“Hell’s Kitchen” or was it “Ella’s Kitchen”

The Radcliffe Arms, the first pub built after the railway, opening in 1839, acquired the nickname “Hell’s Kitchen.” It was assumed that this name came about through the pub’s somewhat disreputable reputation. That seems very plausible.

However I have just read an account, written at the end of the 19th century which sid that “Hell’s Kitchen” should be more appropriately “Ella’s Kitchen.”

That’s a surprise. Could it be that it was originally called “Ella’s Kitchen” and then corrupted to “Hell’s Kitchen”?

The proprietors of the Radcliffe Arms at the beginning were Richard and Priscilla Hipewell. Now Priscilla is not a good fit with “Ella” but it is possible that this was how she was known and the early frequenters of the Radcliffe Arms may have preferred to refer to their haunt as “Ella’s Kitchen.”
The Hipwells were not there very long, or at least they had moved on by 1851, but the name stuck for a while and then, just possibly, some wag said that the place was more like “Hell’s Kitchen” than “Ella’s Kitchen”.

I imagine everybody had a good laugh and decided to adopt the new nickname.

More on the Radcliffe Arms

I’ve written about the Radcliffe Arms,Wolverton’s first pub, built in 1839 before. Mainly here. The evidence I had at the time was a little sketchy but as I have uncovered more I believe I have a more complete story.

As I wrote before, the new inn was built in haste soon after the opening of the railway and was open for business in 1839. A year later the railway company decided to build their permanent station south of the canal, rather than on the original site to the north. So in 1840 the Radcliffe arms was effectively stranded in what later became Wolverton Park.

I subsequently discovered a plan of Wolverton made in 1847 which showed the”proposed site for the new Radcliffe Arms” beside to the main road between the canal and the later third railway station. This made sense of course and I wrote about it in this blog post. The owners of the Radcliffe Arms were not going to make any money from a pub in the middle of a field. However I could not assume from this alone that it was built until I discovered this advertisement.

Northampton Mercury Saturday 20th July 1844

To Builders and Contractors

Wolverton Station
Plans and Specifications for BUILDING a new PUBLIC HOUSE, near to the Railway Station, WOLVERTON; or for REMOVAL of the present Public-house, called “THE RADCLIFFE ARMS,” and  RE-BUILDING the same, with considerable additions, in a more convenient situation, are lying at the Cock Hotel, in Stony Stratford, for the inspection of Persons willing to Contract for execution of the work.
Tenders for building an entire new House and for Removal of the present House (sealed up) to be addressed to Mr. Clare,  Stony Stratford, before the 2nd day of August next.

The advertisement would indicate that the original Radcliffe Arms had been closed up and was not functioning although it was certainly a very lively place when Hugh Miller, the Scottish writer, visited in 1844, and there are surviving letters talking about “disgraceful” scenes  at the pub.

The dates are still not easy to reconcile. The date of the advert of 1844 would  tend to indicate that building would not start until the Spring of 1845 at the earliest. And the Driver map of 1847 suggests that the new site was just that at that stage. So perhaps there was some delay and a change of mind about pulling down the original building. In the 1861 and 1871 censuses there are “Radcliffe Arms Cottages” recorded, which would suggest that the original pub was converted into housing.

What we might conclude is that a new Radcliffe Arms was built beside the Stratford Road and the first building was converted into four cottages. When the railway loop line was constructed in the late 1870s the “new” Radcliffe Arms was demolished. The original pub still showed on the OS map of 1880, but that disappeared within a year to make way for the new Recreation Park.

Was there a second Radcliffe Arms?

I have described the history of the Radcliffe Arms in other places. It was a story of commercial greed and hasty judgement. The owners of this new venture. Joseph Clare of the Cock Inn and John Congreve, a Stony Stratford lawyer, formed a partnership and persuaded the Radcliffe trustees to allow them to build a new public house and hotel for the new railway. The Radcliffe Trust accordingly leased them a field on the east side of the new railway to the north of the canal and put a clause in the contract with the L & BR that no public houses would be allowed on railway property.  The new station was placed on the north side of the canal and Messrs Congreve and Clare hurriedly built the new Radcliffe Arms within a year, anxious to cash in on the new trade. Subsequently the railway company acquired another 13 1/2 acres to the south and decided upon a new station, which opened in 1841.

