monotony of our lives. We rose at half past five and walked to the works a mile off, cooked our breakfasts at one of the forges in the smiths’ shop went home to dinner at one, returned at two, and the bell rang again at half-past five; on Saturdays at four; in all 58½ hours per week, with every evening free. I think far too easy work.
One event of these years I cannot forget. It was my first visit to London at Christmas 1841. I well remember the lurid glare in the sky as in the winter evening we approached the great metropolis. I had only three days in London, but I used them in seeing all that I could see. Among other places I got into the ball of St. Paul’s, where I found three sailors who insisted on my drinking some of their rum, the effect of which threatened to make my going down much more rapid than my going up. No place known to me has altered more than London in my time. The alterations have not all been improvements, i. e the railway-bridges over the Thames.
Among my excursions, for which there was no time but Sunday, was one to Olney. In the neighbourhood there is or was a fine old tree called ‘Cowper’s Oak,’ hollow, with a seat in it. I met an old man who well remembered the poet sitting there. I once went with Mickle to Northampton, walking thither on Saturday evening, and walking back on Sunday evening. In the afternoon we heard a Mormon preacher haranguing in the Market Place. Mickle, the combative, attacked him, and had a long wrangle with him, in which I joined. It was my first attempt at public speaking. Strange to say, thirty years afterwards, I heard the same Mormon deliver the same sermon (or one very much like it, and on the same text) in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
Abou this time I became a teetotaler and a Rechabite, as did my fellow-lodgers. This brought me into great disfavour with the drinking workmen, and I was commonly called “a —— teetotaler.” The teetotalism led to my going to temperance meetings. The first in which I took part was held at the village of Daneshanger, where in attempting to make a speech I utterly broke down in confusion. Temperance meetings were scenes of great interruption and uproar: for attempting to persuade people to sobriety we were persecuted, hooted out of the villages, and pelted with mud. At the station close to the canal bank there was a small temperance coffee-house, kept by a man named Spinks. A few of us thought that we might hold a Sunday School there. We obtained the use of the room, and started the Sunday School, and I taught there on Sunday forenoon and afternoon for some time. That was the first and for more than a year the only religious service of any kind in Wolverton. Neither clergy nor Nonconformist ministers took the slightest interest in the people, altogether numbering about one thousand, that were gathered about the station. That was my first Sunday School teaching, and my last. I disliked the work immensely; I had no gift for it. It is my duty to take an interest in Sunday Schools, and I have had for a great many years as good Sunday Schools as any in Liverpool; but I have always been thankful that no more than an occasional looking in has been required of me, for a Sunday School, and indeed any school, is no pleasure to me to this day.
It is proverbial that corporations have no conscience. For a time this seemed true of the London and Birmingham Railway. They had brought a large number of men, women, and children to Wolverton, and children were increasing in number rapidly. There was no school of any sort within two miles. The nearest were the National Schools at Stony Stratford, kept by the clerk of the church, a very drunken rascal, and that school was hardly large enough for the requirements of the town. But for years the Company made no school provision, and the children at the station were growing up in utter ignorance. At last the Company proved to have somewhat of a conscience, and they built a British School, a poor shabby thing it was, in keeping with the abominable cottages, which they built for the workmen. The Company’s conscience was indeed so exercised that they sent a parson, a Church of England man, to hold service and preach in the school. This was the Rev. George Weight; he had been one of Rowland Hill’s people; had, I believe, been assistant to him in his last days at Surrey Chapel, but became a Churchman, and cordially hated Dissent. But he was a thorough evangelical, and a capital preacher. I went to the school on the first Sunday of Mr. Weight’s services, and a good many of the men attended, moved by curiosity. There was at Wolverton a drunken Scotchman named Dan Rintoul; he was considered the most intemperate man on the place. He was at the service, and as usual was very drunk.
He had probably never before seen a clergyman dressed in a surplice. When Mr. Weight, who was very precise in his ecclesiastical vestments, made his appearance, Dan cried out, “You fool, go and put your breeches on, and don’t come here in your shirt.” Dan was soon hustled out of the place by Bill Webber, a little Cockney knobstick, who acted as clerk. That was the beginning of public worship in Wolverton. Dan was taken before the magistrates and fined heavily and of course neither he nor any of his pals ever went to church again. The Company soon after built a small church at the station, but I don’t think that more than a dozen station-men ever entered the place. It was a great mistake to appoint a knobstick as clerk, that of itself was quite enough to keep three-fourths of the men away.
I introduced myself to Mr. Weight as the son of a clergyman, and found him very friendly. I had already begun to cherish some thought of becoming a parson, and Mr. Weight encouraged me in the project, and proposed to give me lessons in Greek, of which I was wholly ignorant. I procured a Greek Grammar, Lexicon, and Testament, and most of my evenings were spent in this new study. As 1 have said, Wolverton was an idle workshop. At that time I was engaged for some weeks or months in tubing boilers, and I generally took the fire-box end, having a very lazy mate at the smoke-box end on the look-out for the foreman, whose approach was signalled to me with a stroke of the hammer on the boiler. I did a good deal of study, and by the light of a candle wrote my earliest Greek exercises on the sides of the fire-box with a piece of chalk.

