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.

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