The 19th century Stationmasters

Here is a review of the station masters at Wolverton in the 19th century. The photograph above is an illustration of how they may have dressed.

The new station at Wolverton opened on September 17th 1838 and the London and Birmingham Railway company installed a very young man called Alfred Denny Blott as the Clerk in Charge. They were boot called Station Masters until a decade or so after the railway was founded, so the job from the outset was conceived as one requiring clerical skills, writing out tickets and collecting money. Young Blott (for he was only 21) must have impressed his superiors at Birmingham, where he had worked for a few months. At the time he was single and found lodgings at Old Wolverton.
In those early days the railway policemen were given the responsibility for the control and flow of traffic, but it became apparent that each station operation needed to be under the control of one man and the position of station master emerged. Alfred Blott was given some handsome salary increases while he was at Wolverton, earning at his peak £200 per annum. This put him firmly amongst Wolverton’s top earners, alongside the vicar and other senior works staff.

I have told the tale of Alfred Blott’s dalliance with an unnamed young lady, which resulted in his transfer to Oxford on October 1st 1851 here, so I won’t repeat myself.

He was immediately succeeded by Samuel shakespeare, who was moved from Stamford. he was there for almost three years until July 1854, when he was dismissed. At the moment I haven’t been able to find out the reasons for the dismissal. The salary register simply records that he was dismissed.
On July 10th of that year they transferred Thomas Davies from Euston. He was paid £140 a year, £60 less than Alfred Blott, and as the century goes on that £200 salary begins to look extravagant. It is not clear when Davies left but by 1861 Joseph Parker was installed. Parker served until his retirement on 4th October 1877. He moved to a house on the Stratford Road where he lived until his death.

J Day replaced him from Willesden. he lasted two years before he was discharged on 24th July 1879. No explanation is given in the salary register. Day, who was born in 1838, was the first Station Master to be born in the railway age.

The second was Edwin Bliss, born at Aspley Guise in 1845. He served in the position until his quite early death at the age of 45. By the 31st January 1890 he was too sick to continue and he died on 16th february of that year. In March they brought in Robert Dunleavy, who had been Station Master at Buckingham for ten years. He was 38 years old.

As an interesting side note they start to record the height of these men in the salary registers from 1879. Bliss was 5’9″, Dunleavy 6′. Two of his successors were 5’7 3/4″ and Thomas Brinnard was 5″11″. They were all men of above average height for the times.

Dunleavy was there for five years and then promoted to eight on Buzzard. The Wolverton salary was now fixed at £140 and reflects the decline of Wolverton from one of the principal stations in 1838 to a stop on the line. Leighton Buzzard, with its branch to Dunstable and Luton was a far busier station.

He was succeeded by G T Cable, then about 55 years old. He came from Leighton and it appears to have been a job-swap. Cable looking for a lighter load and the younger Dunleavy wanting bigger opportunities. Cable was probably in poor health at this time as he signed off sick in November 1896 and retired in January 1897.

J. Scott was brought in from Cheddington and served at Wolverton until he moved to Rugby on 30th April 1898.

Thomas Brinnard became the Station Master to see out the century. he arrived in Wolverton to take up his duties on 30th December 1898 and stayed until he retired on 31st August 1910. The salary register notes that he died on 9th September 1921.

He was succeeded by Henry Brinklow.


Alfred Blott, the Station Master at Wolverton, got married at Willesden in 1843. He invited George Weight, incumbent at Wolverton to conduct the ceremony. Blott, a farmer’s son, styles himself as “gentleman” on the marriage certificate. Alfred Blott had arrived!

Class and status are sometimes difficult things to unravel. Wolverton was in many ways a more homogeneous community than most in that the bulk of its new population were working men and their families. They were much better paid than their agricultural counterparts, but for all that they were still what we would later recognize as “working class”. Wolverton then and subsequently had a large working class population and a small middle class. It had no upper class.

Those in middle class occupations had status within the community and this status can probably be measured by income.

In the late 1840s we can probably assess status from incomes:

J E McConnell     £850 pa. rising to £1200 pa.

