A New Book on Wolverton’s Railway History

175 years ago the first train, carrying important dignitaries, steamed to Wolverton from London to mark the opening of the new railway line to Birmingham. Well over 1,000 people walked, rode or took a carriage from Stony Stratford, Newport Pagnell and the neighbouring villages to witness this new phenomenon. It became the occasion for what the newspapers described as a rural feast. There was much celebration and the passage of this train was to transform Wolverton and North Bucks.
So what do we know about Wolverton in those early years? The answer is much more than you might expect. Wolverton was an important stopping point for the refreshment of passengers and a change of engines and this new town excited a great deal of national interest in its first decade.
Bryan Dunleavy has collected much of this material into a single volume which is now published in Wolverton’s  175th anniversary year as First Impressions: Contemporary Accounts of Victorian Wolverton.  The collection includes newspaper reports, traveller’s accounts, memoirs, Board minutes, letters, engravings, trade directory extracts, reports, journal articles, salary registers, census extracts. The intention is to provide eye-witness to the first decade from 1838. The result is an authentic picture of the new Wolverton as it appeared to early Victorians.

The paperback is 234 pages and retails at £10. It will be on sale in Wolverton from September 15th. If you would like an early copy you can place an order at 


More on the Radcliffe Arms

I’ve written about the Radcliffe Arms,Wolverton’s first pub, built in 1839 before. Mainly here. The evidence I had at the time was a little sketchy but as I have uncovered more I believe I have a more complete story.

As I wrote before, the new inn was built in haste soon after the opening of the railway and was open for business in 1839. A year later the railway company decided to build their permanent station south of the canal, rather than on the original site to the north. So in 1840 the Radcliffe arms was effectively stranded in what later became Wolverton Park.

I subsequently discovered a plan of Wolverton made in 1847 which showed the”proposed site for the new Radcliffe Arms” beside to the main road between the canal and the later third railway station. This made sense of course and I wrote about it in this blog post. The owners of the Radcliffe Arms were not going to make any money from a pub in the middle of a field. However I could not assume from this alone that it was built until I discovered this advertisement.

Northampton Mercury Saturday 20th July 1844

To Builders and Contractors

Wolverton Station
Plans and Specifications for BUILDING a new PUBLIC HOUSE, near to the Railway Station, WOLVERTON; or for REMOVAL of the present Public-house, called “THE RADCLIFFE ARMS,” and  RE-BUILDING the same, with considerable additions, in a more convenient situation, are lying at the Cock Hotel, in Stony Stratford, for the inspection of Persons willing to Contract for execution of the work.
Tenders for building an entire new House and for Removal of the present House (sealed up) to be addressed to Mr. Clare,  Stony Stratford, before the 2nd day of August next.

The advertisement would indicate that the original Radcliffe Arms had been closed up and was not functioning although it was certainly a very lively place when Hugh Miller, the Scottish writer, visited in 1844, and there are surviving letters talking about “disgraceful” scenes  at the pub.

The dates are still not easy to reconcile. The date of the advert of 1844 would  tend to indicate that building would not start until the Spring of 1845 at the earliest. And the Driver map of 1847 suggests that the new site was just that at that stage. So perhaps there was some delay and a change of mind about pulling down the original building. In the 1861 and 1871 censuses there are “Radcliffe Arms Cottages” recorded, which would suggest that the original pub was converted into housing.

What we might conclude is that a new Radcliffe Arms was built beside the Stratford Road and the first building was converted into four cottages. When the railway loop line was constructed in the late 1870s the “new” Radcliffe Arms was demolished. The original pub still showed on the OS map of 1880, but that disappeared within a year to make way for the new Recreation Park.

