Another Early Map of Wolverton

Sometimes little gems turn up in unlikely places. I found this plan, folded, in a box of Radcliffe Trust documents in the Bodleian Library
in Oxford. Let me explain why the plan was made and then I will comment on what it tells us.

The early inhabitants of Wolverton, having no back gardens, were given allotments. In the 1840s this was about the only way of organising your own vegetable supply, there being no greengrocers in Wolverton. The first allotments were laid out in the eastern field by the canal at some distance from the houses. However some of the Bury street residents, quickly realising that their back yards opened directly onto a field decided to help themselves. This is the field coloured in red on the plan. Some even kept pigs.

The farmer complained to his landlord, the Radcliffe Trust and the Trustees called in Mr John Driver to investigate and make a report, which he did on April 14th 1847. He did recommend selling more land to the LNWR for allotments, but his more sensational recommendation was to build a six foot hush brick wall around the railway property. This was to be built at the railway company’s expense and I suspect that it was never built.

What Mr Driver did leave behind is this interesting plan of Wolverton in 1847. The green coloured area was the extent of railway Wolverton at the time, although it may not be entirely up-to-date as the second Engine Shed, on the east side of the line was certainly started in 1845, and the Gas Works had also moved by this time. So there are some curious anomalies here. The Royal Engineer, for example, is outside Wolverton on Radcliffe Trust land. This is because it was a condition of sale to the railway company that no licences premises would be permitted on railway property. This also explains the location of the Radcliffe Arms in that field which later became Wolverton Park.

I have told the tale of the Radcliffe Arms before, where two enterprising Stony Stratford businessmen  took out a long lease on these four acres and rushed to complete their new hotel by 1839, next to the first railway station, only to learn the following year that the railway company had moved the station to a new location. The Radcliffe Arms was thus isolated from the town, and indeed travellers, but what this plan shows is that they finally had decided to build a new Radcliffe Arms beside the road. This is pretty much the spot where the third station was built n 1881.

We can also note from this map that the extension of Creed, Ledsam and Young Streets is about to start. Some rough pencil lines indicate the proposed terraces.

The new road to Stratford had been cut through in 1844 but the approach road to the station still comes from the west, as if carriages would come from the Od Wolverton Road. It seems that this was certainly the case when Queen Victoria arrived here to spend the Christmas of 1844 at Stowe. Instead of taking the new direct road she processed down to the old road and thence to Stony Stratford. I suppose the hairpin bend shown on this map caused some royal nervousness!

Wolverton’s First Brewery?

Brewing beer is an ancient and simple craft that doesn’t require sophisticated equipment and can be a cottage industry. In fact it was not until the 18th century, when larger breweries started up in London, that brewing began on an industrial scale. Inns and alehouses typically brewed their own beer and this practice was still common in Stony Stratford in the early part of the 19th century. As you might imagine quality control could be erratic. The specialist part of beer making, producing the malt, was made by maltsters who had the facilities for roasting the germinating barley. There were two maltsters in Stony Stratford.

When New Wolverton came into existence in 1838 there were new opportunities for those wishing to serve the drinking public. First into the field were Joseph Clare, owner of the Cock, and John Congreve, a Stony Stratford solicitor, who quickly formed a partnership to build the Radcliffe Arms adjacent to the site of the first station. In their enthusiasm to make a quick fortune they built too hastily, because the station was moved to the south in 1840 and the newly built Radcliffe Arms was isolated. (The full story can be read here.) They then prevailed on the Radcliffe Trustees to lease another acre outside Wolverton and they built the Royal Engineer in 1841.

One peculiarity that Wolverton suffered from the beginning is that the Radcliffe Trust made it a condition of sale that no licensed premises were allowed on railway property. I suspect the early intervention of Messrs Congreve and Clare behind the insertion of this covenant. Whether or not this is true or that there was some purer motive behind this clause, the fact renaming that both the Radcliffe Arms and the Royal Engineer were built outside Wolverton as it then was.

This was not a very good environment for brewing, or was it?

