“Northampton’s Loss, Wolverton’s Gain” An early Urban Myth.

Wolverton as a railway town was an accident. I think I can safely say that. The original planned route from London to Birmingham would have taken the line closer to Buckingham and had this proceeded no line would have come close to the old village, but once the new route had been forced on Stephenson the course of the line took it through the Wolverton estate. If a station were to be erected there it would be with the intention of serving Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell. Most of the towns on the new line were quite small. Leighton Buzzard, with a population of 3,500, and larger at the time than Watford, was by far the largest community. The only significant centres were Northampton and Coventry, and given Northampton’s size and labour pool, it may have made sense to the directors to establish their service and maintenance depot at Northampton. Housing and a local work force would have been at hand.  In the end this did not happen and the route went to the east of the town and a station was established at Blisworth. 

Within a very short time the railways transformed the way people did business and Northampton, in a few years, found itself at a distinct commercial disadvantage. Four miles, which seemed insignificant in 1837, now represented a significant amount of time. In edition, the cost of cartage added to the cost of purchase and distribution.  In 1845, when the Blisworth to Peterborough line was opened, Northampton got its first station at Bridge Street. Really, the town had to wait until 1875, when a loop main line began just past Roade cutting to offer an uninterrupted journey from either London or Birmingham to Northampton.

In the meantime the London and Birmingham Railway directors settled on the greenfield site of Wolverton, at the mid-way point between London and Birmingham and with a useful road and canal link already in place, as the site for its new engine depot. It also meant that they had to face up to building new accommodation for the workers, and like good Victorian businessmen who believed that everything was possible, accepted the challenge.

Wolverton was born.

It was not long before a story was in circulation that Northampton had turned down the opportunity to host the railway in favour of protecting the coaching trade. Hugh Stowell Brown, who was in Wolverton in 1840, mentions this in his autobiography and a Times reporter, visiting Wolverton to cover the consecration of St George the Martyr, came across the story and recounted it in his article, May 29th 1844,

The circumstance under which the town was called into existence may be worth relating. When the Birmingham Company’s bill was first introduced to the notice of Parliament it was proposed to establish a central station at Northampton, a town which, from its own importance and its central position upon the contemplated line, appeared to be a most eligible position fot the Company’s works. The shortsightedness of the Northampton people, all at that time engaged or interested in coach traffic, prevented the perfecting of the arrangements. After a vast deal of opposition, attended with great expense to all parties, they succeeded in forcing the Company to abandon their project, and select another spot on which to carry on their works. As there was no other town of sufficient importance eligibly situate on the route, the managers wisely sought a counterbalance for the disadvantage. They saw that if they lost some facilities by placing their station remote from a town, they would gain by the increased steadiness and regularity of their workpeople. Accordingly, Wolverton, a healthy spot, many miles from any place of public resort, was selected as a site for a large station, and there, as we said before, the Company have founded a colony of engineers, which is rapidly flourishing while Northampton is going to decay.

This is a good story and quite plausible. Why would a main line railway bypass a town of the size and importance of Northampton? Why indeed?

The problem with this story is not its plausibility but that other than these two anecdotal accounts, which were being repeated a century later, there is not a shred of factual evidence to support this account. The kind of information you would expect to find, correspondence between the LBR Board and the burgesses of Northampton is not to be found; there is not a single board minute, not a survey, not a single enquiry regarding land purchase. There is, in summary, no official record anywhere that Northampton was considered for the route.

David Jenkinson, in his book The London and Birmingham Railway: A Railway of Consequence, makes this observation:

This town (Northampton) stands on the Nene and to reach it, Stephenson would have to descend a gradient steeper than 1:330, though in all conscience not too much steeper; even so, he ignored it, preferring instead to head through Blisworth on a near straight and level alignment and cross the Nene at Weedon, albeit at the cost of a huge cutting through soil and rock at Blisworth and a not insignificant embankment and viaduct at Weedon. (p. 16)

The probable facts are that Stephenson and his associates in this new enterprise were more concerned about linking London and Birmingham than they were about picking up trade en route. The course of the whole line scarcely touches significant centres and even where it does the stations are a mile or more away from small market towns, such as Harrow, Watford, Tring and Leighton Buzzard. Weedon may have been deliberately selected because of the important military establishment but apart from that the Company may not have given too much thought to having a station in important medieval towns such as St Albans and Northampton.