TOWARDS the end of 1843 I ventured to write to my father, telling him of my wish to enter the ministry. He very reluctantly gave his consent. He never was hearty about it, and would much have preferred my continuing at my trade. I don’t wonder at it. The ministry had been to him a life of poverty and hard ship, and, as I have already hinted, he was only half a Churchman. My mother, however, viewed the case more favourably. She had always wished me to be a minister, and my going to business was a sore disap pointment to her. And so it was arranged that I should leave Wolverton at the end of the year, and return to the Isle of Man, and go to King William’s College.
The end of the year came, and I left Wolverton and went home. I have no doubt that the three and a half years’ intercourse with so many working men from all parts of the country has proved of great advantage to me in my ministry. The practice of speaking acquired at the temperance meetings was also a great help, and my practice of going as much to chapel as to church gave my religious views and sympathies a breadth which is perhaps unusual at so early a period of life. Yet I had often thought that it was cruel towards my parents to take the step I took. My restlessness had given them much trouble already; I was in my twenty-first year, and was still a burden to them. Receiving 7s. a week and sometimes l0s. (when we worked over time), that burden was being lightened. In another year, perhaps half a year, I should have been earning my own living, to their great relief; and yet in this new notion of becoming a minister I threw myself again upon them. I think my father had good reason to grumble, and I have sometimes wished that he had finally refused his consent, and kept me to my work, for I was not so vain as to suppose that God’s cause could not have gone on quite as well had I never entered the ministry. Here the proper and orthodox way would be to cant about an inward call to the ministry, a burning love of souls, an intense desire to consecrate myself to the service of Christ. Of such things I say nothing. I never felt that the Lord had need of me, as he once had of one disciple at Jerusalem. I suppose I called myself to the ministry urged by various motives, and if all men who speak upon this subject spoke in honesty and good sense, I think they would say much the same thing as I say here. The stories of men whom I have heard at ordinances and settlements, about the Lord having called them and led them, have often turned out fictions, or something worse. Before bidding farewell to Wolverton, I may add that, while the Company did provide a school and a church, they did not, until after I had left, provide anything in the nature of a Mechanics’ Institution or Reading-room. They did not want the men to improve their minds. Not a single thing did the Company for the amusements of their men save and except ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ They did a year or two afterwards build a Mechanics’ Institute, but it was a poor, mean, shabby concern ; an utter disgrace to them.
I left Wolverton for Douglas in the beginning of 1844, to study for the ministry of the Established Church. On reaching home, I found my father in no way gratified by the resolution I had taken, and, as stated above, I do not wonder at his dissatisfaction and want of cordiality, for I felt that I ought not to have cast myself upon him for support. It was intended that I should go to King William’s College, where, as the son of a Manx clergyman, I would have instruction gratis. However, the greater part of the College was burnt down, and the arrangements of the Institution so disturbed, that I could not be conveniently received, and it was thought best for me to study with my father until August, when the College would begin its second half-year. From January until August there was I at home; but never did any poor wretch feel himself less at home. Indeed I think that home ceases to be home when a fellow has reached his twentieth year; he had far better be somewhere else; he is a man without a man’s freedom. I felt this horribly. My father was morose, feeling, no doubt, that he had done enough for me, and that I ought to be on my own hook. I read with him, chiefly Latin; thrashing away at the Greek by myself; for of Greek I suspect my father was innocent, as he had never looked at it since he left Castletown Academy. I have no wish to dwell upon those miserable seven months.
The seven months previous to my going to the College were spent in very diligent study, and in August I went to King William’s, lodging in the house of Mrs. Kewley, on the Green, Castletown. The Principal of the College was the Rev. Robert Dixon, known by the lads as ‘Bobby,’ a Cambridge man. My chief business with him was in the Greek Testament and other Greek—Thucydicles and Homer, Sophocles, Euripides. The Greek Testament used was Bloomfield’s. The second master was the Rev. J. G. Cumming, who had scientific tastes, and was considered an authority upon the geology of the Isle of Man. Under him I read Latin, chiefly Sallust, Virgil, and Horace. I did something, but not much, in mathematics. I ought to say that, under Dixon, most of us intended for the Church dabbled a little in Hebrew. I certainly worked hard all the time I was at King William’s; rising at six in the morning, reading a great deal, and preparing for the classes and lectures. But it was not a school for me. I wish I could have gone to Oxford or Cambridge, but that was hopeless. I made the best of such chances as I had.
The society in and around Castletown was generally good. We were fairly well fed and cared for by Mrs. Kewley, there being about a dozen College lads in the house. The clergyman of Castletown was Mr. Parsons, a kindly, hospitable old fellow, and I and some others of the College were often asked to his house. There was a company of soldiers in Castletown, the garrison for the whole island. The soldiers went to Parsons’ church. The Government chaplain, John Howard, was at one time his curate, and preaching rather longer than usual one Sunday morning, Parsons, looking up from the desk to the pulpit, said, “John, John, come to a conclusion the Governor’s dinner is getting cold.” The beadle’s name was Buchan, and popular rumour fastened upon Parsons the old Joe Miller, that a dog came into the church and yelped while he was reading prayers, “That it may please thee to bless Adelaide the Queen Dowager, the Prince Albert, Buchan put that dog out, and all the Royal Family.”
While I was at Castletown there came a new governor, Governor Hope. I was present at his installation in the Castle. In the name of ‘ Victoria Rex,’ silence was commanded the Governor took his oath that he would administer the law as evenly as the back bone doth lie in the herring.
[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]

