Saturday, December 11, 2010

William Harvey

William Harvey was one of that army of new men who came from all parts of the British Isles to work at Wolverton. He did what many of his contemporaries did - he worked hard, earned good money, settled in Wolverton and raised his family there. His life is no more remarkable than that except that we know a little about him from Hugh Stowell Brown's autobiography, and because of this, and Census records, I am able to write a little about his life. He stands in my mind as typical of those pioneers who made Wolverton what it later became.

He was born in Darley Abbey, just outside Derby in 1820 and probably came to Wolverton in 1838 when the new Engine Shed needed new workmen. Hugh Stowell Brown came to Wolverton somewhat later and eventually the four young men who also included Edward Hayes and William Mickle decided to find lodgings together. They shared a room in a tiny cottage at Old Wolverton (which probably no longer exists). The agricultural labourer who opened his house to them was William Cox, who was in 1841 living there with his wife Ann and two daughters aged 15 and 9. I imagine that they shared one bedroom and the four young men the other. Brown describes a small downstairs back room which they were able to use as a study.

Brown writes " Harvey was a Derbyshire man, one of the best workmen in the place, and gifted with a dry and pleasant humour." he doesn't tell us much more but I am left with the impression of an unassuming but industrious man - the kind who gets on with the job in hand without a great deal of fuss or fanfare.

At any rate we can follow the rest of his life through public records.
In 1844 he married Martha James and they had two daughters, Mary Jane, named after the two grandmothers, in 1847 and Ann, at the end of 1850. Harvey worked most of his life as an Engine Fitter, a job which required strength and technical knowledge. He was still working at the age of 70, but then recorded as a Brass Finisher, which was presumably lighter work.

The family first lived in Young Street but when new houses were opened up on the Stratford Road hey bought a new house at 24 Stratford Road and lived there for the rest of their lives. The house is still there and is now one of the oldest surviving houses in Wolverton.

The two daughters grew up to become school teachers until they married. Mary Jane married a Wesleyan Minister and moved to Cheshire.

Martha died in 1884 and was outlived by her husband for a further 20 years. After her death he employed a housekeeper.

Were it not for Hugh Stowell Brown's lines I don't expect I would have paid attention to William Harvey but his story stands for many of his generation who were born before the invention of steam railways and who came of age at the moment of their inception, and, who subsequently lived their lives in a railway environment.

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