Thursday, June 30, 2011

Getting away with murder, and not!

One of the interesting stories to come out of the Stantonbury-Wittewronge connection was that of the third baronet, also Sir John Wittewronge. At the Saracen's Head in Newport Pagnell he murdered a man called Joseph Griffiths. The facts are obscure. Griffiths is described as a mountebank. Mountebanks in the 18th century were variously imposters or swindlers. These days we would call them "con-men".

Elsewhere Griffiths is described as a surgeon and appears to have originated in Kent.

What is not in dispute is that Wittewronge murdered Griffiths. It may have been the outcome of a quarrel or perhaps the unlucky Griffiths had tried to swindle him. At any rate, Wittewronge quickly skipped out of the country to be beyond the reach of the law. he probably went to Flanders where the Wittewronges originated.

Some years later, he returned, probably believing he was safe after the hue and cry had died down - probably about 1727 when he sold Stantonbury and some other properties to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. He seems to have been at liberty for some years but he could not keep his head down  and was cast into the Fleet Prison in London on the original charges. The story does not end happily for Sir John Wittewronge. While in prison he got into a quarrel with another man and was severely beaten. A few days later, on March 28th 1743, he died of his wounds.

The Stantonbury estate descended to his brother, William, who died without issue in 1761.

Sir John Wittewronge's behaviour does suggest that he was of a violent disposition and one may suspect that the mountebank story about Griffiths was put about to mitigate Wittewronge's behaviour. We really don't know, but Wittewronge did get away with murder - almost.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More on Stantonbury

On Sunday I paid my first visit to the ruin of St Peter's Church at Stanton Low since 1955. In 1955 it was not a ruin, although it had been disused for a number of years. In 1956 the roof fell in and since then much of the interior has been dismantled and placed elsewhere. My companion wondered why anyone would live in such a remote place. Good question! All I could answer was that in those times people could comfortably live in relatively remote locations. There was no electrical grid to connect to or a gas pipeline. All you needed was a water supply. You could build a house anywhere and be self sufficient.
The ruined Church from the East. The Mansion probably stood beyond this.

After the 16th and 17th century land enclosures Stantonbury had become quite depopulated and remained so until Milton Keynes started to develop.The Stantonbury Manor extended from the river to the highlands beside Linford Wood, almost into Milton Keynes Centre. What remains in the meadowland below the canal is typical of what you might have found in the Stantonbury landscape even as little as 40 years ago.

George Lipscomb in his 19th century history of Buckinghamshire writes this about Stantonbury.
Sir John Wittewrong was created a Baronet 2 May 1662; and having made a purchase of this estate (certainly before 1667), he built a mansion-house, and settled it on his eldest son, John Wittewrong Esq. (p347).
This is very much the only evidence we have of the mansion on this property. It would appear (again from Lipscomb) that it was sited to the west of the church.
The whole fabric (of the church)has been much contracted, and part of the west end of the church yard taken into the court of the Mansion-house. (p.349)
This does make some sense because there is some more-or-less level ground to the west of the church which could have been a site for a big house. However there has not been evidence for it since the late 18th century when it was probably pulled down, most likely after Thomas Harrison has completed Wolverton House in 1786. There are no surviving drawings of the house so it is anyone's guess as to its appearance. I would guess that it was brick-built, which would explain why it was easy to dismantle.It is possible that Wittewrong's building succeeded a medieval building on the same site.

When Thomas Harrison came to manage the Spencer estate I imagine that he and his family moved into this mansion and certainly regarded it as suitable for a middle-class family, but after he became land agent for the Radcliffe Trust in 1773 (in addition to his other activities) he turned his attention to Wolverton. The 90 year old Wittewrong house at Stantonbury may have been in a decaying condition, and although Harrison could have afforded the cost of restoration he may have felt that Wolverton, near to Stony Stratford was a better location. Thomas Harrison had a growing portfolio of interests and Stony Stratford, with its better communications may have presented him with a better base for his business than Stantonbury. In addition, Wolverton was on better arable land and he quickly assembled a farm of 400 acres which he was able to put under the management of a bailiff who probably lived at what later became Warren Farm.

So it was through Thomas Harrison that Wolverton and Stantonbury had a connection. Thomas Harrison was an enthusiastic promoter of the Grand Junction canal and saw to it that the canal proceeded through both the Wolverton and the neighbouring Bradwell and Stantonbury estates. He built the wharf at Stantonbury and the first viaduct over the River Ouse. He also had interest in other canal companies.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Richard Harrison: A correction

Dr. Ivor Guest, in his thoroughly researched book Dr. John Radcliffe and His Trust makes the following observation:
The death of the Trustees' agent, Richard Harrison, in 1858, at the age of ninety-seven, marked the end of an era. (p.421) (my underlining)
This gave him a birth date of 1761, which, although there is no apparent record of a birth at this date, was plausible since it fitted in with the birth datres of other brothers and sisters born at this time. This birth date did not square with other evidence, namely the  1841 Census (not always a reliable document) and, more spectacularly, the notion of his fathering five children in his eighties.

