A Historical Tour along the Stratford Road – 1

When New Wolverton, or Wolverton Station as it was first called, was built in 1838, the Stratford Road as we later knew it did not exist. The road from Newport Pagnell to Stony Stratford skirted the hill and followed the line of the Old Wolverton Road. The new railway housing filled a narrow strip of land that was bordered on the west side by Creed Street. The rest of the land was farm land still under the control of the Radcliffe Trust.

It is possible to walk along the Stratford Road, from east to west and see the progress of building the town from 1840 to the present day. Let me take you on this tour.

There were three early encroachments on this farm land: the school on the corner of Creed Street, built in 1840; the Royal Engineer, a little beyond that built in 1841, and the Church of St George’s, built in 1846. The Royal Engineer became the start of the Stratford Road, but its construction was more-or-less accidental.

When the Radcliffe Trust sold land to the London and Birmingham Railway it was subject to the condition that they built no inns or hotels. I suspect they were primed by some of their Stony Stratford tenants in this regard and shortly after the line opened Joseph Clare, proprietor of the Cock Inn at Stony Stratford in partnership with John Congreve, a Stony Stratford solicitor built the Radcliffe Arms in 1839 on land they had leased from the Radcliffe Trust on the site of Wolverton Park Recreation Ground. It was opposite the first station and no doubt Messers Congreve and Clare expected to make a killing. They were taken by surprise when the railway company two years later dismantled the first station and built a new one to the south of the canal. The Radcliffe Arms was isolated and became progressively more so as the railway works developed. The shocked pair of entrepreneurs made representations to the Radcliffe Trust who reduced the rent on the land occupied by the Radcliffe Arms and leased an acre of their own land on the western edge of Wolverton Station. Thus the Royal Engineer came into being in 1841.

This plan here, drawn in December 1861, shows the Royal Engineer buildings and yard at that date. The block on the right, marked “1”, is the site for Number 6 Stratford Road, which I will come to tomorrow. The space in between, now filled with four lock-up shops, was not built until the end of the 19th century.
So this building, which has been a restaurant for a number of years, is the oldest building on the Stratford Road and one of the few surviving from the 1840s. For 20 years it stood on the edge of a field and there was no Stratford Road in existence.


Shop Window Display from Hobbies, 28 Stratford Road

One of the great boyhood pleasures from the 1950s was building model aeroplanes from balsa wood, thin plywood and tissue paper. Usually this was an activity for a cold and wet winter’s day. Inevitably this meant taking over the kitchen table.

Lake Brothers, at 28 Stratford Road, as Wolverton’s retailer of such kits, was therefore a favourite destination during my early teens when I was interested in such things.  Lakes covered quite a range. It was an ironmongery and you could buy paint, wallpaper, tools and wood. They also sold shotguns and I think the rather fine glass cabinet in the window was used to keep shotgun cartridges under lock and key. It was probably because they sold guns that the entrance had a wrought iron locking gate. Of more interest to me as a boy was the range of models kits.

Keil Kraft (and you can see a box in the picture) were the premier company for this kind of model building. The kits were designed by stamping out sheets of balsa wood with the necessary struts. These could be easily cut using a Swann-Morton or Xacto knife. If plywood reinforcing sections were required in the model they were pre-cut shapes. The balsa struts were glued together with Balsa cement – a transparent glue made from plastic dissolved in acetone. It’s probably not on the market today in this form.

Once the frame had been assembled, it was covered with tissue paper, held in place with wallpaper paste, I think.  What followed was the dramatic part. A cellulose product, which came in small jars, was painted onto the tissue paper, which immediately became transparent. It dried quickly leaving a reasonably tough skin on the fragile tissue paper. It was known as “dope”

I am set to wondering today if these products are still available to children. You know, Health and Safety and all that. They were certainly highly aromatic and I think there were instructions about using in a well-ventilated area, but nobody back then bothered too much about potential health risks. These things we took in our stride, and I am, after all, still alive to tell the tale.