Hugh Miller encounters Wolverton

Hugh Miller was a Scottish geologist and something of a polymath. He made an extensive trip through England in 1845 and later wrote about his experience. His destination was Olney, where the 18th century poet William Cowper had once lived. As you will read from this account he was quite shocked at his reception in Wolverton.

I took my seat in the railway train for the station nearest Olney—that of Wolverton.  And the night fell ere we had gone over half the way.

I had now had some little experience of railway travelling in England, and a not inadequate idea of the kind of quiet, comfortable-looking people whom I might expect to meet in a second-class carriage.  But my fellow-passengers this evening were of a different stamp.  They were chiefly, almost exclusively indeed, of the male sex—vulgar, noisy, ruffian-like fellows, full of coarse oaths and dogged asseverations, and singularly redolent of gin; and I was quite glad enough, when the train stopped at the Wolverton station, that I was to get rid of them.  At the station, however, they came out en masse.  All the other carriages disgorged similar cargoes; and I found myself in the middle of a crowd that represented very unfairly the people of England.  It was now nine o’clock.  I had intended passing the night in the inn at Wolverton, and then walking on in the morning to Olney, a distance of nine miles; but when I came to the inn, I found it all ablaze with light, and all astir with commotion.  Candles glanced in every window; and a thorough Babel of sound—singing, quarrelling, bell-ringing, thumping, stamping, and the clatter of mugs and glasses—issued from every apartment.  I turned away from the door, and met, under the lee of a fence which screened him from observation, a rural policeman.  “What is all this about?” I asked.  “Do you not know?” was the reply.  “No; I am quite a stranger here.”  “Ah, there are many strangers here.  But do you not know?”  “I have no idea whatever,” I reiterated; “I am on my way to Olney, and had intended spending the night here, but would prefer walking on, to passing it in such a house as that.”  “Oh, beg pardon; I thought you had been one of themselves: Bendigo of Nottingham has challenged Caunt of London to fight for the championship.  The battle comes on tomorrow, somewhere hereabouts; and we have got all the blackguards in England, south and north, let loose upon us.  If you walk on to Newport Pagnell just four miles—you will no doubt get a bed; but the way is lonely, and there have been already several robberies since nightfall.”  “I shall take my chance of that,” I said. “Ah,—well—your best way, then, is to walk straight forwards, at a smart pace, keeping the middle of the highway, and stopping for no one.”  I thanked the friendly policeman, and took the road.  It was a calm pleasant night; the moon in her first quarter, was setting dim and lightless in the west; and an incipient frost, in the form of a thin film of blue vapour, rested in the lower hollows.