Let me briefly explain the Brewing Act of 1830. This was designed to encourage the drinking of beer rather than more harmful beverages like gin and also to break the monopoly that local magistrates had over licensing. The new act allowed anyone to brew beer and sell it on the premises on payment of a fee of 2 guineas (just over £2). By 1840 some 45,000 people had taken advantage of the opportunity. Most of these places were known as beer shops.

Wolverton was a special case. With a population quickly equalling that of Stony Stratford there was clearly a market, but there was the issue of the covenant. Congreve and Clare had established a monopoly in public houses but this did not apparently stop the creation of beer shops, and therefore small breweries.

Thomas Carter, who had a small brewery in Stony Stratford on the High Street, moved to Wolverton in the early 1840s. It is not known where he set up shop, but since 8 properties were built at the north end of Bury Street expressly for shops it is likely that it was one of these. It was a retail as well as manufacturing operation and those who can remember the old off-licences, where people could take a  jug along and have it filled with beer will understand the set up. Thomas Carter, who was about 50 at the time, may, with some fairness be claimed as Wolverton’s first brewer.

 Also in the same period Benjamin Blakey had a beer shop in Wolverton. Neither man was there in 1851 so it would seem that their enterprise was short lived.

One who did prevail was a man called George Spinks. He was an early arrival in Wolverton and established his Locomotive Eating House at the very north end of Bury street beside the canal. He did not immediately establish a beer shop and the temperance-minded Hugh Stowell Brown wrote approvingly of him in his later memoirs. Spinks at any rate did establish a beer shop in the late 1840s and judging by the letters written by Congreve and Clare to the Radcliffe Trustees he must have been serious competition to the licensed pub owners. Beer shop owners did sneak in under the radar. The licence was granted by central government and magistrates had no power over them. The railway company did not care to get involved and Spinks and others were probably free to sell
unimpeded. The only recourse that Congreve and Clare had was to get the Trust to put pressure on the railway board. Eventually they did, and there are some letters written in the 1850s to ask the railway company to investigate.

Nothing immediately came of this and one gets the impression that the railway board were reluctant to get involved and to work on the assumption that on a technicality at least they were not breaking the covenant. Had they wished to so anything about it they had a simple remedy as landlords of the property that Spinks was renting, but plainly they chose to do nothing about it.

The matter was only resolved in about 1856 when three northern streets of houses and that part of Bury Street where Spinks had his shop were demolished to create space for more workshops. George Spinks then moved his family and his business to Lancashire.

By this time local brewing operations were no longer necessary. There were two breweries in Stony Stratford, one in Newport Pagnell and Phipps and NBC in Northampton had been established. In time many small breweries were absorbed and the idea of pubs brewing their own beer was out of date. However, for a brief period, Wolverton did have a brewery of sorts.

Wolverton in 1847

Wolverton station in 1847

This plan of Wolverton I discovered last week attached to a report to the Radcliffe Trust by a man called Edward Driver. It is dated April 17th 1847.

On of the issues that Mr Driver had to deal with was the encroachment on the field (here marked in red) by the residents of Wolverton who were setting up allotments at the back of Bury Street. There were even pigsties, according to Mr Driver.
Mr Driver’s recommendation was to sell the field marked in red too the LNWR and build a high brick or stone wall around the railway property to prevent any further encroachments. He further suggested the sale of the two fields marked in brown. I am not sure that this sale was effected at this time, although it was done later.
The field coloured yellow was the one leased to Clare and Congreve to build the Radcliffe Arms. Most of this became the Park in 1885. We can here see a clear drawing of the radcliffe Arms and its approach roads. One curiosity here is the proposal for a new pb on this land, more-or-less where the station entrance used to be. As far as we kow this was never built.
All of the original streets are shown here, but you can see the extension of Ledsam Strteet and Young Street as pencil lines. These cottages were built in these years, as was the short extension of Creed Street, which was mainly shops.

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.

“Northampton’s Loss, Wolverton’s Gain” An early Urban Myth.