In some respects the times were more innocent. A friend and I decided one day to try our hands at making gunpowder, so we went off to Dales the Chemist and bought a few ounces of salt petre, flowers of sulphur and scraped some soot out of the chimney for the carbon component. Then we set about making gunpowder in the garden shed at my friend’s house. I have to tell you that we were unsuccessful. We got the salt petre to burn, but we never got the ingredients in quite the right proportions to produce a satisfactory explosion. Probably just as well.

Well, we were kids and we were curious, but what amazes me, looking back, is that we were able to get the chemicals we needed from our local chemist with no questions asked!

I’m pleased to see that Lake Brothers shop has survived in some form and the present owners are to be commended for respecting tradition with their window display. After the Lake Brothers retired, their long term employee, Vic Old, took over the shop and ran it until his own retirement.

Keil Kraft closed as a factory around 1980. I don’t know why, but perhaps they did not change with the times. In the late 1950s Airfix made their appearance in the market place with cast plastic model kits that could satisfy the model building urge and provide more detail and possibly more authenticity. The Keil Kraft models reflected the first half of the 20th century. Some of the Keil Kraft aeroplanes were powered with a twisted rubber band which would allow the plane to fly from a hand launch for a few yards. Inevitably they crashed and needed repair and maintenance. More satisfactory, were the little 1 cc petrol engines that powered the craft.. These were controlled with two wires held by hand which allowed the model plane to fly around in a circle, while the controller could move the ailerons and make it soar and swoop. I think radio controlled model planes were beyond most people in those days.

Liverpool Connections

When I was writing about McCorquodales it occured to me that there was more than one Liverpool connection with Wolverton.

Brabazon Smyth Stafford, the Works first chief accountant, came to new Wolverton in 1838 and stayed until his retirement, whereupon he went to Liverpool.

Hugh Stowell Brown worked in Wolverton as a boy and young man from 1840 to 1843. He then went on to some fame as a Baptist preacher in Liverpool, where a statue was erected in his honour. His autobiography gives us several very interesting insights into the early Wolverton.

Edward Bury, Wolverton’s first Locomotive Superintendent established his locomotive building works in Liverpool.

George McCorquodale, as I wrote the other day, was also a Liverpool man.

Changes in the Stratford Road

The first photo was probably taken mid-1960s with a telephoto lens – hence the foreshortening. McCorquodale buildings are on the left and of course the wall continues endlessly throughout Wolverton.
On the right you can see the Regent petrol sign at Michael Pages Garage at the corner of Jersey Road. Beyond is the old sign for the Craufurd Arms.
In the 1960s there was a huge increase in the volume of traffic on the Stratford Road as freight moved from the railways to the road and large trucks, known as “juggernauts” thundered down the road, shaking the house foundations.
Post Milton Keynes, new by-pass roads left the Stratford Road more-or-less open to local traffic only.

Some of the roof lines on these Stratford Road houses have changed and the lamp standards are newer. The north side has undergone a complete transformation with steel and glass buildings replacing the Victorian redbrick.

What is this box?

In this picture (which I featured yesterday) there is a big box standing in the middle of the pavement behind the foreground figures. What could it be?

If I tae the lamp post as a fixed reference point, the box may be opposite the old Post Office. (I am assuming here that lamp posts will always stay in roughly the same position even if they are replaced.) If this photo was taken before the Post office moved to Church Street, this box may have something to do with that.

I’d be interested in any ideas or suggestions.

A Street photographer in Wolverton?

Years ago when film was expensive and cameras were a luxury item there was  phenomenon known as Street Photographers. They were enterprising chancers who would snap passers by and give them a ticket. If they wished, they could pick up their photo a couple of hours later from a booth somewhere. Usually you found these types at seaside resorts or in London’s tourist areas.

I was reminded of this by Lee Proudfoot who has kindly shared some photos with me. They were probably taken in the 1930s. The first one here of my grandmother walking past Sigwarts and the North Western, probably on her way to the London Central Meat butchers, next to Muscutt and Tompkins. You can see the number written on the negative as the photographer’s reference. The size of each image is 2 3/4 x 3 1/4, so probably taken on a 120 roll film.

