The Signal Box, which most of us remember at Wolverton and up and down the line, was quite a late invention in the history of the railway. Early signalling depended on railway policemen, who patrolled a 2 1/2 mile section of the line, and signalled by flags whether it was safe for a train to proceed.

Occasionally there were accidents.

One such occurred at Wolverton on the evening of June 4th 1847. A mail train, bound for Liverpool, pulling 19 coaches, collided with some stationary coal wagons. The fault seemed to lie entirely with the signalman. The policeman, named Fossey, was stationed at the Blue Bridge, where presumably he was visible to the engine driver as he waved his flag and displayed the light which said the line was clear. On this occasion Fossey hoisted the flag and then wondered if he forgotten to move the points. He seems to have panicked, and ran 50 yards to hurriedly switch the points. Unfortunately he had it right the first time and when the train came through the driver found himself on a siding, heading for  stationary coal train. All efforts were made by the driver to shift into reverse and by the guard to apply brake, but they could not avoid disaster. A collision was inevitable.

The engine and tender, and the footplate men, were more-or-less fine, but the fourth and fifth carriages came off the rails, crashed into each other and splintered. Seven passengers lost their lives.

The Coroner’s inquest was almost immediate. He travelled to Wolverton on Monday and opened proceedings at 12 o’clock. There was an impressive series of witnesses, eye witnesses and many senior officials of the l&NWR – Captain Huish, the General Manager, Mr Bruyeres, the superintendent of the London to Birmingham line, Mr McConnell, Superintendent of the Wolverton Works, a representative of the Board of Trade, and various legal counsels, including an unnamed ‘legal gentleman’ to act for the signalman, Fossey.

The hearing lasted 9 hours, during which time the essentials of the accident nd its aftermath were disclosed. Frederick Parker, assistant locomotive superintendent at Wolverton, took a lead role in trying torescue the accident victims, and he commandeered jacks and machinery and men from the works to try to unravel the wreckage.

Fossey, it turned out, had some form. He was relatively new to the job, but it was felt, after tuition, that he could handle the job. However, he had diverted an excursion train into the same siding on an earlier occasion. For this he was reprimanded and fined one shilling. John Bedford, superintendent of the police, was of the opinion that he had learned from his mistake and no further action was required.

The passengers who were killed in this accident were all men, and all from the middle class, which tells us something about travellers at that period. Ordinary working people did not have the time or money to travel, except at weekends, and fares at this time were still beyond the reach of most.
Mr John Simpson Sherrat was formerly secretary of the Lichfield and Birmingham Railway Company, Mr T Makinson was described as a graduate of MKagdalen Hall, Oxford, Mr J Clifton was a silk mercer, Mr J B Rattray was from the firm of Keay and Rattray, iron founders of Dundee, Me Miller was secretary of the Ragged School in London, Mr Cope was a 20 year old young man on his way to Wolverhampton and Mr Henry Smith, another young man on his way to Birmingham

The lost Railway Town

178 years ago work began on a maintenance depot on a green field site about a mile away from the old village of Wolverton. It was called the engine shed but it was in fact a large complex of workshops and offices built around a quadrangle. After it was completed in 1839 work began on new housing stock and a new community started to emerge. There was a sense at the beginning that they were making it upas they went along, but in 1840 the LBR hired a company of Birmingham surveyors to properly lay out the new town on the available 22½ acres. Soon the new redbrick town became something of a wonder for travellers who stopped at the station for refreshments while their engine was being changed. Indeed the Refreshment Rooms as they were known, employing 30 busy women,  became the subject of articles, letters and even one romantic novel. By the mid-1840s this new town had a variety of housing stock, shops, schools, a church, pubs, a market house, a reading room and the second Mechanics Institute foundation in the country.
This was Wolverton Station and before the end of the first decade the population dwarfed the old village and overtook the established towns of Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell. Today we learn that the slow erosion of the railway works will now become complete and that no vestige of its former railway presence will remain.
The Wolverton works underwent considerable expansion in the 19th century. After J E McConnell became superintendent in 1846 (more or less at the same time that the L&BR merged into the larger L&NWR) the plant began to manufacture locomotives and this continued until 1871 when an L&NWR rationalisation concentrated carriage building at Wolverton and locomotive building at Crewe. Even so, the works continued to expand, eventually stretching almost a mile along the banks of the canal. At its peak the works employed 5,000 men and supported an urban population that was rare in rural Buckinghamshire. It became the second largest town in the county and only High Wycombe was larger. Wolverton people could feel justly proud of their railway heritage, and despite the burdens of two world wars, Wolverton was still very much a railway town at the time of nationalisation in 1948.
The railways lost their way in the post war period and ironically, road traffic, which had been seen off by the railways in 1840 was making an unstoppable comeback a century later. Wolverton became part of the general railway decline.
The original engine shed disappeared some years ago and was replaced by a Tesco car park. Some of the first houses gave way to workshop expansion in the 19th century and the rest of the 1840s housing stock was demolished in the 1960s to make way for something more modern, although that project, now over 50 years old, is beginning to show signs of age. The late Victorian town, built after 1860, largely remains intact.

