Monday, January 31, 2011

Fire at the Market Hall

These were the scenes the day after the fire - September 21st 1906. I do not know the cause of the fire, but it left Wolverton without a covered market for a while.
The Market House was built in 1842, just the west of the original railway line (now McConnell Drive) and south of the Stratford Road. The shell of the building survived, so it was rebuilt and it served (and continues to serve) various functions since that date.
As it turned out, the old school on Creed Street had just been vacated by the girls and infants to move into their new school on Aylesbury Street, and the market traders were able to move into the old school building.
And there the Friday market remained until July 1979, when it transferred to the newly-built and controversial Agora. My personal view is that it lost a great deal of its natural vibrancy in that move. The Friday Market used to be a big weekly occasion and for the morning and part of the afternoon the area thronged with thousands of customers, from both Wolverton and all the outlying towns and villages. Extra buses and trains were laid on for the occasion.
Now I know times change, but I still see weekly markets thriving where the deadening hand of bureaucracy has been withheld.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Around the Stratford Road Bridge

This photograph was taken in 1919 to mark the return of the 1st Bucks Batallion from the War. The photo, probably taken from an upstairs room in the Royal Engineer, gives us a view of what used to be there.

The bridge, which still carries the Stratford Road, is seen on the left in the distance. The buildings in the foreground on the left were probably newish at the time of the photograph. The wrought iron railings guard against the drop into Gas Street. Before the bridge on the left are the Works Main Offices which burned down in the 1980s. The Gas Street houses were pulled down in the 1890s. The building on the right was the original Market Hall. It was gutted by fire in 1906 but rebuilt as a laundry. Later it became a Veteran's Club. There is still a building on this site but much modified from the original.

You can also see tramlines in this picture. The tram offered a regular service between Wolverton and Stony Stratford and at one time even ran to Deanshanger.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The First Works Expansion

As I have often remarked, Wolverton's planned development suffered because it was a pioneer venture. Nobody could have forecast the phenomenal and almost overnight success of the railways and the directors were properly cautious about their original building program. However, expansion soon became necessary. The plan below, from about 1845, shows the new engine sheds to the right hand side of the line. This eventually became part of the "Triangle Building", now converted into flats. The original engine shed is also marked for modification and development. These are shaded red.

You can see in plan form Bury Street on the left and the three short northern streets: Garnett Street, Cooke Street and Walker Street. Gas Street is to the south of the Engine Shed but by this time the Gas Works had been moved to the south east of the station. You can also see the beginnings of Creed Street, Ledsam Street, and Glyn Square and four of the villas to the south. The long narrow building beside the canal was the Reading Room, which also doubled as a Wesleyan Chapel.

Another interesting feature of this plan is the narrowing of the canal under the bridge. The original bridge was probably one of those hump-backed bridges with a very narrow span. The present bridge is built much higher with a wider span. The original road level was probably much lower than it is today.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Engine Shed - a Contemporary View

In 1840 Francis Whishaw, an engineer who was later to be associated with the design of the 1851 exhibition visited Wolverton and later wrote up his description in his monumental Railways of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1842. I reproduce it here. It is, frankly, a boring piece of prose. Whishaw was an engineer and precision was his thing, but for those of you who wish to study the origins of Wolverton in more depth, it is useful reading.

I will accompany it with this ground plan to give you some idea of what he may be talking about.


The buildings lately erected at Wolverton, as the principal station for the locomotive engines, form, perhaps, one of the most complete establishments of the kind in the world. The site of this establishment is on the left side of the railway, at a distance of about 52 miles from the London terminus, and 59 ½  miles from that of Birmingham, having a frontage on the Grand Junction Canal. The buildings, which are of plain but neat design, and constructed chiefly of brick, surround a quadrangular space 127 feet wide by 216 feet deep, the entrance to which is under an archway in the centre of the principal front. The whole length of the buildings is 221 feet, the depth 314 feet 6 inches, and the height 23 feet; the main walls are 2 bricks in thickness. Besides the central gateway, which is 12 feet 6 inches in height above the rails, there are two side-entrances: the one to the large erecting ­shop, the other to the repairing-shop.

The erecting-shop is on the right of the central gateway, and occupies one half of the front part of this building. It has a line of way down the middle, communicating with a turn-table in the principal entrance, and also with the small erecting-shop, which is on the left of this entrance. Powerful cranes are fixed in the erecting-shops for raising and lowering the engines when required.

Contiguous to the small erecting-shop, and occupying the principal portion of the left wing, is the repairing-shop, which is entered by the left gateway. One line runs down the middle of this shop, with nine turn-tables, and as many lines of way at right angles to the central line. This shop is 131 feet 6 inches long and 90 feet wide, both in the clear, and will hold eighteen engines and tenders, or thirty-six engines. It is lighted by twenty ­four windows, reaching nearly to the roof.

In the same wing, and next to the repairing-shop, is the tender-wrights' shop, having the central line of way of the repairing-shop running down its whole length, with a turn-table and cross line, which runs quite across the quadrangle, and intersects a line from the principal entry to the boiler-shop in the rear of the quadrangle.

The remainder of the left wing is occupied by a room for stores on the ground-floor, with a brass-foundry and store-room over; and the iron-foundry, which extends to the back line of the buildings.

The right wing contains the upper and lower turneries, each 99 feet long and 40 feet wide; the upper floor being supported in mid-line by nine iron columns. There are fourteen lathes in the lower, and eight in the upper turnery. The fixed pumping-engine house is also in the right wing, occupy­ing the central portion thereof, and measuring 26 feet 3 inches by 19 feet 6 inches. There are two engines, each having a 14-inch cylinder and 4-feet stroke, and worked with from 35 Ibs. to 40 lbs. pressure; the fly-wheels making twenty-four revolutions per minute. The boilers are placed in a sunk area in front of the engines, and separated there from by a 9-inch wall. The water is pumped from a well in the centre of the engine-house; this well is of elliptical form, the transverse and conjugate diameters of which are respec­tively 11 feet 6 inches and 8 feet 2 inches. The brickwork is 9 inches thick, and the whole depth of well 93 feet. At the bottom of the well are two tunnels, running north and south, each extending 33 feet from the well. These tunnels are 8 feet wide, 8 feet 6 inches in extreme height, and 6 feet to springing of segmental arch; the brickwork is 13 ½ inches in thickness. The two pumps are each of 7 inches diameter. There are two tanks to receive the water from the well: the one above the engine-house having a capacity equal to 2590 cubic feet, or 15,540 gallons; and the other 3850 cubic feet, or 23, 100 gallons. This latter tank is over the gateway.

Besides pumping water for the establishment, and giving motion to the lathes and other machinery, these engines have another duty to perform, which is that of working the blowing-machine. The blowing cylinders are fixed on a floor above, and immediately over the engine-cylinders, are 3 feet in diameter, and are worked by the same piston-rods, having a 4-feet stroke. The air is admitted at the top of the blowing-cylinder by a pipe communi­cating with a vertical cylinder, 10 inches in diameter, which is carried out above the roof. The 9-inch blast-pipe passes from the top of the cylinder, on the opposite side to that in which the air is admitted, and runs down to the level of the smithy, to blow the numerous fires which range along the sides and ends.

The smithy occupies the north-west angle of the building, running partly down the right wing, to the extent of 137 feet 3 inches, and joining the engine-house, and partly along the back portion of the building, to the extent of 76 feet. It contains eighteen single, and three double hearths. The remaining space of the back portion of the buildings is occupied by a joiners'-shop, with store-room and pattern-shop above, the hooping-furnaces, and a boiler-shop. In the boiler-shop there are two hearths; and, commu­nicating with the machinery worked by the engines above described, are two drills and a punch.

The lodge, superintendent's office, and drawing-office, are in a building within the quadrangle, and close to the principal entrance. The various departments of this establishment are warmed by steam, issuing through cast-iron pipes laid in channels, paved over, and furnished with proper ventilators.

On each side of this extensive structure there is a street running down to a wider street at back, which is 40 feet in width, including the footpaths. In the left street are the gas-works, and eight cottages of two stories for the workmen. Between the street on the right and the canal, other streets run down at right angles. In the principal street, which is at the back of the locomotives' building, there are six houses of three stories, for clerks and foremen; twenty-two of two stories ; and eight with shops on the ground­floor. From the main street there is a communication with the high road, which passes over the railway to the south of this station.

In front of the locomotives' building there are four lines of way; the main double way being in the middle, with an intermediate space of 6 feet 5 inches, the whole width of way being about 60 feet. On the side-line next the building are two engine-races, or pits, 3 feet 9t inches wide, and 2 feet 4 inches deep from level of rails. A grating is fixed in the bottom of each race, to let off the water from the engines, when required, into a proper drain below. On the cross lines, which are in communication with the locomotives' establishment, are six turn-tables; two of which are in front of the carriage­landing, which is on the east side of the railway. In this carriage-wharf or landing there are two docks or recesses, each 9 feet 2 inches wide, 5 feet deep, and 3 feet 84 inches high, with proper indents in the coping to receive the buffers and chains. To support this wharf four needle piles of oak are driven at a distance of about 10 feet 6 inches from the back of the wall, and between these piles and the elm planks, which are close to the wall, strutts are introduced 10 feet in length. The whole width of this landing is 28 feet 6 inches, and it is run out with a proper slope leading from this station to the main road.

