I have written before about Green Lane. it was originally part of an ancient medieval ridgeway that traced a line from brill, through steeple Claydon, Thornton and Calverton. The track crossed the wailing Street at Gib Lane and proceeded eastwards through Greenly, eventually joining the newport Road at Stonebridge House Farm. All that visibly survives today is the track besides the cemetery and the street still named Green Lane.
The canal interrupted the road but there may have been a tunnel under the canal for the movement of livestock. The railway interrupted the line of the road, although a crossing was still possible it may be that the farmer preferred to use the Blue Bridge. So by about 1850 the track probably ended at Ledsam Street.
The old road was not without its attractions. The trees on either side offered a degree of privacy to courting couples and was thus a favourite rendevouz for lovers. It also was useful as a venue for fights where two men could slug out their differences without observation and interference from the local constable. There are also reports from the 19th century that this was a popular area for picking mushrooms. Apparently the trees provided enough shade and cooler temperatures for the plentiful growth of mushrooms.
At this stage in the 19th century Green Lane was very much “outside” the town of Wolverton. there were no buildings on the Stratford Road west of the Royal Engineer and the church and vicarage so Green Lane was very much in the country.
Cambridge Street was developed up to Green Lane in the late 1890s. At the same time two large, south facing houses were built on the vacant block in front of the new tennis courts. They were called The Beeches and Yiewsley. The name Yiewsley may come from a place name in the old county of Middlesex, although I really have no idea where it might come from. The Beeches appears to have stuck with the prevailing fashion in Wolverton of naming larger houses after trees. The inscribed brick tells us that they were erected in 1894.
With The Gables, The Elms, the old Villas, and a few larger terraced houses on the Stratford Road and the new Market Square these two semi-detached houses made up a very small complement of middle-class housing.
The first occupant of The Beeches was William Purslow, who was a senior figure in the Carriage Works. Yiewsley was inhabited by Heber Martin Williams, also a senior works employee. Within a decade Yiewsley became the residence and surgery of a doctor. Edmund Penney was there for about 20 years or so and was succeeded by David Max. After the war Dr Delahunty had a practice there and he in turn was succeed by Dr Hall – probably in the late 50s. In the Milton Keynes era purpose-built clinics became the norm and doctors tended to live away from their place of work.
As housing stock in North Bucks increased and road transportation improved I think senior works managers began to look outside Wolverton for their houses and although The Beeches remained in private hands, it was not occupied by a railway employee. In the 1950s a Major Brooks and his family lived there. I don’t know what he did, possibly worked at Hanslope Park. He had two sons who went to a private school somewhere and made brief appearances in Wolverton during their holidays. They were two of a very small handful of children who were privately educated in the 1950s. Most Wolverton families accepted the local schools – and there did not appear to be very much question about their quality.
The rather good-looking house at the bottom of Green Lane (now two houses) was built by the Stony Stratford architect, Edwin Swinfen Harris. (Harris was very active in the area in the late Victorian period and deserves a separate article when I get round to writing it.)
The railway company had built a house and surgery for the company doctor/surgeon in 1844 as one of six villas beside the canal. For various reasons – not least the relative isolation of The Firs – the LNWR decided to build a new house and surgery at this location. In the fashion of the day the house was named after trees. (The remaining four villas were named The Firs, Yew Tree House, The Hawthorns and The Limes, and the large houses beside the tennis courts were called The Beeches and Yiewsley.)
The house was first occupied by Dr. Harvey and when I was a boy by the husband and wife team of Doctors Eric and Marjorie Fildes. Dr. Eric Fildes was our “family doctor” as they were called in those days. In fact, being a family doctor and thus looking after all generations of the family was part of the effectiveness of diagnosis in those days largely free of medical technology. When Dr. Fildes came to visit me as a boy in the 1940s when I contracted one or another of the prevalent illnesses (yes Doctors did make house calls) he would park his black car outside the door, come upstairs to my bedroom, place a thermometer under my tongue and, while that was registering, place a cold stethoscope on my chest. Having made his diagnosis he would give my mother some instructions and scribble out a prescription. And that was basically it. After a few days I recovered with more bed rest and regular spoonfuls of medicine.
The Elms was a little more isolated than it is today. There were grounds extending to Moon Street of more than one acre surrounding the house. The surgery entrance was on the right. This door led to a waiting room where people sat until called into the surgery, a smaller room at the back. There may have been another room behind this for more detailed patient examination, but I never saw it.
In the 1891 Census, and again in the 1901 Census, three cottages appear in this part of town. They are recorded as May Cottages – numbers 1, 2 and 3. Their placement in the census would suggest that they are in the vicinity of Radcliffe Street.
I had never heard of May Cottages before but it seems to me that these might be likely candidates. They are out of keeping with the Green Lane houses on the other side and just fill in a little triangle of land behind Aylesbury Street and Radcliffe Street. There were actually three cottages there 50 years ago and it looks as if the garage and the room above it is a later addition. I dimly recall a builders yard here at one time.
