Suicides Bridge

The canal bridge immediately to the east of the Galleon Bridge was at one time known as “Suicides Bridge.” This was on the footpath at the western end of the works leading to the Pancake Hills. We can only guess at why this bridge became a favourite for attempted suicide, but of the three canal bridges around Wolverton this had the least traffic and may have been the most private for those contemplating their end.
One story that came out of 1915 concerned Mabel Timms, then 21 and living at 29 Green Lane. She was charged with attempted suicide, then a criminal offence. She had been going out with Charles Haynes of New Bradwell for about 3½ years. During the dinner hour on Monday December 17th he told her that he wanted to break off their engagement. She became extremely upset and, according to Haynes, she said she would not be going to work and he would never see her again. He told her not to be silly and to either go to work or go home. As she left him she went off in an agitated state down Church Street in the direction of Old Wolverton. 
That could have been the end of the story but a man called Leonard Rose of Newport Pagnell happened to be walking across the bridge a minute or so later. He was an insurance agent on his rounds. As he crossed the bridge he looked over the parapet see if ice was forming on the canal and instead saw a woman’s hat floating on the water. Immediately after he saw a woman’s head bob up above the water. She made no sound and he immediately struggled over the wall and hurried down the bank to the tow path. The woman came up again in the middle of the canal. Rose had been invalided out of the army with a gammy leg, and could not climb into the water. Instead, he grabbed a long ash stick and reached out to her. She flailed at it and it became entangled in her scarf so he was able to pull her to the side. She was unconscious, but he had learned artificial respiration while in the army and was able to bring her round. When she was strong enough he took her home.
The court took a benign view of the case and adjourned the hearing for three months, and, subject to her good behaviour, would make a decision at that time. Leonard Rose was highly commended for his action.

Grafton Cycle Shop

Some of us will remember the Grafton Cycle Company. which used the shops at the bottom of a three storey building to the west of the North Western. In the 1950s they sold Raleigh and Phillips bikes and possibly some other brands and by this time they had also added a petrol pump with an arm that swung over the pavement to fill up cars and motor cycles which were at the time becoming more popular. At the time that I used to wheel in my bike for repairs or the replacement of an inner tube, Owen Holman was the man in charge, dressed in a grey smock. There was no floor covering and the floorboards, at the time close to 100 years old, were grey and worn with use and marked with rubber and oil.
The Grafton Cycle Company was the brainchild of three Stony Stratford businessmen, Messrs. Downing, Hall and Woollard, who opened up the first shop at Woollard’s premises on Church Street in 1895. Bicycles were relatively new at that date and a number of small companies had jumped into the manufacture of these new and popular machines. Among the brands that the Stony Stratford enterprise stocked were Singer, Rover, Globe and Premier – names that were extinct a generation later. The name of this new cycle business was almost certainly taken from the Duke of Grafton who lived nearby.
The new company was joined by Alfred Allen joined in 1899 and a year later the business was transferred to 16, High Street. The Wolverton branch was opened in 1908 and in 1919 the Stony Stratford shop moved to 33, High Street. Percy Judge managed the Wolverton branch from the outset. It was a long day, starting at 5:30 am and remaining open until after the end of the working day at 5:30 pm so that men employed at the Carriage Works could leave their cycles with him during their working day. He lived above the shop until 1958.
Owen Holman joined the business in 1934.
Alfred Allen took full control in the early 1920s and his two sons, Albert and Sidney, followed him in the business. They remained in partnership until Sid’s death in 1952. The Stony Stratford branch then closed at the retirement of Albert Allen at the age of 65. His co partner and brother in law, Fred Hewitt, who had managed the Stony Stratford shop, then transferred to the Wolverton branch.
The company moved into motor cycles during the next generation and closed a few years ago.

George Cruikshank

Wolverton was visited by several famous people during the mid 19th century, when it was new enough and important enough to attract the “stars” of the day. One of these was a man called George Cruikshank, little known today but in his own time a household name.

He was born a Londoner on 27 September 1792, one of the sons of Isaac Cruikshank who was well known as an illustrator in the 18th century. Naturally enough for those times he followed his father’s trade, but once he had completed his apprenticeship he began to publish caricatures of his own. In his late 20s he then ventured into book illustration.

One of his favourite targets as a caricaturist was to portray King George IV in ridiculous situations. One one occasion he was offered £100 (two years’ annual income for many) by the royal household not to “caricatures royal majesty in any immoral situation.” It would be gratifying to report that Cruikshank was high-minded enough to turn down the money, but he took the bribe.

Cruikshank became the most popular illustrator of his day and collaborated with Charles Dickens on books, and in particular Oliver Twist.

His private life was, shall we say, colourful. He first married Mary Anne Walker, who died in 1849, and then Eliza Widgeon in 1851. After his death it was discovered that he had fathered 11 illegitimate children with a former servant, Adelaide Attree. She had been ensconced in a house nearby to his own.

George Cruikshank
George Cruikshank from NPG.jpg

George Cruikshank, 1836
When he was invited to appear at Wolverton in 1849 he was at the peak of his fame and his powers as an illustrator and in his later years the work declined in quality. nevertheless he created nearly 10,000 illustrations and prints in his lifetime – a remarkable achievement.

He died on 1 February 1878, aged 85.

Johnny Walker

John Walker, a baker at the new bakery on the corner of Creed Street was well known as a prize fighter, as was his eldest son, also John. This piece from the Bucks Herald Sat 9 Jul 1842 give us some idea how disreputable these fights were.


