Sunday, November 27, 2011

Old Railway Carriages




Wolverton was justly famous for its carriage building and you could be sure that once they had come to the end of their useful life as carriages they could be "retired" and put to good use somewhere else. In the 40s and 50s you could discover several of these old carriages around the town. In the photo above you can see a carriage used as a club house for the bowling green at the park. Similarly one was used on Osborne Street as a bar and club house for the cricket and tennis clubs. I also recall one used at the old Youth Club at the back of Anson Road. It was attached to the side of the main building and used in part for the club leader's office. You could also find the odd carriage, or part of one, at various allotments. As I remember them, they all had a nice cosy feeling inside.

Here is a really interesting story about the life of one of these old carriages and I am grateful to the telling of it to Kim Pavey. What follows is her narrative, followed by a few additional comments from Jane Bailey. This may be its final resting place after 130 or 140 years, but it has been a great survivor while many brick or concrete built buildings have come and gone during its lifetime.

Bill Elliott's railway carriage on the allotments today. I don't recall its early history other than that it was built at the Works (in the late 1800's I believe) but it ended up in Anson Road in the garden of Bill Elliot's house, where he used it as an office for the Works Union. If anyone has the book "Piano and Herrings" about Bill's life, it is in there and maybe someone else can fill in that bit. Anyway, there it sat for many years until the mid-80's when it was slated for removal as the current owner was going to sell the house and the carriage was considered more of an eyesore than an asset. Due to its already fragile condition, that meant it was almost certainly going to be demolished. My step-dad was particularly saddened to hear of its impending fate and made enquiries about acquiring it. The owner had no problem but the difficulty and expense of moving it was a bar. My mother, however, came up with the money from somewhere and we "gave" the carriage to Tony as a Christmas present. We hadn't actually been able to move it by Christmas morning and as Tony was a big fan of the TV show "Treasure Hunt" we made up a route with clue cards which he had to follow around Wolverton. I had to follow him at a discreet distance to make sure he got all the clues as he would have been completely lost and by about half way round the town I could see he was starting to get very frustrated. However by the time he picked up the last clue taped to the Wyvern railings I think it had dawned on him where he was going lol. Mum had gone on ahead and actually wrapped the carriage in a giant Christmas bow with all the streamers and trimmings, I think it cost almost as much to "wrap" the carriage as it did to move it. We hired a flatbed crane to get the carriage out of the garden and over to our house in Church Street but the narrow alley proved to be so much of a challenge for the truck that all the driver had managed to do by nightfall was get the carriage out to Aylesbury Street, where it sat for a week until we could get another crane to take it to Church Street. We had to keep in constant contact with the police because it was on double yellow lines and since it was technically a vehicle it was parked illegally. Plus it took up half the damn road! Eventually it wound its way to its new home in Church Street where it lived for a couple more decades, and went on public display at my parents annual "Bygones" open weekend. Sadly the vandalism in that area of town in the late 90's did it a lot of damage and eventually my folks decided to take the now very fragile carriage on one last journey to the allotments where it now lives, and I believe Jane Bailey can add to the story from here about its arrival there!
    • It arrived one lunchtime through the Marron Lane gate accompanied by Tony Marshall, Lynne Marshall and 4 or 5 others. Was pushed on rollers down the narrow riding towards Tony's allotment but for some reason stopped half way and sat there for a day or two until it was finally moved into it's position on the allotment. Looked somewhat incongruous stuck on the ridings I can tell you - and think Tony was more than a touch embarrased about the predicament !!! Still, all's well that ends well as you can see by the photo !!!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

From School to Pub: A tale of two buildings in Stony Stratford

I don't think it ever occured to me as I was sitting at my school desk trying to take care that my dip pen didn't leave a blot in my exercise book that I would ever live to enjoy a pint in later life in my old classroom. In Stony Stratford this could have happened and in a curious way the history of pubs and schools is intertwined.

As I have described in another post the old Rose and Crown on the High Street was bequeathed by its owner Michael Hipwell in 1610 to found a school. The inn continued to operate to raise sufficient money for the next 99 years and then was converted into a school. In the 19th century this was taken over by the National School movement and a school operated on this site and adjacent to it until the 20th century.


In the meantime the expansion of Wolverton works led to new building in Stony Stratford and the so-called Wolverton End developed. This enlargement of the Holy Trinity parish necessitated the building of a new church (St Mary's) and in due course another school. This was opened in 1873 on the corner of the Wolverton and London Road and was designed by the distinguished architect, Edward Swinfen Harris.
For part of the 20th century these two schools operated in tandem, with the boys in the High Street and the Girls and Infants at the London Road School. Then in 1936 a new co-educational school was built on King George Crescent and the old schools were redundant.

Fortunately there was a ready tenant for the Swinfen Harris school. The old Plough Inn had been in business next door for many years and the new premises were attractive to them. I imagine the conversion was not too costly and there was probably already a cellar in the school building.