Most likely it was the astonishing and immediate success of the railway that led people to hanker after a rail line and railway station of their own and the immediate issue was addressed by branch lines to  Aylesbury, St Albans and later Northampton. In the mean time the nearby station, even up to four miles away, was regarded as “their” station. Reporters for the Northampton Herald in 1838 noted with some satisfaction that Blisworth, “their station” was to be a first class station. Similar sentiments were expressed by Newport Pagnell about Wolverton.

Thus we have an early example of what we now call an urban myth. A short time after the railway opening people may have felt some surprise that Northampton had been by-passed; someone may have suggested that it was opposition from Northampton commercial interests that led to this state of affairs an the story grew in the telling. Wolverton people may have felt some pride in getting one up over the larger town and may have been only too happy to relate the story to the Times reporter in 1844, who clearly took this at face value. The story was also told to me by my grandfather over 100 years later, so this version was truly embedded.

Fenianism in Wolverton

The Irish Republican Brotherhood was founded in 1858 as a secret society to further the cause of Irish Nationalism and self-government. Like its 20th century successor the IRA it was impatient for results and prepared to use violence. The movement gained in popularity and its mostly young followers were known as Fenians. As the level of activity grew in the 1860s the government became more anxious and Fenians were spotted everywhere – even in Wolverton, it seems.

The Times of Thursday, December 26th 1867 has this report.

The two prisoners James Connerty and Gladwin Meehan who were arreted at Wolverton on Tuesday on a charge of treason-felony were taken to Aylesbury on the last train, in charge of a strong body of police, under the command of Charles J.C. Tyrwhitt Drake, the Chief Constable of Bucks. They were brought before Mr J.C. Senior, one of the county magistrates in the waiting room of the railway station, and the information from Superintendent Breary was read over, which stated that sedition and treasonable meetings had been held at the houses of each of the prisoners at New Bradwell. Some other important facts were stated in the information, which was not considered expedient to make public. Connerty denied in the most emphatic way that any illegal meetings had been held at his house, or that he had anything to do with Fenianism. He had been reared in this country, and he hoped he had too much sense to do anything of the sort. It was an extraordinary charge, he had always conducted himself to the satisfaction of his employers and those with whom he worked. Meehan also positively denied that there had been any meetings at his house, and asked whether bail would be accepted. He said it was a serious matter to bring a man up without any foundation for a charge. It would probably end with his being discharged from his employment, and the ruin of his family, Connerty asked that bail might be taken, and on being informed that this could not be granted, he asked for a copy of the charge against him to send to his friends. He was informed that he could write whatever he pleased, and that he might have a copy of the information. The prisoners were then remanded until today.

It all appears very serious with a full force under the command of the Chief Constable no less to escort the two men to Aylesbury. What they were up to is not related and indeed is kept secret. Four days later, on December 30th 1867, The Times reported further:

The two artisans, James Connerty and Gladwin Meehan, who had been apprehended by Superintendent Breary, of the Bucks. County Constabulary, on a charge of being concerned in a Fenian conspiracy at Wolverton, were brought up on Saturday at Aylesbury, before Mr. J.T. Senior, the Rev. James Booth, LL.D., the Rev. Joshua Greaves, Colonel Caulfield Platt, Mr. R. Rose, Mr. E. Bartlett and other justices. There were present a large number of the prisoners’ fellow workmen from Wolverton locomotive works. After the opening of the court the magistrates retired to a private room to take some further evidence. In the course of half an hour afterwards they re-entered the court, where Mr. Senior, the chairman of the bench, addressing the prisoners, said, – “I have to state that the magistrates have carefully considered the evidence that has been adduced against you, and they are unanimously of the opinion that the evidence is not sufficient to justify them in committing you for trial. You will therefore be discharged.” Connerty remarked that he was quite sure nothing could be proved against him if the witnesses spoke the truth. Mr. Shepherd observed that the accused had desired him to say that they had been treated with the greatest fairness by the governor and the chaplain of the gaol, as well as by other officers of the prison; and he was happy to be able to hand the bench some very high testimonials of character from their employers, who would be glad and ready to see them return to their service. This announcement of the decision of the Bench was hailed with loud cheers and clapping of hands by the prisoners’ friends, but this was speedily suppressed. Meehan and Connerty were then conducted out of the hall by a private way, and on their departure by rail were cheered by the people who had assembled at the station.