What will now be missing is any visible evidence that this was ever a railway town. Does this matter? Perhaps not and in any case there is no purpose or point to winding back the clock. Nonetheless, the historic importance of this railway town lingers. When the new town of Milton Keynes was conceived the very existence of Wolverton and the post war development of Bletchley provided an anchor point in the north and the south as the basis for the development of virgin fields. Had there not been this urban concentration, it is doubtful that the new city planners would have paid much attention to the area. If Robert Stephenson’ s preferred route through Buckingham had not been blocked in the 1830s we might be thinking of that small town as a new city today.

The end of Wolverton’s Railway history

This article has just been published in
Reproduced here in full.

Wolverton Works to be demolished by 2020 – will it also bring the end of the Royal Train?
Published: 22nd November 2016

Milton Keynes Council approves demolition of the World’s oldest railway works
Wolverton Works, the World’s oldest longest continually open standard gauge railway works is to be demolished within the next four to five years. The decision was made at a Milton Keynes Council Planning meeting on 17 November amidst some controversy when considering the St Modwen, Works’ owners, application.

This was because following a local planning referendum 18 months ago, Wolverton’s residents overwhelmingly voted to retain the buildings in any redevelopment. The whole Works forms part of a Conservation area, thought to be one of the UK’s largest as it includes a huge railway-built housing estate for Works’ employees.

Historic England refused to ‘list’ the buildings saying that they were already protected. Planning Conditions attached to the decision also breached more planning policies with only 10% affordable housing and a below par Section 106 planning gain fund demanded.

A brief history
The Works in its heyday a century ago, employed over 5000 people and was the very reason for Wolverton’s existence. It was built to service the World’s first long distance intercity line, the London to Birmingham Railway, who chose the greenfield site to locate their main Works in around 1836 because it was roughly half-way between London and Birmingham. It was also adjacent to the Grand Union Canal making it easier for building materials to be brought to site and ironically started the demise of the canal’s fortunes as railways transported goods.

The Works was also heavily involved in three war efforts, the Boer War and both World Wars. It built General Haig’s train and ambulance trains as well as repairing planes in WW2.

After British Rail ownership, Wolverton Works was bought in 2001 by Alstom to carry out acceptance and reliability modifications to their new train fleets such as the Pendolinos. When this work was complete, the French train builders sold the Works to the property developers St Modwen who leased the works to Railcare. They in turn entered administration in July 2013, just weeks before the 175th anniversary.

In September 2013, the Administrators sold the business to Knorr-Bremse, (KB) but only after half the 250 strong workforce had been made redundant. Since then, KB has quadrupled the workforce on the strength of a five year lease, which expires in 2018. The latest projects there include manufacturing Crossrail platform screens, in a refurbished workshop, and replacing every external Pendolino door. A new contract re-engineering Class 321 electric trains for Voith is about to commence bringing the overhead cranes back into use in the Lifting Shop.

Other workshops have been modernised and include a new carriage corrosion treatment unit while the traversers have been brought back into full use following electronic control panel upgrades. A new staff car park has been created near the Royal Train Shed.

Royal farewell?
The Royal Train has been constructed and based at Wolverton since 1869 and is now likely to be relocating after 150 years there. The existing Royal Train Shed was built in 1988 and will also be demolished to make way for housing overlooking the canal.

Some of the Royal Train staff now fear that the train will no longer operate if relocated from Wolverton but if it carries on, it is understood that Derby could be the new home – but the train may be retired and enter preservation.

