The Payroll

Today, I can wave a plastic card at a machine and the money is immediately transferred from my bank account to the merchants. Yet in my early days almost all transactions were by cash. Money was handed over and change given and often those heavy pennies and half crowns would wear a hole in one’s trouser pocket. The Wolverton Work’s payroll, when you come to think of it, was an astonishing enterprise.

One of my great uncles was Chief Cashier in the works the 1930s and it was his job to supervise the payroll. There were almost 5,000 men and some women in the works in those days, and almost all of them received weekly pay packets. All calculations were made by hand and I am not sure that there were even any mechanical adding machines bak then. The amount was recorded in a ledger and finalised onThursday. Lloyds Bank were notified of the total amount required and that money was brought into the bank on Friday morning.

That morning (and this practice continued into the 1960s) two people would wheel a  hand cart from the Cambridge Street works entrance across the Stratford Road to the bank. The appropriate amount would be placed in the cart and wheeled back to the works. Not a Securicor van in sight!

Astonishingly, since this practice must have been very well known, no robbery was ever attempted.

The money was then counted out by clerks and placed in manilla pay packets with an explanatory slip. Wages would be paid out in pounds, shillings and pence – even a halfpenny was significant. Once done, the cart would be wheeled along the whole length of the works, stopping at each shop so that employees could collect and sign for their wages. All this was accomplished before 12:25, when the works whistle signalled the start of lunchtime.

In the 1950s, the Building Society offices opposite the Vic would be open to receive payments of deposits. Prior to the war that function was accomplished Friday evening in the Science and Art Institute. The average weekly payment on a mortgage might have been about 10 shillings – a figure that seems laughable today when the modern equivalent of 10 shillings is 50p!

Very few people had need of a bank account. Indeed, bank opening hours were Monday to Friday from 10 to 3 pm – times which were totally inconvenient for working men. All of life’s transactions, paying for food, housing, gas, electricity, entertainment were on a cash basis and a cheque would never be part of anyone’s life experience.

The first expansion of Wolverton

In 1860 the Radcliffe Trust finally backed off from their hard-line position of no further expansion in Wolverton. The railway industry was growing rapidly and the original 22 acres was insufficient to contain the workshops and housing and amenities. In 1854, the Railway Board had to resort to the creation of New Bradwell because they could gent additional land released by the Radcliffe Trust.

This plan here shows the beginnings of the westwards expansion. The area in green north of the Stratford Road opened up another field for works expansion, backing onto Bury Street. bury Street and Gas Street were still used for residential purposes at this time, although the other residential streets on the north side had already been torn down in the 1850s.

The green area south of the Stratford Road shows the land occupied by the new housing development that started in 1860, that is the Stratford Road and Church Street as far west as the Cambridge Street back alley. This remained the western edge of Wolvertonuntil the 1890s.

The plan was drawn up because the LNWR wished to further expand their workshops. This area is marked in red. Notice how the land skirts some farm buildings and possibly some cottages. These are probably the remnants of an 18th century farm. Indeed earlier maps show a track going over a canal bridge to the Old Wolverton Road. That became redundant after the Stratford Road was built in 1844 so the bridge was probably taken down.

Richard Dunkley

Richar Dunkley was a builder from Blisworth. he came from a long line of builders whose activities had been mostly local, but with the coming of the London and Birmingham Railway in 1837, Richard Dunkley struck gold and became one of the company’s favoured contractors.

In Wolverton he built the workshops and most of the early housing stock. he was also awarded the contract for building the new houses in Stantonbury in 1856. Many of Dunkley’s buildings in Blisworth and Northampton survive today.