Brabazon Stafford, Chief Accountant £350

 George Weight, Vicar of St. George’s £250

John Bedford, Superintendent of Police for the line, £250 

Various works Foremen between £150 and £300 

 Alfred Blott, Station Master £200

William Pousette, Clerk £200

Archibald Laing, Schoolmaster £100

 James Hibbert, Booking Clerk and second to Alfred Blott,  £100

Almost from the beginning the railway distinguished between weekly wage staff and salaried staff – the latter more likely to fall into a middle class status. Such status was not always a matter of income. An engine driver such as Barnabas Panter, who lived on Creed Street opposite the schoolmaster, probably earned as much, if not more than Laing, but he would not be accorded the same status. Engine Drivers were paid at a daily rate of 7/2d, which, if they worked 6 days a week could realize a weekly income of £2 3s. However, it was hard and dangerous work. Interestingly, Barnabas’s son William eventually bridged that divide. He started work as an apprentice, worked his way up to foreman and the assistant superintendent at Wolverton. He was promoted to salaried staff in 1877 at £250 p. a. and at this point moved into one of the villas. In 1885 he was appointed Superintendent for the Carriage Works of the London and South Western Railway at the new town of Eastleigh, moved into a nearby mansion, and became Eastleigh’s most prominent citizen. He started life in a working class household and ended it entrenched in the middle class. He even has a street named after him in Eastleigh.

The Inspector of policemen, Martin Deacon, earned £1 15s a week, or about £90, certainly equivalent or better than some salaried clerical staff, but as a weekly wage earner would find himself in a working class category Policeman who were quite numerous in the 1840s before the creation of signal boxes and remote switching of points, were paid 19s a week. The ticket collector at the station, William Hazelgrove, was paid £1 3s. a week and the foreman porter, £1 10s a week.

Wolverton was then, and remained, an unusual social mix. There were no “upper class” people living in Wolverton. There was a tiny middle-class and a large (even dominant) working class population of skilled artisans earning wages well above the agricultural median. There were virtually no poor people, other than those unfortunates who had been incapacitated by injury or widows.

There is an analysis of the social mix in 1851 here.

A Fatal Railway Accident

When the railways newly came upon the scene there were a lot of accident. People new about horses and carts and presumably knew enough to step out of the way when they heard one coming. The sounds of the steam engine were unfamiliar and not necessarily associated in people’s mind with a threat – at least not in those early years. Even those familiar with the railway, as were the three men in this case, seemed to be oblivious to danger.

Here is a report from The Times of October 21st 1840 about an acccident near Wolverton.


(From a Correspondent.) 

On Monday last, about 2 o’clock, as the down train from London was nearing the Wolverton Station, it came into contact in the following manner with some labourers who were walking the line, and killed two of them, and severely injured another. They were proceeding in the direction of Wolverton, and were intent on getting out of the way of an up goods train that was approaching them in front. In consequence, their attention was drawn from the down train coming on them from behind, and before they were aware of its near approach it ran over three of them, killing two on the spot, and injuring the other so much that one of his legs was obliged to be shortly after amputated. It is stated that the engine driver of the down train, when within a quarter of a mile of them, gave them the usual caution by using the engine whistle, but from their attention being fixed on the up train, and the down train progressing on an inclined plane, it was difficult, or perhaps impossible, to avoid the melancholy catastrophe. The men killed were used to the line, as they bhad been formerly employed on it in the vicinity of Denbigh hall.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that no names are mentioned in this report? The three men remain permanently anonymous.

James Edward McConnell

Bury’s successor at Wolverton was James Edward McConnell.

James Edward McConnell was born on the 1st January 1815 at Fermoy, County Cork, of Quentin and Elizabeth McConnell, he Scottish born and she English. Quentin was a millwright. After Quentin’s early death in 1815 James was sent to Watshouse in Ayrshire into the care of an uncle. He was apprenticed to a Glasgow ironworks in 1828, Claud Girdwood & Co. in which a cousin had an interest. He then went to work at Bury’s Clarence Foundry in Liverpool in 1837.

McConnell was certainly a high flyer.  In 1841, at the age of 26, he was appointed Foreman at the Bromsgrove workshops of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. A year later he became Locomotive Superintendent.

