Friday, October 7, 2016

Wolverton Rugby in 1890

A Wolverton Rugby Club was re-formed almost 60 years ago, and I was part of it. We had no facilities. We changed in the Wolverton Baths along the Stratford Road, made our way to the Top Rec, where we played our match, and then back to the Baths to clean ourselves up. Sandwiches and more than one pint of beer at the Craufurd afterwards. Often we had barely enough bodies to make a 15 and there was more than one occasion when we had to "borrow" a player or two from the opposing team.

The story was not dissimilar in 1890, when Wolverton's first rugby club was making its way in the competitive world of its day. As can be read in this newspaper report from the Northampton Mercury of 4 January 1890, Wolverton was short of players. However, here they are, playing Northampton at Franklin's Gardens. Northampton is now one of the mightiest teams in the land and it boggles the mind a bit that Wolverton was once thought to be on a more-or-less equal footing. Two week's later, they travelled to Warwick.

In 1890 Wolverton Rugby Club played on a pitch marked out beside the canal, in the field between the Galleon bridge and the blackboards bridge, now of course a housing development.

In the article below the Wolverton umpire was Mr. F. Swain, a keen sportsman in his day, and the man who founded Swain's sports shop at 48 Church Street.


A combination team of Wolverton and Oluey footballera, at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday aftemoou, were beaten by the St. James’s representatives with a try to four minors. The fixture was Nurlhamptou v. Wolverton ; but several of the latter's men could not play, and so the Oluey Club was drawn upon to fill up the vacancies. Then  Wolverton were a man short. The Northampton team, about half-an- hour after the match should have commenced, looked like numbering about twelve players. Eventually, however, by getting several unselected men to play, It was made possible to put a full, although weak, home fifteen in the field. The Wolverton men, with their backs to the lake, started a somewhat poor game—which cost spectators 6d. to witness—something after three o'clock. Williams did some good forward work for Northampton; Allinson made a short run and a useful boundary kick, and Hough—who failed to play up to his previous day’s form—put in a little sprint, but was soon collared. This play was at the home end, where a maul took place later on between Robinson and Hilton, the former proving the stronger, and touching down for his side. On the re-start, Dunham and Hooton tackled well, and the latter, picking up after a dribble by Moring, was promptly pulled down by Golding. A. Farrer. by a long kick, returned the leather to Northampton’s 25, and Allinson had again to touch. Almost immediately Hough nearly scored, but dropped the ball on the line, and only a third touch was credited against. Northampton at half-time. Moring a minute or two later received from a line-out and kicked, but Smith made a pretty return. Shortly after there was a dispute. The ball was kicked over Northampton’s line, and Ruff, who was off-side ran in after it. From the presence of a number of people around the goal line, it was impossible to say what followed. Robinson claimed that be touched down; Ruff that he scored a try by touching the ball after it was handled by Robinson – but it was still in motion. Each umpire, J. Roseblade, (Northampton) and F. Swain (Wolverton) stood by his respective side and eventually the visitors gave way. Hardly was the ball again rolling than C. Stanley got hold and showing the Wolverton backs a clean pair of heels, scored a try, amidst cheering, for Northampton. Moring took the kick, a difficult one, and tailed, and the game shortly after concluded.
Wolverton.—Back, G. Inns ; three-quarter backs, Smith, Hough, and Hooton ; half backs. Gallop and Hllton ; forwards, Ruff (captain). A. Shaw. J. Gardiner, A. Farrer, T. Farrer, W. Cooke, J. Biginton, G. Covington, (one short).

Northampton.—Back. A. Robinson; three-quarter backs, C. Stanley, C. J. Allinson, and A. Orton ; hair backs, W. Moring and T, Phipps ; forwards. C. Phipps, T. Stanley, J. Ayers, A. Dunham. Golding, Drsge, Williams, C. Parr, and W. S. Godfrey.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Wolverton's Manor House

I was reminded yesterday that Wolverton doesn't have a manor house, despite its history as an important manor. It did at one time have a castle, but more of that in another post.

We do not know what the late 16th century house looked like exactly but it may have been similar to this.
The large house, and there would have been several versions of it over the centuries, was built on the higher crop of land at Old Wolverton, next to the church, overlooking the valley. It held a commanding and defensible view. Of the earlier buildings we know next to nothing. It is probable that the Longuevilles improved and enlarged the earlier medieval property during the 15th century. The only reference we have to the building is from the Tudor traveller and writer John Leland, who was passing through around 1540.