Wolverton as a railway town was an accident. I think I can safely say that. The original planned route from London to Birmingham would have taken the line closer to Buckingham and had this proceeded no line would have come close to the old village, but once the new route had been forced on Stephenson the course of the line took it through the Wolverton estate. If a station were to be erected there it would be with the intention of serving Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell. Most of the towns on the new line were quite small. Leighton Buzzard, with a population of 3,500, and larger at the time than Watford, was by far the largest community. The only significant centres were Northampton and Coventry, and given Northampton’s size and labour pool, it may have made sense to the directors to establish their service and maintenance depot at Northampton. Housing and a local work force would have been at hand.  In the end this did not happen and the route went to the east of the town and a station was established at Blisworth. 

Within a very short time the railways transformed the way people did business and Northampton, in a few years, found itself at a distinct commercial disadvantage. Four miles, which seemed insignificant in 1837, now represented a significant amount of time. In edition, the cost of cartage added to the cost of purchase and distribution.  In 1845, when the Blisworth to Peterborough line was opened, Northampton got its first station at Bridge Street. Really, the town had to wait until 1875, when a loop main line began just past Roade cutting to offer an uninterrupted journey from either London or Birmingham to Northampton.

In the meantime the London and Birmingham Railway directors settled on the greenfield site of Wolverton, at the mid-way point between London and Birmingham and with a useful road and canal link already in place, as the site for its new engine depot. It also meant that they had to face up to building new accommodation for the workers, and like good Victorian businessmen who believed that everything was possible, accepted the challenge.

Wolverton was born.

It was not long before a story was in circulation that Northampton had turned down the opportunity to host the railway in favour of protecting the coaching trade. Hugh Stowell Brown, who was in Wolverton in 1840, mentions this in his autobiography and a Times reporter, visiting Wolverton to cover the consecration of St George the Martyr, came across the story and recounted it in his article, May 29th 1844,

The circumstance under which the town was called into existence may be worth relating. When the Birmingham Company’s bill was first introduced to the notice of Parliament it was proposed to establish a central station at Northampton, a town which, from its own importance and its central position upon the contemplated line, appeared to be a most eligible position fot the Company’s works. The shortsightedness of the Northampton people, all at that time engaged or interested in coach traffic, prevented the perfecting of the arrangements. After a vast deal of opposition, attended with great expense to all parties, they succeeded in forcing the Company to abandon their project, and select another spot on which to carry on their works. As there was no other town of sufficient importance eligibly situate on the route, the managers wisely sought a counterbalance for the disadvantage. They saw that if they lost some facilities by placing their station remote from a town, they would gain by the increased steadiness and regularity of their workpeople. Accordingly, Wolverton, a healthy spot, many miles from any place of public resort, was selected as a site for a large station, and there, as we said before, the Company have founded a colony of engineers, which is rapidly flourishing while Northampton is going to decay.

This is a good story and quite plausible. Why would a main line railway bypass a town of the size and importance of Northampton? Why indeed?

The problem with this story is not its plausibility but that other than these two anecdotal accounts, which were being repeated a century later, there is not a shred of factual evidence to support this account. The kind of information you would expect to find, correspondence between the LBR Board and the burgesses of Northampton is not to be found; there is not a single board minute, not a survey, not a single enquiry regarding land purchase. There is, in summary, no official record anywhere that Northampton was considered for the route.

David Jenkinson, in his book The London and Birmingham Railway: A Railway of Consequence, makes this observation:

This town (Northampton) stands on the Nene and to reach it, Stephenson would have to descend a gradient steeper than 1:330, though in all conscience not too much steeper; even so, he ignored it, preferring instead to head through Blisworth on a near straight and level alignment and cross the Nene at Weedon, albeit at the cost of a huge cutting through soil and rock at Blisworth and a not insignificant embankment and viaduct at Weedon. (p. 16)

The probable facts are that Stephenson and his associates in this new enterprise were more concerned about linking London and Birmingham than they were about picking up trade en route. The course of the whole line scarcely touches significant centres and even where it does the stations are a mile or more away from small market towns, such as Harrow, Watford, Tring and Leighton Buzzard. Weedon may have been deliberately selected because of the important military establishment but apart from that the Company may not have given too much thought to having a station in important medieval towns such as St Albans and Northampton.