Milton Keynes 50
Milton Keynes will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in under eight weeks time. The Council is looking to celebrate this throughout 2017 using the town’s heritage but curiously agreed to lose most of it! But the debate seemed to centre on the Council’s squeezed finances and the need to try and catch up on their housing targets set by Government.

Andrew MacLean, Head Curator of the National Railway Museum sent a statement to the planning meeting emphasising just how important Wolverton Works was to UK history, but to no avail.

They said:
St. Modwen said that the £100m Wolverton Works regeneration plans will support hundreds of current and future rail-related jobs for the town and deliver much-needed new homes and community facilities for Wolverton. In September, planning was approved for the construction of a Lidl store in an early phase of St. Modwen’s wider masterplan and construction will commence in spring 2017.

St Modwen say that the key features of the regeneration plans for Wolverton Works are:

• Jobs: Provision of business space for Knorr-Bremse RailServices Ltd, protected for future rail-related employment use only

• Supporting small businesses: New business space providing premises for small/ medium size businesses and start-ups

• Homes for all: Up to 375 new homes – a mix for all ages, family sizes, needs and pockets

• Funding for social infrastructure: contribution of c.£4m towards vital services of which £3m is allocated to education

• Heritage value: Opening up what is currently a closed site, existing buildings’ facade retention and heritage features throughout public spaces

• New community space: The potential to create a railway heritage centre – St. Modwen is discussing opportunities with Milton Keynes Museum

• New open spaces: Provision of a new public square and multiple landscaped spaces equivalent, in total, to the size of 2 football pitches

• Architectural identity: Use of a ‘Design Guide’ to ensure new buildings reflect the Conservation Area with pitched roofs, use of brick, terrace housing and other key features

• War memorial: Publically accessible space allocated for a memorial

Gary Morris, Senior Development Manager at St. Modwen said: “ We have worked closely with Milton Keynes Council, local stakeholders and the Wolverton community to develop a sensitive design for the Works. Not only will these plans enhance the unique identity of the town and reflect its much-loved railway heritage, but they will also encourage further economic growth and regeneration for the town.”

Further planning applications will be brought forward in due course, to determine the exact designs of the new buildings. comments:
In April, St Modwen wrote to Phil Marsh they would not get involved in the War Memorial and that it was for Knorr-Bremse to attend to. This was included into the planning application at the last minute to help garner votes. St Modwen also still says that only 300 jobs are at The Works. It is in fact around 480, Knorr-Bremse’s figures. Initially, there was to be provision for a Heritage Centre either. Network Rail has confirmed it is looking at the future of the Royal Train.

St Modwen also said that safeguarding jobs could only be achieved by demolishing the Works and building a new one. Nick Brailey, Communications Manager for Knorr-Bremse told Phil Marsh in February 2016 that they would ot be relocating if they had to remain in the existing buildings.

The future?
Whatever the pressures on the Council brought by St Modwen and Knorr-Bremse behind the scenes, it emerged in the planning meeting that Knorr-Bremse had not yet told St Modwen their requirements for a new Works. Once this has been established, a detailed planning application will be submitted for approval and no demolition will take place until all Approvals have been obtained. This will take up to two years.

The development will be delivered in phases to avoid business interruption to Knorr-Bremse. Once the foodstore has been built, phase two will see Knorr Bremse move to the west of the site say St Modwen ( where they already work ) and a new premises can be built for them. The final phase will be the new homes, and what is described as ‘potentially’ a community/ heritage centre and public spaces on the west part of the site in around 3-5 years’ time.

And finally
One key point which the Council, Knorr-Bremse and St Modwen are all silent on is the provision of a level crossing for HGV’s to access the site. It is known that the Office of Rail and Road do not sanction any new level crossings but as the new one will be inside the Works curtilage, it will be the Health & Safety Executive that approve it or otherwise. This was brought up at the Planning meeting by a local councillor but ignored by the rest of the meeting.

This also ignored locally agreed planning policies and any protection afforded by being inside a Conservation Area. Progress can be followed at .


Within a few days of writing this we will be marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It was a terrible battle with heavy casualties on both sides but at the end of a very long day Napoleon’s army was defeated for the last time and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Weillington, emerged as the hero of the hour.