Fronting the canal, and on the east side of the railway, is the goods warehouse, which is furnished with a double way, forming a communication with the main line. There are two lines of way running down the length of the warehouse between two stages or platforms, 15 feet wide and 4 feet high. On these stages are cranes for raising or lowering goods from or to the canal-barges or railway-wagons. Beneath the front stage is a coal-store, with six loop-holes next the canal. This building is lighted by four sky­lights in the roof, which is slated, and projects over part of the canal to pro­tect the barges in bad weather.

The temporary passenger-station is on the north side of the canal. Here the trains are allowed to stop ten minutes, provided they arrive in proper time, for the purpose of allowing passengers time to take refresh­ment.

Every engine with a train from London or from Birmingham is changed at the Wolverton station, which answers the double purpose of having it examined, and of easing the driver and stoker. We consider even fifty miles too great a distance to run an engine without examination; and have seen on other lines the ill consequences arising from the want of this necessary precaution. We should prefer about thirty miles' stages, when it can be managed. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Engine Shed

If you stand above the bridge over McConnell Drive today you will get this view.

Only the rusted single line of track would indicate that this was once the main line from London to Birmingham.

Before Tesco, the same vantage point would have shown you this:

The building on the left, albeit with a different roof, was the first Engine Shed and the first building to be erected at Wolverton Station. As I have observed before, it was intended for the servicing and maintenance of the early steam engines. The original site was 8 acres and this building became the nucleus of a workshop development that spread over 80 acres and employed in its heyday almost 5,000.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Alfred Blott, the Station Master at Wolverton, got married at Willesden in 1843. He invited George Weight, incumbent at Wolverton to conduct the ceremony. Blott, a farmer's son, styles himself as "gentleman" on the marriage certificate. Alfred Blott had arrived!

Class and status are sometimes difficult things to unravel. Wolverton was in many ways a more homogeneous community than most in that the bulk of its new population were working men and their families. They were much better paid than their agricultural counterparts, but for all that they were still what we would later recognize as "working class". Wolverton then and subsequently had a large working class population and a small middle class. It had no upper class.

Those in middle class occupations had status within the community and this status can probably be measured by income.

In the late 1840s we can probably assess status from incomes:

J E McConnell     £850 pa. rising to £1200 pa.
Brabazon Stafford, Chief Accountant £350
 George Weight, Vicar of St. George's £250
John Bedford, Superintendent of Police for the line, £250 
Various works Foremen between £150 and £300 
 Alfred Blott, Station Master £200
William Pousette, Clerk £200
Archibald Laing, Schoolmaster £100
 James Hibbert, Booking Clerk and second to Alfred Blott,  £100
Almost from the beginning the railway distinguished between weekly wage staff and salaried staff - the latter more likely to fall into a middle class status. Such status was not always a matter of income. An engine driver such as Barnabas Panter, who lived on Creed Street opposite the schoolmaster, probably earned as much, if not more than Laing, but he would not be accorded the same status. Engine Drivers were paid at a daily rate of 7/2d, which, if they worked 6 days a week could realize a weekly income of £2 3s. However, it was hard and dangerous work. Interestingly, Barnabas's son William eventually bridged that divide. He started work as an apprentice, worked his way up to foreman and the assistant superintendent at Wolverton. He was promoted to salaried staff in 1877 at £250 p. a. and at this point moved into one of the villas. In 1885 he was appointed Superintendent for the Carriage Works of the London and South Western Railway at the new town of Eastleigh, moved into a nearby mansion, and became Eastleigh's most prominent citizen. He started life in a working class household and ended it entrenched in the middle class. He even has a street named after him in Eastleigh.

The Inspector of policemen, Martin Deacon, earned £1 15s a week, or about £90, certainly equivalent or better than some salaried clerical staff, but as a weekly wage earner would find himself in a working class category Policeman who were quite numerous in the 1840s before the creation of signal boxes and remote switching of points, were paid 19s a week. The ticket collector at the station, William Hazelgrove, was paid £1 3s. a week and the foreman porter, £1 10s a week.

Wolverton was then, and remained, an unusual social mix. There were no "upper class" people living in Wolverton. There was a tiny middle-class and a large (even dominant) working class population of skilled artisans earning wages well above the agricultural median. There were virtually no poor people, other than those unfortunates who had been incapacitated by injury or widows.

There is an analysis of the social mix in 1851 here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Opening of the London and Birmingham Railway

Another article from The Times. This report comes from the edition of September 18th, 1838.
Yesterday was the first day that the complete line of railroad from the London to the Birmingham terminus was opened. The portion of the road which was traversed for the first time on this occasion was that which extends between the old station at Denbigh hall and the station at Rugby. The station at the former place now no longer exists; but there are on this extent of 35 miles stations at Wolverton, Roade, Blisworth, Weedon, and Crick. The first train started from the Euston square station at 7 o'clock, having in the carriages the proprietors of the undertaking and their friends. It was said in Birmingham that they accomplished the whole journey in four hours and a half. The next train, which was open to the public, left Euston square station at 10 minutes after 8 o'clock, but did not get fairly under weigh with the steam engine until 25 minutes past 8. The train reached Birmingham by the Birmingham clocks at the terminus at two minutes to 2. Watford was reached in 33 minutes from the Euston station. The train halted there three minutes. Tring was reached in 73 minutes, and the train halted four minutes and a half. Wolverton, the first new station, was reached by 28 minutes past 10, the the train halted 25 minutes. At this place a great crowd of persons were assembled, and preparations were made for a rural feast and celebration of the opening of the line. Roade was reached at 17 minutes past 11, the train stopped 10 minutes at this station, which is 60 miles from London. Weedon, which is nine miles further, was reached at 7 minutes to 12 o'clock, and Rugby, which is 83 miles miles from London, at half pat 12. The train stopped here 8 minutes. Coventry was reached at six minutes part 1 o'clock, and here the train remained for 15 minutes. The next place was Birmingham. The portion of the line just opened, from Denbigh hall to Rugby, appears to be equally good with any other part of the road. It is this division of the road, shortly before entering Rugby station, that the trains pass through Kilsby tunnel. It has been asserted that this tunnel fell in during the boring of it, but it is not the case. It is one of the most extraordinary pieces of road in the whole line. The length of this tunnel is 2,400 yards in length, and does great credit to the skill of Mr. Foster, the engineer by whom it has been completed. The train which left Birmingham for London at half past 12 was delayed, by some means or other, on the road for nearly two hours, in consequence of which, the train next in succession, which left Birmingham at half past 2, was delayed almost two hours when almost close to Euston station; this last train arrived in London about 20 minutes to 10, instead of a quarter past 8, the hour stated for arriving in public announcements. It does not appear that any accident whatever occurred on the road; indeed so excellent were the arrangements, that the possibility of accident was provided for in every way that could be imagined

There is a lot of detail about time in this report and a journey of four and a half hours was a long one. But a journey of this length, which would hitherto have taken 10 hours by the fastest stagecoach was an amazing phenomenon to those early Victorians. The journey from Euston to Wolverton took three hours and the passengers would have needed the 25 minutes to relieve themselves at the new station. Obviously someone had taken the trouble to organize a "rural feast". The moment signalled a great change for Wolverton.  Another account of this event can be found here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

1862 - Fatal Accident at Wolverton

The Times, Wednesday, Feb. 26th 1862


An inquest was held on Tuesday morning at the Ratcliffe Arms, Wolverton, before Mr. John Worley, coroner for the County of Northampton, to ascertain the circumstances attending the death of Mr. Edward Oliver, a cattle dealer, who lost his life by a collision which took place on the London and North Western Railway on Saturday evening last. Two other persons were also seriously injured, and are now in the Northampton General Infirmary. John Labrum said he was a guard of a special cattle train on the night of the accident. They left Rugby at 9:58 pm., and on arriving at Hanslope point they slackened speed, knowing a goods train was in front. As they turned the curve he saw the red signals on at the Wolverton station. The driver of the train shut off the steam, and he put on his break. It was then 11:30, and on turning round he saw a train coming up. He immediately jumped out of his break and ran back, waving his hand-lamp to and fro, also putting down fog signals. Three hundred yards back he met the train; it was a coal train, proceeding at the rate of 15 miles an hour. He believed the steam was shut off. The man Oliver was taken up quite dead, and two other persons with him in the same carriage with him were severely cut about the head, and also much bruised. The cattle train had its proper lamps at the tail of the train, which was visible half a mile off. John Pike, pointsman at Hanslope, deposed that the coal train passed about eight or nine minutes after the cattle train. His danger sign was on, but the driver did not appear to take any notice. He did not slacken speed. Neither the driver nor fireman seemed to be looking out. Mr. Edward Robinson, travelling inspector on the railway, said that if the engine driver had been looking out when he got past the curve beyond the Hanslope point he would have seen the tail lights of the cattle train in sufficient time to avoid the collision. Anthony Tomlinson, the engine driver, volunteered a statement that after getting through the cutting past the Hanslope point he saw the tail lights of a train ahead, and he shut off the steam, put on the break, and reversed the engine, but "she quickly flew into fore gear," and in a few seconds the collision took place. The coroner summed up, and the jury, after a long deliberation, returned a verdict of "Manslaughter" against Anthony Tomlinson, the engine driver of the coal train.