Congreve and Clare were furious but there was little that could be done. The trust reduced the rent on the acreage and provided them with another acre on their land for a new public house. Thus the Royal Engineer was born in 1841.
I raise this story again today because a map I recently discovered shows that, at the very least, a new site was considered for the Radcliffe Arms. You can see it on this map, drawn in red, at the location of the third station. Pencilled in beside it are buildings that may have been stables. On the map is written “New Public House”.
Bill West, in a plan in one of his books, places the Radcliffe Arms here. The Milton Keynes Historical Environment Record also notes this (on Bill West’s evidence re-drawn from a Radcliffe Estate plan) as a possible building.
Nothing can be said with certainty but the theory may be supported. The roadside location would surely have been better and the not-so-old original Radcliffe Arms could have been converted into residential accommodation. The censuses of 1851 shows the Radcliffe Arms landlord and family and servants and guests. However, the 1861 an 1871 censuses record The Radcliffe Arms and four Radcliffe Arms cottages. Theses cottages are still there in 1881 but designated “Hell’s Kitchen” after the old nickname for the Radcliffe Arms.
The OS Map of 1880 shows the old Radcliffe Arms still standing in its original location and noticeably not with the initials P.H. against it. The new embankment for the railway is shown on the map, which means that whatever building was standing there had been demolished.
A second Radcliffe Arms on the roadside is plausible. The first building was isolated in the middle of a field and could only have been subject to declining trade. The roadside house would have improved trade and the old buildings could have contributed rent to the pockets of Congreve and Clare. What is needed to confirm this is a plan or some written reference from the 1860s or 1870s.

1862 – Fatal Accident at Wolverton

The Times, Wednesday, Feb. 26th 1862


An inquest was held on Tuesday morning at the Ratcliffe Arms, Wolverton, before Mr. John Worley, coroner for the County of Northampton, to ascertain the circumstances attending the death of Mr. Edward Oliver, a cattle dealer, who lost his life by a collision which took place on the London and North Western Railway on Saturday evening last. Two other persons were also seriously injured, and are now in the Northampton General Infirmary. John Labrum said he was a guard of a special cattle train on the night of the accident. They left Rugby at 9:58 pm., and on arriving at Hanslope point they slackened speed, knowing a goods train was in front. As they turned the curve he saw the red signals on at the Wolverton station. The driver of the train shut off the steam, and he put on his break. It was then 11:30, and on turning round he saw a train coming up. He immediately jumped out of his break and ran back, waving his hand-lamp to and fro, also putting down fog signals. Three hundred yards back he met the train; it was a coal train, proceeding at the rate of 15 miles an hour. He believed the steam was shut off. The man Oliver was taken up quite dead, and two other persons with him in the same carriage with him were severely cut about the head, and also much bruised. The cattle train had its proper lamps at the tail of the train, which was visible half a mile off. John Pike, pointsman at Hanslope, deposed that the coal train passed about eight or nine minutes after the cattle train. His danger sign was on, but the driver did not appear to take any notice. He did not slacken speed. Neither the driver nor fireman seemed to be looking out. Mr. Edward Robinson, travelling inspector on the railway, said that if the engine driver had been looking out when he got past the curve beyond the Hanslope point he would have seen the tail lights of the cattle train in sufficient time to avoid the collision. Anthony Tomlinson, the engine driver, volunteered a statement that after getting through the cutting past the Hanslope point he saw the tail lights of a train ahead, and he shut off the steam, put on the break, and reversed the engine, but “she quickly flew into fore gear,” and in a few seconds the collision took place. The coroner summed up, and the jury, after a long deliberation, returned a verdict of “Manslaughter” against Anthony Tomlinson, the engine driver of the coal train.

A few points here. There appear to be many more safety measures in place  after the accidents of the early years. Trains now carry a guard van at the back to try to forestall shunts from the rear. Obviously it did not work in this case because the attention of the driver in the coal train was elsewhere. Accident continued on the railways, but they became more infrequent as the years passed and safety improved.

The Radcliffe Arms is still much in use at this period, but it was north of the canal where the Wolverton Park is. Access was properly only from the Old Wolverton Road, but many of the pub’s customers must have come from Wolverton over the railway bridge to reach it. I wonder that there were never any reported accidents here.

The Radcliffe Arms

The earliest demonstration of the rather chaotic planning that has characterised Wolverton throughout its history was the building of its first pub in an isolated location.

Wolverton’s first railway station was built to the north of the canal on the embankment. It was only a temporary affair and by 1840 they had built a new, permanent station, further south on railway property. In those two years, however, some momentous decisions had been made, probably in haste, which led to the construction and opening of the Radcliffe Arms.