    The way was quite lonely enough; nor were the few straggling travellers whom I met of a kind suited to render its solitariness more cheerful.  About half-way on, where the road runs between tall hedges, two fellows started out towards me, one from each side of the way.  “Is this the road,” asked one, “to Newport Pagnell?”  “Quite a stranger here,” I replied, without slackening my pace; “don’t belong to the kingdom even.”  “No!” said the same fellow, increasing his speed, as if to overtake me; “to what kingdom, then?”  “Scotland,” I said, turning suddenly round, somewhat afraid of being taken from behind by a bludgeon.  The two fellows sheered off in double quick time, the one who had already addressed me, muttering, “More like an Irishman, I think;” and I saw no more of them.  I had luckily a brace of loaded pistols about me, and had at the moment a trigger under each fore-finger; and though the ruffians—for such I doubt not they were—could scarcely have been cognizant of the fact, they seemed to have made at least a shrewd approximation towards it.  In the autumn of 1842, during the great depression of trade, when the entire country seemed in a state of disorganization, and the law in some of the mining districts failed to protect the lieges, I was engaged in following out a course of geologic exploration in our Lothian Coal Field; and, unwilling to suspend my labours, had got the pistols, to do for myself, if necessary, what the authorities at the time could not do for me.  But I had fortunately found no use for them, though I had visited many a lonely hollow and little-frequented water-course—exactly the sort of place in which, a century ago, one would have been apt to raise footpads as one now starts hares; and in crossing the Borders, I had half resolved to leave them behind me.  They gave confidence, however, in unknown neighbourhoods, or when travelling alone in the night-time; and so I had brought them with me into England, to support, if necessary, the majesty of the law and the rights of the liege subject, and certainly did not regret this evening that I had.

    I entered Newport Pagnell a little after ten o’clock, and found all its inns exactly such scenes of riot and uproar as the inn at Wolverton.  There was the same display of glancing lights in the windows, and the same wild hubbub of sound.  On I went.  A decent mechanic, with a white apron before him, whom I found in the street, assured me there was no chance of getting a bed in Newport Pagnell, but that I might possibly get one at Skirvington, a village on the Olney road, about three miles further on.  And so, leaving Newport Pagnell behind me, I set out for Skirvington.  It was now wearing late, and I met no more travellers: the little bit of a moon had been down the hill for more than an hour, the fog rime had thickened, and the trees by the wayside loomed through the clouds like giants in dominos.  In passing through Skirvington, I had to stoop down and look between me and the sky for sign posts.  There were no lights in houses, save here and there in an upper casement; and all was quiet as in a churchyard.  By dint of sky-gazing, I discovered an inn, and rapped hard at the door.  It was opened by the landlord sans coat and waiscoat.  There was no bed to be had there, he said; the beds were all occupied by travellers who could get no accommodation in Newport Pagnell; but there was another inn in the place further on, though it wasn’t unlikely, as it didn’t much business, the family had gone to bed.  This was small comfort.  I had, however, made up my mind that if I failed in finding entertainment at inn the second, I should address myself to hay-rick the first; but better fortune awaited me.  I sighted my way to the other sign-post of the village: the lights within had gone up stairs to the attics; but as I tapped and tapped, one of them came trippingly down; it stood pondering behind the door for half a second, as if in deliberation, and then bolt and bar were withdrawn, and a very pretty young Englishwoman stood in the door-way.  “Could I get accommodation there for a night—supper and bed?”  There was a hesitating glance at my person, followed by a very welcome “yes;” and thus closed the adventures of the evening.  On the following morning I walked on to Olney.  It was with some little degree of solicitude that, in a quiet corner by the way, remote from cottages, I tried my pistols to ascertain what sort of a defence I would have made had the worst come to the worst in the encounter of the previous evening.  Pop, pop!—they went off beautifully, and sent their bullets through an inch board; and so in all probability I should have succeeded in astonishing the “fancy-men.”