The Langevilles of later tymes hath lyen and bilded fairly at Wolverstun in Bukinghamshie (nere Stony Streatford).
We can only interpret "bilded fairly" as that the house was of sufficient size for Leland to take notice, and the reference to "later times" probably indicates an early Tudor building.

Later in the century Sir Henry Longueville decided to embark on his own building project at a cost of £12,000 - a very significant sum of money. This was in 1586. Once again we are short of any drawing or description until Thomas Hearne, writing in 1711 tells us this much:
It stood near a large mount, thrown up East of the Church, & it was a magnificent Edifice, being 145 Feet in length & built with good Free-stone. It had 9 large transome windows in the Front, of good polished Free-stone which was very regular; it had in the first Range a spacious lofty Kitchen, Buttery, Hall & Great Parlour, in which last room were painted in the large Escucheons (sic), the Arms of the Longueville Family with their matches quartered & impaled. There were also some arms in the windows of painted glass; particularly of Wolverton & Roche: the first of which bore, B. an Eagle displayed A determined by a Bendlet G. K. the other, viz. Roche, gave G. 3 Roaches A. This front part, as seems to me, built by Sir Hen Longueville in Queen Elizabeth's time: and Sir Henry & his lady Elizabeth Cotton's Arms, being placed there in 2 Shields, with this date, 1586, seems as if they were the builders, and that it was begun to be built then; it cost, as I have been informed, above 12 thousand pounds in those days. At each end were several Rooms of an antient tower structure, which were chiefly made use of, & particularly those on the south wing, by Sir Edward Longueville. I visited him in 1711: & several rooms in the new building were never finished, or properly furnished, as appeared to me. 
I also discovered a document in the Nottinghamshire archive which was prepared about the same time as a sale prospectus for the estate and the house. It is able to offer us some supporting (although in places conflicting) detail.
The House is 60 yards in front with two Wings about 15 yards in lenght (sic). Built of Stone is very Strong & in perfect good repair. The Gallary which is a very noble one, the floore was never layed down, all offices that are necessary as Wash houses, Brew house, dary house, larders, Granarys, Wood Barns, Stables for 20 horse, Coach House with 20 Bay of Barning with a Worke House, two Duffcoates & several Houses very necessary for any use in good repair.
The house, as we know from other accounts, was not in "perfect good repair", but this is a sale prospectus and some glossing is to be expected. We can read from these two accounts that the house was stone built with a frontage of 180 feet (Hearne says 145) with two wings at each side of 45 feet. It is not clear which of the "offices" are included in the wings of the great house but it is probable, given the size of the stables and coach house, that these and almost certainly the dovecotes are separate structures. From Hearne's description we might infer that the kitchen and buttery (larder) made up one wing of the building. I am guessing that a second floor gallery was designed around either the hall or the "great parlour" but that this floor was never completed, although this phrase never layed down is open to different interpretations.

Hearne's observations are probably accurate but his interpretations can be modified. The window displaying the date of 1586 is more likely to have been the completion date rather than the date building began; windows are usually the last part of house building. His observation that the greater part of the building seemed unfurnished may have more to do with Sir Edward's straitened circumstances than the fact that the building was not completed and that he had been selling off furniture to pay debts and was confining himself to one wing of the building. £12,000 was an enormous sum of money to spend on a house in Elizabethan times, and even if that sum had been exaggerated, there should have been plenty of money to complete the building to the satisfaction of Sir Henry and his wife.

The sketch above is a representation of the architecture of the period with only Hearne’s notes as a guide. We do not know the placement or orientation of the building but as Hearne writes of a south wing one would guess that the main part of the house faced south east, towards the Old Wolverton road. It was probably built to the south of the old motte, but within the bounds of the Norman bailey. Those of you who are familiar with the site will know that there is a raised level area above the vicarage and this was more than likely the ground for the former mansion.

This plan shows the possible siting of the old mansion

Sir Edward Longueville completed the sale with Dr John Radcliffe for £40,000 and after paying his debts he dumped his wife and went off to live at Bicester with his mistress. He died a few years later in a hunting accident.

The old manor house did not last much longer either. In a letter dated 24th October 1715 William Bromley (one of the Trustees) wrote that “the Great House was: very ruinous, & since it is now never likes to be used as a Gentleman's Seat you'll consider whether it may not be advisable that it be taken down, & the materials disposed of.”

In 1926 it was dismantled. Most of the other buildings on the estate were in poor state of repair and when it came time to rebuild the Vicarage this course of action recommended itself to the Trustees. Parts of the old mansion can be found in the Vicarage which is still standing today. I have also been told that some of the Manor Farm cottages are built of material from the old Manor House and it would not surprise me if much of the stone and timber found its way into houses in Stony Stratford. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The John Radcliffe Hospital

On Thursday I visited a friend who was being treated at the John Radcliffe Hospital, a great sprawling modern series of buildings in the leafy suburbs of Headington, Oxford.