Everybody was being a little too clever, it seems. The Radcliffe Trustees, upon selling the first 8 acres, had required the Railway Company to enter into a covenant that they would not build any tavern or public house on their land. They agreed to this and kept to it. In the meantime, the Trust, seeing a benefit for itself,  granted a lease of 6 acres to John Congreve, a Stony Stratford solicitor and Joseph Clare, the landlord of The Cock Hotel, for 63 years. Accordingly, they built stables, coach houses and a tap room for the sale of beer by 1839 and probably thought they would easily recoup their investment. The area we are talking about later became Wolverton Park.

The Railway Company, having little or no interest in this, built their permanent station, together with Refreshment Rooms, at the new site, and left the Radcliffe Arms isolated in a field. Congreve and Clare made representations to the Trustees, the ground rent for The Radcliffe Arms was reduced and they were provided with more land in a more suitable location to build The Royal Engineer. So within the space of two years, the new settlement acquired two Taverns.

The Radcliffe Arms did function for about 30 years and probably did enough business for the first two decades. Thereafter it became increasingly isolated from the town and you can see from the evidence of the censuses that business is falling off. By 1871 the buildings are used for residential purposes only and they were later torn down when the Recreation Park was developed in the 1880s.

It quickly acquired a rough reputation and far from being respectfully called The Radcliffe Arms was known as “Hell’s Kitchen”.

Hugh Miller, a Scottish traveller and writer recorded this first impression in 1845:
It was now nine o’clock.  I had intended passing the night in the inn at Wolverton, and then walking on in the morning to Olney, a distance of nine miles; but when I came to the inn, I found it all ablaze with light, and all astir with commotion.  Candles glanced in every window; and a thorough Babel of sound—singing, quarrelling, bell-ringing, thumping, stamping, and the clatter of  mugs and glasses issued from every apartment. [1]
On enquiry, it turned out that this was the eve of a prize fight between a Nottingham champion and a London fighter[2] so Miller walked to Newport Pagnell, armed with two pistols for protection, to seek better accommodation. However, he found the atmosphere just as riotous and pressed on to a village he called Skirvington (Sherington) where he at last found the peaceful night he sought. We may be surprised today that Miller readily undertook these four mile to Newport Pagnell on foot but the world in 1845 was not so far removed from the idea of walking to one’s destination. Rail travel had made speedy travel possible but walking for many was a natural and obvious choice, and this vignette may underscore the fact that the 1840s were transitional years for one’s mode of transport. It is also worth noting that rail travel may have significantly reduced the risk of robbery against the lone traveler.

It is difficult to generalize from this brief encounter with the Radcliffe Arms, however, we also have a record from Hugh Stowell Brown, who has left us a vivid account of his first (and probably only) experience:
I arrived on Friday evening, and went into the erecting-shed on Saturday morning; and at the dinner-hour had to pay my footing. This was done at the vile public-house close to the station — a house which went by the name of ‘ Hell’s Kitchen,’ a name it well deserved. An old proverb says, that if an Englishman settled on an uninhabited island the first building he would put up would be a public-house.  A public-house was the first thing built at Wolverton by the directors of the London and Birmingham There was no church, no school, no reading-room ; but there was  ‘ Hell’s Kitchen.’ And in that ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ that first afternoon, I had to pay about ten shillings for drink. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ was a horrid place; always full of mechanics, navvies, labourers, tramps of all kinds; at least one hundred station-men spent there half the dinner-hour and perhaps half their wages.[3]

            “Paying his footing” probably meant, as the newest arrival, that he was expected to stand a round of drinks. Ten shillings for this young boy was 2 ½ week’s wages – an enormous sum for his initiation into the ranks of railwaymen, and on this evidence he must have discovered a lot of “friends” in “Hell’s Kitchen”.
             The turnover in landlords was quite high. The first tenants  were Richard and Priscilla Hipwell. In 1841 they were running the inn with two adult servants and a 15 year old boy.  After a few years they moved to a grocer’s shop in Brixworth and were succeeded at by Robert Lambeth Done. By 1851 it was managed by Joseph Gostlow and his wife Frances and appears to have been a larger establishment of staff. They employed a barmaid and four other servants and a nurse and it may be that these were the best years for the public house. They also had six lodgers or hotel guests. These I have described in my post The Comedians
            The establishment appeared to be of a similar size in 1861, this time managed by Berkley Hicks and wife Mary Joy. They had three small children a barman and three servants. In fact, it was the barman, Berkley’s younger brother, Henry A Hicks, who later went on to run the much more palatial Victoria Hotel on Church street a decade or so later. Four cottages surrounding the Inn are first listed in 1861 where they are described as Radcliffe Arms Cottages.
         The 1881 census still recorded residents here – all living in “Hell’s Kitchen”. There is no mention of the Radcliffe Arms or Radcliffe Arms cottages. If we go back to the 1840 map it is evident that there are at least two buildings in this location – one is the hotel, the other may be the cottages or it might equally be the stables or outbuildings. The Radcliffe Arms cottages only make an itemized appearance in the 1861 census. They repeat in the 1871 census. From 1841 to 1871 the Radcliffe Arms licensee and his staff and family and guests are recorded but not in 1881. As I have noted above the Ordnance Survey of 1880 shows only one building.

