Enter McCorquodale’s

For the first 40 years the L&NWR was the principal employer for Wolverton and District, and a successful and expanding one too. But the expansion was naturally accompanied by population growth and with it an emerging social problem. There was always work for men, but what about young, unmarried women who were living in Wolverton in increasing numbers with little to do?

Women did not have the choices in Victorian times that they do today. After school ended at 13 there were a few years to wait for marriage. Domestic work was socially acceptable, as was dress-making, lace-making and straw-plaiting, and they could also work as shop assistants. School-teaching was an occupation for a very few. Women were not allowed into offices until the twentieth century. Girls were a burden on the household until they married.

Smaller rural communities could absorb their girls in some of the activities noted above, and larger towns also had opportunities, but Wolverton was a working class town. There were no big houses or a sizeable middle class in need of domestic servants and in fact the censuses of the period show very few domestic servants employed in Wolverton. The Refreshment Rooms, which in its heyday employed almost 30 girls, was by this time on its last legs. Wolverton presented a unique circumstance in this regard.

Sir Richard Moon, whom I wrote about yesterday, had an idea. He approached his fellow Liverpudlian, George McCorquodale, with a view to establishing a stationery factory at Wolverton. Girls and young women could be employed in a socially acceptable environment. McCorquodale, who had been actively printing for the L&NWR since 1846, took up the idea and in 1878 opened his envelope factory at the western end of Wolverton. The new venture worked and in the 1880s 120 women worked in the factory. The men numbered 20 in total.