Now I can’t imagine my grandmother bothering with any of this. They had a camera which was used for holiday photos etc and there are a number of studio portraits in the box of old photographs. This one is a bit of an anomaly. I would therefore suspect that the photos were snapped on the offchance of a sale, sample images, such as this were done as contact prints in the hope of the sale of an enlargement. I don’t know if there was a cost to the customer of picking up the sample, but there is no evidence that my grandmother ordered a photograph.

Annie Moore walking past North Western

The same may be true of these photographs from Lee Proudfoot’s collection, as you can see the number marking on the right hand corner of one of them.  These photos were obviously taken on different days, so whoever was taking the photos was there for more than one day. Possibly he (I asuume “he”) was a local photographer trying to drum up some business, although the photo in my possession has no name or address markings on the back. It strikes me that as a business enterprise this activity was doomed. The London and Seaside street photographers had some advantages in that they were picking out tourists who might want a memento of the occasion. Photographing residents of Wolverton in their familiar surroundings doesn’t appear to me to have a lot of business potential.

Gertrude Old and Renee Moore beside North Western

Renee Moore walking along the Front

The photographs are valuable as a record of “The Front” in the 1930s. You can note the wicker shopping baskets, the old-style push chairs and the fact that people dressed up to go shopping.

You can also get a glimpse of the “Little Streets” in the distance and the frontage of the North Western is different from its present appearance. Cars were scarce.

The McCorquodale’s Strike of 1915

I watched a film a while back based upon the efforts of Dagenham women workers to get equal pay with men. It was a good story and it was well told but you would come away from this film believing that this was the first time women had taken industrial action. This was the 1960s but in 1915 the women of McCrquodales at Wolverton were out on strike for better pay and conditions.

This was the period of the Great War of 1914-18 or World War I as it is sometimes known. Many men signed up and many unfortunately did not come back. The war changed Wolverton as many of its railway workshops were diverted to war production. The work load increased at McCorquodales because increased government activity resulted in increased demand for printing services.

These pressures were put upon the work force, which would have been fair enough, except that it was not fair enough. Women had  traditionally been paid less than men, the argument being that the man was the breadwinner and his higher pay took account of these responsibilities. But 1914 brought about a huge social change. The traditional bread winner was at the war front risking life and limb and their wives were left at home with the responsibility of making ends meet.

Ends could not meet. Living costs were rapidly rising and wages were – not for the first time – not keeping pace. The first representations by the women were largely ignored but the trigger for the strike came when it was learned that the relatively few men working at McCorquodales were being paid a ‘war bonus”. The women mobilised. Over 500 of them joined the Paper Workers Union.

The Wolverton Express reported:

The work girls and men at Messrs McCorquodale’s works were locked out on Thursday the 20th May, in consequence of a demand for a war bonus which it was alleged had been given to some of the men. Some 800 to 900 workers have been affected.

This photograph from the Living Archive collection shows the strikers on the Stratford Road. they appear to be very orderly and there are women with prams and push chairs and other children in the picture.

The “lock-out” was a favoured tactic of management at that time, believing that by punishing everybody the troublemakers would be quickly brought to heel. They eventually discovered that such tactics only served to unite the workforce against them. Sir George Askwith who had been appointed Chief Industrial Comissioner by the government was called in. He appears to have patted the girls on the head (metaphorically) and assured them that everything would be alright. On this assurance some went back to work only to find that management was not prepared to honour anything. They rejoined their colleagues on the picket.

I have looked in the archive of The Times to see if the strike got any national attention. It did not, and obviously The Times reporters had more interesting work to do than focus on a protest by women workers.

The National Union of Paper Workers was formed in 1914 and in 1921 it merged with another union. Apparently very few records survive from those war years.

Thus the McCorquodale’s strike has been buried in history. We know from the Wolverton Express that there was a strike and that it was eventually settled by offering the women a 7.5% increase for the duration of the war. 
The practice of paying women less money than men continued for many years after this but the strike of 1915 must be some sort of milestone in the march to equality. 

