The Impact of Wolverton on North Bucks

Until 1838 North Bucks and South Northants was almost entirely agricultural. Wolverton’s railway depot changed that in obvious ways. To look at this I have a population table which illustrates the change between 1831 and 1851.

Wolverton itself had grown from 1801 to 1831 from 238 to 417 – almost doubling the population. This was due to the new canal which brought with it some new occupations at the wharf and in cartage.

After an Act of Parliament in 1834, which organized parishes into Poor Law districts, Wolverton and Stony Stratford became part of the Potterspury Poor law Union and a workhouse was built in Potterspury. For this reason the figures have been grouped for comparison even though they straddle county boundaries.

Potterspury Poor Law Union
Parish 1831 1851 Change
Paulerspury 1,092 1,162 70
Potterspury 950 1,061 111
Yardley Gobion 594 673 79
Wicken 536 487 -49
Passenham 828 969 141
Calverton 425 505 80
W Stony Stratford 1,053 1,256 203
E Stony Stratford 566 501 -65
Cosgrove 624 641 17
Furtho 16 15 -1
Grafton Regis 241 247 6
Alderton 162 139 -23
Ashton 380 383 3
Hartwell 531 542 11
Wolverton 417 2,070 1,653
Total 10,246 12,502 2,236

As you can see the significant increase comes from the creation of Wolverton Station and it probably helped to maintain the rural population which might otherwise have declined.

East Stony Stratford was essentially the string of houses along the High Street – there being no development on the Wolverton side apart from inn courtyards. The bulk of Stony Stratford’s population lived on the Calverton side. The drop in population from 1831 to 1851 on the Wolverton side of Stony Stratford was probably due to tenements being pulled down.

Of interest is the increase in the population of Passenham. Passenham included Deanshanger which in 1831 was a tiny hamlet. In the 1840s the Roberts family established an iron foundry which was obviously employing many hands in 1851. This iron works eventually grew and became the Deanshanger Oxide Works after WW II. Before the Clean Air Act Deanshanger was generally covered with red dust.

Settlement papers

We take mobility for granted these days, and in recent times it has now become possible to move throughout most of Europe without restriction, but it was not always so. Most of the population were tied to their villages, first by customary rights to land and service to the lord of the manor, and in later centuries through legal restriction. Movement to a new parish was only possible if the new parish was willing to accept you and this usually meant that you had some useful skill that would help the economy of the parish. Most parishes were terrified of incurring the costs of supporting those who became to ill or too old to work. 
Before 1697, men wishing to move to a new parish had to produce a bond of Indemnity to ‘save the parish harmless’ in case they later became poor and in need of relief. This was normally £40, guaranteed by two bondsmen, either relatives or employer. Some of these for Stony Stratford I will reproduce in the next series of posts.
After that date, a settlement certificate from the home parish was required, signed by the churchwardens and overseers and vouched for by witnesses who swore to the signatures. The persons covered were listed and may include (by agreement) apprentices and relatives already living with the family. Other children later born to the man are covered, but not new dependent kin, other than grandchildren whose father had no other settlement.
Settlement was obtained by birth in the parish to a man who was himself legally settled there; by apprenticeship for seven years served to a full term; by hiring on annual contract to a settled employer, serving a full year and receiving the full promised wages. It could also be obtained by renting a house of £10 or more rateable value for a full year, or, less certainly, by paying parish rates on a lesser house for Several years, or by serving as a parish officer for a year.
Married women took their husband’s settlement, but illegitimate children, even of couples later married, belonged to the parish of birth, hence the anxiety to remove pregnant unmarried girls. If the girl belonged to the parish, then the father was traced and made to pay for lying in and maintenance till the child was apprenticed, which usually totalled about £40.
No one could be sent ‘home’ without a formal Removal Order ratified by Quarter Sessions, and the receiving parish could appeal, in which case it was liable for interim maintenance charges and medical bills if the appeal failed. It could also issue a certificate accepting liability for the man and his existing family, usually listed in detail. Earlier certificates also mention ‘his family’, who may not exist but are any future issue born while he is still living on their certificate. Once a man was in a position to buy or rent a house worth over £ 10 a year, he became settled in that parish and his certificate was no longer valid, even if he later fell on hard times.
Stony Stratford was very unusual in having two parishes carved out of parts of two older parishes, Calverton and Wolverton. Originally chapelries of Calverton to the west and Wolverton to the east, built in the fifteenth century to cope with the growth of flourishing inns and shops servicing the coach trade along Watling Street, St Giles church, Stony Stratford West, and St Mary Magdalen, Stony Stratford East, stood less than half a mile apart. St Mary’s church was burnt down in 1742, except for a tower which mouldered slowly; all services thereafter took place in St Giles, which was enlarged to cope in 1776 and again in early Victorian times. The two parish organisations remained fiercely distinct and all connections with the rural mother parishes were severed. Thus we will see situations here where movement from the east side of Stony Stratford to the west, or vice versa, required a settlement certificate or a bond.