Most likely it was the astonishing and immediate success of the railway that led people to hanker after a rail line and railway station of their own and the immediate issue was addressed by branch lines to  Aylesbury, St Albans and later Northampton. In the mean time the nearby station, even up to four miles away, was regarded as “their” station. Reporters for the Northampton Herald in 1838 noted with some satisfaction that Blisworth, “their station” was to be a first class station. Similar sentiments were expressed by Newport Pagnell about Wolverton.

Thus we have an early example of what we now call an urban myth. A short time after the railway opening people may have felt some surprise that Northampton had been by-passed; someone may have suggested that it was opposition from Northampton commercial interests that led to this state of affairs an the story grew in the telling. Wolverton people may have felt some pride in getting one up over the larger town and may have been only too happy to relate the story to the Times reporter in 1844, who clearly took this at face value. The story was also told to me by my grandfather over 100 years later, so this version was truly embedded.

Hugh Miller encounters Wolverton

Hugh Miller was a Scottish geologist and something of a polymath. He made an extensive trip through England in 1845 and later wrote about his experience. His destination was Olney, where the 18th century poet William Cowper had once lived. As you will read from this account he was quite shocked at his reception in Wolverton.

I took my seat in the railway train for the station nearest Olney—that of Wolverton.  And the night fell ere we had gone over half the way.

I had now had some little experience of railway travelling in England, and a not inadequate idea of the kind of quiet, comfortable-looking people whom I might expect to meet in a second-class carriage.  But my fellow-passengers this evening were of a different stamp.  They were chiefly, almost exclusively indeed, of the male sex—vulgar, noisy, ruffian-like fellows, full of coarse oaths and dogged asseverations, and singularly redolent of gin; and I was quite glad enough, when the train stopped at the Wolverton station, that I was to get rid of them.  At the station, however, they came out en masse.  All the other carriages disgorged similar cargoes; and I found myself in the middle of a crowd that represented very unfairly the people of England.  It was now nine o’clock.  I had intended passing the night in the inn at Wolverton, and then walking on in the morning to Olney, a distance of nine miles; but when I came to the inn, I found it all ablaze with light, and all astir with commotion.  Candles glanced in every window; and a thorough Babel of sound—singing, quarrelling, bell-ringing, thumping, stamping, and the clatter of mugs and glasses—issued from every apartment.  I turned away from the door, and met, under the lee of a fence which screened him from observation, a rural policeman.  “What is all this about?” I asked.  “Do you not know?” was the reply.  “No; I am quite a stranger here.”  “Ah, there are many strangers here.  But do you not know?”  “I have no idea whatever,” I reiterated; “I am on my way to Olney, and had intended spending the night here, but would prefer walking on, to passing it in such a house as that.”  “Oh, beg pardon; I thought you had been one of themselves: Bendigo of Nottingham has challenged Caunt of London to fight for the championship.  The battle comes on tomorrow, somewhere hereabouts; and we have got all the blackguards in England, south and north, let loose upon us.  If you walk on to Newport Pagnell just four miles—you will no doubt get a bed; but the way is lonely, and there have been already several robberies since nightfall.”  “I shall take my chance of that,” I said. “Ah,—well—your best way, then, is to walk straight forwards, at a smart pace, keeping the middle of the highway, and stopping for no one.”  I thanked the friendly policeman, and took the road.  It was a calm pleasant night; the moon in her first quarter, was setting dim and lightless in the west; and an incipient frost, in the form of a thin film of blue vapour, rested in the lower hollows.