Captain C R Moorsom was a director of the B&G Railway and later a director of the L&NWR, and it is likely that it was his influence that secured McConnell the position of Locomotive Superintendent at Wolverton to succeed Edward Bury in 1847. And so, at the age of 32, he moved into Wolverton Park House with his family. He was paid £700 per annum, considerably less than Bury, but a very good annual income for the time – about the starting salary for a schoolteacher in 1970!

McConnell had his detractors:

Some of his new colleagues recorded their impressions of McConnell. David Stevenson, the Camden Goods Manager, described him as “a strong and determined man of the rough sort.” Robert Benson Dockray, the LNWR Engineer wrote in his diary: “There is no doubt of his being intellectually a very clever man, full of energy, but he has some sad moral blemishes which will always prevent his occupying the position he otherwise could do. He is cunning and wants straightforwardness.” Superintendent Bruyeres also said McConnell was not straighforward and “works for his own department as though it were not part of the general concern.” The anonymous writer in the railway papers of the 1840s who signed himself ‘Veritas Vincit’ had some very caustic things to say about McConnell: “this youthful superintendent has an immeasurable conceit of his own talents” (April 1843); his “usual flurried manner in giving directions” (April 1845); there “is not a locomotive superintendent in the kingdom who has wasted more money or failed in his attempts at improvement … pushing himself forward in the company of men of talent, hearing their opinions on scientific subjects, and advancing them in other quarters as his own. This is no secret, it is often alluded to.” He “knows nothing but what he copies, and what he does copy is usually fallacious” (February 1847). The last outburst was prompted by hearing about McConnell’s appointment to the LNWR, which had completely astonished ‘Veritas Vincit’. He thought the appointment had to be because of some private motive – “it cannot have been based on the qualifications of McConnell.” (Harry Jack. Locomotives of the LNWR Southern Division

Nevertheless he was a young man full of energy and determined to make changes. He recommended the scrapping of a lot of older engines and proposed that Wolverton should manufacture rather than simply repair engine. The Board agreed.

McConnell’s energyand drive for efficiency created labour problems. In 1848 the footplatemen went on strike over reduced pay and McConnell replaced them with untrained blacklegs. He prevailed, but with a loss of goodwill and his deputy who publicly criticised him for his lack of concern about the safety hazards of employing unskilled drivers.

McConnell’s lasting legacy was the building of bigger and faster engines, including the “bloomers”, which I will discuss in the next post. He also presided over the locomotive building years – an activity which carried more glamour than the building of carriages, such as increasingly happened after he left. His nemesis was Richard Moon, who became Deputy Chairman after the death of McConnell’s patron, Admiral Moorsom in 1861. Moon was strongly in favour of rationalising workshop activities between Wolverton and Crewe, and eventually got his way. A report submitted to the Board in 1862 was very critical of McConnell and on February 20th 1862 he submitted his resignation.

He then moved with his family to Great Missenden  and rented an office in Westminster, from where he worked as a consulting engineer, producing designs for a number of railway companies.

Despite his confrontational beginnings in Wolverton he appears to have developed into a respected citizen. He promoted education and was probably responsible for ensuring that the Science and Art Institute was completed. He also fostered a savings bank and encouraged sporting activities.

In 1883, at the age of 68, he fell ill and died on 11th June from heart failure and pneumonia. he was by now a well-to-do man. His personal estate, according to is will, was valued at £28,097 9s 7d – a large sum of money in 1883