A few points here. There appear to be many more safety measures in place  after the accidents of the early years. Trains now carry a guard van at the back to try to forestall shunts from the rear. Obviously it did not work in this case because the attention of the driver in the coal train was elsewhere. Accident continued on the railways, but they became more infrequent as the years passed and safety improved.

The Radcliffe Arms is still much in use at this period, but it was north of the canal where the Wolverton Park is. Access was properly only from the Old Wolverton Road, but many of the pub's customers must have come from Wolverton over the railway bridge to reach it. I wonder that there were never any reported accidents here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Deodand

Until today, I had never come across the word deodand. If I had lived in the first decade of railway development I might have seen it regularly. The deodand, which means something given to God, was frequently in the news when railway accidents were common.

The experimental nature of the technology and the lack of awareness of the dangers of speed led to a number of railway accidents, many of them fatal. The problem that juries found was that there was no mechanism in law at the time to award compensation to victims of accidents, so they settled on the medieval precedent of the deodand to meet the need. Under this law, the thing that caused the death could be seized by the Crown, sold, and the money donated to the Church - given to God. Later, a cash payment in compensation was acceptable. In the case of railway accidents, the locomotive was seen as causing the death and was therefore forfeit, or usually a monetary amount set at the value of the locomotive.

In November 1840 at Harrow a waggon had apparently derailed in the late afternoon. The immediate stations along the line were notified and people began efforts to clear the line. At about 5 o'clock, a goods train, hauled by two locomotives (as was the practice in those underpowered days) was coming towards the accident on the up line. The first driver, Brown, shut down his power on seeing the red light but the second driver, Joseph Simpson, merely stepped it down and still maintained forward power. The rain collided with the one in front which was in the process of pulling the obstructing waggon out of the way. Brown survived the crash but his fireman, Dawson, was caught under the wheels while jumping for safety and killed, and apparently Simpson was also killed while jumping for safety. His fireman survived.

After several days of hearings, the jury, which had also listened to evidence from John Bedford of Wolverton, Superintendent of Police, that Simpson had not previously been a negligent driver in any way, found Joseph Simpson guilty of the murder of William Dawson. Simpson, being already dead, could not be hanged for murder; however, the jury set a deodand of £2,000 against the value of the two engines.

The tailpiece of this story is that the agent of Lord Northwick, Lord of the Manor of Harrow, appeared, in a piece of monumental cheek, to claim the £2,000 deodand for himself on the basis of a charter issued in the time of King Stephen. The judge very curtly told him that he would have to make his case to the Exchequer and would hear no more.

In 1846 an Act of Parliament which properly dealt with compensation awards was passed, consigning the deodand to history.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Another accident near Wolverton in 1840

Here is another story from The Times archive. This accident was not the result of a crash but a fire and gives us a glimpse of the curious early practice of securing actual road coaches to a flatbed waggon. Thus passengers could travel by coach to a station, have the coach mounted on the waggon, travel in the coach by steam train, and continue their journey by road to their final destination. Here is the story:

The Times, May 4, 1840

On Thursday evening last an accident, which was likely to have terminated seriously but for the activity and exertions of the Company's servants and others, occurred to the mail train down, which leaves at half past 8. The following are the particulars:- Thursday being magazine night, a portion of them, in addition to the passengers' luggage was placed on the top of the first class North Union carriage. When passing between Leighton Buzzard and Wolverton the guards perceived flames issuing from the top of the carriage just mentioned. The breaks were immediately put on, but, the wind blowing from the north east, and the train going at an accelerated speed, this portion of the line being on the decline, the flames got ahead before the engine could be stopped. So soon, however, was that accomplished, the passengers, ten in number, were assisted out of their perilous situation, and happily without any injury. Some of the property is saved, but a much greater proportion of course destroyed. The cause of the fire can only be conjectured, but it is presumed to have originated in a spark from the engine penetrating the tarpauling (sic), or lodging immediately under it.

I don't think these rickety arrangements of transporting a road coach, complete with passengers, lasted too many years after 1840. For one thing the railways were able to build rolling stock of their own, and as speeds increased, a coach held down by chains may not have been the safest arrangement. In 1840, trains had a maximum speed of 30 mph - in practice about 25 mph - three times the speed of a horse-drawn coach, but not too fast by later standards.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Customer Service in 1838

The Reverend George Phillimore was the Vicar of Willen, and although living in an out-of-the-way village had occasion to travel on the new railway line. He was not a happy customer, as this correspondence in The Times will show. Bear in mind that at the date of his travel the line had not been completed, and passengers travelling north of Denbigh Hall had to travel by coach. The line through Wolverton was fully opened two weeks after this correspondence.

Wednesday September 12th 1838


Sir, - Knowing the interest you feel upon with all subjects connected with the welfare and convenience of the general public, and relying upon the laudable zeal which your able journal has aways exhibited in the exposure of abuses, I hope you will allow me, through its valuable medium, to state an occurrence which happened to me a short time ago when travelling by the London and Birmingham Railway. That company is, by act of Parliament, invested with such extraordinary powers, that it appears to me to be the bounden duty of every individual who may suffer from any abuse of these powers to make known his grievance, in order that such details may operate as a stimulus upon the Legislature to interfere in behalf of the public, before the monopoly becomes complete by the extinction of stage coach travelling. Permit me, then, to lay before you a correspondence which has taken place between myself and the directors, upon the occurrence in question, which seems to me will speak for itself.

Willen Vicarage, August 25, 1838.

"Sir - I beg to call your attention to the following occurrence which happened to me upon my arrival at Denbigh hall, by the train which left London at 3 p.m. this day, I was accompanied by a lady, who was going to Northampton. In order to secure an inside place by the coach from Denbigh hall, she had, at my suggestion, booked and paid for, at the Golden Cross office, Regent Street, a place in the first class carriage from London, (getting in, however, at Watford,) and an inside place by the Northampton coach. At the Golden Cross a receipt was given for the payment of the fare thither. The receipt was objected to at first by the Watford bookkeeper as not being a proper ticket, but upon conferring with the guard of the train, he admitted it to be so, and directed him to pass my companion to Northampton. Upon arriving at Denbigh hall, however, great was my surprise to find this ticket refudsed by Simcox, the check taker, who affected entire ignorance of its purport. When upon this I assured him that everything was right, and that the guard knew it to be so, he answered me insolently, that he must be paid. Wishing to avoid any unpleasant altercation occurring before my companion, I desired her to pass on, and told her that I would settle the matter. Again, I assured the check taker that the fare was paid, when, upon endeavouring to pass him, I was immediately seized and collared by him! In spite of my remonstrances I found it necesary to break away, and whereupon he called policeman 73, to whom he gave me in charge. I offered an explanation to the policeman, which he peremptorily refuse to hear, and proceeded to collar and detain me. I begged the guard might be summoned, who at once corroborated the truth of my statement. I tehn offered to go away, but was again seized and detained by the policeman. I asked Simcox his name, who refused to give me his name, as did the policeman. I lose no time in forwarding my complaint, and beg your immediate attention to it, and a satisfactory redress for the insolence and assault on the part of two of your servants, forebearing to make any comment, however obvious, upon the above statement. I ought to add, that before they would release me, 7s. was demanded, which I gave, in payment of the fare; and also that the coachman of the Northampton coach showed me my companion's name on the way-bill, as booked from London to Northampton, and at my desire showed it to Simcox, who persisted in refusing to acknowledge its correctness.
"I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
"To the Secretary of the London and Birmingham Railway."

To this letter I received the following reply:-

"London and Birmingham Railway-office,
Euston-square, August 30, 1838.

"Sir - Having laid your letter of the 25th inst. before the committee of management, and a rigid investigation into all the circumstances connected with your complaint having been immediately instituted, I am instructed to express to you the regret of the company that you should have been exposed to so much annoyance, and to apologize on their behalf for any failure in proper respect to a passenger on the part of any of their servants. I am desired to add, that the immediate cause of this annoyance is the conduct of persons connected with the intermediate coaching, and that this evil will cease on the general opening on the 17th September.

"I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
"R. CREED, Sec.
"To the Rev. S. Phillimore, Willen, Newport Pagnel."
Richard Creed was the London Secretary of the Company, which also had another, in the person of Captain Moorsom, at its Birmingham office. Both held important and influential positions and may have had a larger role than Company Secretaries have today.
The Rev. Phillimore was not to be fobbed off so easily.