To understand what all the fuss was about, and for a full account of what happened in this sleepy corner of North Bucks, here is Sir Frank Markham’s account from his History of Milton Keynes and District.

But before this calm settled there was an event which made national news and which materially upset for a few days every railway official at Wolverton Station. Just before the advent of the railways, bare-knuckled prize fighting was the sport of princes. The pugilistic art had the warm support of the Prince Regent who was anxious to put down duelling as a solution to quarrels, and so the noble art of self-defence was encouraged. The ‘fancy’ or the ‘prize ring’ was at its zenith about 1830 but then began to degenerate. Prize fights became gathering places for the scum of a region – and such fights were only determined after scores of rounds when one contestant or the other was completely insensible – or dead. Parliament now banned what had become not only a brutal and murderous sport, but the occasion of public uproar. Consequently contests had to be arranged by stealth – but somehow the railway companies knew and ran excursions from all over England to the nearest station to the scene of the contest .
In 1841 the Championship Belt was held by Ben Caunt who had beaten W. Thompson (better known as ‘Bendigo’) in a some­what dubious fight. Bendigo was anxious for his revenge, and in April 1845 it was announced that police or no police the fight it would take place for a purse of £200 a side – a small sum, but the betting was soon of Littlewood proportions.
Ben Caunt was an ugly giant of a man, 6ft 2in and 17 stone, but he could train down to 14 stone. ‘Bendigo’, the nineteenth child of a poor but ferocious Nottingham woman, was a cocky fellow 5ft 9in and a thorough ruffian. He was the darling of the Midlands and Caunt was the hero of London and all around. Their managers agreed that the f1ght should be at a place half way between London and Nottingham, so they chose the demure and self-respecting town of Newport Pagnell, or the nearest ‘safe locality’.
The London & Birmingham Railway immediately put in hand plans for excursions from London, Manchester and Nottingham to Wolverton. On Sunday 7 September 1845 Bendigo and his party arrived at Wolverton and went on to the Swan Irlll at Newport. The Chief Constable for the Ncwport Hundreds promptly informed Bendigo that he had a warrant to arrest any­body breaking the peace. On Monday Caunt and his party travelled from London to Wolverton by train, and choosing the best accommodation in the area put up at the Cock in Stony Stratford. un the same day hordes of excursionists arrived at Wolverton from Nottingham, Manchester or London, and most walked to Newport. The Nottingham men had all brought ‘Nottingham twigs’ (cudgels) with them, and seemed to be a para­military formation. Between Newport and Stony Stratford any miserable dossing place in a barn was let at exorbitant prices – and the owner of any broken down old rattletrap charged a sovereign a head for the journey of a few miles.
On Monday evening Caunt’s manager suggested that since the Chief Constable seemed such an obstinate wet blanket, the fight should take place at Whaddon, four miles south of Stony Strat­ford just outside the Chief Constable’s sphere of influence. From here they could move to Northants or Oxfordshire if need be. Bendigo’s friends reluctantly agreed.
Meanwhile the prize ring commissary or master of ceremonies, with his cart full of gear, made his plans and on Tuesday morning, 9 September 1845, he set off from the Cock at Stony Stratford to Whaddon. A crowd of 5,000 followed him and at Whaddon the Nottingham squads arranged the ring and arena. But now the police interferred again. The Buckingham magistrates were determined to prevent the fight.
And now a superb solution was discovered. Five miles west of Stony Stratford was the sleepy village of Lillingstone Lovell which had only just been transferred from Oxfordshire to Bucks, and a mile away was the Northants border which was quite unpre­pared to resist invasion. Lillingstone Lovell was also the site of a previous championship match for the same reason, so that old hands knew all about it. It had been transferred to Bucks in 1844, but only for local government purposes, and not for police pur­poses. So off the commissary, his Nottinghamshire squads and thousands of spectators (now reinforced by fresh arrivals from Wolverton) went to Lillingstone Lovell. A 20ft square ring was erected. Around it was a 12 yard deep ‘inner ring’ which only the elite were supposed to occupy. But of course the crowd had other ideas and the disorder was immense, but there was not a constable in sight.
At last the two fighters, all knee breeches and stripped to the waist, the referee, umpires and seconds, were all ready. The fight began. We cannot describe it round by round as the television commentators love to do, for there were ninety-three rounds! Both men were battered almost into insensibility. Their hands looked like masses of jam. In the midst of pandemonium the referee gave the match to Bendigo, a decision that was hotly disputed then and long afterwards.
The mob now streamed off to Wolverton, thirsty and bloody minded. Every pub on the way was sold out. At Wolverton the railway officials closed the iron gates against the disorderly mob until their trains arrived. It is doubtful if anyone could have protected the refreshment room damsels against some of the demands the mob!
The whole event put the sporting world in an uproar but all reed that it was a disgusting and disgraceful exhibition. Newport Pagnell, Wolverton, Stony Stratford, Whaddon and Lillingsto­ne Lovell had seen some incredible sights and even the publi­cans did not like the crowd.
Since then Lillingstone Lovell has been a pattern village of the utmost good behaviour. Most visitors who go there now are ecclesiastical enthusiasts who admire the 13th century church with I5th century brasses which are worth seeing. As for Bendigo, he became a revivalist preacher.