June Watson, who has done some excellent research on Old Wolverton families, did point out to me some months ago that she thought his age might read 77 at death, and I was able to confirm that yesterday. The inscription is very clear and reads that he died aged LXXVII - 77.
Richard Harrison's grave at Holy Trinity

I don't know where Dr.Guest found this attribution of 98 years to Richard Harrison's life, but I have seen it elsewhere and on balance, although it did stretch probability, I accepted this date. However, this inscription establishes his year of birth around 1780 or 1781.

Richard Harrison's first wife Agnes died in 1809. There was apparently no issue of the marriage. He remained a bachelor for the next 30 years until he married Grace Hall Nibbs, the daughter of a Tortuga plantation owner in 1840. In the next decade they had five children, three of whom, Spencer, Isabella and Thomas survived infancy.

Armed with this clue it is now possible to make better sense of Richard harrison's life. He was baptised on June 3rd. 1780 at St. Mary Magdalene, Stony Stratford, (I didn't know that it was still functioning as a church at the time.) to Thomas and Catherine Harryson.

There is a lesson here for historians at all levels to be scrupulous with the facts. Dr. Guest's error was probably inadvertent, but the danger of committing something to print often means that it gets re-printed on the assumption that the original was correct. I puzzled about Richard Harrison reaching the very advanced age of 97, but assumed that Dr. Guest had access to information that I did not, and in the absence of concrete supporting evidence took it at face value. Once I had confirmed the age on his tomb it was easy enough to find the baptismal record, which, in the end, made more sense, albeit a less spectacular story.

My original post on the Harrison family is here.

Banks in Wolverton

Banks. Not the most popular institutions nowadays, yet it now feels as if they've always been with us. Not so, as a review of banks in the history of Wolverton will show.

Banks, as we might now recognize them, emerged in Italy in the 14th century, when Christian merchants with cash surpluses overcame their scruples about lending for interest. These early banks lent money to governments and to other merchant venturers. They usually enhanced their wealth.

Ordinary people did not need banks, and this is where we come to Wolverton. Savings institutions came first. People could save through the Post Office Savings Bank on the Stratford Road, operated by that serial entrepreneur Charles Aveline - Cabinet Maker, Furniture Maker, Undertaker, Builder, Postmaster, Stationer and Publisher. After the 1870s there was a London and North Western Savings Bank. Mr George Fitzsimmons was Secretary. Mr. Fitsimmons was the Works Accountant and given his record for community service in other areas I suspect that he did this in a volunteer capacity. Wolverton people saved, but they didn't borrow. Banks were mostly irrelevant to them.

Stony Stratford, with a more established commercial base did have a bank in the 19th century. Richard Hrrison of Wolverton house was one of the investors. Unfortunately the bank failed in 1820 and Mr Harrison, to his credit, was able to call upon his own resources to ensure that all creditors were paid off. Subsequently a branch of the Buckingham Bank served the need of the commercial cummunities of Stony Stratford and Wolverton. Wolverton had to wait until the 20th century for its own bank branches and by this time the larger banks had taken over the locally-owned banks. Barclays had opened a branch on Church Street by 1903. I think it may have been at Number 20, where the Empire Cinema was later built. It was only open Mondays from 11 to 2. Lloyds Bank also appear in the same directory on the Market Square. They opened only on Saturday from 11 to 3pm. Both banks operated as sub-branches of Stony Stratford.

According to the 1911 directory Barclays had moved to 7 Stratford Road, either next door to or part of the Post Office, and expanding their hours to Tuesday and Saturday opening. Lloyds in the meantime had opened a branch at 24 Stratford Road that was open daily. These arrangements continued until the mid-1920s when Barclays moved to 29 Stratford Road and Lloyds established themselves at 47 Stratford Road. These were the banks that were familiar to us in the mid-century.

I think that Lloyds was used by the London North Western Railway Company and was therefore the bigger of the two banks.

The Trustee Savings Bank opened on Church Street in the early 1950s but it was then a very different sort of institution. The Co-op may have had a savings bank on the Square (I'm uncertain about this) and I believe the Wolverton Mutual Society at 50 Church Street may have managed some sort of savings scheme. Post Office savings continued to offer its service. Apart from these the only other financial institutions were the "Frierndly Societies" which provided sickness insurance and other benefits prior to the National Health scheme of 1948.

In 1962 Alan Cosford started his career at Lloyds Bank on the Stratford Road. He lived at Number 55; the bank was at Number 47, so his daily walk to work was a few steps. That might have been an exception but it was still rare in 1962 for people to travel too far to go to work. Women were beginning to be recruited by banks at this time but they were rarely promoted due to the fear that they might get married. (Yes these were different times!) New bank recruits started at a low level and step by step promoted through the ranks. In time (and it usually took a long time) you could rise to Bank Manager. They were, as I said, conservative. The dress code was strict and the work rigorous. The use of ball point pens was banned and ink and blotting papaer was provided on every desk. Strange as it may seem today, mechanical calculators were only just beginning to appear in banks and even then they were not wholly trusted. Recruits to the banks were expected to be good at Maths. Customers, even in 1960 were still fairly exclusive. The majority of people were still paid in cash and had no need for banks, even for savings. Banks were largely inaccessible institutions. When I applied for my first bank account at Barclays in 1960 I had to prove that I was a person of good standing before I was entrusted with a cheque book. They also had restricted
Former Lloyds Bank at 47 Stratford Road