To this I replied as follows:-
"Sir, - I received duly your letter this morning; and, in reply, must candidly confess that the explanation which it contains is anything but satisfactory. I do not find therein any mention made whatever of reprimanding, or in any way punishing the servant or servants, through whose negligence I was insulted, but the onus of the transaction is attempted to be laid upon the 'persons connected with the intermediate coaching,' a statement which, if borne out by the fact, would only throw additional blame upon the Company for their bad arrangement. Again, a point upon which not only myself, but the public at large, are materially interested, viz., the extortion of money for a fare already paid, and the restitution of money obtained under circumstances of personal violence and detention, is passed over, after the "rigid investigation," which you state to have taken place, in total silence. What am I to infer from this! Either that the 'investigation' was a very loose one indeed, or that the money will not be restored. Once more, therefore, I am compelled to draw your attention to the following points: - 1. The book-keeper of the Golden Cross, which in your advertisement in The Times is stated, under the signature of your two secretaries, to be one of the offices where places may be taken, gives my servant a ticket, upon payment of the fare, to Northampton. The servant expressly asks whether that ticket is sufficient. The book-keeper replies that it is.
"The book-keeper at the Watford station, after learning from the guard of the train that the lady whom I accompanied was duly booked, desires the guard to pass her on to Northampton free. Now, in the case of this ticket being an improper one, the book-keeper at the Golden Cross (which is expressly declared by public advertisement as an authorized office for booking places on the railroad), was to blame for not giving a correct one; and in any case, it was the duty of the Watford book-keeper to have seen that she was provided with a proper ticket before allowing her to enter the carriage. But it does not appear that the latter ever doubted the validity of the ticket, for he took the assurance of the guard, and declared the fare paid to Northampton. Is the negligence of your servants to be made the cause of assaulting and wounding the feelings of a gentleman, and the justification of committing extortion upon a passenger? Are the public to suffer from the carelessness or faulty arrangements of the railroad directors? Are they to believe the advertisements which they seen in the newspapers, signed by the two secretaries, stating that there are certain offices in London where places may be booked? Are they made to be liable, when travelling by your conveyances (whether male of female, gentle or simple) to be assaulted, and, for a mistake clearly committed through the fault of your Company's servants, to be collared, and given in charge to a policeman, and, in order to obtain release, to be compelled to pay a fare over again; and in the end, when demanding redress for such usage, to be soothed with the satisfactory intelligence that "the immediate cause of this annoyance lies with the conduct of persons connected with the coaching department?" I am very much mistaken if the public at large will put up by these things, or if the Birmingham Railroad Company will find their interests advanced by such occurrences, and such unsatisfactory replies to just complaints. I am not of a litigious disposition, but every man possesses feelings which may properly be called into exercise on certain occasions, and these urge me, as well upon public as upon personal grounds, to seek a satisfactory redress and a restitution of my money, both of which demands I feel confident the committee will see the propriety of acceding. I await your immediate reply, &c.

"I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
"To the Secretary of the London and Birmingham Railroad."
In this account we only get the Reverend Phillimore's side of the story. It does appear that he had foundation for his grievance. In mitigation for the railway, these were very early days. All the jobs were new and the Company was unable to call upon any experience. Men were hired, provided they could read and write, on the recommendation of a worthy and respectable person. Staff training, as such, was probably non-existent, but employees were provided with written instructions, or "rules" for the execution of their duties. They probably did not cover situations like this.
To this the Committee replied as follows:-
"London and Birmingham Coaching department,
"Euston-station, Sept. 3, 1838.

"Sir,- I am instructed to transmit to you a Post-office order for 7s., in reference to your communication of the 31st ult., to which the Seretary has replied.
"I am, your obedient servant,
"Rev. G. Phillimore, Willen.
At this point Richard Creed was unwilling to waste any more time on this country parson and delegated the matter to someone in his office. He may have overlooked the fact that Phillimore was 7s. out of pocket from the first letter. His instruction must have been, "pay the man and close the matter."
Reverend Phillimore still had bruised feelings.
Upon submitting the above to a respectable solicitor, it appeared that my only remedy for the above treatment was to enter an action against the Company - a remedy expensive and unsatisfactory; but upon mature consideration, reflecting that my end being not merely of a personal nature, but to expose the abuses of a great monopoly to the public, with the hope that the Legislature will interfere to put a stop to them, I deemed that the most effectual means of doing so would be to obtain a place for the above correspondence in the columns of your widely circulated journal.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Willen Vicarage, Sept. 7.
A few days later, Phillmore threw in the towel and resorted to the publicity he could get from The Times. I don't know if this is one of the first instances of a customer using the press as a means of getting attention to a perceived wrong but it is probably an early instance. The London and Birmingham Railway is an early instance of a large public company providing service to the public and entering into a new type of customer service. If Josiah Wedgewood sold you a flawed piece of china it could be replaced, and no harm done. If a railway traveller had a poor travelling experience it could not easily be put right. The L&BR plainly did not know how to deal with such situations as experienced by George Phillimore and by today's standards would fall very short. Everybody was learning.

We might also consider that this correspondence was conducted before the age of the typewriter, carbon paper and any easy means of copying, so Phillimore must have made hand-written copies of his own correspondence and copied all this for The Times, which in turn had to be type set for publication.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Fatal Railway Accident

When the railways newly came upon the scene there were a lot of accident. People new about horses and carts and presumably knew enough to step out of the way when they heard one coming. The sounds of the steam engine were unfamiliar and not necessarily associated in people's mind with a threat - at least not in those early years. Even those familiar with the railway, as were the three men in this case, seemed to be oblivious to danger.

Here is a report from The Times of October 21st 1840 about an acccident near Wolverton.

(From a Correspondent.) 
On Monday last, about 2 o'clock, as the down train from London was nearing the Wolverton Station, it came into contact in the following manner with some labourers who were walking the line, and killed two of them, and severely injured another. They were proceeding in the direction of Wolverton, and were intent on getting out of the way of an up goods train that was approaching them in front. In consequence, their attention was drawn from the down train coming on them from behind, and before they were aware of its near approach it ran over three of them, killing two on the spot, and injuring the other so much that one of his legs was obliged to be shortly after amputated. It is stated that the engine driver of the down train, when within a quarter of a mile of them, gave them the usual caution by using the engine whistle, but from their attention being fixed on the up train, and the down train progressing on an inclined plane, it was difficult, or perhaps impossible, to avoid the melancholy catastrophe. The men killed were used to the line, as they bhad been formerly employed on it in the vicinity of Denbigh hall.
It's interesting, isn't it, that no names are mentioned in this report? The three men remain permanently anonymous.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ben Caunt

An English Prize Fighter

Ben Caunt was the other prize fighter who fought Bendigo in the infamous fight around Wolverton in 1845 1845. He appears in three Times articles in 1860 and 1861. It appears that his life had been going downhill since his prize fighting days.

In 1860 he was sued by a tailor named Mead for an outstanding bill of £28 5s 6d - a sum equivalent to about 6 months wages for a skilled working man, so not a trivial amount. Caunt was then the proprietor of a public house called the Coach and Horses in St Martin's Lane and had been for eighteen years. The pub may not have had the best reputation because we learn from the trial that there had been complaints in the past. There were suggestions that a man had been hustled and robbed in his house and of cheating at cards. And given his fighting reputation the pub also attracted ruffianly men who worked out some of their own pugilistic passions. All these accusations he strongly denied.

Nevertheless he was a man in difficulty. He had recently lost his licence, although the immediate cause is not clear from this account.

The story here seems to revolve around a certain Mr. Matchet, who was certainly a rogue, even a con man.
According to Caunt, Matchet had come to his public house to stay on returning from India with £2300. Having suitably imporessed his landlord Matchet then proceeded to by drinks all round and run up a bill of £55. It was Matchet who ordered clothes from the tailor, partly for himself, but he also managed to include a suit apiece for a mr Jones and a Mr Butler. He also threw in generously a pair of trousers for Caunt's son.

At this point Matchet disappeared, leaving Caunt with the bill. Caunt refused to pay the tailor, except for the trousers for his son and so the matter came to court.

The first jury in June 1860 could not agree on a verdict and were dismissed. At a second hearing a moth later another jury found for Mead and Caunt was stuck with the bill.

A year later his death was reported.

The Times September 11th 1861

Yesterday morning, at 4 o clock, Mr. Benjamin Caunt, proprietor of the Coach and Horses Tavern, St Martin's lane, expired somewhat suddenly at his residence. The deceased, familiarly know as "Ben Caunt", had been a leading member of the prize ring, and held for some years the championship, which he succeeded i gaining after many hard-fought battles. All day yesterday Caunt was inhis business as usual, but showed some signs of indisposition. He retired to rest at his usual hour last night, and this morning he was found dead in bed, without having apparently experienced much suffering. During the last year or two Caunt has been very much affected in his mind by the loss of his licence, of which the magistrates deprived him on account of informations laid against him by his neighbours of the nuisance occasioned about his house by large crowds of sporting men who took an interest in the then pending prize fights - particularly in that between Heenan and Sayers for the championship, which Caunt himself had just resigned. When his body was discovered at 4 o'clock this morning, the time at which he was usually called, medical aid was immediately resorted to; but it was ascertained that death must have taken place some time previously, probably an hour or two.

Caunt's will was valued at under £100 so he really had little to show for his years of prize fighting. He also spent 3 months in prison in Derby for larceny when he was 22. He certainly achieved some fame but was only 46 when he died.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


A 19th Century Prize Fighter
Some time back, in the context of Hugh Miller's encounter with Wolverton, I posted Sir Frank Markham's account of the prize fight centred around Wolverton Station in 1845. You can read it here.

I have recently found some further references in The Times to the two protagonists, Ben Caunt and W. Thompson, alias "Bendigo".