The Bloomers

In 1851 an American woman, Mrs Amelia Jenks Bloomer, caused a sensation by appearing in public dressed in a knee-length dress and ankle-length pants. Up to this date women wore yards of material down to their ankles and no woman was considered decently dressed unless their legs were invisible. Mrs Bloomer’s primary purpose was to devise clothing which would enable her to ride a bicycle rather than make a fashion statement; however the fame of this style of dress quickly spread and the word “bloomer” slipped into the language.
Meanwhile, in another country and entirely unconnected, engineers were designing locomotives under McConnell’s direction which had a partially covered driving wheel. I won’t go into the engineering reasons for this but the resulting appearance was different from any previously manufactured locomotive. They appeared when the Bloomer sensation was at its height and the partially covered wheels led some journalist to draw a parallel with Amelia Bloomer’s attire and the nickname stuck. There is no logical comparison: driving wheels were uncovered and then partially covered, whereas Mrs Bloomer’s legs were fully covered and then partially exposed. However, names don’t stick for logical reasons and these engines were called “Bloomers” long after the fashion disappeared.
This photograph was taken in 1861 of a “Bloomer” locomotive and tender at Wolverton. In the background you can see the back of the second station and refreshment rooms.
These new locomotives could reach speeds of 60 mph on their own and run at average speeds of 36 – 38mph with train loads. By the standards of the day they were very fast and the phrase “express train” entered the language. Not all of these engines were built at Wolverton but they were developed and built under McConnell’s regime at Wolverton and perhaps brought a little bit of glamour to Wolverton’s production history.
In 1985 a replica “Bloomer” was built and installed in Milton Keyne’s central plaza. Over the years it deteriorated and in 2006 was moved to Wolverton for restoration. I don’t know the status of the project.

James Edward McConnell

Bury’s successor at Wolverton was James Edward McConnell.

James Edward McConnell was born on the 1st January 1815 at Fermoy, County Cork, of Quentin and Elizabeth McConnell, he Scottish born and she English. Quentin was a millwright. After Quentin’s early death in 1815 James was sent to Watshouse in Ayrshire into the care of an uncle. He was apprenticed to a Glasgow ironworks in 1828, Claud Girdwood & Co. in which a cousin had an interest. He then went to work at Bury’s Clarence Foundry in Liverpool in 1837.

McConnell was certainly a high flyer.  In 1841, at the age of 26, he was appointed Foreman at the Bromsgrove workshops of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. A year later he became Locomotive Superintendent.

