Friday, December 12, 2008

Junior School Football Team

In the 1950s there was very little organization of school sport so this photo, taken in the winter of 1952-3 is something of a rarity. This was the occasion of a match against another school team, either from New Bradwell or Stony Stratford. I don't remember, nor do I remember the result. We played on a field at the Top Rec. Usually during the winter months some goalposts were erected and a pitch marked out. The Senior and Junior boys played on this. 
It appears that we got a set of shirts for the occasion. I don't know where they came from nor do I remeber the colour. We wore our own shorts, socks and boots.
Mr Stevens, standing in the photograph, took all the boys for games every week and organized this match. He was also the designated disciplinarian for the school where any corporal punishment was required. If we did seriously misbehave we were sent to him for THE SLIPPER! Despite this he was respected and liked by the boys.

In the photograph:
Back row: Ian Hickson, Michael Riley (Reilly?), Trevor Griffiths, Geoffrey Labrum, Francis Old, Ronald Stones
Front Row: Richard Bailey, Bryan Dunleavy, Lawrie Chambers, James Cobley, Alan Tomlin.

Junior School


This class photograph shows 4A in about March or April 1953. It was probably taken on a day for games as some of the boys are wearing their football kit. The picture was taken in the playground. Behind the group you can see the wall which once divided the Aylesbury Street school from the Infant School playground. The prefab building behind it was the school canteen which served memorable dinners of soggy scoops of mashed potatoes, reconstituted dried peas and tapoica pudding.

Back Row: Peter Bush, Kenneth Holloway, John Alsopp, Geoffrey Woodward, Francis Old, Bryan Dunleavy, John Williams.
Middle Row: Rosa Kingston, Margaret Skinner, Annette Turner, Dorothy Bennett, Marigold Craig, Margaret Woodard, Janet Haynes, Yvonne Hewitt, Kathleen Wood.
Front Row: David Wilmin, Anne Maskell, Diane Thomas, Elaine Hayfield, Miss Kemp, Rosemary Marshall, Dorothy Humphries, Celia Pascoe, Roger Norman.
Ground Row: Ronald Stones, Raymond Bear, Pamela Bellamy, John Dilley, Ian Hickson.

The Aylesbury Street school was then divided. The ground floor was taken up by the Secondary Modern School, then under the headship of Mr Lun. It was generally called the Senior School. In addition there were three outbuildings - a cookery classroom and girls toilets, a woodwork classroom and a boys toilet. the boys toilet has been demolished but the two classrooms remain. The divisions were gender based - boys took woodwork and girls did cookery (it was called Cookery; Domestic Science, Home Economics, Food Technology were terms yet to be developed.)
The Junior School, as it was then known, occupied the upper floor. The entrance was only through the back stairs and efforts were made to ensure that the older boys and girls did not mix with the younger ones. Starting and finishing times and breaks were different for each school.
There were two streams for each of the four years, so eight classes in all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coronation 1953

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was the first big event to  lighten the gloomy post war years. Everybody got very excited about it and streets organized themselves with displays of bunting, street parties and other events. 
The photo, described on the back as "Stratford Road Children's Party, Craufurd Arms, Saturday afternoon, June 6th. 1953" It has probably come into my possession through my grandparents who lived on the Stratford Road. 
Most of these children were much younger than I was in 1953 and I am not sure I can put names to any of these faces.

The Iron Trunk

The first indication of the new industrial age in Wolverton was the construction of the Grand Junction Canal around 1800. The canal skirts the Ouse Valley at a contour of about 50 feet and crosses the river by this aqueduct between Old Wolverton and Cosgrove. This aqueduct was known as the Iron Trunk.
In the 40s and early 50s working narrow boats were still a common feature of canal life. Usually the bargee and his wife would work two boats - the motor of the first towing the second. Coal was the main commodity transported by this method. Sometimes they had small children on the boat. Gliding through the country at a leisurely pace must have brought its own rewards, as I suspect they were probably paid very little for this work and lived only a little above the poverty line. A story told about my great grandfather William Webster, who kept the Red Lion in Leighton Buzzard, may illustrate this. In one of the years in the 1890s there was a serious deep freeze on ewinter and all the narrow boats were trapped in the ice at Linslade. After a few days they were out of food and would have no money until they completed their delivery, so Webster organised the community to donate food and organized a soup kitchen for the canal folk outside the Red Lion.
The Iron Trunk had a tow path on one side. The drop to the river below was 40 or 50 feet.  Some more daring boys would walk along the girder on the west side and I never heard of anyone falling.
By the 1960s, when this photo was taken, working narrow boats had gone and were being recycled as pleasure craft, like this one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Newport Pagnell Branch Line