Bendigo first, and the sad end of Ben Caunt tomorrow.

According to Sir Frank Markham, Bendigo became a preacher after he retired from the ring. I don't know about his subsequent career, but prize fighting was a tough business. There are frequent reports of fatalities in these bouts and the government had made the practice illegal - not that this stopped it. On more than one occasion the victor of one of these contests found himself up on a charge of murder. It was the Marquis of Queensbury's rules governing fighting later in the century that brought boxing under some sort of code.

On July 19 1851, Bendigo was moved to write a letter to The Times defending The Noble Art of Self Defence. The letter is incoherent and semi-literate, quite unlike the normal letters of the period with their long and elegant sentences. The Time type-setter, however, rendered the letter as it was written and published it with a preface, which is possibly patronising. It is quite Dickensian with phonetic spelling and the "h" appearing before some vowels - hexient for excellent and ham for am. You cant't always make sense of what he says, but as a sociological document it is interesting.

We have received the following letter in defence of the English practice of this "noble" art.
The writer, as will be seen, is modest enough to distrust his own "science," but we cannot presume to improve on the defence of a professor, and leave his blows to tell as he struck them.

"Sir, - Seeing as you ar so palite as to admet opinins of the various arts ento your collms as was the cas with the piana fortes an other maters arterwards the opening off the Great Exhibition i make bold to trubbel you with a fewe Remarkes regarden we profesors off the art of sef defense  In the Ring it appears to mee that the kicking bisness in your most hexient notiece too day off Leicester square assalt at arms in aney thing but fare game an we doant fancy this french in old England its worse nor Lancasher purrin which we turns our backes uppon the gents must hav a prety thirst for Blood to go to Encurage such practessis an i Hope you will put it done as i ham no pertikler schooler i shall be obleege if you wil Mak it knowne an i shal feel obleege

"n,B kickeing an in the face to wit i wish they may get me at that game
"Nottingham jouly 17 Flying Horse."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Land Enclosures in Wolverton

Medieval agriculture was undertaken in open fields where each peasant had traditional rights to grow and harvest crops in strips. The fields were "open" in the sense that they were not enclosed by hedgerows, but there was in no sense a free-for-all. Strips of land were passed down through generations, usually on payment of an entry fine. Thereafter the peasant was entitled to make use of the land and everyone knew where the boundaries were. Some peasants had acquired more land rights than other over centuries and some were landless labourers working for day wages. Sheep and cattle were driven out to graze on “waste” (land that was hard to cultivate), sometimes known as common land. Common rights were critical to the peasant economy; without them it was hard to maintain livestock.

The Tudor period witnessed the beginning of land enclosures which continued to the 18th century. What we now see as a familiar pattern of fields and hedgerows in the countryside was developed during these centuries.

In the 16th century common rights were held by all the residents of the manor, that is the inhabitants of the village of Wolverton and outlying cottages and the fifty or so dwellings on the east side of the Watling Street.

The enclosures began in a tentative manner. Sir John Longueville enclosed 10 acres around Bushfield School in 1530 and his son Thomas enclosed 32 acres called the Dickens, but revoked the action on his deathbed. In 1541, Arthur Longueville, then the inheritor promptly re-enclosed the land and in 1554 enclosed another 50 acres in the Stacey Bushes area. However, he also relented and re-opened the field.
His son, Henry, was more determined. In 1566 he enclosed those lands that had formerly been enclosed and in 1579-80 enclosed a 158 acre tract of land known as the Furzes. These combined actions took some 250 acres out of common usage.

The local population at first responded by pulling down the fences. Henry Longueville retaliated by hiring ruffians to beat up the objectors and sometimes to kill their cattle. Local justice was not much use here, as Sir Henry Longueville himself was the Justice of the Peace, so the inhabitants of Wolverton and Stony Stratford petitioned the Lord Chancellor in 1584. Three men had the courage to sign thee petition, Thomas Furtho, John Hinders and Christopher Carne. It appears that their complaint was upheld, although it is not clear how it was enforced.

The final phase of the enclosures occurred around 1654 when Sir Edward Longueville was Lord of the manor, chiefly, it seems, under the instigation of his wife Margaret. We should perhaps bear in mind that the Longuevilles were at the time in somewhat straitened circumstances due to their heavy committment to the royalist cause in the Civil War and may have acted with more ruthlessness than they might have in more affluent times. Not a bit of this mitigation would have impressed the villagers who were uprooted from their homes, and in many cases from their livelihoods. There was probably some compensation, although this is unrecorded, and was probably little enough. Some may have found employment on the manor for low wages, but many would have had to find new ways of making a living in (probably) Stony Stratford. Dame Margaret's name was infamous in the popular mind.

The location of the ancient settlement can still be seen in the field beside Wolverton Park. I have a post about it here.

Enclosure meant exactly that. Hedgerows were planted to mark off the fields and separate cattle and sheep from arable land. Dr. Francis Hyde published a map of these fields, together with their names, in his A Short History of Wolverton. I have discussed these names (some of which are very old indeed) in these posts.

It has been estimated that there were about 30 families still living in the old medieval village in the middle of the 16th century. However, by 1654, when the Longuevilles completed their objective of enclosing the entire manor, the village had ben totally depopulated.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Longuevilles at Wolverton

This is a continuation of my post about the de Longueville family in Wolverton.

The de Longuevilles repeated the longevity of the first Wolverton ruling family and survived for over 300 years. Sir Frank Markham expresses the view that "successive generations of de Longuevilles followed two main lines of policy, first the acquisition of estates formerly held by priories, and second the enclosure of the common land of their manors." I will return to these two points later.

Sir John de Longueville, who had married Joan Hunt, the heiress of Wolverton lived to 1439. He was Sherrif of Buckingham in 1394 and no doubt took the opportunity (as did all holders of this office) to enrich himself and his family. His son and heir, Sir George lived to 1457. He had two sons - Richard, the eldest, and a younger son, George. It is not clear if Richard died before his father or later, but Sir George made the younger George heir before he died, even though Richard had a son, also called Richard.

Matters did not rest here, because in about 1485 the younger Richard's son, John, made a forcible entry to the Manor and asserted his rights as he perceived them. He was obviously successful because on George's death in 1499 John had in his hands a document renouncing any claims by George and his heirs on the manor.

This John, who was knighted, lived to the good age of 83 (although in one place he is accorded the great age of 103) and took the family into the 16th century. He had only one legitimate child, a daughter Anne. She married John Cheyne of the Chenies manor in Chalfont St Giles and the prospect of uniting the two manors, which were once part of the Wolverton barony must have been considered; however, Sir John de Longueville decided to will the Wolverton Manor to his illegitimate son Arthur, and accordingly inherited in 1541 and in the following year secured himself from any claim by his half sister.

The genealogy of the de Longuevilles can be rather murky. One genealogy gives him a first wife, Joan Tresham and no issue from this marriage, and then Anne Saunders, with whom he had four sons _ Thomas, Arthur, John and Richard. Other sources assign him one legitimate child, Anne. Probably, the marriage to Joan Tresham produced the daughter, Anne, but it seems that he did not marry Anne Saunders. Thomas died before his father without issue and the inheritance fell to Arthur. John Leland, a contemporary writer, is in no doubt about Arthur's illegitimacy:
The Langevilles of later tymes hath lyen and bilded fairly at Wolverstun in Bukinghamshie (nere Stony Stareatford).
Langeville an 103 yeres old made his landes from his heires general to his bastard sunne Arture. The yonger bastard is now heir. 
Arthur Longueville was the one who acquired Bradwell Priory, which had been originally endowed by the Baron Meinfelin in the 12th Century. It had never really propsered and by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries was not worth a great deal.  It had latterly been the property of Cardinal Wolsey but after his downfall it reverted to the crown. From here it was sold to Arthur Longueville. A detailed description can be found here.

The "younger bastard" died in 1557 leaving his widow Anne to manage the estate until his son Henry came of age. Henry died in 1618. The period was a momentous one for the Manor because land enclosures were largely effected during this century - a policy pursued by Arthur and more assiduously by his son Henry. I will write about this in a separate post.

The 17th century witnessed a rise in the Longueville fortunes and a tragic collapse. Most of Sir Henry's seven children made well-connected marriages and his heir, also Henry, died three years after his father, but his son and heir, Edward, was a great supporter of Charles I and the royalist cause and was rewarded with the baronetcy of Nova Scotia. However, his committment during the Civil War was costly, not only in the expense of raising arms for the King, but in the fines and penalties he paid for being on the losing side. In 1643 he was captured and imprisoned at Grafton House and assessed a fine of £330. In 1646 he was fined £800, a large sum for those times. In 1650 he sold Bradwell Manor to pay the fine.

Sir Edward died in 1661 and his son Thomas succeeded to the reduced estate. He had married an heiress, Mary Silvester of Iver in Buckinghamshire, which must have helped. Unfortunately, he was killed upon a fall from a horse in 1685.

The young Sir Edward, who was his only son, proved himself to be a man who preferred to spend rather than earn and he gradually dissipated the wealth of the Longuevilles. In 1712 he was forced to sell the entire manor, which was purchased by Dr. John Radcliffe for £40,000. Sir Edward, unluckily, met the same fate as his father. He was thrown from his horse during a race at Bicester and thus met his end. the date was 28th August 1718.