As I said this was still a cash society. Most workers were paid in cash once a week. The money earned was counted out, after deductions, in pounds shillings and pence and placed in an envelope with punched holes so that you could see that there was money in it. The works payroll was huge and they had to go to Lloyds bank every Friday to collect the money. Alan tells me that quite often a member of staff had to drive to Stony Stratford or Bletchley to pick up sufficient cash to meet the need. Securicor vans had not been invented at this date, or if they were, they were not deployed in Wolverton. Money was simply carried across the road and there was not even a policeman in sight. Once behind the wall the money was counted out into packets and wheeled around from workshop to workshop in handcarts like these.

Organized criminals would have found this an easy target yet it never happened. The only serious crime that I can recall from that period (and it was almost a scene from an Ealing comedy), was when some hapless chap robbed Sigwarts, the jewellers, at that time run by two old ladies. The robber grabbed what he could stuff in his pockets but it appears that he had not thought through his getaway plan. He ran to the station hoping to hop on a train and outwit the police. It had obviously not occurred to him that trains left Wolverton Station every half hour rather than every 30 seconds and that even if he got on a train there might be some uniformed officers waiting for him at every station. Needless to add, he was collared  within a few minutes.

Alan also tells me that they regularly took cash to the General Post Office for transfer to London. The bank did take some security precautions by having two staff members take the suitcase (which was chained to one person's wrist) to the Post Office. On one occasion they were doing this errand and unnoticed by them the catch on the suitcase had sprung open and sealed packages of money were dropping on to the pavement in a trail. The two of them were unaware of this until a passer-by alerted them to what was happening. Alarmed they scrambled back to retrieve them all, successfully of course as it probably wouldn't have occurred to anyone to steal them.

Wolverton was still an ordered, self-contained and even self-policing society. A lot of people only locked their doors when they went on holiday, and even if they did lock the door they key was often left under the door mat. The magistrate's court mostly dealt with disorderly and drunken behaviour at the weekend and petty crime such as stealing a few shillings from the gas meter.

Innocent days!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I have memories of Sundays growing up in Wolverton in the 1940s and 1950s but none that I can recall with any enthusiasm. Sunday was the most boring day of the week. It was unlike any other day. Adults probably found the whole experience a welcome relief from the pressures of the working week. For children it was another matter. To start with we were not allowed to go out and play in the street. It was the general feeling that adults, after a hard week, had earned some peace and quiet and were entitled to lay in on Sundays and the last thing they wanted was the raucous chatter of children arising from the street. This rule was universally applied. No parents allowed their children out on Sunday mornings. So every Sunday morning we were confined to the house.

Unless we were sent to Sunday School. I for one was, and I have recounted some of these memories here.

Sunday School October 1948
As I got older I was recruited into the church choir, which meant going from the Church Institute to don my musty smelling cassock and surplice for the Sunday morning eucharist. Those activities consumed my morning until midday.

The institution of Sunday lunch was the keynote of the day. My mother, like every other housewife was busy with the preparation of what was probably the most sumptuous meal of the week and my father left the house at five to twelve for a few pints with his friends at the Top Club. He was under strict instructions to be home by 1:30. Usually he made it on time. Entertainment meanwhile was limited to the radio - at that time The Billy Cotton Band Show and then a record request program called Forces Favourites where soldiers stationed abroad, mostly in Germany, could ask for records to be played with a message to their families at home, or vice versa. This hour long program was hosted by Jean Metcalfe, wife of Cliff Michelmore who later became better known as a TV presenter. Even in those days the BBC was a family affair. The show was popular and after British forces overseas were reduced it changed its name to Family Favourites.

At about 1:15 my brother and I were called upon to lay the table in expectation of our father's arrival. By this time we were close to starving, not having eaten since breakfast.

After lunch my father retired upstair to sleep off the food and ale. During this time we were not allowed to play the radio or make any undue noise.  David Marks recollects that his family generally went for afternoon walks (which you cane read about here). I don't remember my parents being much interested in this kind of thing. However we would often visit one or other sets of grandparents for Sunday tea, which made a sort of change. Tea was the next juncture of the day. There were variations in this routine. In the Summer months we might go down to Davies's on the Square to buy a brick of Walls Ice Cream. In the depths of winter toasting muffins before the fire was popular. Later to bed.

These kind of Sundays are now a distant relic. Shops were not allowed to open for trading except for the sale of sweets. Nothing else could be sold. So this limited trading to two shops in Wolverton, both sweet shops - Davies at No 5 The Square and Bews at 81 Stratford Road. I think Woodwards (latterly Terrys now a Polish Convenience Store) may have opened in the afternoon to sell ice cream and sweets. And here is a good example of how the Sunday Trading laws worked. Woodwards was also a general grocery, but you could not buy a tin of peaches from him on Sunday.