Wolverton: The Envelope Town

Wolverton was a railway town. It was founded on railways. Steam trains punctuated the day as they rushed past on the main line. Thousands of workers filled the Stratford Road three times a day. Those of us who grew up there knew it was a railway town. We  knew of housing built by the railways, recreation grounds built by the railways, churches built by the railways, our fathers worked behind the wall for the railways. How could it be anything else?

Yet, as I mentioned yesterday, after McCorquodales arrived in 1878, Wolverton had a second important industry and the McCorquodale plant at Wolverton was as well known and respected in the envelope manufacture and printing industry as the Carriage Works was in the railway industry.

But it was the fate of Wolverton’s second industry to never quite gain the respect of Wolverton’s first industry. Part of this was of course due to the relative size difference between the industries but other social factors were at play. Work at McCorquodales was only a career choice for a few – and these would be men. Women entered McCorquodales at a young age and mostly only stayed a few years. Marriage brought their paid careers to an abrupt end as they happily embarked on a future of child-raising and home-making. And I should add here, however much the present generation thinks that this strains credulity, that this was a contract that was willingly entered. The majority of women were happy to be Mrs Smith rather than Miss Smith. In fact McCorquodales at one time offered £10 as a wedding grant to those who stayed ten years and there is no doubt that this financial incentive caused some women to put off marriage for a few years. £10 was a deposit on a £100 house.

Colonel George McCorquodale started his stationery and printing business in Liverpool in 1841. His first expansion was to Newton le Willowsin 1846 where he built a large factory.

McCorquodales at Newton le Willows

There is a curious parallel with Wolverton. Newton le Willows was also an early railway town and at Earlestown they built locomotives and later wagons. Clearly George McCorquodale had an affinity with railway towns and it may well be that his successful experience at Newton gave him the confidence to set up at Wolverton.

The Wolverton factory opened in a building more-or-less at the bottom of where Jersey Road starts. At this time the western edge of the town was the back alley to the east of Cambridge Street, so McCorquodales at this time was a little way out in the country. The plant expanded westwards to the limits of railway property and even crossed the road with buildings at the end of Church Street. These have been demolished in recent years to make way for new housing development.

McCorquodales grew from printing for big industries like the L&NWR and in the 20th century worked on large government contracts – stationery, forms, postage stamps, postal orders, pension books and the like.

The Wolverton plant finally closed in the last decade.

Enter McCorquodale’s

For the first 40 years the L&NWR was the principal employer for Wolverton and District, and a successful and expanding one too. But the expansion was naturally accompanied by population growth and with it an emerging social problem. There was always work for men, but what about young, unmarried women who were living in Wolverton in increasing numbers with little to do?

Women did not have the choices in Victorian times that they do today. After school ended at 13 there were a few years to wait for marriage. Domestic work was socially acceptable, as was dress-making, lace-making and straw-plaiting, and they could also work as shop assistants. School-teaching was an occupation for a very few. Women were not allowed into offices until the twentieth century. Girls were a burden on the household until they married.

Smaller rural communities could absorb their girls in some of the activities noted above, and larger towns also had opportunities, but Wolverton was a working class town. There were no big houses or a sizeable middle class in need of domestic servants and in fact the censuses of the period show very few domestic servants employed in Wolverton. The Refreshment Rooms, which in its heyday employed almost 30 girls, was by this time on its last legs. Wolverton presented a unique circumstance in this regard.

Sir Richard Moon, whom I wrote about yesterday, had an idea. He approached his fellow Liverpudlian, George McCorquodale, with a view to establishing a stationery factory at Wolverton. Girls and young women could be employed in a socially acceptable environment. McCorquodale, who had been actively printing for the L&NWR since 1846, took up the idea and in 1878 opened his envelope factory at the western end of Wolverton. The new venture worked and in the 1880s 120 women worked in the factory. The men numbered 20 in total.

Sir Richard Moon

 Following from yesterday’s blog, here is an account of Richard Moon’s life from the DNB. Sir Richard Moon gave his name to Moon Street in Wolverton.