Sir Edward did not marry and had no issue. The baronetcy, and whatever money was left, passed to a cadet branch of the family in Wales.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Iron Trunk - a 200th anniversary

One of the more interesting reads in the blogosphere is Narrow Boat Albert, maintained by Steve and Maggie Parkin. They regularly post about their journeys along our waterways, and because they are based at Yardley Gobion, often touch on subjects of Wolverton interest. I have not met the Parkins but the blog posts are always well written and accompanied by excellent photographs.

Two years ago they posted about the lock flight crossing the River Ouse between Wolverton and Cosgrove that preceded the aqueduct here. Again this month they explored the area and discovered the original cutting for the canal. New Year's walk.

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the Iron Trunk. This is an astonishing record and a testament to early 19th century engineering. The progress to this was not easy, as I described in my December post on the Grand Junction Canal coming to Wolverton.

There were three stages to the Ouse crossing - firstly the lock system from 1792-1799, then the ill-fated wooden aqueduct that lasted until 1808, and the final solution, which is what you see today, 200 years after it was constructed.

Since I posted in December I have learned that Thomas Harrison was involved in another canal project. In 1784 he formed, along with other investors, The Flint Canal Company. The intention was to build a canal from Greenfield to Flint. The canal was never built, but they did build a new stone bridge over the river and a brass plaque, dated September 10th 1788, marks the laying of the foundation stone. This is of some interest to us because it shows that Thomas Harrison was involved in canal projects in an earlier decade and his building of the aqueduct was not a one-off project - although it was certainly his last in this field of endeavour.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Consecration of St George the Martyr - A correction

Three days after the report in The Times, the following letter appeared from George Bramwell, solicitor to the Radcliffe Trust. The tone is mild enough but I suspect Mr Bramwell might have choked on his toast when he read the original article.

Consecration of Wolverton Church

To the Editor of The Times Saturday, Jun 1st 1844

Sir, On reading in your valuable journal of the 29th inst. An account of the consecration of the above church, I perceive there are some errors into which you have inadvertently fallen.
            It is stated that the Radcliffe trustees, the owners of the Wo;lverton estate, liberally gave the ground for the new church and parsonage, but, in truth, they have done a great deal more, or the church would never have been erected.
            The Radcliffe trustees have paid the entire expenses of the erection of the new church and parsonage, which will amoun to about £5,000; beyond this, they pay £100 a year to the minister of the church towards his stipend.
            The Birmingham Railway Company have, doubtless, given some assistance towards this good work, having, by subscription, raised £2,000, which has been appropriated for the endowment of the minister.
            I trust you will allow this explanation a place in your columns.

            I remain, Sir,
            Your most obedient servant.
            Solicitor to the Radcliffe Trustees.

Furnival’s Inn, May 30th, 1844

P.S. The patronage of the church is vested in the Radcliffe trustees.

I wonder if this was not a turning point in relations between the Radcliffe Trust and the Railway Company, because after this episode the Trust would not part with any more land for the development of New Wolverton. In the 1850s there was a strong demand for more housing but the Trustees would part with no more land and the L&NWR had to develop New Bradwell. It was not until 1860 that the Trust was willing to sell more land.

The Trustees had a perfect right to be peeved. They had taken a lead as early as 1841 in promoting a church, which they saw as their moral duty to the new population. They would provide the land and set up an endowment for the ministry. The Railway Company however was only prepared to put up £1,000 towards the church and parsonage and £50 a year towards the minister's stipend. Matters were at an impasse, even though the Trustees had already hired George Weight as the incumbent. A temporary church had been established in the school, but with a growing population this was becoming less satisfactory. The Trust forced matters to a head by agreeing to contribute £2,000 towards the cost of building (estimated at £4,000) provided the Railway Company contributed an equal amount. Eventually the L&BR put up £1,000 and raised a further £1,000 by subscription.

The Railways were the new thing and indeed the future. The Radcliffe Trust represented conservation of the past. The Railways were in the ascendent; the Trust was in retrenchment. It is therefore easy to see how everything could be spun in favour of the railways.

However, the Trustees were now minded to stem growth and in the first instance achieved this by restricting parish boundaries. This letter from Bramwell to Henry Quartley, Vicar of Holy Trinity, illustrates his cast of mind at this time.

I believe every respectable resident in the Parish of Wolverton deeply regrets that this large station has been fixed in their immediate vicinity and would be averse that the Station should be again enlarged and the population doubled or nearly so . . . I trust that even in these days of railway omnip[otenmcewe shall be able to keep the railway company within their present boundaries and effectually oppose their acquiring more land at Wolverton. (20th March 1846)

George Bramwell remained as Secretary and Solicitor to the Trust until his retirement in 1880, so he did change his mind and bow to the prevailing winds. I suggest however, that the issue of the church had other consequences.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Consecration of St George the Martyr, Wolverton

I am working through The Times archive for first hand reports of Wolverton activity. This will probably be my major source of material this month.

The following article was published on Wednesday, May 29th 1844. The actual event would have been Sunday, May 26th. The article tells us a lot about Wolverton and the role of the railway company and very little about the church or even the ceremony, which leads me to believe that the reporter got sall his information from a director or partisan official. It is heavily biased and in some instances wrong and I will deal with the Radcliffe Trust side of the story in the next post.

Here at any rate is The Times report:

Consecration of Wolverton Church

Wednesday May 29th 1844

The courtesy of the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway Company enabled us yesterday to be present at the consecration of the church which has just been erected at their station at Wolverton. Connected with the performance of this ceremony were some circumstances of more than ordinary interest, and we may therefore be excused for dwelling on it in some detail.

Many travellers upon the Birmingham Railway are not aware that there is anything more remarkable at Wolverton than its commodious and well-supplied refreshment room. This error is perfectly excusable, for until within a few years Wolverton was nothing more than a farm, the property, we believe, of the Radcliffe Trustees. A consequence of the railway, however, is the settlement of a colony upon this somewhat remote spot – a colony of engineers and mechanics all constantly and regularly employed by the Leviathan Company which gave birth to the town, and which has invested it with sufficient importance to entitle it a place upon the map of England. The circumstance under which the town was called into existence may be worth relating. When the Birmingham Company’s bill was first introduced to the notice of  Parliament it was proposed to establish a central station at Northampton, a town which,  from its own importance and its central position upon the contemplated line, appeared to be a most eligible position for the Company’s works. The shortsightedness of the Northampton people, all at that time engaged or interested in coach traffic, prevented the perfecting of the arrangements. After a vast deal of opposition, attended with great expense to all parties, they succeeded in forcing the Company to abandon their project, and select another spot on which to carry on their works. As there was no other town of sufficient importance eligibly situate on the route, the managers wisely sought a counterbalance for the disadvantage. They saw that if they lost some facilities by placing their station remote from a town, they would gain by the increased steadiness and regularity of their workpeople. Accordingly, Wolverton, a healthy spot, many miles from any place of public resort, was selected as a site for a large station, and there, as we said before, the Company have founded a colony of engineers, which is rapidly flourishing while Northampton is going to decay.

At the present time Wolverton is a neat, brick-built, clean little town of eight or ten streets, regularly and well laid out, containing houses of different classes, the smallest of which, however, are superior to the general run of mechanic’s dwellings in our large manufacturing towns. We saw Wolverton, no doubt under great advantage yesterday but there are at all times some unfailing tests of the character of a population, and the general cleanliness of the interiors, and the absence of beer shops, may, in this case, be regarded as two most favourable symptoms. The present population of the place is, we believe, 1,500. Of this number there are only a few families who are not employed by the Company. The houses, which have all been built by the Company, are let to their servants at a very moderate rental; and as a reward fot that description of labour in which the inhabitants are principally engaged is highly remunerative, it may safely be said that absolute poverty is unknown in Wolverton. The last sentence is true but I suspect the reporter was given a sanitized account of Wolverton. There was a beer shop at the far north end of the town and two pubs, one of which, The Radcliffe Arms, had a notorious reputation and was known locally as "Hell's Kitchen."

The works at Wolverton, which are so placed upon the line as almost entirely to conceal the town, are, as may be supposed, very extensive. It would occupy too much space to dilate upon this topic,but it may be incidentally mentioned that one of the engine houses is capable of containing 24 to 30 engines; that in the factory there is always one new locomotive in progress, whilst the number under repair is of course considerable. In this little place alone, we should assume that this company must spend in wages, &c., from £40,000 to £50,000 per annum.

Some time since the Company, regardful of the spiritual as well as of the temporal condition of those who are employed in carrying on the schemes of profit, erected a school in the town, which is conducted on excellent principles, and at which about 100 boys and girls are in daily attendance. No less mindful of the soul’s welfare of the elder than of the junior branches of their little community, the Company have now erected a church, with a parsonage house attached, upon a site liberally given them for the purpose by the trustees of the Radcliffe estate. The church itself is a plain building, in the Saxon style of architecture (actually Gothic), which has lately become popular. Perhaps it is not a particularly good specimen of its class, but its want of exterior attraction is compensated by its commodious interior fittings, which proivide accommodation for nearly 1,000 persons. All the seats, we rejoice to say, are free: there is not a single pew or reserved seat in the fabric.