No professional sport was allowed on Sunday, nor was there any amateur football, which was purely a Saturday afternoon activity. There were amateur cricket matches on Sunday afternoon and that was that. Nothing really opened up in that direction until the John Player Cricket League began in 1969.

No stage performances were allowed on Sunday. The only concession to entertainment allowed pubs to open from 12 to 2 pm and 7 to 10pm. I am trying to remember if piano playing was allowed in pubs on Sunday but I can't be clear on this. For some reason Cinemas were exempt from this ban and continued to show films on Sunday afternoon and evening. I suppose that the authorities though it was OK because the entertainment was not "live".

One institution that did do well on Sunday was the church. From my own time as a choir boy I can recall the church being full at Holy Communion and well-attended at Evensong.

Nevertheless it all amounts to a pretty dreary day. These are not days I would readily return to.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Works Fortnight

It was a common feature of early 20th century Britain to close down industrial plants for two weeks while the workforce took their holidays. Wolverton was no exception in this regard and accordingly for two weeks in July Wolverton Works closed down. Usually the schools ended their year the Friday before Works Fortnight and on Saturday morning the railway platforms were heaving with people. Special trains were laid on for the occasion and most North Bucks families connected with the works set off for a one or two week vacation.

My memories are of the 1940s and the 1950s and I suspect that the pattern changed after that. The Wolverton workforce became more diversified as newer industries appeared and the railway works diminished in importance. In those days two weeks holiday was considered plenty and those holidays were fixed. Destinations for most people were the British seaside resorts and this of course was their heyday. Mostly people went either east to Hunstanton, Cromer, Great Yarmouth and Southend or to the south coast. Some went to Blackpool. Very few crossed the English Channel, although that was possible. One of the great perks for railway workers was free or subsidised rail travel. Depending on your status or length of service you were entitled to a number of free passes every year. In all cases the annual vacation was covered. The other thing I remember from those years was the huge amount of luggage people took with them. there were no self service laundrettes in those days so you had to take enough clean clothes to last the week or fortnight. And of course clothing was a lot heavier back then. So suitcases and trunks were pulled out of storage and packed to overflowing with the families' needs. Often a leather strap was called into service to hold the case together.

One year (I think it was 1953) my Father was required to work on some project, so there was no holiday for us during Works Fortnight, and we went late in August instead. It was then that I experienced what Wolverton was like when virtually all its citizens were off on holiday. A visitor might easily assume that it was a ghost town and expect tumbleweed to blow down the Stratford Road. The town really was empty. Sme shopkeepers took the opportunity to take their holidays at this time and shut up shop for the period. Regular buses ran mostly empty but the extra buses in the morning, lunchtime and evening did not run. The works whistle, which normally punctuated the day was silent.

My brother and I found it a pretty lonely experience as there were no friends to play with, and we were left to our own devices. Character forming I suppose!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Rhythms of the Day

The "Works Whistle" as we called it was a loud siren that sounded regularly at 7:43 am, 12:25pm, 1:25pm and 5:30pm for five days a week. For those who worked on Saturday morning it went of at 8 am and 12pm. I don't know in what year the "whistle" was introduced but it could be heard all over town. It governed the lives of most residents. When I did a paper round in the 1950s in my teens I was able to observe the start of the working day. Usually we had to be up at 6:30 and down to Muscutt & Tompkins by 7. We sorted our papers into our bags which were permanently greyed with printing ink. The Daily Herald (which later morphed into The Sun) was the worst as they seemed to use a particularly greasy back ink which made our hands dirty and everything else. Men started to appear on the Front at about 7:15 when some of the village buses came in. Very quickly, as the Stony Stratford and New Bradwell buses disgorged their full loads and a stream of workers came from the railway station the road was heaving. Many came into Muscutt & Tompkins for their newspapers and a packet of fags. Some of the popular papers like the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express were stacked about two feet high at 7 o-clock; by 7:30 they were down to a few inches. Most Wolverton workers left their homes at about 7:30 which gave them enough time to walk down to the Front to clock on. The warning whistle went off at 7:43 which gave everyone two minutes to clock on. The street quickly emptied and a great silence fell upon the Stratford Road.

Shops opened at 9 and closed for the day at 5:30 (it might have been 6) and there was an early closing day on Wednesday where shops closed in the afternoon. It was rigorously observed. There may have been a by-law to govern shopping hours.

School hours were from 9 to 4, with almost an hour an a half for lunch. One friend of mine, who lived at Stony Stratford, took the bus home and back every lunchtime.  The mid-day meal was the main meal of the day, a custom that had lasted for centuries until recent times. We may have been almost the last generation to experience this. I think that the Primary School and Secondary School had slight variations in time so that the children did not coincide at lunchtime and the end of the day.

The men left at 12:25 when the whistle went and were home shortly after 12:30 when the meal was served. There was a full hour for lunch. Those who came from further afield could eat in the Works Canteen. I am sure that some put in some time at one of the four pubs or the bottom club. Again the Front was a bustling place until 1:25 when it all fell silent again and several thousand men did their work behind the wall.

At the end of the day, at 5:30 the gates opened and for the final time thousands of men and women teemed out of the gates. The buses on hand quickly filled up and the trains were not far behind. Within about five minutes the street was empty again.