    The way was quite lonely enough; nor were the few straggling travellers whom I met of a kind suited to render its solitariness more cheerful.  About half-way on, where the road runs between tall hedges, two fellows started out towards me, one from each side of the way.  “Is this the road,” asked one, “to Newport Pagnell?”  “Quite a stranger here,” I replied, without slackening my pace; “don’t belong to the kingdom even.”  “No!” said the same fellow, increasing his speed, as if to overtake me; “to what kingdom, then?”  “Scotland,” I said, turning suddenly round, somewhat afraid of being taken from behind by a bludgeon.  The two fellows sheered off in double quick time, the one who had already addressed me, muttering, “More like an Irishman, I think;” and I saw no more of them.  I had luckily a brace of loaded pistols about me, and had at the moment a trigger under each fore-finger; and though the ruffians—for such I doubt not they were—could scarcely have been cognizant of the fact, they seemed to have made at least a shrewd approximation towards it.  In the autumn of 1842, during the great depression of trade, when the entire country seemed in a state of disorganization, and the law in some of the mining districts failed to protect the lieges, I was engaged in following out a course of geologic exploration in our Lothian Coal Field; and, unwilling to suspend my labours, had got the pistols, to do for myself, if necessary, what the authorities at the time could not do for me.  But I had fortunately found no use for them, though I had visited many a lonely hollow and little-frequented water-course—exactly the sort of place in which, a century ago, one would have been apt to raise footpads as one now starts hares; and in crossing the Borders, I had half resolved to leave them behind me.  They gave confidence, however, in unknown neighbourhoods, or when travelling alone in the night-time; and so I had brought them with me into England, to support, if necessary, the majesty of the law and the rights of the liege subject, and certainly did not regret this evening that I had.

    I entered Newport Pagnell a little after ten o’clock, and found all its inns exactly such scenes of riot and uproar as the inn at Wolverton.  There was the same display of glancing lights in the windows, and the same wild hubbub of sound.  On I went.  A decent mechanic, with a white apron before him, whom I found in the street, assured me there was no chance of getting a bed in Newport Pagnell, but that I might possibly get one at Skirvington, a village on the Olney road, about three miles further on.  And so, leaving Newport Pagnell behind me, I set out for Skirvington.  It was now wearing late, and I met no more travellers: the little bit of a moon had been down the hill for more than an hour, the fog rime had thickened, and the trees by the wayside loomed through the clouds like giants in dominos.  In passing through Skirvington, I had to stoop down and look between me and the sky for sign posts.  There were no lights in houses, save here and there in an upper casement; and all was quiet as in a churchyard.  By dint of sky-gazing, I discovered an inn, and rapped hard at the door.  It was opened by the landlord sans coat and waiscoat.  There was no bed to be had there, he said; the beds were all occupied by travellers who could get no accommodation in Newport Pagnell; but there was another inn in the place further on, though it wasn’t unlikely, as it didn’t much business, the family had gone to bed.  This was small comfort.  I had, however, made up my mind that if I failed in finding entertainment at inn the second, I should address myself to hay-rick the first; but better fortune awaited me.  I sighted my way to the other sign-post of the village: the lights within had gone up stairs to the attics; but as I tapped and tapped, one of them came trippingly down; it stood pondering behind the door for half a second, as if in deliberation, and then bolt and bar were withdrawn, and a very pretty young Englishwoman stood in the door-way.  “Could I get accommodation there for a night—supper and bed?”  There was a hesitating glance at my person, followed by a very welcome “yes;” and thus closed the adventures of the evening.  On the following morning I walked on to Olney.  It was with some little degree of solicitude that, in a quiet corner by the way, remote from cottages, I tried my pistols to ascertain what sort of a defence I would have made had the worst come to the worst in the encounter of the previous evening.  Pop, pop!—they went off beautifully, and sent their bullets through an inch board; and so in all probability I should have succeeded in astonishing the “fancy-men.”

To understand what all the fuss was about, and for a full account of what happened in this sleepy corner of North Bucks, here is Sir Frank Markham’s account from his History of Milton Keynes and District.