Captain C R Moorsom was a director of the B&G Railway and later a director of the L&NWR, and it is likely that it was his influence that secured McConnell the position of Locomotive Superintendent at Wolverton to succeed Edward Bury in 1847. And so, at the age of 32, he moved into Wolverton Park House with his family. He was paid £700 per annum, considerably less than Bury, but a very good annual income for the time – about the starting salary for a schoolteacher in 1970!

McConnell had his detractors:

Some of his new colleagues recorded their impressions of McConnell. David Stevenson, the Camden Goods Manager, described him as “a strong and determined man of the rough sort.” Robert Benson Dockray, the LNWR Engineer wrote in his diary: “There is no doubt of his being intellectually a very clever man, full of energy, but he has some sad moral blemishes which will always prevent his occupying the position he otherwise could do. He is cunning and wants straightforwardness.” Superintendent Bruyeres also said McConnell was not straighforward and “works for his own department as though it were not part of the general concern.” The anonymous writer in the railway papers of the 1840s who signed himself ‘Veritas Vincit’ had some very caustic things to say about McConnell: “this youthful superintendent has an immeasurable conceit of his own talents” (April 1843); his “usual flurried manner in giving directions” (April 1845); there “is not a locomotive superintendent in the kingdom who has wasted more money or failed in his attempts at improvement … pushing himself forward in the company of men of talent, hearing their opinions on scientific subjects, and advancing them in other quarters as his own. This is no secret, it is often alluded to.” He “knows nothing but what he copies, and what he does copy is usually fallacious” (February 1847). The last outburst was prompted by hearing about McConnell’s appointment to the LNWR, which had completely astonished ‘Veritas Vincit’. He thought the appointment had to be because of some private motive – “it cannot have been based on the qualifications of McConnell.” (Harry Jack. Locomotives of the LNWR Southern Division

Nevertheless he was a young man full of energy and determined to make changes. He recommended the scrapping of a lot of older engines and proposed that Wolverton should manufacture rather than simply repair engine. The Board agreed.

McConnell’s energyand drive for efficiency created labour problems. In 1848 the footplatemen went on strike over reduced pay and McConnell replaced them with untrained blacklegs. He prevailed, but with a loss of goodwill and his deputy who publicly criticised him for his lack of concern about the safety hazards of employing unskilled drivers.

McConnell’s lasting legacy was the building of bigger and faster engines, including the “bloomers”, which I will discuss in the next post. He also presided over the locomotive building years – an activity which carried more glamour than the building of carriages, such as increasingly happened after he left. His nemesis was Richard Moon, who became Deputy Chairman after the death of McConnell’s patron, Admiral Moorsom in 1861. Moon was strongly in favour of rationalising workshop activities between Wolverton and Crewe, and eventually got his way. A report submitted to the Board in 1862 was very critical of McConnell and on February 20th 1862 he submitted his resignation.

He then moved with his family to Great Missenden  and rented an office in Westminster, from where he worked as a consulting engineer, producing designs for a number of railway companies.

Despite his confrontational beginnings in Wolverton he appears to have developed into a respected citizen. He promoted education and was probably responsible for ensuring that the Science and Art Institute was completed. He also fostered a savings bank and encouraged sporting activities.

In 1883, at the age of 68, he fell ill and died on 11th June from heart failure and pneumonia. he was by now a well-to-do man. His personal estate, according to is will, was valued at £28,097 9s 7d – a large sum of money in 1883

The First Wolverton Locomotive

Wolverton’s initial purpose was the repair and maintenance of engines, but before too many years passed the workforce had acquired the skills and equipment to build new engines. The tradition of contracting out the building to other firms continued, even in McConnell’s time, but increasingly Wolverton took on new builds.

The first engine was numbered 92 (engines were numbered consecutively as they were put into service) and was built in 1845. Harry Jack suggest that spare parts may have been used in its construction.

In the following year Number 95, the second Wolverton locomotive, was built. An the photograph below of a locomotive built at the same time offers another view.

Bury’s Engines

I am more of a social historian than railway historian, and I certainly don’tn have any engineering expertise, so I can’t offer any erudition on the subject. One excellent source, for those of you with an interest in this subject, is Harry Jack’s Locomotives of the LNWR Southern Division. Wolverton’s role in this period was huge. Details of the book and its availability can be found here.

The pictures I present here of Bury’s first locomotive designs are taken from Harry Jack’s book.