The four mile branch line from Wolverton to Newport Pagnell was never a commercial success but it had its place and operated for 100 years. It opened in 1866 and for passengers in 1867 with stations at New Bradwell and Great Linford. the original intention had been to extend the line to Olney but this plan was abandoned and the L&NWR took over the line in 1875. Passenger traffic ceased in 1964 and closed in 1967. The trains were usually full in the morning as they carried workers to Wolverton and students to the Grammar School and Technical School and again in the evening on their return. Otherwise there were only a handful of passengers as the train shuttled back and forth. I can only remember travelling on the train once and that was to go to Newport Pagnell's open air swimming pool one summer. The first photograph shows the engine at Bradwell Station in the 1960s.



Here is the same view of Bradwell Station in 1910.
My own family had some working associations with the line. My great grandfather's younger brother, William Dunleavy, spent his last years as Station Master at Great Linford. He died there is 1908 having moved from Coalville a few years earlier. My great great grandfather Andrew Dunleavy ended his career as Station Master at Newport Pagnell in the 1880s. His previous posting was at St Albans and the reasons for the move are unknown. Perhaps he was seeking a lighter assignment in his late 60s. My great great grandmother is buried in Newport Pagnell and he took a pension in 1888.

The end of the line at Newport Pagnell.

Trainspotting

I only discovered recently that the trainspotting phenomenon was quite new when I was a boy. Ian Allen has originally set out to compile a register of engine numbers in the Southern region in the year of my birth. This was an unexpected success and led to handbooks for each of the regions.  Each book cost about 1/- and would contain a list of all the engines in service in a particular region. When a train had been "spotted" it could be underlined. I don't know how long I lasted as a trainspotter - probably not much more than one of two summers. The disadvantage of living in Wolverton was that only a certain number of locomotives ever worked the line. So after a while it was always the same engines travelling up and down the line. If the ultimate goal of trainspotting was to see and record every locomotive, the it coud not be achieved by a small boy living in Wolverton.
The favoured location for trainspotting was the Blue Bridge, although it could also be done from the canal. The Blue Bridge gave the best  view of trains coming and going as well as engines in the sidings. And from there you could watch "Nobby Newport" - 41222 - chugging back and forth several times a day.

Myxymatosis

I grew up in a town where electricity and gas on tap were taken for granted, as was indoor plumbing. It did not for one moment occur to me that there might be communities without these amenities. When I went to Grammar School I became friendly with jim Franklin who came from Beachampton. Occasionally, on a Saturday or on a day during the holidays I would cycle over to spend a day in the country. I always found it interesting because it rural life was so very different from our town experience. Jim knew a lot more about fishing than I did, for example. He knew about all the different breeds of fish and much of their habits, whereas my experience had been confined at that time to catching four inch gudgeon or roach from the canal. He knew his way around the fields as well as I knew the streets of Wolverton and we spent some happy moments exploring the land around the village. I also recall helping to build a haystack at a nearby farm one August. It was also Jim's job to pump the organ for the organist. I assisted him during one practice session. The amount of air in the organ was measured by a floating needle. Naturally we (or at least I) could not resist letting the needle fall below the line just to see what would happen. The organ died of course and we got told off.
Beachampton was a small village of a few houses along a single street. It has changed little in 50 years. the Franklins lived in a house opposite the Bell Inn, Beachampton's only pub.
One day we cycled out to talk to "Yorkie" a well known tramp who lived in a barn on the Thornton Road. He was an affable character and told us stories about things I cannot remember. I do remember being impressed by this meeting with a real live "tramp". Two years before we had been read W H Davies "Autobiography of a Super Tramp" in primary school.
This was also the period that the virus myxymatosis had been introduced and the rabbit population was being decimated or even, as we thought, wiped out. It was not uncommon to find rabbit skeletons in those fields around Beachampton or even a rabbit with a swollen head dying of the disease. In such cases Jim would despatch the stricken animal with a slug from his airgun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beating