In the 1950s we took this as normal, as indeed it was in those times. We probably could not have imagined a time when the old industrial economy which employed people in their thousands would give way to lighter, smaller, more flexible work places. There are still rush hours today, but people are travelling in a multitude of directions at different times to different destinations. In Wolverton in the 1950s there was one destination for almost everybody.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

St Peter's Church at Stanton Low

There has been some more interest in the ruined church at Stanton Low. I suppose that in the over-developed area of Milton Keynes this may be the only authentic ruin. Little bits of Bradwell Abbey remain, but apart from churches, medieval buildings are few indeed.

Here is a watercolour by the artist John Piper (1903-1992). Piper was well known in his lifetime and had a special interest in churches. He designed the great stained glass window in the new Coventry Cathedral. It is somewhat surprising that this rather humble out-of-the-way church captured his attention. It is the property of the V&A Museum.

St Peter's Church, c. 1905

Both these views are from the south side. The chancel on the east side, measuring internally 29' 4" by 13' 3", was probably the original church. The nave, measuring 25' 6" by 18', was an early 12th century addition, although it was apparently 10 feet longer at one time. There is also evidence of another chapel on the south side. The modifications may date from the 15th century.

The east window is 14th century but the arch joining the two parts of the church, decorated with chevrons dates from 1150. This was removed to St James, New Bradwell after the roof of St Peters fell in in 1956. The gothic arch you can see in the picture was probably added in the 14th century to strengthen the arch.

This last photograph, taken from the chancel circa 1950, shows the church stripped of pews and furniture. By this time the church was no longer in use.

Earlier posts on Stantonbury and its church can be found below:
Stanton Low

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The M1 tolls the first death knell for rail freight

Certain themes in history repeat themselves. The improvements to the 18th century road system brought some prosperity to Stony Stratford, which had reached a peak by 1838. The the new rail line came to Wolverton and put Stony Stratford into a relative decline, saved only in the longer term by the availabilty of good jobs in the new Wolverton. Fast forward a century and you can see road beginning to reassert itself over rail.

The post war railways were already in trouble. The six year war had been another period of stalled development for the railway companies and the nationalisation of 1948 led to another period of stagnation. The railways were then a cheap means of moving people and goods, but they were not necessarily efficient. The transport of goods could take days, even weeks to reach their final destination. Much of this time was spent being shunted around yards or waiting for delivery or collection at the goods depot. There was very little coordination between road transport and rail transport. The government of the day, which liked the idea of central control, created British Road Services, a nationalised road transport system, and I can still remember those red trucks travelling up and down the Watling Street in the early fifties. Unfortunately the BRS improved nothing. Despite (or possibly because of) the centralised control, road transport and rail transport did not work well together.

In the 1950s the Conservative government believed that the future of efficient transportation lay in road rather than rail and the railways were left to wither while huge resources were put into road improvement. It was needed. In my memory any car journey, no matter what the distance, averaged  not much more  than 30 miles and hour, mostly because of having to slow down to pass through towns and villages every few miles. The flagship program of road improvement was the M1 which was to pass near to Wolverton through Newport Pagnell.

M1 looking south from Little Linford Bridge 1960
I don't remember the day this was taken. It could have been a Sunday. But note the general absence of lorries. Note also the curious use of lanes. When the motorway opened the Ministry of Transport advised using the inside lane up to 40mph. the middle lane up to 50mph and the outside lane up to the speed limit. There were a lot of cars on the road in 1960 which could not even reach 60mph.

The general decline of the railways brought Wolverton into a slow decline as a railway town. It really started in the 1950s although it was not immediately evident at the time. The Works opened it new training school on Glyn Square in 1954 and many of my contemporraries started work here and went on to long careers with the railways. However there were other signs of change. Some men started to take up better paying jobs in Coventry and Luton where their skills could earn them much higher wages. Jobs in the works began to shrink and there was some concern amongst the Urban District Council. Eventually they persuaded Copperad to set up a factory on the Old Wolverton Road in 1964, and others followed.

The M1 opened in 1959 and I think this was a turning point in the history of rail freight, and by extension, Wolverton. Just as the new railway of 1838 marked the beginning of the end for the old stage coaches, so the motorway signalled the beginning of the end for the dominance of rail freight. As we have seen in the development of the past 50 years next day delivery is very reliable, but it is all done by road.

In 1964 British railways created something called Red Star Parcels. You might be forgiven for confusing this with a football team in Belgrade but this was the name they chose. The concept was to quickly transport parcels from station to station. Fine, but at the same time Dr Beeching was busy closing down rail lines and stations. Eventually the managers realized that a combination of rail and road was required and they teamed up with the City Link company to manage the local delivery. Even so Red Star did not have the stellarcareer that its name might imply and it was eventually bought up by more successful companies. I mention this because it illustrates how slow the railways, with all their resources, were to adapt to the new competition.

