The first indication of the new industrial age in Wolverton was the construction of the Grand Junction Canal around 1800. The canal skirts the Ouse Valley at a contour of about 50 feet and crosses the river by this aqueduct between Old Wolverton and Cosgrove. This aqueduct was known as the Iron Trunk.
In the 40s and early 50s working narrow boats were still a common feature of canal life. Usually the bargee and his wife would work two boats – the motor of the first towing the second. Coal was the main commodity transported by this method. Sometimes they had small children on the boat. Gliding through the country at a leisurely pace must have brought its own rewards, as I suspect they were probably paid very little for this work and lived only a little above the poverty line. A story told about my great grandfather William Webster, who kept the Red Lion in Leighton Buzzard, may illustrate this. In one of the years in the 1890s there was a serious deep freeze one winter and all the narrow boats were trapped in the ice at Linslade. After a few days they were out of food and would have no money until they completed their delivery, so Webster organised the community to donate food and organized a soup kitchen for the canal folk outside the Red Lion.
The Iron Trunk had a tow path on one side. The drop to the river below was 40 or 50 feet. Some more daring boys would walk along the girder on the west side and I never heard of anyone falling.
By the 1960s, when this photo was taken, working narrow boats had gone and were being recycled as pleasure craft, like this one.
The four mile branch line from Wolverton to Newport Pagnell was never a commercial success but it had its place and operated for 100 years. It opened in 1866 and for passengers in 1867 with stations at New Bradwell and Great Linford. the original intention had been to extend the line to Olney but this plan was abandoned and the L&NWR took over the line in 1875. Passenger traffic ceased in 1964 and closed in 1967. The trains were usually full in the morning as they carried workers to Wolverton and students to the Grammar School and Technical School and again in the evening on their return. Otherwise there were only a handful of passengers as the train shuttled back and forth. I can only remember travelling on the train once and that was to go to Newport Pagnell’s open air swimming pool one summer. The first photograph shows the engine at Bradwell Station in the 1960s.
Here is the same view of Bradwell Station in 1910.
My own family had some working associations with the line. My great grandfather’s younger brother, William Dunleavy, spent his last years as Station Master at Great Linford. He died there is 1908 having moved from Coalville a few years earlier. My great great grandfather Andrew Dunleavy ended his career as Station Master at Newport Pagnell in the 1880s. His previous posting was at St Albans and the reasons for the move are unknown. Perhaps he was seeking a lighter assignment in his late 60s. My great great grandmother is buried in Newport Pagnell and he took a pension in 1888. The end of the line at Newport Pagnell.
A new word came into the English language at the end of the 1950s – motorway. The first of these, from north London to Crick in Northamptonshire made its route a few miles away from Wolverton at Newport Pagnell and Laing earth moving and construction vehicles became a common sight.
The average speed of travel on ordinary roads was probably about 30 miles and hour in the 1950s, largely because passage through towns seriously slowed traffic. The A5, for example, which was a major route to the north west, meant that traffic had to slow down or stop every ten miles or so. The village of Markyate, then on the A5, had a very narrow high street and lorries routinely chipped bricks off buildings.
So the motorway was much welcomed and it is surprising to look at this photograph now, taken from the bridge on the Haversham-Gayhurst road in 1960, how light traffic was.
One of the weekly rituals in the40s and 50s was a mid-day meal of Fish and Chips on Saturday. Virtually everyone did it so the queues outside Wolverton’s two Fish and Chip shops were always long. I expect the practice originated out of a desire to give the housewife a bit of a break.The following morning (Sunday) she would be preparing one of the major meals of the week.
The fare was simple, undeviating and nutritious – cod fried in batter and deep fried chips. An order was placed on paper, sprinkled liberally with salt, wrapped, and then wrappedin newspaper to keep it warm while it was carried home.
As I say, there were two shops. Lloyd (I think that was his name) Billingham has the outlet on Creed Street. I took this photograph in the late 60s shortly after the demolition of the Little Streets. For some reason, probably because he had to carry on with his trade, he was given a stay of execution, so the shop remained for a while quite isolated amidst the rubble. In the background of the picture you can see the Training School.
In general the fish and chip shops opened weeknights and Saturday.
The second outlet was located in the middle of the block at the top of Peel Road. The St. Johns Ambulance had their headquarters here and a garage for the single ambulance. Mr Larner,a cheery man with a toothy smile, ran the shop which I think was on the ground floor of the back building. The buildings have been modified since those days so it is hard to picture it exactly.