The ceremony consecrating the building was performed by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln, the diocesan, in whom, we believe, the right of presentation to the church is to be vested. His Lordship was accompanied to the church by a large body of his clergy, and a number of gentlemen of the vicinity, and others interested in the work. Mr. T. B. Escourt, M.P.; Mr. George Carr Glyn, the Chairman of the London and Birmingham Company; and several of the most influential directors. The church was crowded in every part, and the entire congregation appeared to be most repectable. The Bishop preached an eloquent discourse from the 10th chapter of Isaiah and 47th verse, and took occasion in the course of his sermon to dwell upon the circumstances under which the church was erected; and to exhort those amongst his hearers who were engaged in solving the profundities of physical science not to neglect the study of the natural sciences which led to reflection upon the greatness of God and the comparative littleness of man.

After the ceremony a numerous company partook of a very elegant déjeúner, served in the large room of the station, the Chairman of the Board of Directors presiding.

The Soiree of 1849 Part IV - The Aftermath

The event of December 21st 1849 had been organized on a vast scale. 1,500 people were catered for at a cost of between 6d. and 1s. A goodly collection of dignitaries attended. The event was reported in The Times and The London Illustrated News. Possibly as much as £1,000 was raised. No doubt there was great enthusiasm after this event.

None of this enthusiasm translated into concrete action and the project lingered for another decade. The reasons are not clear, but land acquisition may have been an issue as The Radcliffe Trust were reluctant to open up more land for development. In 1860 more land was acquired for development and the Stratford Road and Church Street could begin. A plot of land at the corner of the new Church Street and Creed Street was earmarked for the purpose by 1861. At the time the Science and Art Institute fund held £1,200 and the L&NWR was prepared to contribute £500 as long as the Institute held no debt. A plan was submitted at an estimated cost of £3,000.

A foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Sutherland in 1862 but the project stalled again. The projected cost was too high and the plans were sent back to the architect for re-drafting. The revised plans were submitted in May 1863 and approved. Only then did construction begin in earnest and the long-awaited Mechanics' institute opened on Whit Monday, 16th May 1864. The building was enlarged in 1891.

It had been a long time coming but the result was perhaps Wolverton's finest Victorian building and one to which many generations of Wolverton and North Bucks people owed the foundations of their education.

The ending was sad. In 1970 a fire burnt out the building. Photographs are here. No attempt was made to restore the building and it was demolished shortly after.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Soiree of 1849 Part III- The Speeches and Speechmakers

The Times reporter detailed many of the speeches at this event and it sounds as if they rambled on endlessly. Had we been present we may have found it boring, but 170 years later, we can find a lot of information in them about Victorian life and attitudes. Here are the main speakers:

James Edward McConnell. He was the Superintendent of Wolverton Works, succeeding Edward Bury in 1846. He was responsible for designing the faster and more powerful locomotives that once embellished Wolverton's reputation before locomotive building was consolidated at Crewe.

George Carr Glyn was a leading figure in railway building, being first chairman of the L&BR and subsequently of the L&NWR. He was a banker and by the time he made this speech was an MP. He was later ennobled and took the title of Baron Wolverton.

Rev. Mr. Fremantle is, I think, William Robert Fremantle, second son of Sir Thomas Fremantle. The reporter introduces him as "of the new church built here by the company" but I think this may be a reporter error. The incumbent was, and had been from the beginning, George Weight, acknowledged in a later speech. This Fremantle may have been a curate, but I can't think that he would be the one saying grace at such an important occasion while George Weight remained in the shadows. There were two Fremantles of this period who had church careers. W R Fremantle, mentioned above, and his nephew, William Henry Fremantle, who was not ordained until 1855. This leaves us with one candidate. William Robert Fremantle was a senior divine in the C of E and a respected writer and editor on theological subjects. He was probably present at the request of the directors to represent the Buckinghamshire interest. He easily outranked poor old George Weight who was merely Vicar of St. George's. Weight is acknowledged in Glyn's remarks but was clearly not important enough to sit at the top table.

Sir Harry Verney (1801-1894) was actually born into the Calvert family of Hertfordshire and changed his name to Verney on inheriting the Verney estates at Claydon. He was a long-serving and influential MP for Buckingham and was very active in promoting the railway interest in Buckinghamshire. verney Junction is named after him. He also married, as his second wife, Parthenope Nightingale, Florence's sister. He is shown here in old age with Florence Nightingale.

William Lucy was Lord Mayor of Birmingham from 1849-50.

George Cruikshank was a very famous contemporary illustrator and at the time of this occasion at the peak of his fame. Even today he is remembered for his caricatures of the Regency period and his illutrations for several of Dickens' novels. Exactly why he was asked to grace the top table is not evident. He was not, as far as we know associated with railways and the speech he gave on this occasion is not particularly entertaining. One might conclude that one of the directors invited him along. The sketch above is a self portrait of the artists in middle age. He was born in 1792 and close to 60 on this occasion.

Captain Mark Huish was the general manager of the L&NWR and is recognized as one of the great railway managers of that period. His speech might strike one today as very defensive. There were of course many railway accidents in those early years and the press gave them publicity and there was public concern, even alarm. Travel at speeds of 30 mph and above was a completely new experience for this generation and there was much trepidation. Huish, however, is responding in a manner which is common enough today - "Everyone is working very hard and doing their best in difficult circumstances." The memorial above at Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight is from a photo taken by Kevin Quick of Leighton Buzzard. He has an excellent website about the history of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade.

Here follows The Times reporting of the speeches.

Mr. McConnell (the chairman) proceeded to observe, it was a most gratifying and cheering scene to look around and see the numerous and cordial friends assembled on that occasion.It was the first held to support a Railway Mechanics’ Institution, and it was at Wolverton such a meeting should properly be held; for it was there the first town of railway servants had ever been established. It was there, too, a mechanics’ institute might be expected to flourish, but he regretted that as compared to other places, they had not made the progress which might have been expected, and had not kept pace with similar institutions on other railways. But other times were coming, and the present attempt was proof of the spirit pervading the people at Wolverton. It might be said the town itself was altogether the offspring of the railway. There were employed there no less than 500 mechanics who were engaged on the work of 220 engines, running upwards of 3,000,000 miles in the course of the year, and conveying upwards of 1,000 tons per week. Such a working stock, it was evident, required a large amount of mechanical force to keep it in order and repair. Artisans of nearly every class were congregated together, and if Wolverton were transported tomorrow to the wilds of America there esisted within it all the elements of production necessary for the comforts of life. (Cheers.) Everyone acquainted with its history would admit that its population had been most exemplary in conduct, and that, considering the many districts and parts of the kingdom from which they came, it was really gratifying to find how few causes of there were complaint against them. (Cheers.) The people and workmen had, indeed, been orderly, respectable, and well-conducted throughout. (Loud cheers.)  It must not be forgotten that the liberality of the directors had placed the means of education with the reach of all of them and had afforded them an opportunity of attending divine service in the church built for the purpose. All the orderly character to which he referred was due to the very efficient service of the clergymen appointed to superintend their secular and religious education. (Hear, hear.) He rejoiced at such a meeting as the present; independently of the laudable object they had met to serve, the social repast they had just enjoyed enabled them to cultivate kindly feelings with their brother workmen (cheers), and to do away with those little jealousies which must exist in all great establishments. The institute had been in existence since 1840, but unfortunately it had not been successful, owing to want of a proper mode of action among the men; but they were now more united, and the example of the large mechanics’ institutes in the manufacturing towns had had its effects. These remarks are telling. Although he does not specify the nature of the division, he does suggest that a lack of unity amongst the men had prevented the development of the Institute, and it is true that Institutes in other parts of the country, which had started later, had made more progress. In the end, despite even this Soiree, the Institute did not have its own building until 1864. The great Exhibition of Manufactures would no doubt stimulate mechanics to use their native talent, but they could never put forth their powers till they were enabled to do so by mechanics’ institutes. In conclusion, he might observe, that the London and North Western Company were among the first to encourage education among their working men, and the chairman was entitled to the highest praise for the uniform attention he had bestowed in increasing their comforts and enlightening their minds in every way he could by providing teachers and churches, and by seeing that teachers and churches fulfilled their ends. He had great pleasure in proposing for their consideration and applause “Prosperity to the London and North Western Railway Company, Chairman and Directors.” (Loud and continuous cheering.)