Wolverton was a small town and we thought of ourselves as such. Rural life was at least a generation away and largely unknown but from time to time there were connections. During the winter months my father would often go beating on the Hesketh estate. I suppose it gave him some extra money but I think he enjoyed the company and a day out in the country. Occasionally he would bring bak a hare fom the shoot as a bonus.
When I was about 13 or 14 he took me with him and I got to experience this slice of life at first hand. We would generally gather at the gamekeeper's cottage at Gayhurst, a few miles away on the northern border of the county. The gamekeeper was Mr. Crute, a wiry man who will forever remain my image of a gamekeeper. The beating was a simple enough activity but boring for a teenager. Various drives were organised through fields of kale, down Digby's walk, through copses and woods to drive the birds up. If we needed to go farther afield we would be driven in a Landrover. Lunch was a box of ham sandwiches and a crate of pale ale. The beaters ate their lunch sitting on straw bales in a barn while the shooting party ate their meal by the warmth of a fire in a farmer's house or Crute's cottage. 
This experience did expose me to the "landed gentry" for the first time. Wolverton, as I have observed before, was as close to being a classless society as was possible and there were very few middle class people, let alone families of inherited wealth. The leading and regular figures of the hunting party that I remember were Lord Hesketh himself, Tony Jackson-Stops and Brigadier General Sir Richard Gambier-Parry - "The Brig". There was a fashion in those days for maintaining military titles in civilian life, so Lord Hesketh was always referred to as Major Hesketh, which was the rank he held in WWII. He was very thin, with very pale skin drawn tight over his face. He wore a thin moustache and his thinning black hair was brushed straight back over his skull. He was always scrubbed clean and smelled of Imperial Leather soap. He was not quite 40 when he died in 1955 shortly after my encounter with him. His eldest son, the a small boy, came into the Hesketh fortune in the 1970s and used up a lot of it in Formula 1 racing with James Hunt as the car's driver. Jackson-Stops ran the very successful estate agency founded by his father in Towcester. Herbert Jackson-Stops managed the great sale of Stowe and thus made his fortune and the name of his company, which survives today. Tony Jackson-Stops was an outgoing personality. "The Brig", as my father and the other men called him, was a charismatic personality who knew how to handle men. While the beaters were mostly ignored by members of the hunting party he would invariably take the trouble to come into the barn after lunch to chat with the beaters. "How are we today men?" and then fall easily into some small talk. He was much liked and respected by the country folk who made up the beating team. He worked as a senior figure at Hanslope Park and lived in Milton Keynes - at that time a small village.

Stanton Low

Wolverton needed to expand but could not do so within the manor of Wolverton because the Radcliffe Trust were unwilling at the time to give up more agricultural land. So they acquired land to the east in Stantonbury. The new town eventually took the name of New Bradwell.

Stantonbury was no more than a scattering of dwellings but there was a church by the river opposite Haversham, known to us as Stanton Low.

The church pictured here is now a complete ruin. In my boyhood the church was still more-or-less intact. It still had a roof, doors and a font as I remember. At the time it has not been used for 60 years but it was then merely neglected rather than ruined. It was open to us and accessed by a track from the Black Horse bridge at Linford. I believe it was vandalized in the 1960s and the roof eventually caved in.

The church was dedicated to St Peter and the name survives in the local football club - Stantonbury St Peter.