Edward Bury

Edward Bury was born in Salford in 1794, son of a successful timber merchant. He was educated at Chester school and at an early age showed an interest and aptitude for mechanics. In 1823 he was a partner in the Gregson and Bury steam sawmill at Toxteth Park, Liverpool. In 1826 he set himself up as an iron founder and engineeer. with a new office and works at Tabley Street, quite near the new goods terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
A short time later he established the Clarence Foundry and Steam Engine Works near to Liverpool’s Clarence Dock. The works eventually covered three acres and employed over 1,000 men.
Bury entered locomotive design when it was in its infancy, and although he did not complete an engine early enough to compete in the famous Rainhill trials, he did emerge with a locomotive which was an advanced design for its day.
In    1836 the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway engaged Bury as its locomotive superintendent and he set forth the standard specifications for the building of the required locomotives by a number of firms across the country. When the Wolverton shops were completed he was appointed Locomotive Superintendent at an annual salary of £1,000. He rented Great Linford Rectory for those periods when he was in residence, although according to Hugh Stowell Brown he was not much seen at Wolverton.
Bury specified the design for all the locomotives for the early London & Birmingham Railway, which were built by a number of firms across the country, including his own. This led to some perceived conflict of interest in this  dual role as a manufacturer of locomotives and as a railway manager. However, although there was criticism it appears that the arrangement continued and Bury was paid a very handsome annual salary that rose to £1,500.
The first engines were built at a cost of £1,050 and it was estimated that the cost of operation would be 1/4d per passenger per mile, Thus the cost of taking a passenger from London to Wolverton was 1 shilling. The fares offered plenty of profit. 1st class – 2s 6d; 2nd. class closed carriage – 2s and 2nd class open carriage – 1s 6d. The average speed of these early trains was 22 1/2 mph – glacially slow by today’s standards but compared to stagecoach speeds of 7 mph, a threefold increase.
Bury continued in his role throughout the life of the London and Birmingham Railway, but shortly after the amalgamation with the Grand Junction Railway to form the London and North Western Railway he became less at ease with the new regime and resigned in 1846. He was replaced at Wolverton by James Edwatrd McConnell.
In 1848 he became Locomotive Suoerintendent of the GNR and in the following year General Manager. However, he left in 1850 after complaints (apparently unfounded) that he was giving preference to firms with which he was associated. While he was with the GNR he laid plans for the workshops at Doncaster. His firm also lost substantially when the Russian Government defaulted on payment for the swing bridge over the River Neva. Bury set up a steel works in Sheffield and in 1855 another with his son, William Bury. He then retired to the lake District but died in 1858.
Harry Jack concludes in his short biography of Edward Bury:

Writers of railway history have not been kind to Edward Bury. He has been derided as a builder of tiny old-fashioned engines, obstructively stuck in the past while greater men were pushing locomotive development forward. He has been denigrated by authors from Stretton onwards. He was described by Ahrons as “endowed richly with the commercial instinct” and by a more recent writer as “above all a business man” but in reality it seems that the money-making instinct was the very thing Bury lacked. His first concern was always in running the railway efficiently; if he placed orders with his own firm it was because he knew he could rely on his own products. Kennedy was later to complain that if he had only had a good commercial man as partner he would have carried on with the Clarence Foundry. 

All the evidence shows that Bury was liked and respected by his men. “By a union of strictness and kindness” he gained their confidence in his judgment and integrity. ‘Veritas Vincit’ said he was “the most particular Superintendent in England in the selection of enginemen” and Bury himself described his L&B footplatemen as regular and well-behaved who gave him no trouble. In 1839 he said that although without powers to do so, he had fIned one or two of them a sovereign each, but gave out rewards for good work. Some men took to the work at once, he said, but others would never make engine drivers; he had already promoted five or six firemen to drivers. Mostly labourers originally, the L&B engine drivers were “men of great activity and of great ability to get out of a difficulty.” 

At first the L&B did not carry third-class passengers because the directors could see no profit in it, but Bury argued that they had a duty to do so, because “the railways have, or will destroy all other means of communication” including the stage wagons and carriers’ carts used by the poor. He spoke to the Board repeatedly about this, until eventually one daily slow train was put on to carry third-class passengers – albeit at the fairly expensive fare of 1 1/2d a mile – in October 1840. 

Bury’s legacy, from the railway workshops at Wolverton and Doncaster down to such details as the net parcel rack and the varnished teak livery, undoubtedly includes many improvements in locomotive design which have been credited to others. A rather reserved, cultured and speculative product of the eighteenth century, he was very unlike the generation of locomotive superintendents which succeeded him. His was no ragsto-riches story and was therefore of no interest to Samuel (Self-help) Smiles who wrote so many popular biographies of engineers; it was left to Bury’s widow to publish a short memoir, which few could have seen. 

Now Edward Bury can be recognised as a great railway organiser, as well as one of the greatest locomotive pioneers. It was not for nothing that he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1844, the only locomotive engineer so honoured until Sir William Stanier a century later. 

His widow believed Bury had “devoted the best energies of his life to the success of the London & Birmingham Railway”.