What has this to do with Wolverton? Well, the forerunner of this hospital was the Radcliffe Infirmary, established by Dr John Radcliffe's estate in 1759, and, paid for out of the rents collected from the Wolverton Manor. Dr Radcliffe purchased the manor in 1713 for £40,000. He got 2,500 acres of farmland (at the time yielding valuable income) and the whole of the east side of Stony Stratford's High Street, which had several large inns such as the Bull, the Three Swans, the Horseshoe and the Red Lion - all contributing to the rent total. The annual income from the estate was about £2,700. This seems like a piffling amount today, but in the 18th century it was quite enough to support the Radcliffe Library and pay for the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

The 18th century was a great age for building new hospitals. Northampton's Infirmary opened in 1743. Edinburgh had a new one in 1729 and Winchester in 1736. In that context Oxford was a little late but the process did begin in 1747. It took time. First there was difficulty about acquiring land and then there were delays in building, but eventually the foundation stone was laid on 27 August 1759 at the 5 1/2 acre site on the Woodstock Road.  The building was mainly completed in 1767 but it took until 3 July 1771 for the formal opening ceremony to take place. The cost had been high. The Trustees had originally planned to spend £4000, but with the delays and additions the total bill came in at £12,791 15s. 6d. - just over 10 years' net rents collected from Wolverton.

In the next century, new wards were added together with additional buildings to meet the demands of a growing population. The Radcliffe Trust continued to make a capital investment, but that was all. The city and the county and individual citizens were expected to contribute towards the operating costs of the infirmary. Doctors were expected to donate their time as a public service; it being assumed that they were well enough compensated by the fees of their prosperous patients. Nursing too, had yet to emerge as a profession, so the day-to-day operation of the hospital was largely entrusted to orderlies, who may not have been well paid.  In that regard the infirmary was a relatively cheap operation in the 18th century.

At around the same time as the Radcliffe Infirmary's first phase had been completed the Trust acquired an adjacent field to build an observatory. Nobody at the time saw a conflict but towards the end of the 19th century, as the Infirmary (by this time the County Hospital) needed to encroach upon the Observatory land to satisfy the demands of a growing population. There was resistance from the Observatory who believed that their line of sight would be impeded by new buildings and that chimneys would cloud the atmosphere. They were probably right, but two Trustees, who gave their names to Wolverton streets, Sir William Anson and Lord Peel, found themselves on opposite sides of the argument. Anton favoured Infirmary expansion; Peel did not. In the end the demands of people overcame the unimpeded view of stars.

Wrangling continued for some years in the early 20th century until the intervention of William Morris in 1927. He was willing to make a substantial contribution to the development of the hospital, but only upon the condition that the land housing the Observatory be made available. The Radcliffe Trust, who ha in any case been considering moving the observatory, concluded that this would now be the time. They set a price of £100,000 on the land, which was accepted without demur, and it was sold in 1930. Morris could call upon wealth that far outstripped that of the 18th century John Radcliffe and the combined site became the Sir William Morris Institute of Medical Research, later changed to Nuffield after Morris's elevation to the peerage.
Map of Headington Manor showing the proposed site development.

The Radcliffe name more-or-less disappeared at this point at the main infirmary, but earlier, in 1919, the Radcliffe Trust had purchased the Manor of Headington as a site to treat tuberculosis patients. In 1960 this site was chosen to build a new hospital, and by this time the NHS was steering the ship. The site was chosen for a maternity hospital and John Radcliffe's name was chosen.  And in 1982, when Oxford's hospitals were centralised at Headington the name of John Radcliffe was preserved as the "Churchill John Radcliffe Hospital". In 1994 "Churchill" was dropped and it has been known since as the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Verity Bargate

Verity Bargate appeared briefly at Wolverton Grammar School during the mid-50s, perhaps just for one year in 1956-1957 when she completed her O-levels. She boarded at Wolverton House while she was there. She was a year or so older than me and I don't recall having anything to do with her. However I do remember her as a very lively character and my sense is that she kept the Senior Mistress, Miss Full, occupied. She went on to achieve some distinction as a writer and theatre director but it came at a cost as the biography from the DNB makes evident, and is quoted in full below. As children we have no idea what lies under the surface of the lives of other children, so the DNB biography, written by the theatre critic Irving Wardle, came as a complete surprise.