He died at the age of 79 in 1886. Here is his obituary:

His obituary in “Building News”, 3rd September 1886 reads:
The death is announced, in his eightieth-year, of Mr. Richard Dunkley, formerly a builder and railway contractor, well-known in connection with the earlier phases of what is now the London and North-Western Railway. He built for the London and Birmingham Railway Company, when the line was in course of construction, most of the workshops at Wolverton, including the turning and smiths’ shops, the locomotive sheds, the saw mills, and carriage works; and he also carried out there many extensive alterations and additions, besides building many houses for the employees. He built the whole of the great junction at Willesden; constructed several of the loop lines, and erected 40 houses there for the company; and during a period of between 30 and 40 years, he executed many important alterations and additions, rendered necessary by the great increase in the railway traffic. He also carried out some very heavy works at Chalk Farm Station, and at Euston Station; and Tring and Cheddington Railway Stations were erected by him. The railway line between Northampton and Market Harborough was constructed by him, including the tunnels through which the line passes. In the town of Northampton his works included the West Bridge at Castle Station, the Corn Exchange, the Midland Railway Station, the Post Office, the new Cattle Market with its roads, the breweries belonging to Messrs. Phipps and Co., Mr. Phillips and Mr. Manning, the Kettering Road reservoirs, and the roads and culverts on the Kingsley Park Estate. He also took down the old town hall, and carried out some additions to St. Andrew’s Hospital, and the west wing, schools, and chapel of the Convent of Notre Dame in the same town. Seventy-two cottages at Stantonbury, near Wolverton; the viaducts at Coventry, the gasworks at Leamington; Warwick Gaol; the engine sheds at Rugby; Carlton Hall, the seat of Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Bart., were also his work.

The Time Clock

Thanks to David Weatherhead for this bit of memorabilia.

I don’t know when punch card time clocks were introduced but it was probably a 20th century invention. Which I suppose begs the question of how work time was monitored before the introduction of these clocks.

The one shown here must have been of pre-WWII date and was probably a precision timepiece. Each employee had a time card which could be inserted to record time in and time out. You could of course clock in early but if you clocked out early you would lose pay. I think a minute might cost you at least a quarter of an hour’s pay – possibly more. Because of this men would leave their work five minutes early and would line up to clock out. Once the minute hand had ticked over men wuld rapidly process their time cards and the exodus from the works gates at lunchtime and at the end of the day would rapidly become a flood.

Time clocks such as this one were in use until 1996, when they were replaced by an electronic version.

Wagon Plate

This photo has been sent to me by Martin Mellon of a wagon plate collected by his father. Does anyone know anything about this?

Obviously the date and place are a giveaway but does anyone know what the numbers mean?

Not having worked behind the wall I have no idea where or how these plates were made. I assume that these were individually cast in sand with the numbers changed in sequence.

Works Fortnight

It was a common feature of early 20th century Britain to close down industrial plants for two weeks while the workforce took their holidays. Wolverton was no exception in this regard and accordingly for two weeks in July Wolverton Works closed down. Usually the schools ended their year the Friday before Works Fortnight and on Saturday morning the railway platforms were heaving with people. Special trains were laid on for the occasion and most North Bucks families connected with the works set off for a one or two week vacation.

My memories are of the 1940s and the 1950s and I suspect that the pattern changed after that. The Wolverton workforce became more diversified as newer industries appeared and the railway works diminished in importance. In those days two weeks holiday was considered plenty and those holidays were fixed. Destinations for most people were the British seaside resorts and this of course was their heyday. Mostly people went either east to Hunstanton, Cromer, Great Yarmouth and Southend or to the south coast. Some went to Blackpool. Very few crossed the English Channel, although that was possible. One of the great perks for railway workers was free or subsidised rail travel. Depending on your status or length of service you were entitled to a number of free passes every year. In all cases the annual vacation was covered. The other thing I remember from those years was the huge amount of luggage people took with them. there were no self service laundrettes in those days so you had to take enough clean clothes to last the week or fortnight. And of course clothing was a lot heavier back then. So suitcases and trunks were pulled out of storage and packed to overflowing with the families’ needs. Often a leather strap was called into service to hold the case together.

One year (I think it was 1953) my Father was required to work on some project, so there was no holiday for us during Works Fortnight, and we went late in August instead. It was then that I experienced what Wolverton was like when virtually all its citizens were off on holiday. A visitor might easily assume that it was a ghost town and expect tumbleweed to blow down the Stratford Road. The town really was empty. Some shopkeepers took the opportunity to take their holidays at this time and shut up shop for the period. Regular buses ran mostly empty but the extra buses in the morning, lunchtime and evening did not run. The works whistle, which normally punctuated the day was silent.

My brother and I found it a pretty lonely experience as there were no friends to play with, and we were left to our own devices. Character forming I suppose!