Thus it came to pass that that the building designed by Swinfen Harris was a school for about 60 years and has been a pub for the last 80 - and possibly will continue in that line of business. The bell tower betrays its former use as a school but nowadays I suspect very few people have any inkling of its original purpose.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Telephone Boxes



As I mentioned in the last post the telephone was slow to be adopted by individual households in the UK. Wolverton was no exception. Most people relied on strategically placed telephone boxes to make calls and these were usually for rare occasions like telephoning distant relatives (if they had a phone) and calling the doctor. Yes, they still made house calls in those days.

The two photo above show the placement of the telephone box in the Square. There was also a telephone box by the Post Office in Church Street and one by the Station. I imagine this was intended for travellers who needed to call car hire to take them with their luggage to their final destination.

After Furze Way was built in 1947 another box was added at the corner of Windsor Street, and later, in the 1960s when Southern Way was built another box was added at that end of town.

I am not sure that the residents of Jersey Road and Anson Road were as well served. Until the new police station was built along the Stratford Road, circa 1960, and a new telephone kiosk added, I rather think that those residents had to trail all the way to the Square of the Post Office to make a call. 

In our present age of mobile phones and instant communication it now seems hard to imagine that only two generations ago most people managed quite happily without making a phone call. Most conversations were face-to-face. Astonishing!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Telephones in Wolverton



Telephone exchanges were once very local. Up to 1945, the exchange was not automated and the numbers were very simple. A S Byatt, the grocer on Cambridge Street had the telephone number Wolverton 2. The Co-op was Wolverton 10. One of my grandfather's had the number Wolverton 4. When the automated exchange came in it became 3104.

As improvements came in technology the numbers got longer. Byatt's telephone number of 2, became 3102, then 313102. Now of course it is an 11 digit number.

The Bedford area telephone directory which appeared in our house in the early 1950s was a slim blue volume which covered a large territory - Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, North Bucks and part of Hertfordshire. I have reproduced part of it here.

For most people the telephone was quite new and the directory was full of advice on telephone etiquette. Generally people answered the phone with, for example, the number "Hello, Wolverton Double two, seven, eight!" It seems very quaint today.

Telephones back then used dials. Push button technology was at least 20 years into the future. Dialling was a very slow affair, particularly if you had to wait for an 8 or 9 to click round.

We were all slow to adopt the telephone. There was a gap of between 40 and 60 years between the availability of the telephone and its use in the home. Most were satisfied with the call box - and there were few enough of those. There was one by the station, another by the Post Office on Church Street, one on the Square and there may have been another on Anson Road - I am not sure.

The MK Museum has an excellent exhibit at Stacey Hill of the development of Wolverton telephones and is worth a visit. 60 years ago the telephone engineers came to our house in Windsor Street to install the house's first telephone. The phone itself was quite heavy and the flex connecting the handset to the phone was quite thick. The bakelite box bolted to the wall contained various solenoids and a bell, similar to those on old alarm clocks.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Co-op

I have been trying to discover if anybody has written a history of the Co-op in Wolverton, without success. There are fragments of information that I have turned up, but not enough to write a coherent account. Here at any rate are some notes.

The Co-op movement was more-or-less contemporaneous with the development of Wolverton so it was to be expected that the idea would take hold. Exactly how it was formed and who were the prime movers will require the work of some historian with access to the minute books and papers of the Co-operative Society - if indeed they still exist. It does strike me as a story worth telling because by the middle of the 20th century the Co-op was a dominant force in retail in Wolverton. After all the small dairies in Wolverton were closed down by the requirements of the Pasteurisation Act, the only source of supply of milk and dairy products was the Co-op Dairy, located on Jersey Road. You could, if you were so minded,  buy everything you ever needed in life from the Co-op - bread, milk, meat, groceries, fish, green groceries, drapery, men's clothing, shoes, furniture, toys, and even in death the Co-op could accommodate you and arrange your funeral.


As far as I can piece together the story from Trade Directories the Co-op story began a decade after the establishment of Wolverton. There is a suggestion that the bakery on Bury Street, operated by George Kightley, from a Stony Stratford family of bakers, was a Co-op bakery, but this is only a brief mention in some railway committee minutes that I cannot be sure of this fact. The Kightley bakery ran from the day these shops were erected in 1839 until about 1856 when they were pulled down to make way for workshop expansion. Kightley thereafter moved to Newport Pagnell where he ran a bakery in Silver Street.

The Co-op story certainly begins with the building and opening of the shops in Creed Street and the Co-operative Society is featured in the Kelly's directories of the period. In the 20th century the Creed Street shop was known as a Fish and Chip shop, but until the Co-op began to expand along Church Street this grocery store was the main outlet.

By 1869 the Co-operative Society had also opened a grocery shop in New Bradwell.