But before this calm settled there was an event which made national news and which materially upset for a few days every railway official at Wolverton Station. Just before the advent of the railways, bare-knuckled prize fighting was the sport of princes. The pugilistic art had the warm support of the Prince Regent who was anxious to put down duelling as a solution to quarrels, and so the noble art of self-defence was encouraged. The ‘fancy’ or the ‘prize ring’ was at its zenith about 1830 but then began to degenerate. Prize fights became gathering places for the scum of a region – and such fights were only determined after scores of rounds when one contestant or the other was completely insensible – or dead. Parliament now banned what had become not only a brutal and murderous sport, but the occasion of public uproar. Consequently contests had to be arranged by stealth – but somehow the railway companies knew and ran excursions from all over England to the nearest station to the scene of the contest .
In 1841 the Championship Belt was held by Ben Caunt who had beaten W. Thompson (better known as ‘Bendigo’) in a some­what dubious fight. Bendigo was anxious for his revenge, and in April 1845 it was announced that police or no police the fight it would take place for a purse of £200 a side – a small sum, but the betting was soon of Littlewood proportions.
Ben Caunt was an ugly giant of a man, 6ft 2in and 17 stone, but he could train down to 14 stone. ‘Bendigo’, the nineteenth child of a poor but ferocious Nottingham woman, was a cocky fellow 5ft 9in and a thorough ruffian. He was the darling of the Midlands and Caunt was the hero of London and all around. Their managers agreed that the f1ght should be at a place half way between London and Nottingham, so they chose the demure and self-respecting town of Newport Pagnell, or the nearest ‘safe locality’.
The London & Birmingham Railway immediately put in hand plans for excursions from London, Manchester and Nottingham to Wolverton. On Sunday 7 September 1845 Bendigo and his party arrived at Wolverton and went on to the Swan Irlll at Newport. The Chief Constable for the Ncwport Hundreds promptly informed Bendigo that he had a warrant to arrest any­body breaking the peace. On Monday Caunt and his party travelled from London to Wolverton by train, and choosing the best accommodation in the area put up at the Cock in Stony Stratford. un the same day hordes of excursionists arrived at Wolverton from Nottingham, Manchester or London, and most walked to Newport. The Nottingham men had all brought ‘Nottingham twigs’ (cudgels) with them, and seemed to be a para­military formation. Between Newport and Stony Stratford any miserable dossing place in a barn was let at exorbitant prices – and the owner of any broken down old rattletrap charged a sovereign a head for the journey of a few miles.
On Monday evening Caunt’s manager suggested that since the Chief Constable seemed such an obstinate wet blanket, the fight should take place at Whaddon, four miles south of Stony Strat­ford just outside the Chief Constable’s sphere of influence. From here they could move to Northants or Oxfordshire if need be. Bendigo’s friends reluctantly agreed.
Meanwhile the prize ring commissary or master of ceremonies, with his cart full of gear, made his plans and on Tuesday morning, 9 September 1845, he set off from the Cock at Stony Stratford to Whaddon. A crowd of 5,000 followed him and at Whaddon the Nottingham squads arranged the ring and arena. But now the police interferred again. The Buckingham magistrates were determined to prevent the fight.
And now a superb solution was discovered. Five miles west of Stony Stratford was the sleepy village of Lillingstone Lovell which had only just been transferred from Oxfordshire to Bucks, and a mile away was the Northants border which was quite unpre­pared to resist invasion. Lillingstone Lovell was also the site of a previous championship match for the same reason, so that old hands knew all about it. It had been transferred to Bucks in 1844, but only for local government purposes, and not for police pur­poses. So off the commissary, his Nottinghamshire squads and thousands of spectators (now reinforced by fresh arrivals from Wolverton) went to Lillingstone Lovell. A 20ft square ring was erected. Around it was a 12 yard deep ‘inner ring’ which only the elite were supposed to occupy. But of course the crowd had other ideas and the disorder was immense, but there was not a constable in sight.
At last the two fighters, all knee breeches and stripped to the waist, the referee, umpires and seconds, were all ready. The fight began. We cannot describe it round by round as the television commentators love to do, for there were ninety-three rounds! Both men were battered almost into insensibility. Their hands looked like masses of jam. In the midst of pandemonium the referee gave the match to Bendigo, a decision that was hotly disputed then and long afterwards.
The mob now streamed off to Wolverton, thirsty and bloody minded. Every pub on the way was sold out. At Wolverton the railway officials closed the iron gates against the disorderly mob until their trains arrived. It is doubtful if anyone could have protected the refreshment room damsels against some of the demands the mob!
The whole event put the sporting world in an uproar but all reed that it was a disgusting and disgraceful exhibition. Newport Pagnell, Wolverton, Stony Stratford, Whaddon and Lillingsto­ne Lovell had seen some incredible sights and even the publi­cans did not like the crowd.
Since then Lillingstone Lovell has been a pattern village of the utmost good behaviour. Most visitors who go there now are ecclesiastical enthusiasts who admire the 13th century church with I5th century brasses which are worth seeing. As for Bendigo, he became a revivalist preacher.

