Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wolverton's First Builder - Charles Aveline

The title of this post is not true in any literal sense. Wolverton had builders going back to the middle ages and there were of course all the railway workshops and housing. However, these were built by outside contractors. Strictly speaking Charles Aveline was Wolverton's first local builder.


Charles Aveline proves to be an interesting character, very much the entrepreneur, and at the very beginning of the New Wolverton was able to seize the business opportunities it offered. 

He was born in Leighton Buzzard in 1829, the son of a cabinet maker, George Aveline. He had an uncle Frederick established in the same line of work in Stony Stratford. His grandfather and uncle Samuel also were cabinet makers in Great Horwood. Young Charles therefore began his business with a set of skills, knowledge of the business and possibly some material support from his father. He also had an aunt who married into the Barter family who owned, amongst other things, the wharf at Old Wolverton. I don’t imagine he had much difficulty in accessing capital.

We are told that Charles Aveline built the new farmhouse at Stacey Hill in 1848. This is probably what brought him to Wolverton and one suspects that he got the nod rom the Radcliffe trustees  through the contacts of his uncle Frederick and the Barter family. It is astonishing that he was under 20 at the time and if this was his  first building project it was very adventurous. (See my footnote below.)

Stacey Hill Farm as it appears today

In the 1851 Census he shows up in two of the shop units on Bury Street, numbers 385 and 386,  as a cabinet maker, furniture dealer and undertaker.  Aveline was visiting relatives in London on the day of the 1851 Census so he does not show up in Wolverton on that date, but the trade directories of the period show him as very much a commercial presence in Wolverton. 

In the next decade there were no building opportunities in Wolverton. The land had been used up and the Radcliffe Trust were not minded to allow expansion. New Bradwell was built by outside contractors. So for a period Aveline's building career was put on hold.

In 1860, when new lots were opened up on the Stratford Road and Church Street he was able to resume his building activities. He almost certainly built the first new house on the Stratford Road, now numbered 6, 7 and 8, which he inhabited. He also took on the job of  postmaster and I think the Post Office was managed by his wife and eldest daughter. The Post Office was at Number 6 and next door was leased to a grocer.  Wolverton's Post Office remained at this location until the Aveline retired and it moved further west, next door to "Foster's Corner." The General Post Office was built on Church Street in the 1930s.
The First Houses built on the Stratford Road

I cannot directly attribute specific houses to Aveline but one suspects that a number of the houses along the Stratford Road and Church Street built in the 1860s and 1870s originated with him. In 1881 Aveline was employing 23 men according to the census entry, so his activities must have been quite extensive. His name also turns up as the maker of a number of monuments in St George's churchyard. 
A View from the Radcliffe Street corner, c. 1910

There were two sons and two daughters born to his wife Ann. She died in the 1880s and Charles remarried. In or around 1890 he retired and moved to Bedford. His eldest son George became a land agent near Liverpool and his youngest son Charles Henry became a furniture dealer in Bishop's Stortford. Charles senior died in 1914 at the age of 85 and left £9,692 0s 8d in his will - a significant sum for those days.


(A footnote to the building of Stacey Hill Farmhouse. I was told some years ago by Bill Griffiths, Director of the MK Museum, that the farm was built by Charles Aveline. I have seen no documentary evidence. I raise a question here because of the youth of Charles Aveline in 1848. While it is not improbable that he built it, it does suggest that he had not only mastered the skills of building at a precocious age, but also had made a powerful case to convince the Radcliffe Trust land agent that he could successfully do the job. I wonder, for example, if Aveline might have been responsible for later additions but not the original building.)

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