Monday, July 18, 2011

Wolverton: The Envelope Town

Wolverton was a railway town. It was founded on railways. Steam trains punctuated the day as they rushed past on the main line. Thousands of workers filled the Stratford Road three times a day. Those of us who grew up there knew it was a railway town. We  knew of housing built by the railways, recreation grounds built by the railways, churches built by the railways, our fathers worked behind the wall for the railways. How could it be anything else?

Yet, as I mentioned yesterday, after McCorquodales arrived in 1878, Wolverton had a second important industry and the McCorquodale plant at Wolverton was as well known and respected in the envelope manufacture and printing industry as the Carriage Works was in the railway industry.

But it was the fate of Wolverton's second industry to never quite gain the respect of Wolverton's first industry. Part of this was of course due to the relative size difference between the industries but other social factors were at play. Work at McCorquodales was only a career choice for a few - and these would be men. Women entered McCorquodales at a young age and mostly only stayed a few years. Marriage brought their paid careers to an abrupt end as they happily embarked on a future of child-raising and home-making. And I should add here, however much the present generation thinks that this strains credulity, that this was a contract that was willingly entered. The majority of women were happy to be Mrs Smith rather than Miss Smith. In fact McCorquodales at one time offered £10 as a wedding grant to those who stayed ten years and there is no doubt that this financial incentive caused some women to put off marriage for a few years. £10 was a deposit on a £100 house.

Colonel George McCorquodale started his stationery and printing business in Liverpool in 1841. His first expansion was to Newton le Willowsin 1846 where he built a large factory.

McCorquodales at Newton le Willows
There is a curious parallel with Wolverton. Newton le Willows was also an early railway town and at Earlestown they built locomotives and later wagons. Clearly George McCorquodale had an affinity with railway towns and it may well be that his successful experience at Newton gave him the confidence to set up at Wolverton.

The Wolverton factory opened in a building more-or-less at the bottom of where Jersey Road starts. At this time the western edge of the town was the back alley to the east of Cambridge Street, so McCorquodales at this time was a little way out in the country. The plant expanded westwards to the limits of railway property and even crossed the road with buildings at the end of Church Street. These have been demolished in recent years to make way for new housing development.

McCorquodales grew from printing for big industries like the L&NWR and in the 20th century worked on large government contracts - stationery, forms, postage stamps, postal orders, pension books and the like.

The Wolverton plant finally closed in the last decade.


Anonymous said...

Do any of the buildings survive?

Bryan Dunleavy said...

No, and I've just been on Google Street View to check. All the buildings which went from about the Jersey Road junction to the end have been replaced in recent years by steel and glass buildings. On the south side of the Stratford Road there are some newer brick buildings "in the style of" the old McCorquodales.
I have another photo of the Stratford Road at that end. I'll post it in a day or so.

Anonymous said...

That's a shame!

Thank you Bryan

Will Hawkins said...

All that remains is the front of the listed building that is on the school side of Stratford road, they preserved it while developing the buildings awy from the road. I had no idea that this was originally a smaller side of the business and that they exsisted across the road as well. All that is on this side of the road now is a private car delaership and a kia car dealership. Some of the old works sheds still exist to the rear of these dealerships and they are still in use, refurbishing various train parts. I can walk down the side of this building and through the fence you can see train wheels in the workshop.