The settlement papers, from the 17th and 18th century, give us some clue to the movement of people in rural communities in those days

Wolverton in 1872

By the time this was written Wolverton was beginning to surpass Stony Stratford in size. This from John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1872:


WOLVERTON, a small town and a parish in the district of Potterspury and county of Buckingham. The town stands on the Northwestern railway, at the junction of the line to Newport-Pagnell, 2 miles ENE of Stony-Stratford; was founded and grew up in connexion with the railway; consists largely of a depôt of the railway, with extensive workshops, and with houses for the workmen; and has a post-office, designated Wolverton, Bucks, a r. station with telegraph, an inn, a recent church, built at a cost of £5,000, a school for about 500 children built by the railway company, and a handsome science and art institute, built in 1864. 


The parish comprises 2,260 acres. Real property, £6,758; of which £10 are in gasworks. Pop. in 1851, 2,070; in 1861, 2,370. Houses, 365. The manor belonged to a Norman family, who took the name of Wolverton; passed, in the time of Edward III., to the Longuevilles; was sold, in 1712, to the famous Dr. Radcliffe; and belongs now to the Radcliffe trustees. W. house is the seat of S. R. Harrison, Esq. Both the head living and that of St. George or New Wolverton are vicarages, in the diocese of Oxford. Value of the former, £38;* of the latter, £167.* Patrons of both, the Radcliffe Trustees. The parochial church stands about a mile WSW of Wolverton town: and is a modern edifice, in the Norman style.

Wolverton Urban District Council

The Wolverton UDC was formed in 1920 and included New Bradwell, Wolverton, Stony Stratford and Calverton. Basically it was the old manors of Wolverton and Calverton with the addition of New Bradwell. Old Bradwell was part of the Rural District Council.
The UDC was disbanded in 1974 when Wolverton became part of Milton Keynes.
For its 50 year life the population was quite stable. You can see dips in the 1930s when jobs were lost in the Works and in the post war period when the railways were in decline.
The population breakdown was about 7,000 living in Wolverton, 3,500 in New Bradwell, 2000 in Stony and the remainder living in the rural area.
Employment levels during this whole period were high as I have discussed in this post.

Year Population 20 years earlier Population 10 years earlier Current Total Population
1921 13,815 Show data context 14,052 Show data context
1931 14,207 Show data context 12,873 Show data context
1939 14,505 Show data context
1951 12,873 Show data context 13,426 Show data context
1961 13,426 Show data context 13,113 Show data context

The Population in 1086

The Domesday description of Wolverton gives us some way of estimating the population almost 1000 years ago.

Land for 20 ploughs; In lordship 9 hides; 5 ploughs there.

32 villagers with 8 smallholders have 10 ploughs; a further 5 possible.

10 slaves; 2 mills at 32s 8d; meadow for 9 ploughs.

The villagers were most likely the villeins, that is those whose right to the land were tied to service on the lord’s demesne. The smallholders were probably freemen whose use of the land was not tied to service. The slaves probably worked the mills, the “morter pitts” and performed other functions on the lord’s demesne. The two mills were likely to have been on the sites of later mills – Wolverton Mill and Mead Mill, which disappeared in the middle of the 19th century. This latter mill was close to the present railway viaduct.

These numbers record men only so if we take an average of 4 per family, these 50 men might translate into a population of 200, surprisingly, about the same number of inhabitants in the parish in 1800. There are reasons for that which I will discuss in another post.

The population of Wolverton

The ancient Wolverton manor was bounded by the River Ouse to the north, the road to bradwell and Bradwell Brook to the east and south, and by Watling Street to the west. Those boundaries did not change for about 900 years when the Wolverton Urban district was created to include the parish of Calverton and Stantonbury. So it is possible to view population change in a well-defined area for a long time.

Perhaps the big surprise is the apparent lack of change between Domesday (1086) and the first 19th century census in 1801. Dr Francis Hyde, the eminent economic historian, and a local bative, estimates the population at the time of Domesday as 200 to 250. In 1801 it was 238. 
There is a reason for this. In the 17th century the Longueville family (then lords of the manor) enclosed all the land in the manor, divided it into three farms and effectively dispossessed the population from its ancient common rights. The land became depopulated and the village abandoned. Stony Stratford grew somewhat on the Calverton side.
If the enclosures had been handled in a more humane way then I suppose that Wolverton might have been a village the size of Haversham, say, but the Wolverton of 1801 would have been an empty place with only a few clusters of cottages around each farm. Most of this 238 probably lived along the Watling Street on the Wolverton side.
Another accident of history and of geography transformed this rural backwater – the arrival of the London to Birmingham Railway. Wolverton was not Stephenson’s intended route; he instead wished to take the line through Winslow, Buckingham and Brackley, but the powerful voice of the Duke of Buckingham vetoed this route and the alternative was implemented. Thus Wolverton Station ended up by being exactly half way between London and birmingham, and since the engines needed to be changed and their boilers rebuilt, a works (and indeed refreshment rooms) was established. The future of the new Wolverton began here. Were it not for this I imagine Wolverton would have continued unpopulated and rural well into the 20th century.
The population jumps from 417 in 1831 to 1261 in 1841 nd then increases by about 500 per decade until 1891 when the population was 4,147. By this time New Bradwell had been built. 
1901 figures show a significant surge – up to 5,323. During this period the town extended to include Cmbridge Street and Windsor Street and in the first decade of the 20th century the town west to Anson Road had been completed.
So by 1911 the district population had risen to 7,384. There it steadied for a number of years before surging again in the 1930s. I amnot quite sure why this was so.
The population of the Urban district reached its peak at 13,426, after which other economic forces came into play.