Murder of a 3 year old boy in 1851

This story comes from the Northampton Mercury of Saturday, August 2nd. 1851, and tells a rather tragic tale of Sarah Irons, who, if this report is to be believed, drowned her own three year old son. The drowned body of the boy was found in the canal on the west side, just beside the Surgeon’s house. This is now where the Secret Garden is. The body was left at the Radcliffe Arms over the bridge on the other side of the canal. This was more-or-less where the Park entrance used to be.
Sarah Irons doesn’t appear in the 1851 census in Wolverton, but a 23 year-old of that name was working as a cook in Stanmore. Her son does not show at this address but may have been deposited with relatives. Fromthe reports below it does appear that she presented herself for these jobs as a single woman and had obviously arranged for her son to be lodged elsewhere. This stratagem fell apart when the woman who was caring for the boy presented him on the doorstep of Mr. Rogers’ house saying that she could not keep him any longer. The Sarah Irons of Stanmore  could be the same woman.

Wolverton.— Alleged Murder.—On Monday last, Sarah Irons, a single woman, was brought in custody of Superintendent Driscoll, at the Magistrates’ Clerk’s office, Newport Pagnel, on the charge of murdering her illegitimate child, boy about three years of age, by drowning him in the Grand Junction Canal, at the Wolverton Station of the London and North-Western Railway. The Magistrates present were the Rev. George Phillimore and W. G. Duncan, Esq. It should be premised tbat on the previous Tuesday coroner’s inquest had been held on the body, and an open verdict of “Found drowned” returned ; but tbe circumstances of tbe case having come to the knowledge of the Magistrates of the district, they deemed it necessary that the affair should undergo further investigation. A. warrant was accordingly placed the hands of Superintendent Driscoll, who apprehended the prisoner in London on the following Wednesday evening. Mr. Arrowsmith, solicitor, of Newport Pagnel, attended for the accused. Several witnesses were examined, the substance of whose evidence will be found in the following narrative. It appeared that the prisoner had been in the service of Mr. Rogers, surgeon, of Wolverton, as cook, for a period of about seven weeks. On the morning of Saturday, 19th inst., John Tyler, a police-constable on the London and North-Western Railway, was going his rounds at half-past six in the morning, when he perceived the body of child lying in the water a short distance from the bank of the canal. The spot where the body lay was nearly opposite a small wicket gate opening from Mr. Rogers’s garden upon a narrow footpath leading along the canal bank—the towing path being on the opposite side of the water. The constable removed the body to the Radcliffe Arms Inn, and from some information he received, went Mrs. Rogers’s and saw the accused. He asked where the child was, and she replied at Bradwell. a village about a mile and quarter distant. On his stating his intention of taking her into custody, she said, ” I’ll tell you the truth, was taking the child to Bradwell on Tuesday morning, and being unwell, let go my hand, and fell into the canal. From the evidence of two of the prisoner’s fellow servants, seemed that the deceased had been taken to Wolverton some weeks since by a person from Bedford (of which town prisoner a native) with whom she had left it at nurse. It was afterwards placed with a party at Haversham, and finally with a woman named Franklin. The last named person kept it but a night and day, and then returned it to the prisoner, who concealed it in her master house. The last time was seen alive was on the night of Monday, 14th inst. It was likewise given in evidence that the prisoner had remarked it would be a happy release for her if the boy were dead. She had also been heard to say that she never liked the child, for she never had any love for his father. On the 17th inst., two days previously to the body being found, she appeared very merry, and accounted for by saying she had received a letter that morning informing her that she should have no more trouble about the boy. She had sold its clothes on this day to a rag dealer, and they were now produced by Superintendent Driscoll, and identified by both her fellow servants and Mrs. Franklin, who had the child at Bradwell. Messrs. J. S. Gent and J. M. Freeman made post-mortem examination of the remains they gave a very detailed description of the internal appearances, and both gentlemen were of opinion that deceased had not died a natural death, and that tbe appearances, congestion of the lungs, &c, were consistent with the fact that death had resulted from drowning. The prisoner having had the usual caution read to her, said she awoke about four on the Tuesday morning, and finding the child did not move or breathe, and not having the means to bury it, she took it to the canal and threw it in. She was then fully committed for trial the next Assizes, and Superintendent Driscoll was bound over to prosecute. The prisoner was soon after taken off to Aylesbury Gaol.

