Markets in Wolverton

Up to 1838 Wolverton had a scattered population, extending from Stacey Bushes Farm beside Bradwell brook in the south to Manor Farm in the north. The eastern limit was Stonebridge House farm and on the western edge there were Wolverton House, Wolverton Park, Debbs Farm and Kiln Farm. There was a cluster of cottages around the church which we know as the village of Old Wolverton. All in all there were about 400 people in Wolverton, a doubling of the population since the beginning of the century when the population was no bigger than it had been in 1086. There was no prospect for a market, and indeed no need, since the larger population of Stony Stratford could support a market, and had done since its foundation at the end of the 12th century.

Wolverton’s rapidly growing population, which outstripped Stony Stratford in its first decade, put some pressure on the authorities to provide a market and at the end of 1842 it was agreed to build a Market House at a cost of £173 17s 6d. It was located beside the Stratford Road in the open space to the north of Glyn Square.

Here is a drawing in elevation. It appears to be a simple building.

In 1884 work began on the widening of the road and bridge over the railway and at the same time it was decided to rebuild the market house. Probably at this time the two storey building was erected, although the market hall continued to use the ground floor.

In 1906 there was a fire in the market hall and you can see the damage in the photograph below.
At this time the boy’s school had just relocated to a new school building on Church Street so the market transferred, temporarily at first to part of the building on Creed Street. The old market hall in the mean time was restored and rebuilt. However, a new girls and infants school opened in 1908 on Aylesbury Street and the old school was now redundant. In consequence the market continued to occupy the building, expanding to fill most of it as Wolverton’s population and trade steadily increased.

This market was extremely busy every Friday and many travelled from North Bucks villages on special buses, and of course by train from Castlethorpe, to make their weekly purchases. this thriving market was closed in 1980 and transferred to the new Agora building on Church Street. The market continues, although in scale and quality it does not approach its former glory. this may have more to do with the rise of supermarkets and changes in people’s shopping habits than its location.

The evolution of Wolverton’s First School

In the first two years of “railway” Wolverton the new town grew rapidly. By 1840 the northern streets (Bury, Gas, Walker, Cooke and Garnett Streets) are fully inhabited and work had started on Creed Street, Ledsam Street and Glyn Square. A school was now a necessity so in 1840 the London and Birmingham Railway Company put up the money for construction and the school was built in 1840 on Radcliffe Trust land on the west side of the new Creed Street.

The school as it may have appeared in 1840

There were essentially three wings to the building illustrated here. As far as I can gather from contemporary reports the northern section housed the girls and infants schools, the central section accommodated the boys and the southern part was housing for the schoolmaster and his family. The first schoolmaster, Archibald Laing, was paid £100 a year. This was not a bad salary for the times. The average worker in the works earned half that, although some clerks on the railway could earn as much or more. The girls teacher was paid £40 a year and the Infants teacher paid a measly £30 a year. Women still had a long way to go to achieve pay equality.

The school went through some expansion over the century as the town population grew. You can see from this mid-20th century photograph, that the school had sprouted a number of additions.

This photo shows the buildings when they were used as a Market Hall

In the early 1890s the “Tank House” at the end of Ledsam Street was converted from public baths and a water pump house into a residence for the schoolmaster. The former schoolhouse was reclaimed for classroom space.

But before long even that was inadequate. Wolverton was undergoing a rapid expansion in the 1890s. Cambridge Street, Windsor Street, Green Lane, Victoria Street and Osborne Street all date from this period. So it was resolved to build a new school. Accordingly, again on the western edge of town, a new Boys School was opened in 1896 beside Church Street. The Girls and Infants continued to use the old school on Church Street.

A decade later, a new two storey school opened on Aylesbury Street for the Girls and Infants and the original school was abandoned. It is not known if there was any intended use for it, but in that same year there was a fire at the old Market House beside Glyn Square and it was decided that the Friday Market should occupy the original school.

And so it came about that the building that many of us remember as the Market Hall came into being and every Friday for almost three quarters of a century these buildings bustled with activity until 1980 when the new Agora opened and all such activity was transferred there.

The market now abandoned,

The building remained empty for a while and became vulnerable to damage and fire but a decision was then taken, probably by the council, to renovate and adapt the building. The northern wing and the walls were pulled down. The rest of the buildings were modernised and converted to offices. A travel agent occupied the central wing (the old Boys School) and another company occupied the rest of the building. In the first decade of this century the council reclaimed the building for its own purpose. The  Library was moved from Church Street and the remaining buildings were converted to meeting rooms.

The present day appearance. The white painted section is the original Boys School

This is now the oldest surviving building in Wolverton. Somebody should put a plaque on the wall.