The thieves, pickpockets, and swell-mob fraternity mustered in stronger numbers than usual at the prize fight on Tuesday, between two fellows called Johnny Walker and Ned Adams. The affair had been appointed to come off close to Virginia Water, but there, and at two or three other places, the magistrates interfered and compelled the ruffians to ‘move on’. At length, after considerable time ha been spent in marching and counter-marching, the pummelling, which lasted nearly an hour and a half, commenced near the village of Bracknell. Walker, who was the winner, appeared but little hurt; but the nose of the other was split after the first few rounds and his cheek was “cut open” to a great extent. The fight it is sidewise got up by a “sporting viscount” (who had heavily backed the winner). The most barefaced robberies were committed in the vicinity of the ring during, and especially immediately after, the fight. Regularly organised gangs of from 15 to 20 each under a fellow who acted as their leader, robbed everyone who had the least appearance of respectability, without let or hindrance, of money, watches, and indeed of every thing of value they possessed, and which they were fools enough to take to such a gathering as a “prize fight.”

He was about 40 when he came to Wolverton and presumably his best fighting days were behind him. One assumes that he had made enough money from this brutal pugilism to establish himself in business. He was born in the parish of St George the Martyr in Southwark, exactly the same place that George Weight, Wolverton’s first vicar, had worked as a curate. Was this coincidence, or did George Weight’s move to Wolverton a few years earlier generate some interest in the Walker household?

He must have been a tough old character because his bruising youth did not appear to have shortened his lifespan. In fact he live beyond the average for the era, dying at Wolverton in 1892 at the age of 84, still baking to his last days. His widow was his second wife and was 30 years younger, The sons and daughters had long ago moved on and nobody wished to inherit the business. In 1901 the shop was run by the widowed Hannah Smith as a grocer but it seems that she kept the bakery going as she employed 25 year old Arthur Lovell as a “bread maker”. 10 years later she was operating the place as a corner shop selling sweets.

Once in the fight game it may be difficult to leave it alone. The Northampton Mercury reported on September 10th 1859 on the death of a 25 year old Albert Whyman during a fight at Wollaston. The fight started as a quarrel outside the Nags Head at closing time and because of the noise the landlord cleared them away and the crowd, larger now, trooped off to a nearby field. As the fight started men took sides and presumably money changed hands. John Walker is described as the “backer” of the unfortunate Wyman.

It appears that Whyman was getting the better of the fight until his opponent swung one punch to his head, which felled him and from which he failed to recover. The opponent, one George Whyte, was committed to trial for manslaughter. John Walker was given a warning by the magistrates and released.

The start of New Bradwell

This minute from the LNWR Works Committee minutes of March 9th 1853, considers the tenders for the new development at Stantonbury. The average cost of building is £200 each.
While Crewe and Swindon were able to expand with the growth of their industry, Wolverton was restricted by the refusal of the Radcliffe Trust to allow any more expansion. The natural expansion of Wolverton was to the west and south, and in the end this is how it turned out. But in the 1840s the Trust became uncomfortable with their new neighbour and resolved to sell no more land to them. Various representations were made by the railway company but the Trustees were intransigent.
Part of the problem lay in the fact that they were a Trust with responsibilities to the recipients of their income (the Radcliffe Library and the Radcliffe Infirmary at Oxford) and their farming tenants. A stable income was more important than windfall capital. It was not at all apparent in the mid 19th century that farming income would not continue to be the lifeblood of the economy.
In some frustration the London and Birmingham Railway Company cast their eye on the land to the east, at the time completely undeveloped. It was owned by Earl Spencer and he was quite willing to do a deal. So it was that Wolverton’s first expansion became three streets below the canal, first known, rather up imaginatively as ‘Top Street, Middle Street and Bottom Street.’ Later they were renamed as Bridge Street, Spencer Street and High Street.
The first community had no special name but was generally referred to as Stantonbury, largely because it was part of the parish of Stantonbury, where there was a church. Eventually the name New Bradwell was assigned to this new community.

The Science and Art Institute: Growth and Development

This view from Church Street of the old Science and Art Institute is a familiar one to those of us who remember the old building. It was by no means such an impressive structure when it was first opened in 1864. The early lithograph below illustrates the building as it appeared in the 1860s from Creed Street. It was about half the size of the later building.

In 1880 the local builder Charles Aveline added a porch on Creed Street as a second entrance. The main entrance at that time being on the west side.
At this time another wing was added to the south west, a two storey extension 41 1/2 feet long by 17 feet wide. The top floor was given over to a hall and below a lecture room and an office.
Eleven years later, on October 6th 1891 a much larger extension of the building to the west created the building that we recognise in the top photo. The extension measured 61 ft 9 in in length and was 39 feet wide. The ground level section was reserved for a reading room and served as an important library for the town until the opening of the County branch library in 1949. At this time a central entrance was created on Church Street with a porch. The western entrance disappeared.
Two years later the railway company added a gymnasium, probably the first facility of its kind in Wolverton. It was a lean to building on the south side of the original structure measuring 60ft 4 in by 21ft 2 1/2in. The interior was fitted up with “parallel bars, a horizontal bar, trapeze, ladder, slack ropes, Indian clubs, dumb bells, rings, a vaulting horse, single sticks &c.”
Over the new gym they built a chemical laboratory, again a first for Wolverton and for many parts of the country. Chemistry, although we take it for granted today, was very much the coming thing as a new industrial science. Victorian engineering had been largely preoccupied with mechanical sciences,  but Chemistry opened up new possibilities, such as battery cells for carriage lighting.
In 1896 they built a house on the western corner of the property. In later years it was occupied by the caretaker, but its first occupant was Mr Cadwallader, the Insttute librarian.