A more detailed account appeared on the same day in the Bucks Herald.

NEWPORT PAGNELL, On Monday last, a young woman named Sarah Irons, was brought before the Rev. Geo, Phillimore and W. G. Duncan, Esq., charged with the murder of her illegitimate child, three years of age. John Tyler, constable of Wolverton, deposed that Saturday evening, the 19th July, about half past six o’clock in the morning, he discovered the body of male child in the canal, near to the bridge which leads to the Wolvcrton Station from the Newport Road. It had on only a shirt. It had apparently been the water some days. There were no external marks of violence about it. Witness went shortly afterwards to the house of Mr. Rogers, the surgeon, at Wolverton, in whose service the prisoner then was, and questioned her about the child, which she said was at Bradwell. On his telling her that child had been found in the canal, and he had reason to believe it was hers, she said she would tell him all about it, and she then said that on Tuesday morning, she was going to take the child to Bradwell, when it slipped into the canal, and she was afraid to say anything about it. She afterwards made another statement to the effect, that on Tuesday morning she awoke early and found the child nearly dead, and that she took it down the garden and threw it into the canal. Witness took her into custody, and detained her until an inquest was held on the body, when she was released, a verdict of found drowned having been returned by the jury. Ann Harriett Whiffen, a fellow serv ant of the prisoner’s, stated that the prisoner came into Mr. Rogers’s service about seven weeks ago—about four weeks ago some one brought child to her at Mr. Rogers. She told witness it was her child. The woman who brought it refused to keep it any longer. The child remained at Mr. Rogers’s, with the prisoner, for one night, and the next morning she told witness she had taken the child to Bradwell. A fortnight ago last Saturday, the child was again brought back to Mr. Rogers’s to the prisoner. It remained there until the following Monday. It was kept in the prisoner’s bed-room, and the door was kept locked. Witness saw the child between five and six o’clock on the Monday evening, it looked thin and pale, but appeared as well as usual. The prisoner went to witness between 11 and 12 o’clock the same night and told her the child was ill. Witness went to the prisoner’s room, and found the child dressed and lying on the floor, with its head on a pillow, its mouth open, and it was making a choking noise in its throat. Witness did not stay long, and prisoner said if the child was worse she would call her. She did not do so, and at seven o’clock the next morning, on enqniring about the child, the prisoner said it was better, and she had taken it to Bradwell at five o’clock. On the following Thursday, the prisoner said she had received a letter from a person, and she should not have to pay for the child much longer. She would not tell who the letter came from. On the same evening, she said, it would be happy release for her if the child was to die. She said she had no love for it, as she had none for its father. About half-an-hour afterwards she said, all of a sudden, “it’s enough to make one think of doing what they wouldn’t do.” Witness saw the child, which was found in the canal, and has no doubt it is the child she saw with the prisoner. William Todd, groom in the service of Mr. Rogers, identified the child as being the same one had seen with Sarah Irons. She told him it was her cousin, and wanted him to take charge of it for 2s. a week, but witness declined doing so. Mr. J. J. Gent, of Stoney Stratford, surgeon, said that he was called in about 12 o’clock on Saturday, the 19th, to examine the body of male child, about three years old, which was stated to have been found in the canal. He made then merely an external examination. The general appearance was healthy. It appeared to have been in the water some days. The mouth was partially open, and the tongue protruding. The pupils of the eyes were much dilated. the following day Mr Gent of Stoney Stratford, surgeon, made post-mortem examination. On removing the scalp there was red appearance on its internal surface on the left temporal muscle, and immediately above and behind the ear a slight extravasation of blood was perceptible between the integuments and the cranium. The blood vessels were found generally gorged and tended. The vessels of the brain” were turgid, and in that part corresponding with the external appearances extravasation of blood was found, indicating that some injury had been inflicted during life, but witness did not consider it sufficient to cause death. The stomach was free from appearance of inflammation. The heart also was healthy. The lungs were congested, and there was escape of frothy mucus from the nose and mouth. Witness was of opinion that the child did not die natural death. Mr. Freeman confirmed the statement made by Mr. Gent, and was also of opinion that the child did not die a natural death. Witness thought if the child had been thrown into the water after death there would not have been congestion of the lungs or water in the bronchial tubes. Sarah Franklin, Bradwell, gave evidence to the fact of having had the care of the child a few days at the request of the prisoner, who told her it belonged to woman living at the station. John Daniells, a general dealer at Newport Pagnell, said that Thursday, the 17th instant, he bought a child’s frock and petticoat and a pair of shoes of the prisoner, at Wolverton. She said they belonged to the child she had asked him to get a home for the week before. Witness asked her where the child was. She said she had sent long way off, as she did not wish to be bothered by the parties who had the care of it. The prisoner, in reply to the charge, said the child died in her bed-room about four o’clock in the morning—that she awoke and found him very silent —he was not breathing, and being alarmed she dressed herself and put the child into a basket, intending to take it to Bradwell, but not being able to do it she went part of the way and turned back, and not having any money or any friends to assist her she was afraid of making an alarm, and not knowing what to do she put it it into the water, but she could say with a clear conscience that the child died a natural death her bed-room. She was committed to take her trial for wilful murder.

