Friday, February 19, 2010

Growing up in Wolverton - Part I

David Marks, who grew up in Osborne Street in the 1940s and 50s, has shared this memoir with me to publish on this blog. it will be posted in several sections.

The early part of the year 1937 had been quite eventful. The coronation of King George 5th and Queen Elizabeth had taken place in London on 12th May. Earlier in the month the world had been stunned by the pictures of the great airship Hindenburg bursting into flames as it landed in Lakehurst, New Jersey somewhat overshadowing the announcement on the same day of Neville Chamberlains appointment as Prime Minister. Important though these world events were, it would be nice to think that an event due to take place in August at 3 Osborne Street Wolverton was rather more important to Frank and Adelaide (Addy) Marks who were expecting their second child. Their first child Eugenie (Gene) was already approaching ten, so this was to be quite an event. Eventually on August 19th  I made my appearance to the delight of all (I like to think !). David Frank Marks had arrived !

My father Leonard Frank (always known as Frank) was the son of a Stony Stratford postman, Eli Marks who hailed from Great Horwood  and a Stratford girl Annie Marlow. My mother was the daughter of James Francis  Garside a railwayman from Manchester and Mary Anne Haycock a local girl whose father Thomas like many at that time had moved from the world of the agricultural labourer to that of the railwayman at the local railway works.
Wolverton in those days was something of an oddity, surrounded by the green fields of rural Buckinhamshire it was a small industrial town dominated by the railway works of the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) and McCorquodales the printers (Often referred to as Mc Crocodiles and the ‘Ell of a mess).

The railway works had been established in September 1838 as the Grand Central station and Depot for the London and Birmingham Railway. It had been the company’s original intention for the line to pass through Northampton where they would build their depot but local landowners had opposed this and Wolverton was chosen instead. The works and the town had flourished and grown and at the time of my birth the railway works dominated the town and employed over 4000 workers. It was the general assumption that if you were of working age that you worked  “Inside” as the works was always known.  The boom of the steam siren at starting and finishing times was a familiar sound  to generations of Wolvertonians as was the site of the power house chimney which could be seen for many miles around the town.

My earliest recollections of childhood were the Sunday walks with my parents. I still have a clear recollection of two irrational fears which I had when we walked around the “old road” The walk involved setting out from our home at 3 Osborne Street along Green Lane then down Ratcliffe Street to The Stratford Road (which was always referred to as “The front”) this route is of course now blocked by the Agora Centre (Don’t start me off !). From there we would walk along the Stratford Road towards the station and take a short cut through the park. Wolverton Park was built by the railway company   and has seen many major events in its long history.

There were many major sporting events, not only cricket, football and bowls, but there was considerable support for athletic events. The park boasted a magnificent cycling track, traces of which may still be seen today and the grandstand (the oldest of it type in the country.) It is, at the time of writing undergoing restoration. The massive structure of the old lifting shop towers above the western side and has now been declared a listed building which is eventually to be restored and put to use in some way for the community. The Whitsun gala which was held in the park was for many years a major event for the town.

At the northern end on the old road stands Park House which I recall during the war being struck by an accidentally dropped practice bomb (or so dad said) and we walked down to gaze at the damaged guttering which was the sole evidence of this drama.
 Through the park we would walk and on to the Old Road. Turning left and under Stephenson’s skew bridge we would emerge alongside Tilley’s Wood Yard on the right and it was here that fear would strike me as I cowered in my pushchair. What was this object of terror which so frightened this small child ? It was an electric lamp on an inverted U shaped bracket with a glass dome shaped cover. This cover was broken and I used to shut my eyes and asked to be told when we were safely past the “Broken bottle” as I remember calling it.
Before we had proceeded for more than a couple of hundred yards we arrived at terror number two which old dead tree on the left hand side of the road !

After that the remainder of the walk held no further terrors. Along past the technical school sports ground which would one day become so familiar to me. Turning left and passing the ”pancake hills” on our left we crossed the canal bridge and walked along the “black boards” to the Stratford Road and back home.
The pancake hills were a series of grass covered mounds which I believe were created when the canal was first excavated and which were later to provide an exciting cycle speedway track (It was actually much more like a modern BMX track!).
The black boards footpath was so named because of the high, black wooden fence which hid the mysteries of the west end of Wolverton works from prying eyes. As I recall, that particular canal bridge (according to Dad) was once known as suicide bridge having often been the site of some unfortunate and depressed soul ending their torment. I cannot be certain, but it could have been this story together with the ominous warnings of the danger of falling into the canal and drowning which led me to the childish belief that the canal was bottomless !  A notion which appeared to amuse my parents when I confided it to them !