Let’s not underestimate the importance of this event for European history but also in 1815 an inspired and unlettered genius was working in the north east of England to resolve engineering problems which had much more significance for those of us interested in the history of Wolverton. It was in this year 200 years ago that a self taught mechanical engineer was able to forge the available technology of the day to create a steam engine that could move a locomotive frward. This man was George Stephenson.

In 1814 he had managed to forge the available technology of the day to create a steam engine that could move forward on rails. The steam locomotive was born. In 1815 he was improving the design and experimenting with iron rails that would not break under the weight. He also presented his design for the miner’s after lamp. One month later, a Cornishman called Sir Humphrey Davy presented a similar design and because he was an educated man from the landed classes he was credited with the invention. Most people in London found it difficult to believe that an unlettered northerner would have the wit to design such a device. Nevertheless Stephenson’s lamp went into manufacture and was known as the geordie lamp. It is said that the term “Geordie”. now applied to anyone from those arts, originated from the fame of George Stephenson.

He is of course best remembered for his pioneering work with the railways and by the time his son Robert (who was born in 1803) was of an age to go to school George Stephenson was prosperous enough to to send him to private school. Thus Robert grew up without a Geordie accent and was able to speak the language of the financiers and politicians of the day and it was he who engineered the London and Birmingham Railway and determined the route which brought a railway lone to Wolverton in 1838.

It must have been an odd experience for the suave, well-educated scion of a wealthy banking family, George Carr Glyn (later Baron Wolverton) to have encountered a seemingly rough character such as George Stephenson, and he was probably difficult to understand. yet Glyn was able to reflect on this in a speech given in 1849 at Wolverton (a year after Stephenson’s death) where he was able to reflect on the value of education.

Education was the groundwork of everything valuable in after life. Let them conceive what a basis it lay down for the rising generation. Let them remember that they were living in a country where the lowest among them might, if properly educated, arise in the race of life to the highest rank – that in this happy country – blessed be to God for it! – no degree, no grade, no exclusion existed, which prevented the well-educated youth from taking up a high position, such as his father, not so well-educated, could never have arrived at. (Cheers.) He needed not to remind them of the instances of the truth of that assertion, but there was one whom he could not refrain from mentioning here, because it had been his lot to have been thrown much into contact with him – he alluded to the late George Stephenson. (Cheers.) He had his failings, which of them had not (cheers)? But he (Mr. Glyn) held that the rise, the life, and the position of that man had been an honour to himself and to the country to which he belonged. He had heard him often detail passages in his interesting life – the privation which he had endured, and the industry with which he struggled against the anxiety of his early commencement; but what had struck him (Mr. Glyn) most, and had made the deepest impression on him, was when he recounted the zeal, the toil, and the privations he underwent to ensure the best education for his only son. (Cheers.) He appealed to them that if he (Mr. Stephenson) had not been repaid for that toil and for those privations? Had not that son repaid everything a father could have done? And did he not know bear a European character and estimation? (Cheers.) Let them rely on it that the cost of education would be one which they would never regret to have paid. (Cheers.)    

Another Early Map of Wolverton

Sometimes little gems turn up in unlikely places. I found this plan, folded, in a box of Radcliffe Trust documents in the Bodleian Library
in Oxford. Let me explain why the plan was made and then I will comment on what it tells us.

The early inhabitants of Wolverton, having no back gardens, were given allotments. In the 1840s this was about the only way of organising your own vegetable supply, there being no greengrocers in Wolverton. The first allotments were laid out in the eastern field by the canal at some distance from the houses. However some of the Bury street residents, quickly realising that their back yards opened directly onto a field decided to help themselves. This is the field coloured in red on the plan. Some even kept pigs.

The farmer complained to his landlord, the Radcliffe Trust and the Trustees called in Mr John Driver to investigate and make a report, which he did on April 14th 1847. He did recommend selling more land to the LNWR for allotments, but his more sensational recommendation was to build a six foot hush brick wall around the railway property. This was to be built at the railway company’s expense and I suspect that it was never built.

What Mr Driver did leave behind is this interesting plan of Wolverton in 1847. The green coloured area was the extent of railway Wolverton at the time, although it may not be entirely up-to-date as the second Engine Shed, on the east side of the line was certainly started in 1845, and the Gas Works had also moved by this time. So there are some curious anomalies here. The Royal Engineer, for example, is outside Wolverton on Radcliffe Trust land. This is because it was a condition of sale to the railway company that no licences premises would be permitted on railway property. This also explains the location of the Radcliffe Arms in that field which later became Wolverton Park.