The  girl did, however, have talent. I found these pieces from the school magazines of Autumn 1956 and Spring 1957, which may be the first example of her writing in print and it does show a precocious talent. At the age of 16 most of us were writing rather stodgy school essays, but this, on re-reading it now after 60 years, illustrates a gift for language. Her vocabulary, style, her sharp  observation and humour should have marked her out at that age for a career grounded in writing. Instead, she was encouraged to train as a nurse when she left school in 1957, something that she was apparently unsuited for. Sadly, in 1957, intelligent and educated women were given few choices - secretarial work, nursing, teaching or marriage. Take your pick!


The Grammar school is ancient now,
But bright with many a hue;
And rules are drawn up everywhere 
What not—and what to do.
Few rooms are held as out of bounds,
Except perhaps for two,
From which from time to time come sounds 
Not much unlike the zoo.
Inside there is a smoky haze 
Through which dim shapes are seen 
And books are piled up in a maze—
Which shows that someone’s keen!
Sanctum sanctorum—how they laugh!
For these two rooms are for the Staff!

Verity Bargate, 5T. (Autumn 1956)

We were making the long, dreary journey to London and going past the grimy factories and embankments of Dagenham and East Ham, when my attention was drawn in rather an unusual way to the elderly couple sitting opposite me.

The husband with his wrinkled face and snowy hair was describing the view from the window to his frail little wife, whose eyes were shining as she listened to his words. The unusual thing was that the view the husband was describing was far more like the Elysian Fields than the dreary prospect of smoke-grimed chimneys and endless grey wails in front of us.

He told his wife of green hedges, golden corn and blue, blue skies; of cattle grazing peacefully on dewy sward and small boys running with careless abandon through waist-high grass; of an occasional golfer trying desperately to get out of a bunker and thus put an end to his humiliation.

All this I heard with growing wonder, and it was only as we drew into a station and the couple rose to get out that realisation dawned on my until then uncomprehending senses. The wife walked with a white stick and was totally blind.
Verity Bargate, 5.T. (Autumn 1956)