On other occasions the walk would continue along the old road to the Galleon pub. In those days it was still frequently referred to as “The Loco” from its original name of The Locomotive. From there we would often walk along the canal towpath and across the Iron Trunk, the aqueduct which carried the Grand Union Canal over the river Ouse (pausing to explore the mysterious and often muddy tunnel under the canal. The river on that side of the canal was known as the twenty foot (its alleged depth) and was for experienced swimmers. The stretch of river on the other side of the canal was known as the five foot. Then we would arrive at Cosgrove locks and if we were lucky we could watch one of the many Fellows, Morton and Clayton coal boats working the lock. In another of my childhood misunderstandings I though that the men who owned the company were Morton and Clayton and that Fellows was their style of address (as in For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow ! ).

The Grand Union Canal looking from the Galleon towards the Iron Trunk and Cosgrove
Little did we know then (and probably couldn’t have cared less if we did ) that just along the towpath of the Buckingham Arm in the adjacent field lay buried what was described at its discovery as one of the best example of a Roman Villa between London and Leicester. The Buckingham Arm was a branch off the main Grand Union Canal which wended it way (surprise, surprise) to Buckingham. In those days it was still complete but almost completely overgrown and its towpath provided a good walk ending by scrabbling up the bank at the bridge which carried the main road from Stratford to Northampton (now, I believe simply known as Cosgrove Road).

Sometimes our walk would take us from Osborne Street, up Western Road to the New Rec.  (recreation ground) across into what we then called the “first fields” along toward the Stratford Road into the “second fields” and finally just before we reached the Stratford Road through a field which was always known as “The Happy Morn”. 
Occasionally before we reached the second fields we would turn left across the fields which led to the London Road South of Stratford and near to the reservoir. Along the way we would go and examine “The big pond” in the far corner of one of the fields always a good habitat for moorhens, tadpoles and newts.
If we were feeling very energetic we might cross the London Road (perhaps seeing the occasional car !) and follow the footpath to Calverton. More excitement here as Dad would once again tell the story of the robber who was hanged on a tree by the side of the long stone wall and where there was carved a gibbet and some initials and a date. To my recollection, by that time, there were several gibbets and sets of initials which had doubtless been supplied by the local youth which somewhat reduced the credibility of the story although I believe there may have been some truth in it.

Another popular walk on those seemingly endless summer Sundays was down the steps opposite Wolverton Station (long since demolished) down to the canal footpath and along to Bradwell where we could make a small diversion onto the footbridge which crossed the Nobby Newport line (Not Newport Nobby as I recently heard him called !)

 A glance up at the remains of the old windmill (which as I recall was worse then that it is now) onto the road and back up the station hill to Wolverton.

One other walk which I always enjoyed was past the cemetery and across the fields, down the hill to the Braddle (Bradwell) Brook and under a small tunnel which carried the main railway line. On the railway embankment on the far side of the railway was the pumping station whose job it was to pump water up from artesian wells which filled the two water tanks which stood at either end of Osborne Street and which supplied the towns water. Our main interest in those days was that the embankment at that particular spot was extremely good for wild cowslips. Of course I would also enjoy watching the steam trains thundering past along the main line and if I was really lucky might even see the Royal Scot. It is sad to think that our children will never witness the sight, sound and smell of those giant steam engines (often “double heading” a long train) roaring past at well over 100mph belching steam and smoke and not infrequently with the driver leaning on the footplate ledge and waving to us. I recently heard an American Country and Western song which was bemoaning the fact that: 
“The drivers don’t wave from the trains any more..
Not like they did back in nineteen fifty four. They’ve got computers and diesels and things .. and the drivers just don’t wave from those trains any more."
How true !!


Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan. I'd love to know how to get in touch with David. He and I are related, and my father, Colin, was in touch some time ago. If you are able to help, I can be contacted on Kind regards, Claire.

Roger Haycock said...

A minor inaccuracy on David's part. Thomas Haycock was my great great grandfather. He was a cobbler in Hackleton before joining the railway. He never worked in Wolverton Works but was a signal man or constable. His father was a farmer and his son worked in the works so there was a transition from agriculture to the works but over three generations. See http:\\