Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wolverton's Pubs

For reasons that are not easy to explain, Wolverton never had many pubs. At the most there were only four at one time and of course the two large Working Men's Clubs. Possibly, the presence and popularity of the "Top Club" and "Bottom Club" in the 20th century deterred the development of any pubs in Wolverton. Stony Stratford, I am told, had over 40 pubs at one time and certainly 50 years ago it had about half that number. New Bradwell, which grew under the same governance as Wolverton and had a much smaller population, had about seven pubs after The Bradville was opened.
Wolverton started with The Radcliffe Arms, located where the Wolverton Park development now is. It's precise location can be determined from an 1880 OS map but the structure and associated buildings is unclear. I do not know of any archaeological work that has been done on this.

This drawing has been copied from a letter written by George Weight (the first incumbent of St George's) to The Radcliffe Trustees on June 15th 1846. "Clare's Buildings" are The Radcliffe Arms presumably owned and operated by Joseph Clare, the owner of The Cock Inn at Stony Stratford, although he may have been in partnership for this venture with John Congreve, a Stony Stratford solicitor.
The pub was built on Radcliffe Trustee land and as Wolverton developed to the south it became increasingly isolated. It was pulled down in the 1870s.
During its brief life span it developed a notorious reputation and was known as "Hell's Kitchen". Drunkenness and fights were common and various letters from the disapproving authorities testify to this.
By contrast The Royal Engineer, opened in 1841, had a quieter reputation if I can judge from the absence of bad reports. The building is still there on the corner of the Stratford Road and is therefore, together with part of the school, one of Wolverton's earliest surviving buildings. It ceased to be a pub several years ago and has been variously reincarnated as a restaurant.
The North Western appeared during the 1860 expansion of Wolverton and survives as a pub today after 150 years.
The next development was even grander. The Victoria Hotel was built as Wolverton's premier  establishment in the 1860s. I don't have any information about it's first owners but in 1871 the landlord was Henry Hicks, who had cut his licensed victualling teeth as a barman at the Radcliffe Arms. "The Vic" seems to have fallen on hard times in recent years. Parts of it have been sold off and it has operated as a night club. I am not sure at the time of writing about its exact status.
Wolverton's last pub was The Craufurd Arms which opened in 1907 on its present site on the Stratford Road. It was originally planned for a site on Green Lane, which would certainly have givven a  better distribution, but the application was opposed by the owner of the Off-licence on Green lane and eventually the Stratford Road location was agreed. This left those who lived in the expanding south end of the town a long walk to their local; nevertheless, that walk was always timed with precision, so that on Sundays they would always arrive a few seconds after the pub doors opened at noon. In the "respectable" Wolverton of those years it was not the done thing to be seen hanging about outside the pub waiting for it to open.
Licensing laws restricted pub opening on Sunday lunchtime from 12 to 2 pm. This gave rise to a curious phenomenon. A few minutes before Noon the streets were deserted. Men materialised and by 2 minutes past twelve the bars were full and heaving. The streets were again deserted until 1:25 when men started to filter out of the pubs to get home for the Sunday roast, scheduled by decree in most households to start at 1:30.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Currently the Queen Vic is closed. It had anti-theft shutters up for a few months but these have recently been taken down hinting on maybe a new lease of life?