What to make of this? The government was tense. Naval dockyards at Chatham, Protsmouth and Gosport were on high alert. In London, 200 men were sworn in a special constables in anticipation of a Fenian demonstration on Clerkenwell Green. Charges were laid against Connerty and Meehan but no information was revealed that the public could assess, but even the magistrates, inclined no doubt to support the authorities, could find little substance in the charges.

James Connerty and James Gladwin Meehan were both born in Ireland and had probably only recently come to Wolverton. Both were in their late twenties. It is conceivable that it was their irishness that attracted attention in those uncertain times and there was nothing more to it than that. We have recent experience where suspected terrorists re arrested with great fanfare and then quietly released without charge. It seems that Connerty and Meehan were in that category. Judging by the turn out of their fellow workmen from Wolverton in the Aylesbury courtroom, nobody but the police believed the charges.

Connerty stayed in Wolverton for a few more years. In 1871 he was living with his wife and five children in a house on Young Street. Later in that decade he moved to Liverpool. Meehan must have moved soon after the trial. He appears to have settled in Woolwich in London and lived to the great age of 80.

Joshua Harris

Most of the new shopkeepers who opened the first shops at Wolverton were based in Stony Stratford and opened their shops as branches. Joshua Harris was the exception.
As soon as Bury Street was completed in 1840 Harris took one of the three storey buildings at a rental of 7/- a week. He and his wife Charlotte were Oxfordshire born – he from Banbury and she from Finstock. Both were born about 1812. So they were both mature and had probably had the opportunity to get some money behind them. Their first child was born only 6 months before the 1841 census was taken. We learn a little more from the 1851 Census where Harris gives his occupation as Draper, Grocer and Druggist, suggesting more of a general store. At number 414, with three stories,  he had plenty of space to accommodate his business and family. The mixture of selling groceries and drugs may seem odd to us now but grocers had a long tradition of dispensing drugs going back to the middle ages. The separate function of Apothecary, or Chemist, developed in the 16th century but plainly the function could still be combined in small communities in the middle of the 19th century. Harris was a member of the Pharmaceutical Association at this time, so this must have been a role he took seriously.
Joshua Harris died in his forties and his widow moved to Charlbury in Oxfordshire with her young family. As a “fundholder” (as she is described in the 1961 Census), presumably with capital from the sale of the Wolverton stock, she was able to support her family. It does not appear that the business survived Joshua Harris’s early death, at least in this location, because the house is occupied by an engine fitter in 1861.

Amelia Prince

Amelia Prince was the daughter of a London stonemason and probably about 23 years old at the time of Sir Francis Bond Head’s visit in 1849 visit. She may already have been at Wolverton for a few years. She was born in London, the daughter of a stonemason and while at Wolverton lodged with Joshua Harris, the grocer on Bury Street. For her work as teacher of the Infant School was paid only £30 a year – not a very large sum, even in those days.
 She prevailed, and a few years later was promoted to School Mistress with a salary increase to £40 a year. In the mid 1850s the schoolmaster was replaced by a 25 year- old George Russell and somewhere around all these snippets of fact lies a human interest story.
Mr.. Russell and Miss Prince fell in love, which of course is perfectly fine but for the conventional morality of the day. The L&NWR Board Committee which had oversight of these matters  took a view which did not regard a liaison between two unmarried teachers as proper. Mr.. Russell was dismissed from his post in October 1857 and Miss Prince resigned her position two months later. Through this decision the school lost not only the amorous Mr.. Russell but also the very experienced Miss Prince who had worked there for at least ten years.
George Russell quickly found a job in Poplar so there is no suggestion that he left under a cloud and probably received good references. The future Mrs. Russell, six years his senior in age, joined him in January. They married almost immediately, later had one son, and subsequently worked in village schools in Essex and Hampshire.
We can also see the large disparity between men’s and women’s wages in those times. The schoolmaster’s annual salary of £100 put him on a par with clerks and engine drivers but the Infant School Mistress, in this case Amelia Prince, was paid little more than a boy apprentice could earn – typically between £25 and £30 a year. The boy apprentice, on achieving his manhood, could then earn £1 a week or better, whereas Amelia Prince had seen little improvement in her income after ten years of experience. Even so, when the Potterspury Poor Law Union decided to hire a teacher for the workhouse at Yardley Gobion in 1842 they were able to secure the services of a female teacher for only £15 a year.

