History and Fiction

Three years ago I wrote about the balloon ascent that started from Wolverton in 1861, featuring the intrepid balloonists of the day – Coxwell and Glashier You can read about it here.

I read in the newspaper the other day that someone is now making a film about these 19th century pioneers, called The Aeronauts. Fine, except that for the film to be commercially successful, two white Victorian Englishmen won’t do. So Henry Cowell has been written out of the script and replaced by a young lady, who presumably will be a young, feisty, take-no-prisoners type, capable of all sorts of derring-do.

I make no further comment.

The Wolverton Balloon Event

After well over 20 years of planning the new Science and Art Institute was finally under construction and due to be completed. It did not actually open until 1864 by on June 21st 1863, to mark the scientific progress that the new institution symbolised, a balloon ascent was organised.

At this date this was the only available form of air travel and naturally this created great excitement. People came from far and wide to witness the event. Special excursion trains made their way to Wolverton from the north and south.The balloon was built by a man named Coxwell, who took part in the ascent. It was capable of holding 90,000 cubic feet of gas.

The Stratford Road was just under development and the site where the Tesco supermarket presently stands was still a field. Accordingly this was chosen to inflate the balloon. It took quite a while to inflate the balloon, presumably from Wolverton’s gas supply and when the balloon held about 66,000 cubic feet, just over two-thirds of its capacity, Cowell gave the signal to the many men holding the ropes to let go. According to a contemporary report the ascent started at two minutes past one and the balloon slowly and gracefully ascended and moved in an easterly direction. After about fifteen minutes it was out of sight and perhaps ten miles away.

After witnessing the VIP’s assembled in the new Victoria Hotel for lunch. The local MPs, local clergy and senior railwaymen like J E McConnell and J Ramsbotham made up the bulk of the party but most prominent were the Duke of Sutherland, who took a strong interest in these events, and Sir Rowland Hill, the founder of the “Penny Post”, John Hanning Speke, who had discovered the source of the Nile, and Michael Faraday, the distinguished scientist.

Professor Faraday, who was then near the end of his life, spoke at the luncheon, and told those present that he had seen a balloon ascent when he was a boy and it was this that excited him to take an interest in science. He had witnessed wonderful progress over the pst 50 years and had not doubt that the next 50 years would bring about remarkable progress in scientific achievement. How right he was.

At four o’clock all and sundry, upwards of 2000 people, moved to one of the workshops which had been prepared for a concert. Various musical talents were assembled including Wolverton’s Barss Band, which opened the proceedings. This was followed by a ball. The proceeds from the concert and dance went to the Northampton infirmary – later Northampton general Hospital.

At about 8 o’clock a telegram arrived to report that the two balloonists, Coxwell and Glashier, had descended at the village of Littleport near Ely at 2:28 pm. The distance travelled in that hour and a half was about 70 miles. Ballooning was a risky business for these intrepid pioneers. On this occasion they passed through snow storm at a height of three miles and on previous occasions, at a height of 5 1/2 miles Glashier had passed out, and at 7 miles, Coxwell’s hands were so numb that he could only release the gas valve with his teeth.

This was a deliberate attempt to achieve the highest altitude ever, and in this they succeeded. Cowell was the experienced balloonist nd had been at it professionally since 1848. his companion Dr Glashier was a Fellow of the Royal Society and had been recruited by Coxwell to undertake the scientific measurements.

North’s Cottages

Here’s an intriguing reference from Oliver Ratcliffe’s book publish in 1900: The Newport Hundreds.

On the site where stood, a little over half a century ago, North’s Cottages, there is one of the finest factories in England, surrounded by a large and prosperous town . . .  (p. 286)

The 1820 map shows a cluster of buildings more or less at the end of Jersey Road. I had always assumed these were farm buildings and indeed there was still a barn there in 1870 before it was demolished for works expansion.