In 1887 we see the first mention of the Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society, presumably a re-formed or re-named organisation. It was based in Church Street and I can only conclude that this was the beginning of Co-op expansion. The shop was probably Number 15. The location of this shop is on the right hand side in this 1960s photograph, beside the striped traffic pole.

At about this time or shortly after there was a further expansion to the new Market Square and for many years after the main office was established here. Unfortunately the exact addresses are not given and of many years after the Co-op sought to advertise its presence in the directory by listing itself only as Market Square. It is really not until 1928 that we find a comprehensive listing of addresses of places where the Co-op did business.

  • 1-5 Market Square
  • 15-19 Church Street
  • 60-64 Church Street
  • 159 & 161 Church Street
  • 106 Jersey Road
  • 30 and 47 Aylesbury Street
This is the configuration that most people would recognise in the mid century when the Co-op was at its peak.

I am not sure of the date of the picture below, but I suspect from the architecture and the large plate glass windows that it is late 1890s or early 1900s. This was probably at the time Wolverton's most splendid shop. as you can see from the photo the houses either side, Numbers 3 and 6 are still residential. Did the Co-op own Numbers 1 and 2? Possibly. They certainly did at a later period.

The new Co-op on the Square.

Costcutter today, formerly the Co-op below
Once the west end of the town was developed in the first decade of the 20th century, the Co-op also moved westwards, establishing a grocery, dairy and butcher's shop on Jersey Road.
Former West end Grocery and Dairy
In the late 1920s there was a further expansion as the Co-op bought three houses on Church Street and built a state-of-the-art department store.

And it further expanded along the Square to take up the first five houses from the corner. Behind the grocery was a bakery, and the shop at the corner of Bedford Street was a Co-op butcher and later an outlet for bread and confectionery.

Co-op Bakery

Once the Co-op dominated this corner of the Square

Bedford Street Corner shop

Obviously the co-op has not gone away; it has had to grow to larger superstore outlets with plenty of parking. The Wolverton Co-op shops, as they were, represent an age when shopping could be done on foot, daily, with hand-held wicker baskets. The Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society probably had its weaknesses, but its great virtue was that it was locally owned and operated. You can hardly say that of any retail outlet these days.







Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Facebook and Wolverton

I haven't been doing much blogging of late, partly (but not entirely) because I have been adding to and commenting on the Facebook page "I grew up in Wolverton, Milton Keynes". The group was started by Faye Elizabeth Lloyd from a later generation than mine about two years ago. It started modestly enough as these things do and maintained a steady state for some time. Recently, it has taken off and become a lively board for discussion and reminiscence. I think there are now in excess of 500 members of the group. So if you haven't discovered it I recommend that you do. It's good reading for everyone interested in Wolverton - fun too.

If you have a Facebook account you can find the group easily enough. If not, then I'm afraid you will have to join Facebook.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Moreland Terrace revisited

21 Moreland Terrace circa 1900
I am indebted to Julia Bennett for this photograph. It is the house on the corner of Radcliffe Street and Aylesbury Street and is probably a very early photograph. As I wrote before Moreland Terrace was an 1880s expansion, completed in 1884.

The picture shows the rather unique decorative elements around the doors and windows, quite unlike anywhere else in Wolverton. All of these disappeared when the buildings were converted into shops. Today, even the upstairs windows have been modified. It's a large house with two front rooms with probably four bedrooms upstairs. It was clearly designed for a middle class occupant. Somewhat surprisingly the occupants are of more modest occupation.

The head of the family in 1901 was William Bennett (The first letter is obscured, but it looks like Bennett)  a horse trainer. He was then 58 and his wife 56. They had their 30 year old unmarried daughter Emily living with them. She was working at home as a dressmaker. The house also accommodated their widowed sister-in-law, a 31 year old nephew working as a clerk in the Railway Offices, and an unmarried  26 year old niece. So the house was full and between them they could probably afford it.

Squares were prestigious addresses in London in the 19th century and I am sure the intention was to do the same in Wolverton. Some of the houses on the Square are quite large, but others are modest in size, so perhaps the grand plan did not quite achieve its objective.

There were commercial considerations too. The 1890s expansion of Wolverton left the residents of Cambridge Street and Windsor Street a long way from the shops on the Front and Church Street and it was not long before shop frontages began to appear along Moreland Terrace. If you look at this photograph taken around 1910, you can see the beginnings of this development.


This picture begins with Number 17 on the right, so we can't tell if Number 21 had been converted by this date. At the far end Number 1 was  a drapery from the beginning but gradually a conversion to shops was taking place. Only the shop at Number 9 has preserved its frontage. Note too the wrought iron railings around the Square. They were probably taken up during the 1914-18 war and melted down to make armaments. The Cenotaph was not built until after the war so the Square appears to be nothing more than a green space.

Below is Number 21 Morland Terrace today - hardly recognisable.