[1] Miller, Hugh. First Impressions: England and its People. Chapter XIIV. 1889.
[2] Sir Frank Markham gives a full and entertaining account of the prize fight that Hugh Miller stumbled upon. One boxers entourage had camped at The Swan in Newport Pagnell and the other at The Cock in Stony Stratford. All other hostelries were full to the brim. History of Milton Keynes, Vol 2. Luton, White Press, 1986, p. 85-88.
[3] Hugh Stowell Brown. Notes on my Life. Chapter IX. 1888.

The Comedians

Travelling performers had been a feature of European life since at least the Middle Ages so it is no particular surprise to find a group showing up in Wolverton in the 1851 Census, although it is pure chance. Travelling players could have been in Wolverton on any other week in a ten year period and we would be entirely ignorant. There are, to my knowledge, no surviving playbills or contemporary accounts of such goings on, and local newspapers were yet to be invented in that part of the world. This accidental vignette does show us that there was money to be made in what must have been a hard life on the road. I imagine that after a 56 hour working week, Wolverton’s citizens were only too happy to be entertained.
On the night of the census in 1851, both the Radcliffe Arms and the New Inn accommodated the players.
The Rogers family were at the nucleus of this group, spanning three generations: Thomas and Mary Rogers, both 64, their son, also Thomas, with his wife Ann and four children, their daughter Caroline and the man she later married, John Wade Clinton, and two actors in their early twenties, just starting on a career, Charles and Caroline Brown. There was certainly enough of them to form a small acting company, capable of taking on most of the popular dramas of the day. The emphasis was on “light” entertainment and heavy tragedy left to the sophisticates of the London stage. The melodrama was the great favourite. These plays had a plot line which usually boiled down to Dick Dastardly threatening the Virtue of the pale, innocent and defenceless heroine, but thankfully foiled by the manly hero. In addition they might perform short sketches from the Commedia del Arte tradition and do a few comic “turns”. They are all recorded in the Census as “Comedians”, which would mean that they would perform the repertoire described above rather than do stand-up comedy as we would understand it today. In later censuses the women style themselves as “Actress” and John Wade Clinton gives his profession as “Lecturer and Comedian” which might suggest some changes in their repertoire.
Thomas Rogers the elder was born in Christchurch, Hampshire in 1786. His wife Mary was born in London so it is fair to assume that they met while touring. The family turns up in Warminster in 1841, all of the part of the family business. Their son Thomas is married to Ann with the beginnings of their family. There are three daughters, Amelia, 20, Augusta, 18 and Caroline, 15. Amelia and Augusta disappear from the Census after this date, presumably due to marriage. It is possible they continued their careers.
Some measure of the itinerant lifestyle can be taken from the places of birth of the children of Thomas and Ann Rogers -Agnes in Arlesford, Lavinia in Wimborne, Leonard at Henley in Arden, Amelia at Christchurch, Alfred at Wimborne, Clara in Somerset. After Caroline married John Wade Clinton, their children were born in Arlesford, Shaftesbury, Stallbridge and Bridport. In every census they are staying at Inns or in lodgings.
Thomas and Mary Rogers probably died with their acting boots on but the next generations appear to move towards more settled professions. Thomas Rogers the younger, his wife Ann, and two of their daughters settle as Innkeepers at Wootton Basset in their 60s. One son, Leonard became a telegraph supervisor in derbyshire and another, Alfred, a bank manager. John Wade Clinton started up a photography business in London’s West End. I have not been able to follow Charles and Caroline Brown.
On 30th March 1851, Thomas, the elder and Mary Rogers, John Wade Clinton and Caroline Rogers were staying at the Radcliffe Arms. The New Inn put up Thomas and Ann Rogers and their four children as well as Charles and Caroline Brown. We don’t know how long they stayed – I suppose for as many performances as could be booked, possibly a week. I imagine they performed at the Reading Room at Wolverton, this being the only building (apart from the school) able to accommodate this sort of activity.