Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Soiree of 1849. Part II - a contemporary account

Last week I featured the so-called Soiree that was held at Wolverton in 1849. The account is here. To add to this I have a long report in The Times of the day. which will add a little colour and background to the event. The report is very lengthy and detailed and it says something about the importance of Wolverton at the time that, not only the Illustrated London News (which I featured last week) but also The Times found space in their pages. I am posting this in two parts. My comments and explanations are in red.
WOLVERTON MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE
Saturday, December 22nd, 1849 

(from our own reporter)

A soirée in aid of the Wolverton Mechanics’ Institute was given yesterday at the works of the London and North Western Railway Company near the station. An event so interesting, not only to the workpeople, but to their employers, who have so kindly and strenuously assisted the establishment and permanent welfare of the institute, was rendered attractive to a wider circle by the report that several distinguished members of Parliament would be present and take part in the proceedings. If a numerous attendance on this occasion can give all the aid that is required, no doubt the Mechanics’ Institute of Wolverton will be the most prosperous in the kingdom. The soirée was held in one of those great piles of buildings which have been erected by the company for the construction, repairing and cure of steam engines, in all their various stages from birth to old age. A well-proportioned and lofty shed of substantial bricks and mortar (130 feet long by 90 feet broad) was selected from several larger apartments as the salon. This was the Erecting Shop at the South-East corner of the workshop complex. The building has since been demolished, but here is an exterior photograph from the 1960s.

It answered the purpose admirably, being lofty and capacious, and cool, despite the fuming heat of tea kettles and the crowd of guests who thronged it. Along the clean, whitewashed walls were ranged wreaths of holly, ivy, palm, and other evergreens, festooning the iron pipes and pillars. The light metal shafts which support the fragile looking but substantial roof were surrounded also by a quantity of the same simple decorations but here and there some grim wheel, with cogteeth, or eccentric bit of machinery that could not be got out of the way, thrust its spokes, or legs and arms, up through the leaves, and put one in mind of a savage lurking in ambush. A platform at one end raised the élite of the company into fair view of the audience, and afforded room for the musicians. The building was well and handsomely illuminated. Over the chair was a crown. And the Royal initials in gas, and there was no dearth of fiery devices along the walls – horns of plenty, stars, and wreaths, and various species of gas lamps shining through a liberal display of evergreen arches and festoons and union jacks in great variety. Teacups and saucers were laid for upwards of 14,000; and soon after 6 o’clock every place at the spacious tables was occupied. Men and women, all in their best, with smiling happy faces, thronged in, till upwards of 1,500 persons were collected in the building, exclusive of those who attended as guests. Admission was by tickets, which cost 6d. or 1s. each.

Mr. McConnell, superintendent of the locomotive department took the chair at 6 o’clock, being attended by Mr. G.C. Glyn, M.P., chairman of the company, Mr. Smith, Mr. Barrow, Mr. Lucy, Mayor of Birmingham, Mr. R. Creed, Mr. J.L. Prevost, and Mr. Earle, directors, Captain Huish, manager, Mr. Stewart, Secretary &c. After grace a tremendous clatter of cups and plates took place, and lasted with unabated vigour for half an hour. Gigantic teapots and cauldrons made their appearance from the steam furnace close at hand, and were emptied of their contents as fast as the attendants could bear them along the defiles of tables. The piles of bread and butter, biscuit and cake, were raised and destroyed, and raised again in quick succession, and all was good humour, enjoyment, and loud, but not boisterous contentment, till even the little children, of whom there was a rather large supply, as we suppose they could not be left at home, were forced to cry “Hold – enough.”

Thanks having been returned by the Rev. Mr. Fremantle, of the new church built there by the company, (More on the identity of this gentleman in the next post.) the musical gentlemen, under the direction of Mr. Bruton, favoured the company with “Non nobis Domine”, which was considerably approved of.


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