Fire at the Market Hall

These were the scenes the day after the fire – September 21st 1906. I do not know the cause of the fire, but it left Wolverton without a covered market for a while.
The Market House was built in 1842, just the west of the original railway line (now McConnell Drive) and south of the Stratford Road. The shell of the building survived, so it was rebuilt and it served (and continues to serve) various functions since that date.
As it turned out, the old school on Creed Street had just been vacated by the girls and infants to move into their new school on Aylesbury Street, and the market traders were able to move into the old school building.
And there the Friday market remained until July 1979, when it transferred to the newly-built and controversial Agora. My personal view is that it lost a great deal of its natural vibrancy in that move. The Friday Market used to be a big weekly occasion and for the morning and part of the afternoon the area thronged with thousands of customers, from both Wolverton and all the outlying towns and villages. Extra buses and trains were laid on for the occasion.
Now I know times change, but I still see weekly markets thriving where the deadening hand of bureaucracy has been withheld.

Red Cross Appeal

I am not sure that this photograph has any particular interest. It shows my grandfather, then Chairman of the UDC, introducing Lady Burnham, patron of the Red Cross in Buckinghamshire. The date is August 28th 1943 and the Red Cross Appeal is being formally announced. Volunteers in those day collected door-to-door using tins with a coin slot. Since my grandmother and mother were active in organizing this appeal I have some sense of the scale of the operation. At the end of the week volunteers brought in hundreds of tins, usually full to the brim with coins. The seal at the base was then broken and the metal catch opened to release the coins, mostly pennies and ha’pennies, threepenny bits, some sixpences and a few shillings. All of these were sorted and counted on the front room table.

I think it is true to say that there were relatively few charities in those days. The two big collections were for the Haig Fund before November 11th and the Red Cross Appeal in August. The RNLI and the National Institute for the Blind had cllections, but they were never as big as the first two. Some charities would leave collection boxes in pubs and the Salvation Army collected every week, I think.
My grandfather noted on the back of the photo that this was at the Market Hall. Probably the platform was set up in the yard facing the Royal Engineers.

Church Institute and Market Hall

I have to say that this is an extremely poor photograph, taken against the light and therefore with some nasty lens flare, but it does provide some sort of record.

I think the photo dates from 1967 when I came back to Wolverton to discover the removal of the “little streets”. Some high rise blocks had already been erected at the south end of Ledsam Street, so the demolition took place some time before this. 
You can see that the practice in those days was to leave the land derelict rather than green it over with grass and flower beds.
The site is now taken up with the Glyn Square shopping complex.
What you can make out from the photograph is the original height of the Church Institute wall, which has now been dropped by 3 feet.
To the right is what was then the Market Hall, formerly the Boy’s School. As you can see it extends beyond its present structure – the Town Hall and Library.
The Market Hall, as we knew it, was only open on Friday, and I don’t hink it was ever used for any other purpse. The entrance was through a gate on the Stratford Road. On Fridays the market was teeming. The whole of the yard and all the interior rooms were taken up with stalls on all sides. The stallholders would probably be open for business by 8:30 and remained busy until after 3. On school holidays it was a delight to us boys to go round the market to discover sources of American comics, toys, caps and other silly novelties.
United Counties would lay on extra scheduled buses from all the villages on Friday, which would allow women to come in early and leave in the afternoon. As I have remarked in an earlier blog, the weekly market was a significant event.

A Gora Blimey!

Today I stepped inside the Agora. I was shocked. My expectation, given that the planners of the day had seen fit to demolish  complete sections of Church Street and Buckingham Street and isolated the Square from Church Street and the Front, was that the interior would be an indoor shopping centre. Instead I encountered a warehouse. I see now that it must have been the planner’s intention to replace the traditional market with a new superstructure in the middle of the town.

Well, let me say this. The project is an abject failure.
The market that ran every Friday in the Market Hall was a vibrant living organism. Many traders of all stripes set up their stalls inside and out and I don’t recall many vacancies. United Counties scheduled buses from all the outlying villages on Friday morning and returning at lunchtime. They were mostly full and the Friday market was a very crowded place.
One job which I took on in my teens was to help one trader, Harry Tooth, to unload his rugs, tablecloths and bedlinen from his van. I would help him unload before school in the morning and load up after 4 in the afternoon. So he got in a full day’s trading at Wolverton market.
Fifty years later I still see town markets flourishing so I see no reason why the old Wolverton market could not have continued to thrive.
Wolverton had certainly grown in an unusual way because of Railway Board decisions. Once Bury, Garnett and Walker Streets had been razed, the commercial traders had to move but before too long the Front and Church Street had formed a new shopping centre ith residences to the east, south and west. When the little streets were flattened in the 60s the eastern side was gone and the town became once more lop-sided.
The planners and builders of the Agora could have justified their decision had they built a shopping centre with important tenants – but a warehouse doesn’t cut it!