The Soiree of 1849

From the earliest there were men who came to work in Wolverton who were interested in self improvement and I have already discussed the autobiography of Hugh Stowell Brown who describes his efforts, and those of his mates, towards learning. Despite working for 58½ hours a week, almost one-third as long as we typically do these days, these ambitious young men still found time to work for new knowledge.
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.
As I described in an earlier post, one of Hugh Stowell Brown’s friends, Edward Hayes, set up his own engineering works in Stony Stratford and maintained a company that became renowned for its apprenticeship training.  By 1840 a Reading Room had been built beside the canal, which offered library facilities and a lecture room. It has been said that the Mechanic’s Institute was initiated after a suggestion by Edward Bury, and that may be so, but the active leadership came from the first incumbent of the living of St George’s, George Weight. It was his energy that organized a huge banquet in the Engine Shed in 1849 to promote the idea and raise funds. The scale of this particular function, attracting no fewer than 1000 people, featured in the London Illustrated News for that year, accompanied by a drawing. The drawing gives some insight into the effort that went into the occasion. Machinery has been moved, tracks covered, and the supporting columns decorated with foliage.

I think the view of the artist is to the east with the south facing windows on the right. The light coming through the windows at 6 pm is impossible in late December. I can only conclude that the artist drew the picture or made sketches earlier in the day and added the figures later. The fact that this was reported in the ILN December 29th 1849 gives us some sense of the importance that Wolverton held nationally at that time.
Like many such occasions, everybody had a very good time but lost sight of the original purpose of the event. It was always, in the end, going to take the resources of the L & NWR to fully fund such an enterprise and they had other priorities. It took a further 15 years before the dream was fully realized and unfortunately George Weight did not live to see that day. There are plans held in the National Archives for a more modest single-storey building, probably dating from the mid 1850s, but for one reason or another the plan was never implemented. It did eventually come to pass and in 1864, the new building proudly stood on the corner of Church Street and Creed Street.

Leonora Hibbert

Before the age of television, radio, even mass-market newspapers, fame was a very limited commodity and ordinary people remained unknown outside of their own village. The railway, and with it the possibility of mass communication changed that. Improved education and literacy increased readership and it was possible to find out more about the world. One of the interesting things about the history of the 19th century is that lives were recorded in the registration of births, marriages and deaths and in the decennial census. Add to that the occasional reference in a book or a newspaper and it is possible to construct some sort of life of ordinary people.

Leonora Hibbert was married to James Hibbert, a booking clerk. She was born in Norwich in 1810 and shows up on the 1841 Census as Housekeeper at the Refreshment Rooms but in 1851 she is very clearly the Manger with quite a sizeable staff of between 20 and 30 under her. The Refreshment Rooms, as I have observed before, were unique for their time and for a decade at least were famous throughout the land. Sir Francis Bond Head, after his visit in 1848 or 9 immortalized her as the “generalissima” who made sure that this complex establishment, having to serve trainloads within the space of a few minutes, ran smoothly. From his description we get a picture of a strong-minded woman who knew how to organize people.

As far as I can tell the Hibberts did not have children and after her husband died she moved to Holyhead to manage The Royal Hotel. By this time the Refreshment Rooms were in decline as faster trains meant that they could bypass Wolverton.  She may have subsequently remarried.

The Third Station

The third station opened in 1881 on the new loop line around Wolverton Works and is shown here with its entrance on the Stratford Road. It was a wooden building supported on brick pillars above the railway line. Covered staircases took passengers down to the platforms. Platform 1 on the left was the main down line. The middle staircase met platforms 2 and 3. Platform 2 was the main up line and 3 the secondary down line. There were also waiting rooms on this platform. The third stair flight went down to Platforms 4 and 5. Platform 5 was used exclusively for the “Nobby Newport” branch line.

The Stratford Road entrance took you into an entrance hall. the booking office was on the left and the parcels office on the right. Besides the parcels office stood a large weigh scale. The ticket collector stood at the gate and punched your tickets as you went through. No one was allowed past without a ticket. Even if you were going to wave someone off,  you had to purchase a “Platform Ticket”, which I think cost a penny.

The upper hall always had a smell of steam, as I remember. In the 1950s there were still porters working at the station whose job it was to carry and help load luggage. There was a goods lift that went down to Platforms 2 and 3. Nobody travelled light in those days. If you went on holiday for two week you had to take all the clothes you needed because there were no self-serve laundrettes, nor had non-iron clothing been invented. Therefore a family holiday meant the packing of large trunks and suitcases, which, at the station end, could be carried by porters with trolleys.

