Wolverton’s First Builder – Charles Aveline

The title of this post is not true in any literal sense. Wolverton had builders going back to the middle ages and there were of course all the railway workshops and housing. However, these were built by outside contractors. Strictly speaking Charles Aveline was Wolverton’s first local builder.

Charles Aveline proves to be an interesting character, very much the entrepreneur, and at the very beginning of the New Wolverton was able to seize the business opportunities it offered. 

He was born in Leighton Buzzard in 1829, the son of a cabinet maker, George Aveline. He had an uncle Frederick established in the same line of work in Stony Stratford. His grandfather and uncle Samuel also were cabinet makers in Great Horwood. Young Charles therefore began his business with a set of skills, knowledge of the business and possibly some material support from his father. He also had an aunt who married into the Barter family who owned, amongst other things, the wharf at Old Wolverton. I don’t imagine he had much difficulty in accessing capital.

We are told that Charles Aveline built the new farmhouse at Stacey Hill in 1848. This is probably what brought him to Wolverton and one suspects that he got the nod rom the Radcliffe trustees  through the contacts of his uncle Frederick and the Barter family. It is astonishing that he was under 20 at the time and if this was his  first building project it was very adventurous. (See my footnote below.)

Stacey Hill Farm as it appears today

In the 1851 Census he shows up in two of the shop units on Bury Street, numbers 385 and 386,  as a cabinet maker, furniture dealer and undertaker.  Aveline was visiting relatives in London on the day of the 1851 Census so he does not show up in Wolverton on that date, but the trade directories of the period show him as very much a commercial presence in Wolverton. 

In the next decade there were no building opportunities in Wolverton. The land had been used up and the Radcliffe Trust were not minded to allow expansion. New Bradwell was built by outside contractors. So for a period Aveline’s building career was put on hold.

In 1860, when new lots were opened up on the Stratford Road and Church Street he was able to resume his building activities. He almost certainly built the first new house on the Stratford Road, now numbered 6, 7 and 8, which he inhabited. He also took on the job of  postmaster and I think the Post Office was managed by his wife and eldest daughter. The Post Office was at Number 6 and next door was leased to a grocer.  Wolverton’s Post Office remained at this location until the Aveline retired and it moved further west, next door to “Foster’s Corner.” The General Post Office was built on Church Street in the 1930s.

The First Houses built on the Stratford Road

I cannot directly attribute specific houses to Aveline but one suspects that a number of the houses along the Stratford Road and Church Street built in the 1860s and 1870s originated with him. In 1881 Aveline was employing 23 men according to the census entry, so his activities must have been quite extensive. His name also turns up as the maker of a number of monuments in St George’s churchyard. 

A View from the Radcliffe Street corner, c. 1910

There were two sons and two daughters born to his wife Ann. She died in the 1880s and Charles remarried. In or around 1890 he retired and moved to Bedford. His eldest son George became a land agent near Liverpool and his youngest son Charles Henry became a furniture dealer in Bishop’s Stortford. Charles senior died in 1914 at the age of 85 and left £9,692 0s 8d in his will – a significant sum for those days.

(A footnote to the building of Stacey Hill Farmhouse. I was told some years ago by Bill Griffiths, Director of the MK Museum, that the farm was built by Charles Aveline. I have seen no documentary evidence. I raise a question here because of the youth of Charles Aveline in 1848. While it is not improbable that he built it, it does suggest that he had not only mastered the skills of building at a precocious age, but also had made a powerful case to convince the Radcliffe Trust land agent that he could successfully do the job. I wonder, for example, if Aveline might have been responsible for later additions but not the original building.)

Stacey Bushes Farm

Farms, as such, probably emerged in 1654 when the land enclosure was finally completed. Stacey Bushes farm is very remote from Wolverton so we might speculate that there had been some operation on this site prior to that. Nearby Bancroft was a much more ancient farming settlement and it is unlikely that the land in this area was ever completely abandoned.  The land that slopes down to Bradwell Brook, although a heavy clay soil, is quite good for arable farming, although the uplands, mostly bush and at one time common land, was used for grazing livestock.

The farm house and outbuildings was located on the north side of Bradwell brook and it can be seen on early maps. This map from 1825 shows its location clearly.

The earliest records of the farm date from 712-13 when the Wolverton estate was up for sale. A careful inventory of all the assets, including the farms and their rents, was compiled and at this date the tenant was William Harding. he held 289 acres for an annual rent of £180. This was not an insignificant amount of money in 1713. Those who were dependent on the parish for welfare would be paid from 1/6d to 2 shillings a week; if they were sick or disabled or widowed in the long term this would amount to no more than £5 a year. Against this figure £80 was a large sum.

But no doubt William Harding made more than enough money in the year to pay his rents and his workers an provide for his family. He was probably, among the five other farmers and some of the innkeepers on Stony Stratford High Street, a member of Wolverton’s small middle class.

Nevertheless this was not a good period for farmers. The years 1725 to 1728 were extremely wet and yielded poor harvests, and even the years before that were not especially productive. The farm did not stay in the Harding family and after 1722 it was leased to Richard Gleed. Possibly his son William took over but since he had taken over part of what was to become manor Farm, it is possible that the Gleed family interests moved to the more fertile land in the north. At any rate richard Godfrey took on the tenancy in 1766.

The tenancy after that is not altogether clear but in the 19th century the Battams family, who also had interests in the inn trade, appear as  tenants. Thomas Battams was the tenant at the end of the 18th nd beginning of the 19th century and it was probably when William Battams, either his son or grandson,  was a tenant  that a decision was taken in 1848 to build a completely new farmhouse on the hill at the centre of the farm.

The reasons for this decision are not completely clear from the mites but it seems that the old farmhouse was past saving and a new build was necessary. It is possible that the farmer and the land agent felt that a more central location mad for better administration, and so Stacey hill farm came into being and the old Stacey Hill Farm was demolished. I am not sure that anyone in the past bothered to look for any remnants of the old buildings, but if there was something there it is now lost to recent development.

The new farmhouse, which is now part of the MK Museum, was built by Charles Aveline, Wolverton’s first builder. I may have a follow up post on Aveline’s legacy.

The building today has been enlarged over the centuries.

Stacey Farm Cottages

The cottages we most associate with Stacey farm are the two at the beginning of Stacey Avenue. They were probably built around 1890.

This photo, probably dating from the 1920s,shows the farm gate that led to Stacey Hill Farm. In the background you can see the Moon street school.

There were earlier versions of these cottages which were to be found at the bottom of Green Lane. In censuses from 1851 onwards they are identified as such and at least one of them was inhabited by a shepherd, leading one to believe that bush fields and the fields latterly occupied by Wolverton expansion in the 1870s and 1880s were given over to pasture.

About the time of building the Gables, these cottages were acquired and converted into a single dwelling lodge house. Plan drawings survive in the Buckinghamshire Record Office which I reproduce here. The drawing is undated but it is probably late 1880s. One of the staircase is scribbled over with pencil, indicating that this was to be removed. The front elevation is probably as it looked before the conversion.