I have told the tale of the Radcliffe Arms before, where two enterprising Stony Stratford businessmen  took out a long lease on these four acres and rushed to complete their new hotel by 1839, next to the first railway station, only to learn the following year that the railway company had moved the station to a new location. The Radcliffe Arms was thus isolated from the town, and indeed travellers, but what this plan shows is that they finally had decided to build a new Radcliffe Arms beside the road. This is pretty much the spot where the third station was built n 1881.

We can also note from this map that the extension of Creed, Ledsam and Young Streets is about to start. Some rough pencil lines indicate the proposed terraces.

The new road to Stratford had been cut through in 1844 but the approach road to the station still comes from the west, as if carriages would come from the Od Wolverton Road. It seems that this was certainly the case when Queen Victoria arrived here to spend the Christmas of 1844 at Stowe. Instead of taking the new direct road she processed down to the old road and thence to Stony Stratford. I suppose the hairpin bend shown on this map caused some royal nervousness!

Early Wolverton Plan

Here’s a plan of Wolverton Works and the northern Streets circa 1850. I’ve cleaned it up a bit.

The quadrangular building in the centre is the first Engine shed and the main reason for Wolverton’s being. On the right is the new Engine Shed built about 1845.

This is what it looked like from the bridge in the 1960s.

The three short streets of cottages to the north are (from the east) Garnett Street, Cooke Street and Walker Street. They had a very short life. They were cheaply built with one room downstairs, and a scullery with a sleeping platform above and although they were cheap to rent they were generally unpopular. When the time came for workshop expansion in the mid 1850s they were unceremoniously levelled.

The long street on the eastern side, Bury Street, had about 40 houses and shops. There were 8 shop units at the north end and 6 larger, 3 storey houses at the south end, rather like the house preserved on the corner of Spencer Street in New Bradwell. Starting in the mid 1850s, these house sites were gradually reclaimed for industrial purposes and by the 1890s only one house, for many years a drapery, was left standing at the south end.

The fourth street in this section, on the south side of the Engine Shed, was known as Gas Street, after the gas Works that were originally on this street. These gas works were relocated to the east of the second station in the 1840s and in 1881 to the old Wolverton Road. The buildings for these gas works are still there, although in a somewhat derelict state. There were 8 house units on this street of better quality than many of the other early builds and they lasted until the 1890s.

Another point of interest on this plan is the first bath house at the north end beside the canal. This moved to the south end of Ledsam Street after 1856 and to the Stratford Road in the 1890s.

Just to the south of the stratford Road you can see the school building on the west side, the beginnings of Creed, Ledsam Streets and Glyn Square. The isolated rectangle, just to the north of the Gyln Square terrace, was the first Market House. This was used regularly from the 1840s until it was damaged by fire in 1906.

Wolverton’s First Day

George Carr Glyn must have been very excited as he rose early on Monday morning, September 17th 1838 to take his carriage to Euston. This day would mark the opening of the uninterrupted London to Birmingham railway line – a full journey of 112 miles that could be completed at double the average speed of the fastest stagecoach. As chairman of the London and Birmingham Railway Company from its formation he had steered the new venture through the difficulties of parliamentary acts, raising massive capital, negotiating land acquisition and overcoming massive engineering problems. The last of these, the difficult construction of the Kilsby tunnel and issues with the Wolverton Viaduct had now been surmounted. From this day through passengers no longer had to alight in the no mans land of Denbigh Hall on the Watling Street, and proceed by stage coach to Rugby before resuming their rail journey to the Birmingham destination.
He could feel pleased with himself and as he met his fellow directors and chief officers for a 7 o- clock departure from Euston. The conversation must have been lively and self satisfied.
The train passed over Denbigh Hall bridge on to new rail for the first time – at least officially, and a further 8 miles brought them to Wolverton, the first station after Leighton Buzzard, and at that time in a fairly rudimentary state. A wooden station had been erected on the embankment and an approach road from the Stony Stratford to Newport Pagnell turnpike had been cut alongside this embankment. Passengers had to climb a long flight of steps and although we have no record of it there must have been a lot of grumbling. This may have stimulated the directors to build a new station on newly acquired land to the south only two years later.
We know little about this station. Some plan drawings from 1840 survive and there is a rather rudimentary line engraving with little detail that was published at the time. Subsequent redevelopment has probably destroyed any archaeological remnants.