And this is the case with many industries. They are successful. They grow big and powerful and they become conservative and resistant to change. They concentrated on getting the goods delivered safely and economically, but not necessarily on time. They assumed that because shops and factories had maintained large inventories and placed orders only a few times a year they would not mind if the goods were delivered a week late. The road companies offered fast just-in-time delivery so that companies no longer had to tie up capital in large inventory. That was certainly worth a few extra pennies in delivery charges - and that was not understood by the railways until too late.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Goods by Rail

When did you last take a parcel down to your nearest railway station so that they could send it on to its destination? Can't remember? I thought not. The very idea of sending parcels by rail is now completely off the radar.

Wolverton, like most railway stations has an active parcels office once. In the third station it was on the right hand side and there was a huge weighing scale standing in the lobby. Years ago Wolverton residents and businesses would happily take their parcels to the office tied up with rough string and sealed with sealing wax for despatch.

So there were actually two parcels offices in Wolverton - the Post Office obviously and the railway Parcels Office. I am not sure how one distinguished between the two. Perhaps one was cheaper than the other or perhaps the railway Parcels Office was chosen for more bulky goods. I suspect businesses used it more than individuals, but I do know that families would use it to send their luggage to their hotel or boarding house in advance of their holidays. There was, of course, regular delivery of stacks of newspapers every morning. I also remember a lift from the platform to street level in the middle of the station.

The old station (i.e. the second station off Young Street) was also converted into a Goods Depot after 1881. There was a network of shunting yards and certainly heavy goods like coal and cement might be distributed from here.

Goods traffic was the primary money spinner for the railway companies for about a century and huge Goods Depots were developed across the country - Willesden and Broad Street in London were examples. Rail transport was fast and economic. Road haulage was mostly confined to short runs from the depot to final destination. After WW II the picture changed and railways lost their way. I'll come to that tomorrow.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is this the end of the Agora? 4 - What it replaced

The following photographs will give you some idea of what the Agora replaced. The first picture, taken sometime in the 1960s shows the shop on the corner of Radcliffe Street and Buckingham Street. It was at one time a corner grocery but I don't have much memory of it. By the time I took this photo it was out of business.

At the corner of Radcliffe Street and Church Street was Eady's, the butchers. By 1960 it was in at least the third generation of family ownership.

Here are some views of Church Street as it was before the Agora. The north side, with the Vic on the corner is more-or-less recognizable. On the right is the row of houses and shops that were demolished.

The next view, looking west, shows the Post Office on the right (now a Mosque) and the demolished row on the left. The nearside house was for the custodian of the Science and Art Institute.

Much the same view of Church Street but looking East. On the right you can see the Science and Art Institute and in the distance he corner of Creed Street.

This last photo, taken from further along Church Street gives us a glimpse of the shops on the right that were taken down to make way for the Agora. On the left the two visible shops are the Wolverton Mutual at No. 50 (now St Andrews Bookshop), and with the awning, Swains - a sporting goods shop. Beyond that the houses and corner shop (Wolverton Building Society) were remodelled and rebuilt to the present Nationwide buildings.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is this the end of the Agora? 3 - A summary

  1. Yesterday I posted a review of the Agora written last year by the architect Iqbal Aalam. I don't know a great deal about Mr Aalam except that he came to Milton Keynes in the early 1970s and worked on many developments over his career. Like many of his contemporaries he brought a fresh view to the creation of a new city out of settled communities and green fields. Judgement about how well this worked will have to wait for another time.

    Wolverton must have presented a difficult challenge. It was a 19th century new town which at one time was the largest town in North Bucks and the second largest town in the whole county. It had acquired its own character and traditions and pride in itself. Wolverton would win no prizes in a beauty contest but beneath that austere surface lay a vibrant town full of people who had every reason to be confident about their past, present and future.

    It is my sense that MKDC wanted to do something for Wolverton but were no quite sure how to go about it. Some bright spark  came up with the idea of a market centre which would also double up as an entertainment facility. In the context of the times, Bletchley had recently acquired a Leisure Centre and supermarkets (as we know them today) were still a future concept. I imagine there was a fair amount of enthusiasm in Wolverton at the time for the new market which was to adopt the Greek word for market place.

    After Mr. Aalam's review of the Agora in 2010, I wrote this comment.

    Bryan Dunleavy Says:

    While I largely agree with your description of the architectural qualities of the Agora, I can’t accept that its location is brilliant. Rather, it appears to me as another example in a chain of poor planning decisions that started in 1837.
    Wolverton, as you note, grew on a grid foundation, and nothing wrong with that except that the commercial centre ended up in an eccentric position, largely due to ad hoc planning. Nonetheless people learned to live with it and the Stratford Road (The Front) became the commercial centre, in time spreading to Church Street and to Morland Terrace and the Square at the turn of the last century. the residential parts grew to the south and west with two through streets, Radcliffe Street and Windsor Street, to provide essential connections to the shops. The decision to build the Agora across Radcliffe Street severed one of those arterial connections with poor consequences for the Stratford Road which once hosted important shops and banks and now is distinctly seedy.
    I am not blind to the other factors that lead to High Street decline, but I rather suspect that the Agora’s location accelerated that decline.
    My own preference in retrospect would have been to develop the Agora to the west of Radcliffe Street, even developing another street on the west side to create a complete commercial square.
    For all that the Agora remains one of the few architect-designed buildings in Wolverton. As I observed in my book, “The Lost Streets of Wolverton”, Wolverton was an “architect-free zone’ almost from the beginning, traceable, I think, to the railway engineer Edward Bury’s distrust of architects.
    • winslowhub Says:

      It is most interesting to know the background through your detailed insight into the road patterns and development of the town. I am certain you are right in your opinions about the commercial aspects of the development and of course you are correct in hinting at the decline and the possibility of other contributory factors. I look forward to reading your book to know more details. My comment on the buildings location within the town was more about the ‘geometrical’ placing, its connections, changes of levels and creating space hierarchies in and around it to respond to the town.
      The admiration for Victorian architecture is almost universal and I don’t blame Edward Bury for distrust of architects. It is most unfortunate that the recent housing and its layout near college is of such poor quality, out of character with Wolverton and has caused serious damage to it. It matters little as to who adds to the existing communities, it requires planners, architects and even house buyers to understand the existing built fabric and demand additions to compliment and enhance it rather than clashing with it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is this the end of the Agora? 2 - An Architect's View

A year or so ago, Iqbal Aalam, an architect , did a retrospective series on some of the new developments since the inception of Milton Keynes. In February last year he turned his attention to the Agora and I reproduce here what he wrote. It is an architect's view and is very interesting for that reason. Wolverton residents may find their opinions at variance with his, as I shall comment upon tomorrow.

February 19, 2010

Wolverton, though only few miles away from Stony Stratford, is a very different town, almost in all respects. It is a historic Victorian Railway town, with a Milton Keynes like gridded housing core of terraces, surrounded by railway workshops.

The softness and rustic surroundings are nowhere to be seen and this shift in grain of the town was very sensitively picked up by the MKDC design team in designing this indoor market and Skating/Leisure Centre.
The shopping/leisure building had to be flexible in use and a large space framed covered area surrounded with two storey balcony/ circulation is housed in a robust engineering brick structure with references to Victorian brick decorations. The appearance and the architectural handling has been developed to provide a strong visual rhythm to accommodate ‘uncontrolled’ use and appearance, consequently the building is unlikely to win many beauty competitions but what a wonderful gift for a tough town this turned out to be.

It is refreshing and unusual to see the building taking everything on its chin like a seasoned street fighter, remain standing on its feet, and to shame the ‘abusers’ asks for knock out blows to be landed on it.

The only reference to its inception showing the linkage with the Miesian tradition is a beautifully designed glass box sitting at high level under the large roof to one side of the Market area, dissolving the space, looking down and reflecting the surrounding activities of this well crafted space.

The location of the large bulk of the building within the town is also brilliant.
It links various walking routes through and around it, addressing itself to a small town square, an open air market and car park and two main streets of the town.

Despite the size and bulk of the building, it sits majestically among the Victorian neighbours, with no visual niceties or concessions, without    playing second fiddle to anyone.
This building is a hidden gem (not visually exciting – more like an uncut precious stone) and has a lot of lessons to offer to many people of differing disciplines.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is this the end of the Agora? 1 What people think

A few days ago I observed that many of Wolverton's buildings that were constructed in the  1840s and 1860s are still in use, whereas some that were more architecturally significant have come and gone, or going, in the case of the Agora, I don't know if it is too soon for an obituary for the Agora but I hear that it is to close down on June 20th. Apparently nobody wants to buy the building and it has gradually deteriorated. It was built after the period of this blog's remit but it is an iconic building and is worth some comment. I'll do this in three parts - first some comments on Facebook in reaction to the news, tomorrow I'll post an architect's assessment, and on Saturday I'll make a few comments of my own.

Monday at 15:55 ·  ·  · 

  • 2 people like this.

    • Sheila Higginbotham Knock it down and put the road back it would be much nicer.
      Monday at 16:50 · 

    • Elaine Sullivan Hoorah Hoorah Hoorah
      Monday at 17:09 · 

    • Cllr Sara Agintas for some people it was there lively hood so as you can imagine some people are gutted and have lost thoundsands of pounds
      Monday at 17:10 ·  ·  1 person

    • Sheila Higginbotham 

      That's progress for you, once upon a time Wolverton square looked beautiful with a traditional street running through to Stratford Road then the Agora was built. Don't get me wrong I had many years of fun skating at the Agora. I am sure t...See more

      Monday at 17:19 ·  ·  1 person

    • Bill Monteith well it is good news but not for the hopeful retailers in there....hopefully as said and put it back to the way it was
      Monday at 17:43 · 

    • Vicki Levitt Lost thousands of pounds in lively hoods ???? Selling the tat they sell there ??? Pounds more like!!!! I remember life b4 Agora & bar skating ~ it was a big mistake 4 Wolverton ~
      Monday at 17:49 ·  ·  2 people

    • Sarah Day They knocked down my auntie's home to build the Agora. I do have some fond memories of skating there, but apart from that, I think it needs to be knocked down and put the road back or just make better use of it.
      Monday at 18:17 · 