Creed Street Shops

I’ve been working today on a drawing of those houses at the south end of Creed Street opposite the Church and the former Science and Art Institute. I should be able to finish it tomorrow.

The company built five  cottages here, probably in late 1841. Four of them appear to have been shops from the outset. They were numbered from 612 to 616 and were likely the last houses to be built in this phase of Wolverton’s development.
The corner building, detached from the rest of the terrace, was a bakery and I imagine it was purpose-built as such. It was much larger than the Bury Street bakery built a few years earlier. For most of the 19th century it was operated by the Walker family. John Walker and his father William were the first occupants and after the bakery in Bury Street was pulled down may have been the only commercial bakers in the town for a few years until the new bakery opened on the corner of Radcliffe Street and Church Street in the 1860s. I assume that many housewives still baked their own bread but a trend for commercially produced bread would have grown throughout the 19th century.  As the town expanded a new bakery started at the corner of Church Street and Radcliffe Street (now demolished) and a later one at the start of Church Street, known as the “Brighton Bakery”. The coop also built a large bakery on Aylesbury street at the back of its premises on the Market Square. But for a time John Walker’s family met the demand. After the Bury Street shops were demolished in 1857, the Co-op bakery moved. John Walker soldiered on until 1892 when he died at the advanced age of 84. Thereafter it was taken over by Hannah Smith, a 40 year-old widow, who employed a baker but ran the shop as a more generalized grocery.
The next four units were separated by a back lane.  William Lacey, ran a butcher’s shop. He was 42 at the time of the 1851 Census and probably established in his trade. He came from Bedfordshire. After his relatively early death before 1861 his widow, Lucy, carried on the trade for a while and then was succeeded by various butchers who ran this shop throughout the nineteenth century – none lasting too long. George Gilling. already described, had a shop at the south end of Bury Street, but he retired after 1857. As new lots in Church Street and Stratford Road expanded the town in the 1860s new butcher’s businesses opened in Church Street and the Stratford Road.
The next unit was residential and later in the century became the house for the church sexton. At the south end of Creed Street two buildings were always counted as one. 612 and 613. One side was used as a grocery store and the other  kept for residential purposes.  The street appearance was that of a single story building but as the land sloped back towards Ledsam Street the buildings were in fact split level. In my boyhood the former grocer’s shop was used as a fish and chip shop, open evenings and weekends and operated by Lloyd Billingham. In the photo you can see the exposed beams for the second floor and where the staircase used to be there is also an internal door surviving between the two units. The end house was quite large according to mid-twentieth century photographs. It is my surmise that the building was extended while it was a prosperous grocery store in the nineteenth century.
There were various occupants during the century: Richard and Charlotte West in 1851, James and Mary Harrison in 1861,  William Culverhouse in 1871, Daniel and Sarah Russell in 1881, Herbert and Sarah Chipperfield in 1891, Daniel and Sarah Russell in 1901. James Harrison is clearly designated as Manager of the Cooperative Stores during his tenure here but he is also to be found in later censuses as a grocer on Church Street. If he was still working for the Co-op then the Co-op grocery must have moved. However, subsequent occupants are obviously managers rather than independent grocers, so the Co-op may have retained an interest until Daniel Russell , who ran the shop in 1881, returned in 1901 from his period of work in Harpenden to take over this shop as an independent grocer.

