Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hugh Stowell Brown

It is astonishing what you can find on the internet these days. I knew about Hugh Stowell Brown and his association with Wolverton but had hitherto been unable to access his memoirs. Fortunately someone has taken the trouble to put this online recently so I was able to read his account.
Brown was a Manxman and the son of a cleric. He came to England as a 16 year old, worked as a surveyor for a while and in August 1840 came to Wolverton as an apprentice fitter - for which he was paid 4s a week. He worked there for 3 and a half years before deciding to become a Methodist minister, eventually preaching in Liverpool and achieving a degree of fame.
His account of Wolverton is invaluable because he gives us a view from the shop floor. Other contemporary accounts that survive were from visitors who tended to be impressed by the wonder rather than the reality. Although the days were long the men found ways of slacking off when the foreman was not looking, therefore pacing their day within the unreasonable demands of the machine.
He is also highly critical of the incumbents of the local churches and poor church attendance - a view which contradicts our received picture of Victorian church attendance. He also notes, unsurprisingly, the amount of heavy drinking that went on.
One young man with whom he shared lodgings was Edward Hayes, who a few years later set up his own engineering company, first making agricultural machinery and then moving into the manufacture of yachts and tug boats. One of Hayes surviving boats is on display at the Milton Keynes Museum.