The Rhythms of the Day

The “Works Whistle” as we called it was a loud siren that sounded regularly at 7:43 am, 12:25pm, 1:25pm and 5:30pm for five days a week. For those who worked on Saturday morning it went of at 8 am and 12pm. I don’t know in what year the “whistle” was introduced but it could be heard all over town. It governed the lives of most residents. When I did a paper round in the 1950s in my teens I was able to observe the start of the working day. Usually we had to be up at 6:30 and down to Muscutt & Tompkins by 7. We sorted our papers into our bags which were permanently greyed with printing ink. The Daily Herald (which later morphed into The Sun) was the worst as they seemed to use a particularly greasy back ink which made our hands dirty and everything else. Men started to appear on the Front at about 7:15 when some of the village buses came in. Very quickly, as the Stony Stratford and New Bradwell buses disgorged their full loads and a stream of workers came from the railway station the road was heaving. Many came into Muscutt & Tompkins for their newspapers and a packet of fags. Some of the popular papers like the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express were stacked about two feet high at 7 o-clock; by 7:30 they were down to a few inches. Most Wolverton workers left their homes at about 7:30 which gave them enough time to walk down to the Front to clock on. The warning whistle went off at 7:43 which gave everyone two minutes to clock on. The street quickly emptied and a great silence fell upon the Stratford Road.

Shops opened at 9 and closed for the day at 5:30 (it might have been 6) and there was an early closing day on Wednesday where shops closed in the afternoon. It was rigorously observed. There may have been a by-law to govern shopping hours.

School hours were from 9 to 4, with almost an hour an a half for lunch. One friend of mine, who lived at Stony Stratford, took the bus home and back every lunchtime.  The mid-day meal was the main meal of the day, a custom that had lasted for centuries until recent times. We may have been almost the last generation to experience this. I think that the Primary School and Secondary School had slight variations in time so that the children did not coincide at lunchtime and the end of the day.

The men left at 12:25 when the whistle went and were home shortly after 12:30 when the meal was served. There was a full hour for lunch. Those who came from further afield could eat in the Works Canteen. I am sure that some put in some time at one of the four pubs or the bottom club. Again the Front was a bustling place until 1:25 when it all fell silent again and several thousand men did their work behind the wall.

At the end of the day, at 5:30 the gates opened and for the final time thousands of men and women teemed out of the gates. The buses on hand quickly filled up and the trains were not far behind. Within about five minutes the street was empty again.

In the 1950s we took this as normal, as indeed it was in those times. We probably could not have imagined a time when the old industrial economy which employed people in their thousands would give way to lighter, smaller, more flexible work places. There are still rush hours today, but people are travelling in a multitude of directions at different times to different destinations. In Wolverton in the 1950s there was one destination for almost everybody.

Wolverton in its Prime – 2 The Workshops

Wolverton Works – Eastern End
The original Engine Shed of 1838 was the square taken up by (27) Fitting Shop, (28) Wheel Turning Shop, (35) Gas Fitters Shop, (36) Brass Finishing Shop, (37) Brake Shop.
The first expansion was on the east side of the line (45). This was later expanded to include the whole triangle with (47). Building No 48 was the site of the Reading Room.
The next stage of expansion was south of the Stratford Road with newer engine sheds at 49. The second station buildings 43 and 44 have been adapted. Building 42, the accumulator shop was a later building. The terrace on the north side of Glyn Square was demolished to build a laundry (41). The laundry building later became part of the Training School in the 1950s.
Northern expansion began in 1855 when the three northernmost streets were demolished. Buildings (29)  Forge, and (31) Iron Foundry are on this site. North of the canal, on the embankment, buildings (32) Tin Shop and (34) Lifting Shop, were built in the 1880s when the Park was developed on the site of the Radcliffe Arms. The third (and last) Gas Works was at this time sited on the Old Wolverton Road. (52)
Bury Street and Gas Street were finally demolished in the 1890s to make way for (25) Bogie Shop, (26) General Stores and 38) Tool Rooms, (39) Testing Room. The General Offices (40) were built over the former site of the first Gas Works.
Probably at this stage of development the famous or infamous wall (depending on your point of view) was built to extend from McCorquodales to the Reading Room.
The Forge (29) and Smithy (19) date from the 1860s. The carpenters Shop (15) and Sawmill (14) are later.
At the Main Entrance there is the Time Office (21) and Canteen (22). Lower down are the Underframe shops (16 and 17), the Electrical Shop (18) and two Polishing Rooms (23 and 24). It should be noted that electricity was still a very new thing and even new houses in Wolverton were still supplied with gas lighting.
In the 1870s two of the villas were demolished to build a new paint shop (49)
At the far western end, once the  works was able expand, most of the new buildings here were given over to timber storage and preparation. Wood was an important component in carriage building back then and the level of craftmanship was held to be very high. Buildings (1,2,4 and 8) are for timber storage and drying.
Buildings (6) for carriage repairs and (7) was a wheel and axle shop.
Everything about the carriages and wagons built in Wolverton, from the wheels an chassis to the lettering was done behind the wall. This was a feature of manufacturing at the time. All was done “in house”. The idea of sourcing components from outside was foreign to the Victorian mind and did not begin to take root until after WW II. The idea was to keep close control over the production and therefore the quality. Thus Works the size of Wolverton were essential to create the product. Today this massive industrialization is a thing of the past.