The station was built for an age which had low volumes of road traffic. There were nearby bus stops of course but most passengers walked to the station. The odd taxi or car could stop outside the front entrance without disturbing traffic very much. In  1990 or thereabouts access to the station was changed to the car park down the hill and the wooden building which had done more than 100 years service (longer than either of its predecessors) was demolished.

The Second Station

Wolverton’s function as a repair depot and its subsequent development into an important factory approaching 5000 employees somewhat overshadowed the true function of the railway which was the carriage of passengers and goods. In this respect Wolverton was initially a very important station as the service centre for rolling stock and passengers. As the century progressed and the L & NWR developed as a major national company the importance of Wolverton diminished. Wolverton was designated a first class station by the original L & BR Board while Bletchley, for example was given fourth class status, but after the construction of the important cross country line linking Oxford to Bedford, Bletchley grew in size, busyness and importance. The station at Wolverton went into relative decline and whereas express trains of the later nineteenth century would pause at Watford and Bletchley, they would speed through the one-time compulsory stopping point of Wolverton.
The initial wonder of Wolverton to the passing traveller was the Refreshment Rooms. The journey from London was a long one in the 1830s, over three hours, and not comfortable, so while the engines were being changed the passengers’ needs could also be met. But as trains became faster there was less need, and eventually no need, to pause at Wolverton. Passengers might go to Wolverton, but only on railway business. Passengers might depart from Wolverton but only at weekends or for holidays. The other factor in the decline of Wolverton Station was the sheer dominance of the railway works. There was no room for any other industry that might have used the railway on a commercial basis, so all development came from a single employer. It was good while it lasted but there was no diversity from which to develop Wolverton into a different kind of town.
The second station, which lasted for 40 years, was probably the finest of the Wolverton Stations. It opened in 1840 and probably enjoyed its heyday for a decade or so. Over time, as well as the reasons given above, it became crowded out by workshops and in 1881 the third station building, built at the level of the Stratford Road above the railway track opened for business. This one comprised a booking office on one side and a parcels office on the other. There were platform waiting rooms, but no refreshment services.
 The contemporary engraving of the second station, shown below, reveals a colonnaded, covered platform on either side with the up and down lines in the centre. The plan for the station and refreshment rooms however do show a roof over the railway track, presumably to protect passengers from the elements as they embarked or alighted. So this is an unexplained discrepancy. Either these covers were not built, or they were originally built and then taken down because of the smoke, or the artist simply left them out of the picture for artistic reasons.
This station took only five months to build but was fully featured with booking office, dining room, waiting rooms, ladies rooms and urinals at each end of the platform. There were kitchens and cellars on both sides and an ice house was constructed on the south side. To top it all there was a piggery and a small garden for vegetables.