There was no farmer by the name of North but there was a Radcliffe Trustee, Lord North, in the latter part of the 18th century, so they may possibly have been named after him. perhaps he donated thee money to build these cottages for farm workers on the estate. Lord North was a former Prime Minister whose claim to fame is that he presided over the loss of the American colonies. This was probably a good thing in the long run although contemporaries saw it as the product of political mismanagement.

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!

Early Wolverton Plan

Here’s a plan of Wolverton Works and the northern Streets circa 1850. I’ve cleaned it up a bit.

The quadrangular building in the centre is the first Engine shed and the main reason for Wolverton’s being. On the right is the new Engine Shed built about 1845.

This is what it looked like from the bridge in the 1960s.

The three short streets of cottages to the north are (from the east) Garnett Street, Cooke Street and Walker Street. They had a very short life. They were cheaply built with one room downstairs, and a scullery with a sleeping platform above and although they were cheap to rent they were generally unpopular. When the time came for workshop expansion in the mid 1850s they were unceremoniously levelled.

The long street on the eastern side, Bury Street, had about 40 houses and shops. There were 8 shop units at the north end and 6 larger, 3 storey houses at the south end, rather like the house preserved on the corner of Spencer Street in New Bradwell. Starting in the mid 1850s, these house sites were gradually reclaimed for industrial purposes and by the 1890s only one house, for many years a drapery, was left standing at the south end.

The fourth street in this section, on the south side of the Engine Shed, was known as Gas Street, after the gas Works that were originally on this street. These gas works were relocated to the east of the second station in the 1840s and in 1881 to the old Wolverton Road. The buildings for these gas works are still there, although in a somewhat derelict state. There were 8 house units on this street of better quality than many of the other early builds and they lasted until the 1890s.

Another point of interest on this plan is the first bath house at the north end beside the canal. This moved to the south end of Ledsam Street after 1856 and to the Stratford Road in the 1890s.

Just to the south of the stratford Road you can see the school building on the west side, the beginnings of Creed, Ledsam Streets and Glyn Square. The isolated rectangle, just to the north of the Gyln Square terrace, was the first Market House. This was used regularly from the 1840s until it was damaged by fire in 1906.

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.

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 and Stony Stratford in 1825

Here’s a very different view of the Wolverton area. The canal has arrived but the railway is scarcely in anyone’s imagination. The year of this publication is 1825 and was undertaken by a man called Bryant, about whom very little is known – not even his first name.

Stony Stratford is recognisable with development along the High Street of course and houses around Horse fair, the Market Square and Mill Lane. There is a tannery away from the residential part. Russell Street has yet to come into existence but there are cottages along what was then called Back lane.

Wolverton Park is Wolverton House and most of the land around there was farmed from this centre, although there was a farm house where the house called Wolverton Park now stands. Warren Farm came into existence later in the century. Tanor Farm is marked as Wolverton House. this may have been a map maker’s error.

Slated Row was built only a few years earlier and is marked on the map as Tenements.

The Old Wolverton Road was there but not known by that name at the time and takes you along the valley to Stonebridge House Farm where it joins the road from Calverton, which at that time could go uninterrupted across the fields. The only surviving parts of this ancient road are Green Lane in Wolverton and the track alongside the Wolverton cemetery. New Bradwell was non-existent and the only buildings were a toll house on the Newport Road, a wharf house and cottages, The New Inn and the Windmill.

Stacey Bushes Farm was beside Bradwell Brook in those days. The present house (now the core of MK Museum) was built in the 1860s.

On the Watling Street a Mr Wilkinson had his brick yards. He also farmed and the farm was later known as Brick Kiln Farm. Today it is an industrial area known as Kiln Farm. The land in the middle was known as “The Furzes” – hence Furze Way. Fields that were still farmed until comparatively recent times were known as Ardwell, Greenleys and Fuller Slade. These names have been preserved in housing developments.

The roads had toll gates in those days. There was one at Two Mile Ash, another at the bridge. The Stratford to Newport road had a toll house just to the east of Stony and there was another on at the bottom of Stantonbury Hill. Each time you had to pay, so some journeys could become expensive.

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.