Some facts can be asserted. Work had already started on the new engine shed and surrounding railway cottages. A wharf was built on the south side of the canal, and a well had been sunk to over 300 feet and a pump house built over it. Steam engines were thirsty machines and the proximity of the canal would not have guaranteed a sufficient supply, although as it turned out this well water was extremely hard and had to be diluted with canal water to minimize scale.
So the painting here is largely imaginary while depending on some salient facts.  The canal course has not changed and the embankment of the original line survives, as well as the bridge. The engraving above shows some station buildings. The rest is mostly conjecture. Te land to the north of the canal was still a field, probably used for pasture in 1838. It was soon leased to two Stony Stratford men who built the first Radcliffe Arms on this spot to cash in on the railway trade. The inn was trading in 1839 but it became something of a white elephant after the removal of the railway station in 1840 and its subsequent isolation from the new town.
We know from newspaper reports that a substantial crowd gathered to marvel at the new phenomenon of rail travel, many from nearby Stony Stratford who depended on the pre-eminence of coach travel for their livelihood. Little did they know.

More early Railway Accidents.

One of the first and unfortunately tragic consequences of introducing a heavy machine able to move at speed was that it took some time for people to become aware of the danger. Here are some reports from 1839, the first year of continuous operation of the London and Birmingham Railway. there were many more, but I have only included those that involved Wolverton

Yorkshire Gazette Saturday 14th September 1839

On Sunday night the mail train for London left Birmingham at its usual time, and proceeded with safety until near the station at Wolverton when a sudden outcry was raised that someone had been run over. The engineer immediately stopped the engine, and the guards ran back, when one of the stokers was found lying across the rails literally beheaded. It is supposed that the unfortunate man, while on the look out, must have slipped off the tender, and the wheels of the train passed over his neck.

The Champion Sunday 15th September 1839

We regret to state that another dreadful and fatal accident occurred on the London and Birmingham Railway on Monday morning last. It has been endeavoured to keep the matter strictly secret, but from the enquiries our informant has instituted the following particulars have transpired: – It appears that on Sunday night the mail train for London left Birmingham at its usual time, and proceeded with safety till near the station at Wolverton, when a sudden outcry was raised that someone had been run over. The engineer stopped the engine, and the guards ran back, when a dreadful sight presented itself, one of the stokers being found lying across the rails literally beheaded. It is supposed that the unfortunate man must have slipped off the tender, and the wheels of the train passed over his neck. The body was removed to Wolverton, where it awaits a coroner’s inquest. The above is, we understand, the third accident on this railway within eight days, a man at the commencement of last week having his foot torn off by a train; and on Friday last, at the Wolverton station, Inspector Watts was crushed in a most dreadful manner, death terminating his sufferings almost immediately.

Coventry Herald Friday 5 April 1839

An accident took place on the line of the London and Birmingham Railway, near Wolverton, on the morning of Saturday week, in consequence of which a man named White, an engineer in the employ of the Company, sustained injuries of an extensive and distressing nature. It appears that White had been entrusted to bring a train from Birmingham station to Wolverton, where he ought to have taken it on the opposite rail and there left it. On the contrary, however, he kept it on the same line upwards of two minutes after his arrival. Before he had quitted the up-train from Birmingham was observed approaching at full speed, leaving White no time to get out of the way. The consequence was, before ay check could be put on the speed of the up-train, it came into violent collision with that in which White was. The force of the concussion caused the engine to be detatched from the tender, which in its progress was turned off the rails and precipitated over the iron bridge into the canal that passes under it. White was discovered lying on the bank of the canal below the bridge, with one of his arms severed from his body, and his right thigh shockingly lacerated, besides having received several other severe contusions. Medical aid was procured, and amputation of the arm close to the shoulder was deemed indispensable. The train proceeded without any inconvenience save slight damage to one or two of the  carriages by breaking the windows.