OnTuesday, March 2 1852,Sarah Irons was brought for trial at Aylesbury before a jury. Witnesses were sworn, including the local police constable, Tyler, and the evidence above was presented the jury. However, the jury chose to be compassionate and delivered a “Not Guilty” verdict.  What happened to Sarah Irons after that I do not know.

Wolverton’s First Builder – Charles Aveline

The title of this post is not true in any literal sense. Wolverton had builders going back to the middle ages and there were of course all the railway workshops and housing. However, these were built by outside contractors. Strictly speaking Charles Aveline was Wolverton’s first local builder.

Charles Aveline proves to be an interesting character, very much the entrepreneur, and at the very beginning of the New Wolverton was able to seize the business opportunities it offered. 

He was born in Leighton Buzzard in 1829, the son of a cabinet maker, George Aveline. He had an uncle Frederick established in the same line of work in Stony Stratford. His grandfather and uncle Samuel also were cabinet makers in Great Horwood. Young Charles therefore began his business with a set of skills, knowledge of the business and possibly some material support from his father. He also had an aunt who married into the Barter family who owned, amongst other things, the wharf at Old Wolverton. I don’t imagine he had much difficulty in accessing capital.

We are told that Charles Aveline built the new farmhouse at Stacey Hill in 1848. This is probably what brought him to Wolverton and one suspects that he got the nod rom the Radcliffe trustees  through the contacts of his uncle Frederick and the Barter family. It is astonishing that he was under 20 at the time and if this was his  first building project it was very adventurous. (See my footnote below.)

Stacey Hill Farm as it appears today

In the 1851 Census he shows up in two of the shop units on Bury Street, numbers 385 and 386,  as a cabinet maker, furniture dealer and undertaker.  Aveline was visiting relatives in London on the day of the 1851 Census so he does not show up in Wolverton on that date, but the trade directories of the period show him as very much a commercial presence in Wolverton. 

In the next decade there were no building opportunities in Wolverton. The land had been used up and the Radcliffe Trust were not minded to allow expansion. New Bradwell was built by outside contractors. So for a period Aveline’s building career was put on hold.

In 1860, when new lots were opened up on the Stratford Road and Church Street he was able to resume his building activities. He almost certainly built the first new house on the Stratford Road, now numbered 6, 7 and 8, which he inhabited. He also took on the job of  postmaster and I think the Post Office was managed by his wife and eldest daughter. The Post Office was at Number 6 and next door was leased to a grocer.  Wolverton’s Post Office remained at this location until the Aveline retired and it moved further west, next door to “Foster’s Corner.” The General Post Office was built on Church Street in the 1930s.