The Second Wolverton Station 1840-1881

Sir Francis Bond Head, whose account may be found in full here , visited Wolverton in 1848 and left a very detailed and enthusiastic account of the Refreshment Rooms.
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”.[1]
The 1851 census details Mrs. Hibbert as already noted – then aged 40 and probably very much a “generalissima”, together with seven female assistants ranging from 26 to 16, three waiters in their early twenties and two pages, a cellarman and a cellar boy, a baker’s boy, two house maids, a kitchen maid and a scullery maid, two laundry maids, the still room maid, Eliza Garrett and of course the “Odd Man”, 22 year old Thomas Bettles and his 18 year-old brother Jeffrey, the garden boy.
The Refreshment Rooms were let to the Railway Hotel Company at a rent equal to 10% of the cost of building with a review of these terms every three years. The first manager was Henry Taylor, assisted by Leonora Hibbert, the housekeeper. The various cakes and buns were the work of Giovani Solati, the confectioner. The live-in staff totaled 21 in 1841. By 1851 Leonora Hibbert is fully in charge of the operation. Her husband James, absent from the 1841 census, was a railway clerk. The live-in staff amounted to 27 in 1851. I say live-in staff for although it was customary for servants to live on the premises where they worked being expected to work and be on call all hours, There must have been employment for local residents. Refreshment Room facilities were provided on both sides of the track, on the up line and the down line. Urinals were provided at either end of the platforms for men and waiting rooms for ladies. Sir Francis Head mentions an overhead walkway over the lines but my guess is that it was not there in the early years and is certainly not apparent in the early engraving reproduced here. Each side of the track was made up of four sections, a covered siding for the trains, a platform, public rooms, and the kitchen and scullery at the back. An ice house was built into the ground on the east side and from Sir Francis Head we learn that they maintained a garden for garden produce and reared some pigs:
To the eatables are to be added, or driven, the 45 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.
Mrs. Hibbert again features in Rambles on Railways by Cusack Roney, writing in 1867. He speaks of the late Mrs. Hibbert and her redoutable reputation, tending to reinforce the “generalissima” characterization. I have to say that I regard Roney as a somewhat lazy observer. He quotes heavily from Head’s account and tends to rely a lot upon second-hand information – at any rate, in regard to Wolverton. However, we can take Head’s characterization of her as a “Generalissima” as a very good clue as to the strong character who ran the Refreshment Rooms in their heyday At the time of Head visit, around 1847, the Refreshment Rooms still enjoyed fame throughout the land. They represented a new phenomenon and attracted attention in much the same way as the Fortes motorway restaurant did when it opened in 1960 at Newport Pagnell. The bloom faded of course, and the census records a gradual decline in numbers employed. When the time came to open the third station in 1881, no refreshment facilities were provided.
The plans partially reproduced below offer some detail as to the extent of the amenities. The large refreshment room is central and there are urinals for men at either end of the platform. The ladies have their own waiting room and toilet facilities. Behind all this is a large kitchen and scullery for the quite sizable staff already detailed. The plan below is for additional refreshment rooms for the down line. The up line refreshment rooms, the first to be built, were a two storey affair with a dining room at ground level and a drawing room upstairs. As these plans have been drawn for an additional hallway and staircase, they do not show the kitchen, nor indeed any living quarters for staff, so we must guess that they were there.

Plan drawings for the Refreshment Rooms
As we have seen, between 20 and 30 staff are recorded in censuses as resident at the Refreshment Rooms, and indeed it was common practice for servants of all types to live on the premises where they worked. The workers that we would nowadays call shop assistants or catering staff were universally regarded as servants in the 1840s and treated as such – that is, they were given accommodation and board, paid low wages, and were expected to work long hours. The down line building appears to be single storey with a basement of wine cellars and cold storage. These drawings may have been made for buildings on the up line. However, the drawing shows buildings on both sides at equal height and perhaps these conflicts in the available evidence cannot be resolved.

 A waiting room at Wolverton Station

On the occasion of the visit of Queen Victoria to Wolverton in 1845 the waiting room was redecorated. I am sure there was a lot of scurrying around to get everything perfect and the visit, being recorded by the Illustrated London News, gives us an opportunity to view the interior. From the plan this room looks as if it was the upper drawing room shown in plan form above, and it looks very comfortable and pleasant – a far cry from the dingy waiting rooms the railway traveller might encounter a century later.

Here is one photograph, taken circa 1860, which although its subject is a steam engine, shows the kitchens of the station in the background.

The First Station

Although the first trains from Euston took 3 hr 15 minute to reach Wolverton there were not many stops. The first station was Harrow,  just 8 miles from Euston, then Watford, at the time a small town of under 3,000 people. They built a station at Boxmoor to serve Hemel Hempstead and another at Berkhampstead. By the time they reached Tring they were only 30 miles from London. The only stop between Tring and Wolverton was Leighton Buzzard. Bletchley had not been built. Wolverton was the half way point between London and Birmingham and for this reason was chosen at the service depot.

The first station was not a grand affair and was built on the embankment to the north of the canal. It must have become quickly apparent that it was inconveniently located and the Board soon resolved to build a more splendid station at the southern end of the new town.  Wolverton was not the only example of this early siting of stations. The temporary station at the infamous Denbigh Hall was one such, and Blisworth was provided with a similar arrangement. A drawing of this first station survives and here we can see a representation of a double flight of stairs that probably made it unpopular with passengers.

The drawing is not entirely satisfactory. The Binns and Clifford survey of 1840 shows a Goods Shed beside the wharf where the hoist has been drawn and a pumping station on the other side of the railway line. The large building on the left appears to have the height and dimensions of a pumping station but it is closer to the wharf near to where the Goods Shed was actually located and may be a representation of that Goods Shed.
In fairness it must be said that the original illustration in Thomas Roscoes “The London and Birmingham Railway” was about half the size represented here and was not indended to offer much detail.
The station lasted from 1838 to 1840.