The Champion Sunday 20 October 1839


The mail train from the north on Monday morning was thrown off the rails about a mile from Fenny Stratford, in consequence of running over two cows. The travelling post-office was much injured, and the horse box, in which the great portion of the mail bags are deposited, was nearly broken to pieces, as well as another carriage. An engine and a second class carriage were immediately sent for the conveyance of the mails to London, where they arrived two hours and forty minutes after the proper time. In consequence of the travelling office being broken, all the letters for the towns between Wolverton and London, and for the post towns on the line on each side the railway, were unavoidably brought on to London, from which place they were again dispatched by day mail to their destination. Fortunately the two clerks and the guard employed in the travelling post-office escaped without injury.

Wolverton’s First Railway Casualty?

The London and Birmingham Railway opened through Wolverton for the first time on September 18th 1838. A day later an unfortunate man by the name of Francis Wilson whose body was found beside the line on the 19th, not even 24 hours after the line was opened.

The Bucks Herald reported on the inquest held on September 20th.

On the 20th. inst., at Wolverton, on view the body of Francis Wilson, who was found about 5 o’clock in the morning of the 19th instant, on the railroad near to the Wolverton Station – he was alive, but insensible. It appeared that the deceased had been drinking, and was returning home between 10 and 11 o’clock, when it is supposed he attempted to cross the railway, being the nearest way to his lodgings, and in so doing, was knocked down by the engine of the eleven o’clock down mail. His skull was most extensively fractured and a portion of the brain had escaped, and he died a few hours afterwards. Verdict accordingly. The Coroner severely reprimanded the policemen on duty, as it was evident they had not been so attentive to their duty as they ought to have been, or the poor man would have been prevented from going on the railroad, or at least discovered sooner.

These sorts of accidents were not, tragically, uncommon in those early days. There was a complete lack of awareness of this new machinery, and it appears that the engine driver was probably unaware of the impact at the moment it happened, even though the engine was probably travelling at no more than 30 miles an hour. I wonder too where he had been drinking. There were no pubs at Wolverton Station at that time – the nearest would be The New Inn at Bradwell and the forerunner of The Galleon at Old Wolverton.

As another reminder about how serious risks to health and safety used to be, the same coroner had to pronounce a verdict on this truly shocking incident.

On the 14th inst, at Hillsden, on view the body of Phillis Mansell, aged 6 years, who on being left alone by her mother for a few minutes, attempted to take a tea kettle off the fire, and in so doing, he clothes caught fire. Medical assistance was called in, but she died the same day. Verdict – accidental death.

Wolverton Works and the Station in 1863

Plan of Wolverton in 1863 (from Harry Jack’s book)
The above plan shows New Wolverton on the 25th anniversary of its creation. The original workshop expanded to the north in the late 1850s to wipe out three streets of houses and as you can see it is also starting to take up farm land to the west. What we later knew as the Stratford Road and Church Street is a new development and you can still see today those buildings from the early 1860s. Glyn Square is still an actual square with terraced houses on three sides. The Market House, which was burned down in 1906, is on the site of the present two storey building.
But let me turn my attention to the station, built in 1840 and was to remain in service to 1881. It was, to judge from drawings from the 1840s, quite an impressive building and was celebrated for its refreshment rooms. In ts heyday in the 1840s Wolverton was a mandatory stop so that engines could be changed and passengers could refresh themselves in more ways than one. There was a staff of over 30 to administer to the needs of travellers and since the stopover was only ten minutes speed an efficiency were paramount. The organization was presided over by Mrs Leonora Hibbert, who was described by Sir Francis Bond Head as the “generalissima”. She later moved to a hotel in Bangor.
As engines became faster and more reliable, the necessity of stopping off in Wolverton diminished and the refreshment rooms went into decline. Plans to build a hotel on this site were scrapped.
South of the railway line you can see the six villas, now the site of the “Secret Garden”. Originally the approach road to the station ramped down from the canal bridge, but after 1881 that whole area was hidden away in anonymity. On this side of the railway they built the first paint shop and the second Gas Work were sited here before being moved to the Old Wolverton Road in 1881.
Below are two photographs taken in December 1861 from the east. You can see the spire of St Georges in the background. Behind the engine is a water tower and the southern end of the station buildings.

New Bloomer engine awaiting a paint job.
Express Goods Engine 1861

Both engines appear to have been lined up for a photograph before being backed into the Paint Shed for painting, by hand in those days, and using lead-based paints.