Wolverton in its Prime – 1 The Works

This plan is taken from a map which I would date circa 1905. The new Radcliffe Trust development of Peel Road, Jersey Road and Anson Road is underway, but not yet complete. The new Girls and Infants School on Aylesbury Street is pencilled in but yet to be built and the same is true of the Church Institute on Creed Street and the Moon Street School. The Carriage Works however, has reached the full westeern extent of its development. There were changes to come, but in terms of territory, this was the limit. The workshops and principal buildings have been numbered and a table and sectional views follow below.


Wolverton Works c. 1905
Reference to Workshops and Sheds
1 Timber Gantry
2 Timber House
3 New Paint Shop
4 Timber Stores
5 Lifting Shop
6 Carriage Repairs
7 Wheel & Axle Shop
8 Timber Drying Shed
9 Power Station
10 Horse Box Shop
11 Parcel Cart and Omnibus
12 Finishing Shop
13 Body Shop
14 Saw Mill
15 Carpenter’s Shop
16 Underframe Shop
17 Underframe Shop
18 Electrical Shop
19 Smith’s Shop
20 Finishing Shop
21 Time Office
22 Dining Hall
23 Polishing Room
24 Polishing Room
25 Bogie Shop
26 General Stores
27 Fitting Shop
28 Wheel Turning Shop
29 Forge
30 Brass Foundry
31 Iron Foundry
32 Tin Shop
33 Engine Shed
34 Lifting Shop
35 Gas Fitters’ Shop
36 Brass Finishing Shop
37 Brake Shop
38 Tool Room
39 Testing Room
40 General office
41 Laundry
42 Accumulator Shop
43 Accumulator Shop
44 Washing Shed
45 Paint Shop
46 Paint Shop
47 Trimming Shop
48 Sewing Room
49 Paint Shop
50 Carriage Finishing
51 Electrical Shop
52 Gas Works
53 Wolverton Station

South Eastern Works

North Eastern Works

Western End

Royal trains

This being the day of a Royal wedding, I can reflect on Wolverton’s long association with coach building for the Royal Family. In the building of coaches of the highest quality Wolverton was pre-eminent and the workmen were able to meet the exacting standards expected for the monarch.

Coaches were built there for Royal use from the 1840s but the 1869 saloons built for Queen Victoria set new standards. Carriages were limited in length because of the need to negotiate curves on the track safely, but the royal entourage demanded more space than could be satisfactorily squeezed into a single carriage. Victoria, however, was very nervous about stepping from one carriage to the next, so the Wolverton engineers came up with the idea of a bellows unit that could connect two carriages without exposing passengers to the elements. Before long this feature became standard on all trains. I have discussed some of this here.

Here are some photos:

 The first is an early royal carriage from the National Railway Museum.

This drawing from 1844 illustrates the very sumptuous interiors of those early royal coaches.

And here is an interior shot of the carriage shed at Wolverton where the Royal Train was housed and maintained when not in use. The shell of the building is still there on the embankment above Wolverton Park, but now this building has been converted into residential apartments.
And finally, the National Railway Museum Blog has a posting about Wolverton’s royal carriage building here.