Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wolverton's First Day



George Carr Glyn must have been very excited as he rose early on Monday morning, September 17th 1838 to take his carriage to Euston. This day would mark the opening of the uninterrupted London to Birmingham railway line – a full journey of 112 miles that could be completed at double the average speed of the fastest stagecoach. As chairman of the London and Birmingham Railway Company from its formation he had steered the new venture through the difficulties of parliamentary acts, raising massive capital, negotiating land acquisition and overcoming massive engineering problems. The last of these, the difficult construction of the Kilsby tunnel and issues with the Wolverton Viaduct had now been surmounted. From this day through passengers no longer had to alight in the no mans land of Denbigh Hall on the Watling Street, and proceed by stage coach to Rugby before resuming their rail journey to the Birmingham destination.

He could feel pleased with himself and as he met his fellow directors and chief officers for a 7 o- clock departure from Euston. The conversation must have been lively and self satisfied.

The train passed over Denbigh Hall bridge on to new rail for the first time – at least officially, and a further 8 miles brought them to Wolverton, the first station after Leighton Buzzard, and at that time in a fairly rudimentary state. A wooden station had been erected on the embankment and an approach road from the Stony Stratford to Newport Pagnell turnpike had been cut alongside this embankment. Passengers had to climb a long flight of steps and although we have no record of it there must have been a lot of grumbling. This may have stimulated the directors to build a new station on newly acquired land to the south only two years later.

We know little about this station. Some plan drawings from 1840 survive and there is a rather rudimentary line engraving with little detail that was published at the time. Subsequent redevelopment has probably destroyed any archaeological remnants.


Some facts can be asserted. Work had already started on the new engine shed and surrounding railway cottages. A wharf was built on the south side of the canal, and a well had been sunk to over 300 feet and a pump house built over it. Steam engines were thirsty machines and the proximity of the canal would not have guaranteed a sufficient supply, although as it turned out this well water was extremely hard and had to be diluted with canal water to minimize scale.

So the painting here is largely imaginary while depending on some salient facts.  The canal course has not changed and the embankment of the original line survives, as well as the bridge. The engraving above shows some station buildings. The rest is mostly conjecture. Te land to the north of the canal was still a field, probably used for pasture in 1838. It was soon leased to two Stony Stratford men who built the first Radcliffe Arms on this spot to cash in on the railway trade. The inn was trading in 1839 but it became something of a white elephant after the removal of the railway station in 1840 and its subsequent isolation from the new town.

We know from newspaper reports that a substantial crowd gathered to marvel at the new phenomenon of rail travel, many from nearby Stony Stratford who depended on the pre-eminence of coach travel for their livelihood. Little did they know.

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