Wolverton Park and Recreation Ground

On the whole the L & NWR was a benevolent, if paternalistic employer. Although Stowell Brown was sharply critical of the Company’s provision of amenities in 1840, the longer view would suggest that that provision was relatively generous. We have to remind ourselves that for many years nothing in Wolverton was paid for by taxes – church, schools, reading rooms, roads, allotments were all provided by the Company. Of course the railway company was making very good money for a number of years and the early investors became very rich, but at the same time wages were better than average for those coming out of the agrarian economy and it would be fair to assert that for many of those early years Wolverton’s population was content.
To some degree Stowell Brown’s charge is correct, the company did provide, or at least sanction, pubs before churches or anything that he would consider was of a morally improving nature. This pattern was repeated in the Stantonbury development, when contracts for houses, a bakery and a butcher’s shop, and a new public house were all approved before the church and school.
By the 1870s the main line running through the railway works had become impractical and Sir Richard Moon, then chairman of the L&NWR, favoured a loop line. Approval was granted and another massive engineering project with a new embankment and bridges, together with Wolverton’s third railway station with its wooden booking hall built above the railway at street level. In consequence, a wedge of land that had previously accommodated Wolverton’s first public house, “The Radcliffe Arms” and some cottages, became redundant. It was bordered by the canal at its southern edge and flanked by embankments to the east and west, with narrow access to the north along the Old Wolverton Road.
The later Victorians were becoming more interested in sporting activities. One factor must have been the reduction in the hours of the working week, but another may have been the recognition that being confined indoors all day minding a machine may not have been as healthy as the lifestyles of an earlier generation. The pioneering generation of the 1849s walked everywhere, to Stony Stratford for shopping, from Stony Stratford, Bradwell, Cosgrove and Haversham to Wolverton for work, and, in the case of the Roman Catholic population, to Weston Underwood each Sunday to attend church, a round trip of 20 miles. Insufficient exercise was not a issue. Those who were keen to develop sporting facilities now saw an opportunity. Here was a useful patch of land which was of no practical use for farmers  and still owned by the Radcliffe Trust and therefore no available for workshop development.
Several men began to make representations, among them George Fitzximmons, the works accountant. Mr. Fitzimmons was an interesting and important community figure in Wolverton at this time. 
George Morland Fitzsimmons was born in Lancaster, one of several children of John and Charlotte Fitzsimmons, in 1846. His father was a railwayman, in fact, Superintendent of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, opened only two years before young George was born. He was educated at the Croft House School at Brampton in Cumberland before entering the work force. It would be tempting to conclude that he slipped seamlessly into a railway career, like so many of that second generation born into railway families, but he apparently did not. The 1871 census shows him working as a Tea Taster in York, where he was living with his older married sister. He was therefore a late entrant to the railway business when he turned up in Wolverton in the mid 1970s as a mature young man of about 30.
He lived in one of the villas, known as The Hawthorns, a single man with a housekeeper. He never married and kept his solitary status for his very long life which finally came to an end in 1938 at the age of 92.
Nevertheless he was not a recluse and once in Wolverton actively involved himself in the affairs of the community. He served as  Church warden at St George’s and was Vice Chair of the Burial Board. He was an active member of the Science & Art Institute management committee. He helped to set up the Wolverton branch of the 1st Bucks Rifle Volunteers, and served on its finance committee. He helped to establish a savings society for workmen and similarly helped to establish the Wolverton Building Society. He was also active in the rowing club in its formative years. Why he chose not to marry will remain unknown, but there us no doubt that he poured a lot of time and energy into community service. He also financed the rather elegant terrace on the east side of the Square in the 1880s, which bears his middle name of Morland.
Oening Day at the Park – Monday 3rd August 1885
The great opening day for the new Wolverton Park and Recreation Ground was Monday, August 3rd 1885. This was the August Bank Holiday and the community worked hard over the weekend to prepare for the big event. Bunting was brought out to decorate the streets. The Science and Art Institute, the Works and the Station were all bedecked with greenery and bunting and along the Stratford Road coloured poles had been erected (this pre-dates telegraph poles) and decorated shields were strung between them. The park itself was highly decorated and in the centre a large marquee was erected.
The event attracted enormous interest. According to one report, a huge crowd of 1,500 turned up for the occasion
The event opened in spectacular fashion by running a locomotive along the old main line beside the park. Detonators had been placed on the line at intervals and the engine thus made a noisy announcement as it travelled north. After this Sir Richard Moon made a self-congratulatory speech made about the importance of Wolverton and the future of the carriage Works. At one point Sir Richard Moon observed that the schools accommodated 2,000 children. This strikes me as a very high figure, but that was what was reported.
After all the preliminary speeches, the new Park was officially open and there were a series of sporting contests. The bicycle, which at that time was becoming mass-produced and practical, became an excuse for racing, and bicycle races featured prominently in the events. There was a race over 1 mile, another over two miles, and a third over three miles. The cinder track built around the grass oval was exactly a quarter mile. 
An early cycle race

Foot races were conducted over 120 yards, 200 yards and there was a 60 yard sack race. Strong men from the sawmill and wood shops, making up one team, and from the smithys and fitting shops, making up another, competed in a tug-o-war, with victory for the wood men.
At 8:30 there was a fireworks display and the Wolverton Rifle Volunteers Band played for a dance that evening in one of the workshops.

The start of a cycle race in the Park in the 1930s


I don’t believe that much thought had been given to provision for team sports at the park at that time. Rugby footballers continued to use the “Locomotive Ground” and cricketers and Association footballers used Mr Battams’ Big Field. That became an issue a few tears later, and that will be described in the next post.

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