Mr. Glyn rose to return thanks for the enthusiastic manner in which they had received the sentiment conveyed by the chairman. It had been his good fortune, on more than one occasion, to be present at Wolverton during these interesting celebrations. He had witnessed the opening of the schools, and had assisted at the dedication of their church; but on no occasion had he ever felt such heartfelt gratification as the present. On those former occasions he and his colleagues had attended to discharge, as trustees of the company, those duties and responsibilities which their situation imposed upon them. The company had thought it right, considering the mixed assemblage collected at Wolverton, that the schools should be opened on such a principle as would allow the admission of children of parents of all religious denominations. (Cheers.) The non-denominational nature of the Wolverton Schools was  progressive. Stony Stratford was still building separate schools even after this. date. They had also thought it right to meet the liberality of the Radcliffe Trustees, and take measures to support the church, and to extend those of their servants who were of the established church, and to the town and surrounding districts, the scriptural benefits to be derived from it. But he regarded the present ceremony with stronger feelings – and cold must be the heart who would not – because it appealed to the heart, and it conveyed to his mind corroborative testimony that those who were present appreciated the efforts of the company and that apart from those efforts had arisen that movement which they were now spontaneously carrying forward. (Hear, hear.) They were engaged in a great and noble work, but, although they were so engaged, he entreated them to reflect that after the provision of proper spiritual instruction, their highest duty as citizens and parents, was not the further education of themselves, but of their children. (Hear, hear.) Education was the groundwork of everything valuable in after life. This idea was quite progressive for the time. Universal schooling did not come into being until the Education Act of 1870. Let them conceive what a basis it lay down for the rising generation. Let them remember that they were living in a country where the lowest among them might, if properly educated, arise in the race of life to the highest rank – that in this happy country – blessed be to God for it! – no degree, no grade, no exclusion existed, which prevented the well-educated youth from taking up a high position, such as his father, not so well-educated, could never have arrived at. (Cheers.) He needed not to remind them of the instances of the truth of that assertion, but there was one whom he could not refrain from mentioning here, because it had been his lot to have been thrown much into contact with him – he alluded to the late George Stephenson. (Cheers.) He had his failings, which of them had not (cheers)? But he (Mr. Glyn) held that the rise, the life, and the position of that man had been an honour to himself and to the country to which he belonged. He had heard him often detailpassages in his interesting life – the privation which he had endured, and the industry with which he struggled against the anxiety of his early commencement; but what had struck him (Mr. Glyn) most, and had made the deepest impression on him, was when he recounted the zeal, the toil, and the privations he underwent to ensure the best education for his only son. (Cheers.) He appealed to them that if he (Mr. Stephenson) had not been repaid for that toil and for those privations? Had not that son repaid everything a father could have done? And did he noty now bear a European character and estimation? (Cheers.) Let them rely on it that the cost of education would be one which they would never regret to have paid. (Cheers.) But there was another cause of congratulation which he could not pass over. They had there, to celebrate the occasion on which they had met, gentlemen who would do honour to any assembly, and he confessed that, having with them those not so immediately connected with the railways as themselves, he was anxious to occupy a little of their time, and to bespeak their kinder consideration for those who held in their hands the administration of those great undertakings. They were assailed with cries on every side; and far be it for him in any assemblage to extenuate or deny that any deserved reproaches had been cast on those who ought, in the position they held, to have considered themselves the trustees and representatives of others, and not the mere promoters of their own selfish end. (Cheers.) But, while that was so, was it right or fair that all who had from the earliest date of railway enterprise had striven to mature the system and bring it to the present point of perfection should be mixed up in one indiscriminate torrent of abuse? (Cheers.) Notwithstanding all that had been done – that towns had been erected where hamlets had not existed before, and that arrangements had been made which enabled a gentleman to step from his carriage at Euston square, and to travel from one end of England to the other, to proceed from London to York, or Montrose, should they all be heaped up together in one torrent of abuse and be excluded from a fair participation in the encomiums which, in his opinion, they deserved? (Hear.) But in all these arrangements they had never asked for any assistance from Government. The railways never had had the slightest assistance from Government.(Hear, hear.) Government had only thought of taxing them. They never had to thank Parliament for the slightest aid – Parliament had only interfered to diminish their rates and tolls. (Cheers.) But he had – and he rejoiced to have an opportunity of saying it publicly to thank the gentlemen assembled for the consideration they had ever given their employers, and that in every proceeding they had commenced for the improvement of that understanding, from first to last, they had received that untiring co-operation of their servants, and whether he looked to those at Wolverton or to those whose avocations prevented their presence that night – the guards and drivers – he had to declare that the company had received the most unflinching co-operation, and that through the means of their servants their present system had been laid down – a system which Government interferences might mar, but which Government interference could not improve. (Loud cheers.) He could not sit down without doing justice to the Rev. Mr. Waite (sic) (George Weight), and expressing publicly the satisfaction he felt, and the thanks the company conceived due to him, fo r the way in which he had carried out the wishes of the directors. Although a minister of the Church of England, he had not hesitated, in his administration of the affairs of the schools, to open them to children of all denominations. (Hear, hear.) He (Mr. Glyn) had now presided over the London and North Western Company for many years. He knew not the course of events, or what might be coming to touch and affect railway interests, but whatever that course might be, or whatever might befall them, he should always feel it an honour to be connected to a company of which the employers and employees could meet in the way they had done that evening. (Tremendous cheering.)

Mr. Barron, in a few words, proposed the speedy operation of the Buckingham Railway, in connexion with the health of the county member.

Sir H. Verney acknowledged the compliment, and having expressed the gratification he felt at being present on so agreeable occasion, impressed on the audience the paramount importance of the holy Scriptures as the source of all real knowledge. (Loud cheers.)

Mr. Lucy (Mayor of Birmingham) proposed very briefly, “The Working Staff of the London and North Western Railway.” (Cheers.)

Captain Huish returned thanks, and in doing so enlarged on the varied and extensive duties of the department he superintended, and on the immense interests committed to the charge of the company. There were some present who might not be aware of the magnitude of the undertaking. The company employed rather more than 10,000 persons, and about 140,000 people travelled their line every week. Now, the public were not, generally speaking, very grateful. Every one of these people, on an average, had three parcels of some kind or another, or, in other words, there were about half a million of bandboxes, and carpet bags, and such articles conveyed by the line every week; and when it was considered that of their passengers a large proportion were ladies, who almost invariably left everything behind them (laughter), and when he told them that the board of the company had not to pay for one of those parcels oftener than once in three months, they might be deeply – they ought to be deeply – grateful to their 10,000 servants. From the commencement of the railway, 100,000,000 persons had travelled on it, and, with the exception of one melancholy event near that spot, he would ask them, could any conceivable invention of man have produced a greater amount of safety? (Cheers.) There were 900 policemen on the line, and the least neglect of duty of any one of them might cause the most fatal accident, and yet the amount of loss of life was almost inconceivably small. Having alluded to the practical lessons in order and regularity taught to the people by railways, he proceeded to urge on his audience the necessity of avoiding agitators and evil counsellors, and regarding the Bible as the sole study by which their advance in secular knowledge could be made peaceful or useful, and concluded by introducing to the meeting “Mr. George Cruikshank, the Hogarth of the 19th. Century.”

Mr. Cruikshank, who was received with loud applause, returned thanks for himself and the guests of the evening. As a working man himself he was glad to be present on such an occasion. He had worked hard himself, and he thanked God for it, and that he had been able to do so. The directors, he was sure, wished them well. They would give their workmen their due. (Cheers.) If anything would ever raise England it would be the cheap system. (Loud cheering.) “A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.” – that was the motto. (Great applause.) As an artist he could assure them he never saw a more beautiful picture than the present; he saw not only the front he saw the back of the canvass; and more especially glad he was to see so many women present, for they might be certain, that though it had been said that women were at the bottom of every mischief, there never yet was any great social movement in which a woman had not taken part. (Cheers.)

The Rev. Mr. Fremantle, in speaking to the same toast, vindicated the character of railway labourers, and declared there were no men he would sooner have to deal with.

After a few words from Dr. MacKay, who was introduced to the meeting by Mr. Cruikshank.

Captain Huish proposed the health of “The Press”. They might be of opinion that the press just now bore rather hard on the railway interest. When they were hard set for a leader, and Parliament was not sitting, they set to work to abuse the railways. (Cheers and laughter.)  But still the daily press had done them good service. True, it was often made the means of intimidation. For instance, if any of the ladies, of whom he had spoken before, did not find her bandbox or bag forthcoming, she wrote to hi at once – “Sir, if my box is not returned in two days I’ll write to The Times.’ (loud laughter.) That was the panacea for all their evils. (Renewed laughter.) Some time ago a gentleman was smuggling a suckling pig in one of the carriages. One of the porters saw it, and said he must pay 6d. for it. “What! Am I to pay for a sucking pig, when you let children in arms go free?” (Laughter.) And if the money was not returned he supposed the next letter would be “I’ll write to The Times.” (Cheers and laughter.) Lost luggage was an unanticipated problem for the railways. In time most railway stations, particularly the termini, maintained Lost Property Offices.

Mr. Watkin, Assistant Secretary, and Mr. Henderson, one of the workmen, addressed the meeting, and other gentlemen were preparing to get on their legs, when we were obliged to get on ours to catch the last train; but their audience had greatly diminished, as the speeches were long, and could not be heard in the remoter parts of the hall, and a dance and supper elsewhere had powerful attractions. All the arrangements, which were under the management of Mrs. Hibbert, were very creditable to her taste and industry. A long programme of music was still undisposed of at half-past ten o’clock.

Mrs. Leonora Hibbert was the manager of the Refreshment Rooms, and from all accounts a formidable organizer. Catering for 1,500 people, especially in those times, must have been an enormous undertaking, and necessitated the hiring of a large number of temporary staff. Note that 14,000 cups and saucers had been prepared, according to the reporter. There would have been no time for washing up until after the event. I have written a brief life of Leonora Hibbert here.