Railway wages in the mid-19th Century

I have been looking at some of the old salary registers for Wolverton in the late 1840s. Most men’s weekly age was equivalent to the cost of a daily newspaper today and if you were very well paid, such as an engine driver, yur weekly earnings would buy you a coffee at Starbucks.
However these comparisons are not very meaningful other than to show how money has become inflated over a century and a half. It is more meaningful to look at the relative incomes of the time. Currency is expressed in pounds, shillings and pence. There were 20 shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling. So 10 shillings would be half a pound and 6s 8d. one-third of a pound.
Agricultural labourers in the 1840s could expect to earn 6s to 8s per week (and that was not always certain) so we can use this as a yardstick to measure Wolverton wages.
According to the registers Engine Drivers at Wolverton were paid between 6s 8d per day to 7s 10d per day so on a six day week they could expect to earn over £2. Firemen, who did the hard work of stoking the boilers were paid between 2s 8d and 4s 2d, giving a weekly income of over £1. Porters earned a weekly wage of 19s and tipping was forbidden. Policemen (i.e. men who did the signalling and point switching) were also paid 19s and their inspectors (the men in charge) paid £1 10s.
Clerical staff were much better paid. Babazon Stafford, the senior accountant earned £300 per annum and Alfred Blott, the Station Master, was paid £200 p.a. The schoolmaster, Archibald Laing, earned £100 p.a. and had a house provided. His female colleagues did less well. Emma Hassall, who taught the girls, was rewarded at £40 p.a. and Amelia Prince, the infants teacher, received a measly £30 p.a.
George Weight, the vicar, had a stipend of £50 and the Vicarage, but presumably he had other means to supplement his income.
All of this pales into insignificance beside Richard Creed, the Company Secretary, and Edward Bury, the Locomotive Superintendent, who were each paid a princely annual income of £1400 each.

Wolverton’s First School

Wolverton Station was in its infancy when the need for a school became apparent and so the London and Birmingham Railway built a school in 1839 on the corner of Creed Street and the Stratford Road. This sketch is my rendering of how the original building may have looked. There is some guesswork here. I have arbitrarily provided chimneys on the north side for example, although the fireplaces may have been centrally-place or on the south side.
There is little available in the way of fact. There is one detailed description of the school from the 1840s, a partial plan from 1845, a plan of the extended school buildings from 1861, and some trade direcory references. There are, surprisingly, hardly any surviving photographs from its 20th century use as a Market Hall. In any case, by this time the building had been much modified and extended. I only wish I had done this ten years ago; then I would have had the opportunity to inspect the original school building on the north side, which at the time was still standing.
On balance, I think I am close to the original.
The eastern wing, that is the central section, facing east and the south-eastern corner was the boys school. The infants school was at the western end and in the middle was the girls school. The southern building, still standing as the children’s library,  served, I believe, as the schoolmaster’s house.
In 1851 the schoolmaster was Archibald Laing. He lived in the schoolhouse with his wife, five daughters and a son. He was paid £100 a year. The school mistress for the girl’s school at this time was Emma Hassal. For her pains she was paid £40 a year and lived in lodgings. Lower down the pat scale, at £30 a year, was Amelia Prince, the infant school teacher. The attendance at this time was about 95 boys, 55 girls and 40 infants.
The main school building was about 70 feet long and 20 feet wide. There was probably a wall around the building but I have not drawn this.

The Lost Streets of Wolverton

When you look at this map (reproduced from Sir Frank Markham’s History) the design of Wolverton makes more sense than it did 100 years later. The streets are laid out parallel to the railway line and built either side of the workshops. The streets to the south of the new Stratford Road – Glyn Square, Young Street, Ledsam Street and Creed Street were still inhabited during my boyhood. They were known as the “little streets”. Garnet Street, Cooke Street, Walker Street, Bury Street and Gas Street surrounded the engine workshops.

Expansion was necessary and in the 1860s the L&NWR acquired more land from the Radcliffe Trustees and began to expand housing along the Stratford Road and the new Church Street. More momentous was the decision to demolish Garnet Street, Cooke Street, Walker Street, Bury Street and Gas Street in order to expand the workshops. In consequence all the shops that had hitherto located on Bury Street had to move. In my view this upset the balance of the town so that the commercial centre was on the periphery.