Moon, Sir Richard, first baronet (1814–1899), railway company chairman, was born on 23 September 1814, the elder son of Richard Moon (1783–1842), of Liverpool, merchant, and his wife, Elizabeth, who was the daughter of William Frodsham. The family of Moon was settled at Newsham, in Woodplumpton, Lancashire, before the end of the sixteenth century.

Richard was educated at St Andrews University, but left without taking a degree. He intended when a young man to take holy orders, but his father opposed this, and so he entered his father’s firm. He married Eleanor (1820–1891) daughter of the major shipowner, John Brocklebank, of Hazelholm, Cumberland on 27 August 1840. They had six children, of whom two died in infancy. Little is known of Moon’s early adult life, but he appears to have withdrawn from the family firm by 1851. However, his family had invested early in railway shares, and in 1847 Richard Moon was elected a director of the London and North Western Railway Company (LNWR). He became chairman in June 1861, holding that position until he retired in February 1891.

The London and North Western Railway Company came into being on 16 July 1846 by the amalgamation of the Grand Junction, the London and Birmingham, and the Manchester and Birmingham railway companies. The chairman of the new company was George Carr Glyn. The marquess of Chandos became chairman in 1853. He was forced to resign in 1861, and was briefly succeeded by Admiral Moorsom, who died in May of that year, and Moon was elected chairman. Since joining the board in 1847 he had established a reputation as an outstandingly able administrator with little time for the senior executives of the company. He brought about the resignation in 1858 of Captain Mark Huish, the first general manager of the new company.

Moon was essentially conservative in his outlook, but could be innovative when he thought it in the best interests of the company. He certainly ran it very tightly, constantly looking for means of cutting costs, but he could also spend lavishly if this appeared to him to be justified—for example, on the expansion of the works at Crewe. Annual receipts of the company rose from £4.3 million in 1841 to £11.8 million in 1891, and the dividend from 4.25 per cent to 7 per cent, while the network grew from 1030 miles to 1830 miles. The company was employing 55,000 men in 1885, and was, at that stage, the largest joint-stock company in the world. Under Moon’s guidance it became famous for the punctuality of its trains, the courtesy of its staff, and the creation of two new towns, Crewe and Wolverton; and in all of this he took a close personal interest.

Both the Grand Junction and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway Co. had reached Crewe before the amalgamation. The town began as a wayside station in the parish of Church Coppenhall, in Cheshire, in 1837. It was the Grand Junction that opened railway works there in 1843. The company set about building a new town, and this was continued after the amalgamation. It was administered at first from Euston, but the Crewe local board was formed in 1860, and the town was incorporated in 1877. The company provided everything: housing, water, gas, churches, and schools. It presented the municipal park to the town in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, when Moon was created baronet and became the first freeman of the town. Bessemer steel works were opened in 1864 and four years later the Siemens–Martin open-hearth furnaces were added. After 1864 carriage building was concentrated in Wolverton and locomotive building at Crewe, where locomotives were manufactured from raw materials, everything being made on site.

The London and Birmingham Railway Company had acquired 8 acres of land at Wolverton, a small village and parish in Buckinghamshire, in 1837. It began to build houses in 1839. Further land was bought in 1840, and by 1847 a new station had been built, and new streets laid out. As at Crewe, the company provided everything: housing, gas, a building society, a savings bank, market house, shops, and church, and opened a park in 1885. The company itself withdrew from building houses in 1860, preferring to lay out the plots and control the type and standard of those built.

Richard Moon retired from the board of the LNWR on 22 February 1891, his wife having died on 31 January. He died at his home, Copsewood Grange, Stoke, Warwickshire, on 17 November 1899. His eldest son, Edward, had died in 1893, and so he was succeeded in the baronetcy by his grandson, Cecil Ernest Moon, born in 1867.

Sir Richard Moon was described by his obituarist in The Times as ‘the hardest of hard workers and the sternest of stern disciplinarians’. He was said to combine ‘an assured confidence in the correctness of his own judgement with an autocratic spirit which hardly recognized the possibility of that judgement being criticized by others’. At the same time he was of ‘a singularly retiring disposition’ (The Times, 18 Nov 1899). He was Conservative in his politics, and remained a devout Anglican throughout his life.

Michael Reed