    • Elaine Sullivan Sorry but for all of us that remember Wolverton before The Agora will be really please about its closure. It was the worse thing that could have happened to Wolverton. The next worry is what will be made of it now
      Monday at 18:18 ·  ·  2 people

    • Becky Fenton it will probably be left as derelict land or something like that
      Monday at 18:21 · 

    • Becky Fenton true lolhas been for a fare few years
      Monday at 18:26 · 

    • Phillip Webb lets hope they something with it before it get set on fire, any body know whats happening to the queen vic
      Monday at 18:52 · 

    • Phillip Webb i agree as long as it's a nice English one like the carvery
      Monday at 19:14 · 

    • Phillip Webb any thing as long as it's english food as i don't like all the other food places
      Monday at 19:19 · 

    • John Baker Too many paki shops not enough English eateries. How about having street markets that would bring back local trade.
      Monday at 19:34 ·  ·  2 people

    • Sheila Higginbotham 

      I think the shops may reflect the community today as it did when we were young. Maybe the younger community of Wolverton today have a view on what they would like to see happen with the Agora. As sad as it is, we are not kids anymore and ...See more

      Monday at 21:47 · 

    • Bill Monteith vic is owned by the asian bloke that owns the agora and last i heard (30 mins ago) that planning permission will be put in for an up to date all mod cons mosque as the other one is too small
      Monday at 22:06 · 

    • Linda Kincaid I agree that Wolverton looked a lot better before the Agora was built but it has been there a long time now and it seems a crime to see it stand there derelict . I think it has been run into the ground. I still think it would be a perfect rollerskating rink again but the chances of finding an investor willing to do that now is practically nil.
      Monday at 23:05 ·  ·  1 person

    • Sheila Higginbotham I don't think my arthritic bones could roller skate anymore but would have a go, lol. Would our kids/grandkids want roller skating now?
      Monday at 23:16 · 

    • Heather Julie Fisher i agree with that i used to love going rollerskating lol
      Monday at 23:17 · 

    • Linda Kincaid Roller skating is alive and kicking but Stantonbury leisure centre is used as there isn't anywhere else at the moment.
      Yesterday at 13:28 · 

    • Cllr Sara Agintas the vic is owned by nationwide building society which have no plans to reopen it again
      Yesterday at 13:56 · 

    • Phillip Webb untill it get set on fire
      Yesterday at 14:05 · 

    • Cllr Sara Agintas people have lost there jobs and are very upset
      Yesterday at 14:06 · 

    • Vicki Levitt That of course is very sad ~ we are not insulting them ~ its the building!!! So no need 4 u 2 tell us that!!!
      Yesterday at 14:08 · 

    • Toni Brown YES!!! now re-open that road (what is it called) like it used to be!!!!
      Yesterday at 14:32 · 

    • Sheila Stone Was Radcliffe Street I think
      Yesterday at 14:34 · 

    • Toni Brown yeh thats it.can put back on the 392 bus that went up radcliffe st around southern way then down windsor st.See I remember that plus the other bus that went along the front to stony was the 391.Tehe
      Yesterday at 14:41 ·  ·  1 person

    • Elaine Pilcher The 'Queen Vic' was where I met my husband in 1985 & I remember sitting on 'Dirty Dens' knee too !!!!!!!!
      Yesterday at 15:37 ·  ·  1 person

    • Julie Russell Thompson they use the old post office as a mosque so maybe they will do something on them lines as its hard to park on church st and its car park when they are using it.
      Yesterday at 15:46 · 

    • Linda Kincaid Didn't know the Vic was owned by the nationwide. It would make a great restaurant. That said, Wolverton is like a ghost town some nights so would it get much business. Wierd because so many people live there. I guess everyone goes up the city which is a shame.
      Yesterday at 16:18 · 

    • Vicki Levitt Elaine i worked in the 'vic' wen Den & Angie was there that week ~ they ate chips with me in the kitchen ~ lost my pic's with them ~ i had forgotten all about it ~ Thank u 4 the memory
      Yesterday at 19:43 · 

    • Rebecca Nevard 

      I live in Bletchley now and it feels the same - although I don't have the same feeling of nostalgia as I do with Wolverton... I wish i could boycott the city, but there is nothing in the older bits of MK so you are forced to use the city a...See more

      Yesterday at 19:51 ·  ·  2 people

    • Elaine Pilcher Not a prob Vicki :) I have my photo of 'Den' (somewhere) !!!!!! lol
      Yesterday at 20:23 · 

    • Sheila Higginbotham I no longer live in MK so therefore it is not my place to champion the cause but please contact the local Councillor who are your voice in the community. Cllr Sara Agintas has posted on this thread and I'm sure will listen and put forward your views.
      Yesterday at 20:37 · 

    • Mel Dickson I heard years ago it was going to be knocked down......i've seen sketches of what they intend to do with the land and guess what....its houses!
      3 hours ago ·  ·  1 person

    • Phillip Webb they should put back the houses they got rid of to build the thing
      2 hours ago · 

    • Sheila Stone They should never have built it, it cut Wolverton right in half!
      2 hours ago · 

    • Julie Russell Thompson carl i was on about when they where little as mum was at school with them
      2 hours ago ·