The church was abandoned after the opening of the new church of St James, unfortunately the licence to marry was not transferred to he new church and the error was not discovered for some years. When it was, there was great consternation amongst those married couples who discovered that they had been LIVING IN SIN. I understand there was a rush to get married in the Stanton low church at this point. Common sense did break out when the Bishop decided to permit retroactive consecration of these marriages.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Old Wolverton




Although Wolverton is an ancient village any chance of development into the 19th century was killed off by the enclosures of the Longueville family in the 17th century. They were quite brutal in depriving their common land and customary usage and in short order the manor was depopulated, leaving only three farms on the manor. This was effectively what Dr John Radcliffe bought when he purchased the manor in ?
Some sort of settlement grew back but "Old" Wolverton was barely much older than the new Wolverton built around the station.
Holy Trinity Church was built in 1818 to replace an older church, as was the rectory. The school and the school house were constructed later in the 19th century and the pub known as the Galleon, formerly "The Locomotive" dates to the 1840s. Manor Farm and Warren Farm were old establishments, but the buildings were 19th century. In reality Old or ancient Wolverton is marked by the castle mound and the undulations in the fields that show where dwellings once existed.
My first paper round was the Old Wolverton route. It paid only 8/6d a week so as soon as a bigger round in the town came up I opted for that, and an increase to 11/6d. That too had increased to 13/6d by the time I "retired".
The route involved a lot of cycling and relatively few papers to deliver. First I would have to ride a mile from Muscutt and Tompkins to Warren Farm and the cottages then across to Rose Cottage and Wolverton Park on the corner of the Stratford Road and the Old Wolverton Road. Wolverton Park was at that time the residence of the historian Captain Sir Basil Liddell-Hart. There I much lightened my load because he took every daily paper published in those days except the Daily Sketch. His morning reading included The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, The News Chronicle, The Daily Herald, The Daily Mirror, The Manchester Guardian. Along the Old Wolverton Road I took in the Schoolhouse, the Rectory, The Galleon and Galleon Cottages and the Wharf Cottage and from there to Manor Farm and Manor farm cottages and on the way back delivered to the tiny cottages along Slated Row.
And that was the length and breadth of Old Wolverton.

The Shape of Wolverton


The new town was confined by the railway line to the east, the carriage and wagon works to the north and by the Radcliffe Trust farms to the west and south. In between the town was built in terraces on a grid system. The only variant was the ancient track  of Green Lane which seemed to determine the layout of Victoria Street.  In this map from 1931 Stacey Avenue was only on the drawing board. Marina Drive and Gloucester Road followed with an extension to Windsor Street. Eton Crescent came into being somewhat later. Furze Way was constructed about 1950 - and I can remember the building of it. There was a further development to the south in the late 50s in the shape of Southern Way.
Until the incorporation of Milton Keynes this was the shape of the town.





Water Tower

I came across this photo. It's unremarkable (poor even) but it does show the water tower at the top of Osborne Street and the old cricket pavilion. The event is a sports day and is probably that of the Aylesbury Street Secondary Modern. I can't think why I would be there and I may not have taken the photo.
There were two water towers - this one (now demolished) and a slightly bigger one which still stands on Green Lane at the other end of Osborne Street. I don't know if it still in use for its original purpose of establishing a head of pressure for the town's water supply. The space underneath the tower was used to store the Council's street cleaning equipment.

The first water tanks were above the original engine shed. When the new water pumping station was built at the south end of Ledsam Street water was drawn from wells nearer to Bradwell Brook. This water tank was dismantled in 1890 and the building converted into a house for the schoolmaster.

There is a post on Wolverton's early water problems here.


M1 Motorway


A new word came into the English language at the end of the 1950s - motorway. The first of these, from north London to Crick in Northamptonshire made its route a few miles away from Wolverton at Newport Pagnell and Laing earth moving and construction vehicles became a common sight.
The average speed of travel on ordinary roads was probably about 30 miles and hour in the 1950s, largely because passage through towns seriously slowed traffic. The A5, for example, which was a major route to the north west, meant that traffic had to slow down or stop every ten miles or so. The village of Markyate, then on the A5, had a very narrow high street and lorries routinely chipped bricks off buildings.
So the motorway was much welcomed and it is surprising to look at this photograph now, taken from the bridge on the Haversham-Gayhurst road in 1960, how light traffic was.