Later they were numbered as Green Lane and I suppose the May Cottages namewas dropped. Why they were called May Cottages in the first place is another mystery.
Here is an extract from a memoir by David Marks which describes his Sunday afternoon walks with his parents in the 1940s. He grew up on Osborne Street and this walk would have taken them up Western Road. (Published here with David’s kind permission)
Sometimes our walk would take us from Osborne Street, up Western Road to the New Rec.(recreation ground) across into what we then called the “first fields” along toward the Stratford Road into the “second fields” and finally just before we reached the Stratford Road through a field which was always known as “The Happy Morn”.
Occasionally before we reached the second fields we would turn left across the fields which led to the London Road South of Stratford and near to the reservoir. Along the way we would go and examine “The big pond” in the far corner of one of the fields always a good habitat for moorhens, tadpoles and newts.
If we were feeling very energetic we might cross the London Road (perhaps seeing the occasional car !) and follow the footpath to Calverton. More excitement here as Dad would once again tell the story of the robber who was hanged on a tree by the side of the long stone wall and where there was carved a gibbet and some initials and a date. To my recollection, by that time, there were several gibbets and sets of initials which had doubtless been supplied by the local youth which somewhat reduced the credibility of the story although I believe there may have been some truth in it.
I’ve just looked at Dr Francis Hyde’s drawing of a field map from 1742 which confirms what I suggested earlier – Green Lane followed a direct line to Gib Lane beside Gallows Hill on the Watling Street. I have reproduced the map below and added some colour overlays to illustrate the development of the town.
The path of Green Lane is drawn in (what else?) green. The small flesh pink area, Rogers Holm, was essentially the first piece of land bought by the LBR for the works and cottages. This was soon extended into Shrub Field (yellow) for the southern streets (Creed, Ledsam, Young & Glyn Square). The next phase of development from 1860 goes into the pale green area. This was occupied by works extension, Stratford Road to the back lane of Cambridge Street, Oxford Street, Bedford Street, Aylesbury Street, Buckingham Street, Radcliffe Street and Church Street. The blue area represents the development from Moon Street to Osborne Street, developed in the 1890s and Marron Field (coloured violet pink) is the development from Cambridge Street to the field at the back of Anson Road. This phase took place over a number of years. Church Street reached its western limit by 1910, Western Road and Woburn Avenue was added in the subsequent decade, and I think Eton Crescent and Aylesbury Street West was developed in the 1930s. The southern development (Stacey Avenue, Marina Drive and Gloucester Road) started in the 1930s. Furze Way (so named after the field Hodge Furze) and the extension of Windsor Street were post war developments and Southern Way was developed in the mid 1950s. Some of the field names are very ancient but most came about after the enclosure of 1654 when the old three field system and ancient commons were appropriated by the Longueville family. Most of the peasants were deprived of their ancient rights to land and many settled on the scrub land on the east side of Watling Street – hence the development of Stony Stratford. They were still within the manor of Wolverton, but were more-or-less out of the way of the Longueville’s land ambitions.
Just about every rural community has a Green Lane, an old trackway that was not heavily used. Our Green Lane started at Stonebridge House Farm and followed a more-or-less direct line to Calverton. That line was a little changed by 17th century land enclosure which required a diversion somewhere near Warren Farm and it was later cut by the canal and the railway. By the end of the 19th century Green Lane started at the southern end of Ledsam Street and followed its old route to the Watling Street, but the first part was now populated with houses, starting with the Surgeon’s house (The Elms) and new terraces up to Osborne Street. I think that Western Road, built twenty years later, changed the line of Green Lane because the old track continued alongside the Recreation ground and the Cemetary for a number of years. Green Lane only had (as it still does) houses on one side of the street; the north side was made up of the abutments of Radcliffe, Bedford and Oxford Streets. The western end of Green Lane became a corner grocery – run by Mitchells in my day. I assume their catchment area was Green Lane, Osborne Street, Oxford Street and possibly Bedford Street and the end of Victoria Street. I often called in there to buy some tooth-rotting sweets on the way to school. I do recall buying some glucose tablets once prior to the annual cross country race. Someone told me that these would give me extra energy and we might now reflect that the quest for performance enhancing substances is not a recent phenomenon. It all came to grief however. I was doing quite well and was up with the leading pack when I was attacked by a stitch coming up Stacey Hill. I tried to strugle on but ended up with a poor finish.
At the time of this photo it looks rather neglected. Opposite, at the top of Oxford Street, was Wolverton’s second off-license where one could buy a jug of ale, dandelion and burdock wine, Emu sherry and Smith’s crisps amongst other things. 50 years ago it was run by a Mr Hobson. Henry Hicks, owner of the Victoria Hotel in the late nineteenth century had some plans to build another pub in this vicinity, which would have offered a better distribution of pubs in the town. Obviously this came to nothing, but the off license may have been allowed as compensation. Next door was another butcher’s shop – a London Central Meat Company outlet.