The First Houses built on the Stratford Road

I cannot directly attribute specific houses to Aveline but one suspects that a number of the houses along the Stratford Road and Church Street built in the 1860s and 1870s originated with him. In 1881 Aveline was employing 23 men according to the census entry, so his activities must have been quite extensive. His name also turns up as the maker of a number of monuments in St George’s churchyard. 

A View from the Radcliffe Street corner, c. 1910

There were two sons and two daughters born to his wife Ann. She died in the 1880s and Charles remarried. In or around 1890 he retired and moved to Bedford. His eldest son George became a land agent near Liverpool and his youngest son Charles Henry became a furniture dealer in Bishop’s Stortford. Charles senior died in 1914 at the age of 85 and left £9,692 0s 8d in his will – a significant sum for those days.

(A footnote to the building of Stacey Hill Farmhouse. I was told some years ago by Bill Griffiths, Director of the MK Museum, that the farm was built by Charles Aveline. I have seen no documentary evidence. I raise a question here because of the youth of Charles Aveline in 1848. While it is not improbable that he built it, it does suggest that he had not only mastered the skills of building at a precocious age, but also had made a powerful case to convince the Radcliffe Trust land agent that he could successfully do the job. I wonder, for example, if Aveline might have been responsible for later additions but not the original building.)

Stacey Bushes Farm

Farms, as such, probably emerged in 1654 when the land enclosure was finally completed. Stacey Bushes farm is very remote from Wolverton so we might speculate that there had been some operation on this site prior to that. Nearby Bancroft was a much more ancient farming settlement and it is unlikely that the land in this area was ever completely abandoned.  The land that slopes down to Bradwell Brook, although a heavy clay soil, is quite good for arable farming, although the uplands, mostly bush and at one time common land, was used for grazing livestock.

The farm house and outbuildings was located on the north side of Bradwell brook and it can be seen on early maps. This map from 1825 shows its location clearly.

The earliest records of the farm date from 712-13 when the Wolverton estate was up for sale. A careful inventory of all the assets, including the farms and their rents, was compiled and at this date the tenant was William Harding. he held 289 acres for an annual rent of £180. This was not an insignificant amount of money in 1713. Those who were dependent on the parish for welfare would be paid from 1/6d to 2 shillings a week; if they were sick or disabled or widowed in the long term this would amount to no more than £5 a year. Against this figure £80 was a large sum.

But no doubt William Harding made more than enough money in the year to pay his rents and his workers an provide for his family. He was probably, among the five other farmers and some of the innkeepers on Stony Stratford High Street, a member of Wolverton’s small middle class.

Nevertheless this was not a good period for farmers. The years 1725 to 1728 were extremely wet and yielded poor harvests, and even the years before that were not especially productive. The farm did not stay in the Harding family and after 1722 it was leased to Richard Gleed. Possibly his son William took over but since he had taken over part of what was to become manor Farm, it is possible that the Gleed family interests moved to the more fertile land in the north. At any rate richard Godfrey took on the tenancy in 1766.

The tenancy after that is not altogether clear but in the 19th century the Battams family, who also had interests in the inn trade, appear as  tenants. Thomas Battams was the tenant at the end of the 18th nd beginning of the 19th century and it was probably when William Battams, either his son or grandson,  was a tenant  that a decision was taken in 1848 to build a completely new farmhouse on the hill at the centre of the farm.

The reasons for this decision are not completely clear from the mites but it seems that the old farmhouse was past saving and a new build was necessary. It is possible that the farmer and the land agent felt that a more central location mad for better administration, and so Stacey hill farm came into being and the old Stacey Hill Farm was demolished. I am not sure that anyone in the past bothered to look for any remnants of the old buildings, but if there was something there it is now lost to recent development.

The new farmhouse, which is now part of the MK Museum, was built by Charles Aveline, Wolverton’s first builder. I may have a follow up post on Aveline’s legacy.

The building today has been enlarged over the centuries.