Thursday, May 2, 2013

Would you recognise this Wolverton?

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Arthur Mee's book on Buckinghamshire for £1. It was a volume in a monumental pre-war work which covered every county in its own volume and was called The King's England. The format is an alphabetical arrangement of articles on each town and village. New Bradwell, by the way, was not included. This volume was first published in 1937. This is the Wolverton entry.

Wolverton. We may wonder if we could not write half the story of our land round Wolverton, from the Saxon mound to the traffic lights at Oxford Circus. Certainly it has a very great story for this age of ours, and it comes out of the far past when the Saxons threw up the mound by the church. 
The church, with two fine cedars before it, throws its shadow over the mound and looks out into the meadows of the Ouse valley. There may have been a church here as old as the mound itself; we know there was a Norman church, for one of its carved stones is in the rectory, the patriarch of the village houses, with fluted Corinthian columns at the door and the arms of the Longuevilles on the pediment. The inner doorway of the rectory has grotesques in its spandrels and the head of a heraldic greyhound in its tympanum.
But the Saxon church has gone completely, and all that is left of the Norman church is the queer head carved by a Norman mason and a consecration cross which was fixed in the wall when the church was made new last century.
Of the mediaeval church the 14th century tower remains with its arches intact, and the grotesque Norman head is in its stair turret. There is a marble monument with one of our first baronets on it, Sir Thomas Longueville of 1685. But for the rest it is modern—a brass portrait of a vicar's son killed in his teens while flying in France (Bouverie St Mildmay), a graceful font canopy with a golden eagle in flight as the pulley-weight, saints and angels on the reredos and Fathers of the Church on the pulpit, and a painting of Christ and the children above the tower arch.
But we think of Wolverton not for what we see here but for what has happened here in days that seem to us so very long ago yet are still in living memory. The great works of the LMS have here transformed a village into a busy town. It is halfway from London to Birmingham, and it happened that it was a convenient place in the early days for teaching railways traffic control. Strange it seems to us today, but in the early days of trains there were men on the lines giving signals. It chanced that there were an unusual number of signal-posts near Wolverton station, and here men came for training. Here they were taught to stand erect for a signal if the line was clear, to wave a red flag before the engine if there was danger, and to bring the red flag smartly to the shoulder as the engine passed. They are scenes from Wolverton's past which seem to give it a place of its own in the history of transport.
We have been able also to see copies of the private time-tables that were once used here, in the days before Greenwich had linked the country with its own time. Then they set times down in their tables in terms like these:
Arrive Wolverton:
London time 10.25; Local time 10.20.
And so it is that Wolverton, beginning its story with the Saxon mound in the shadow of the trees, has not only something old and new for us to see, but something curious for us to know.
It would appear that the writer spent a little time at Old Wolverton inspecting Holy Trinity and the Rectory and is able to give it a few paragraphs, but he must have taken one look at the town and concluded there was nothing interesting to say about it. He probably collared some likely-looking character on the Stratford Road who then gave him this entirely fanciful tale that the origin of the town depended on it being a training centre for signalmen. 

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