We own a dog. Please do not be misled by that relatively mild statement. It would have been better to say a dog owns us. She is, ostensibly, a dachshund. Her mother definitely was; her father, I fear, is unknown. Although we usually call her Mitzi-Mary there are, as always, variations on this theme, and she is registered in the Kennel Club as Tugboat-Annie. When she was taken to the Kennel Club to be “identified” the judge, after a long examination, said she thought she must be a dachshund because she didn’t know what else she could be. If Mitzi was hurt when she heard this, she didn’t show it, but she was rather subdued on the homeward journey. 
She was not acquired because we wanted another dog, she was thrust upon us in such a way that it was impossible to refuse. The alternative was a brick and a bucket of water. My mother went to see her owner merely to please a friend who had said she would. A rickety shed was unlocked, a voice said “Here’s Baby" and a tiny, bandy legged little thing staggered out, blinking in the bright sunlight. She was in a very bad condition, through sheer neglect, but she gave my mother such an appealing glance that—well .... She came home in state in a handbag and immediately made us all her slaves. She was so weak and helpless, and so very, very small. 
Weak ? Helpless ? Small ? It seems incredible now to think that any one of those adjectives could ever have been applied to Mitzi. She is large, strong and independent. At first we were under the impression that she was to be a miniature dachs.—-at six weeks, she could have turned into almost anything, but as she grew and grew (and grew) our hopes diminished and finally disappeared altogether. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we had on our hands a Dog Dubious. Some of her features are definitely of German origin, and it is difficult to trace just where she starts to go astray. 
She is devoted to us and we all adore her, so of course she is excessively spoilt. I think, however, that it would take a heart of stone to resist the appeal in those large brown eyes; her left front leg, which is unashamedly about as bandy as the right; the really enormous feet, the long silky ears that are the colour of autumn leaves, and the way she sits, head on one side, looking at you, pleading, wheedling, coaxing, hoping and above all, trusting.  
I think I am right when I say that we all hope that when, and if, we get to heaven, the first thing that we shall see will be a small brown bomb careering madly towards us, wings and halo left far behind, ears flying and eyes shut, over the green velvet of the Elysian Fields.
Verity Bargate (Spring 1957) 
The biography below is taken from the DNB.
Bargate [married names Proud, Keeffe], Verity Eileen (1940–1981), theatre producer and novelist, was born on 6 August 1940 in Exeter, the second child of Ronald Arthur Bargate, electrical shopkeeper and later sales manager in the London Metal Warehouse, and his wife, Eileen Dewes. Her childhood was disrupted by her parents' divorce in 1944, followed by her mother's departure to Australia, leaving Bargate and her elder brother Simon for four years in the care of their father. When her mother returned it was with a new husband, Clarke Taylor, a Royal Air Force doctor, who installed his new family in air force bases at Hornchurch, Essex, and Bicester, Oxfordshire, and dispatched his stepdaughter to a succession of boarding-schools and holiday homes. In later years she described her upbringing as that of a ‘middle-class charity child’ (private information).On leaving school Bargate trained as a nurse at the Westminster Hospital, London, where she qualified as a state registered nurse and supplemented her income with private nursing. Although she was emotionally and physically unsuited to this profession (in which she came to rely on the ‘pep pills’ that sowed the seeds of her future intermittent spells of ill health), it was five years before she abandoned nursing and took a job with a media analysis firm in Paddington, London, where she remained until her meeting and subsequent marriage on 14 February 1970 to Frederick Proud, with whom she had two sons, Sam Valentine (b. 1971) and Thomas Orlando (b. 1973).Proud was an aspirant director who had studied at the Rose Bruford College, and with Bargate he launched the Soho Theatre at an address in New Compton Street in 1969, as a somewhat late arrival on London's lunchtime theatre scene. With a policy of offering new and little-known work at low prices, it established itself as a home of good acting and arresting texts—which ranged from modern English and American plays to Sheridan and Cervantes. Reviewers got to know Bargate as the beautiful long-legged girl on the door. She had no theatrical experience but she knew about public relations work, and one reason for the theatre's success was her ability to win over the press with intelligence, good humour, and excellent home-cooked food. Even so, its position was precarious; and in 1971 it was obliged to quit its original premises for a temporary home at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street, Islington (to which it introduced lunchtime shows), before finding a more secure base in Riding House Street (behind Broadcasting House) in the following year, and changing its name to the Soho Poly.Shortly after this move the marriage collapsed, leaving Bargate (from 1975) as the theatre's sole artistic director. She seldom directed shows herself; instead she emerged as a persistent and effective encourager of new talent. Policy for her meant ‘putting on what I liked’ (private information). This involved extending the lunchtime programme to full-length evening productions; opening the doors to women directors and designers; and concentrating exclusively on living writers with whom she worked as a catalyst and a midwife. Not all of them were full-time playwrights. The actor Bob Hoskins claims that she saved him from insanity by letting him present his one-man piece, The Bystander, as a therapeutic exercise. Among those whose careers advanced from the Poly to other stages were Hanif Kureishi, Tony Marchant, Micheline Wandor, Caryl Churchill, and Barrie Colin Keeffe (b. 1945), whose studies of alienated working-class youth spoke for a hitherto voiceless generation.In Keeffe Bargate found a second partner who also persuaded her to embark on writing of her own; from this point her life underwent a powerful and subsequently fatal acceleration. Until now she had played the public role of a hopeful supporter of others, which had masked her spells of ill health and her private sense of oncoming calamity. She was convinced that, like her mother, she would die at the age of forty, and it was of great significance to her that her birthday fell on the same date as that of the bombing of Hiroshima. The dark side of her nature now found expression in her writing. With grim logic, her birth as a novelist coincided with the onset of cancer, and the remainder of her life became a neck-and-neck race between creativity and disease.Of Bargate's three books, No Mama No was published in 1978, and Children Crossing in 1979. At the insistence of her publisher Tit for Tat (1981) was rewritten in its entirety, even though Bargate had one arm in a sling at the time. Her subjects were the lies and cruelties of the sexual contract, and the emotional wounds parents and children inflict on each other. Terrible things happen. A seaside holiday ends with the children dead under a juggernaut: mastectomy becomes an instrument of sexual revenge. But the narrative voice is irresistible, and connects the immediate events to a deep well of early pain.Verity Bargate died in Greenwich Hospital, London, on 18 May 1981, two months after her marriage on 14 February to Keeffe and a month after the publication of her final book. Her ashes were scattered on the lake of Lewisham crematorium. Her memorials are her books, her theatre, and the annual Verity Bargate award for short plays.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Family histories: From Wolverton to Williamstown

Since I started this blog I have grown a readership from all over the world. Wolverton has spread its influence far and wide!

I have just been sent a family history by Maureen Brown of Australia. It can be read on the Wolvertonpast website through this link:

The story traces the Brown family from its North Bucks origins, through Thomas Brown who found work in Wolverton and later moved to Egypt. He returned to England but one of his sons emigrated to South Australia before the end of the 19th century.