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, 1836
He died on 1 February 1878, aged 85.
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.”
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.