Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Locking up Criminals



This drawing of the Market Square was done in 1819 and illustrates a very different range of buildings on the Church Street side. The building on the left was a market house, largely open but providing some shelter during market days.At the west end were the stocks and a pillory and a lock-up known as the Cage. According to Markham it measured 20 x 27 feet. It was probably open to the elements and sufficed to lock up troublesome drunks and prisoners who needed to be restrained before being transported to Aylesbury. A couple of those villains are reproduced below.



There was also a pub here known as the Crooked Billet which had a rather dubious clientele.

By the middle of the 19th century the Cage was becoming dilapidated and was no longer a secure lock up. There was a campaign for improved accommodation and a new Police Station was opened in 1862 on the land formerly occupied by the cage and additional land purchased from the Lord of the Manor, Mr Selby Lowndes, for £50. The cage, market house and several slum cottages, known as the Shambles, were demolished.

The new building was typical of the architecture of the period and in some respects resemble the structure of the Science and Art building at Wolverton, built at around the same time. The cottages for policemen were probably later additions.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

James Frost


James Lewis Frost was born in Wolverton in 1880 and as a young lad showed great promise as a footballer. He was very fast and played mostly as a right winger.

Naturally enough he played for  Wolverton LNWR (as the club was then known) but in 1900 he was scooped up by Northampton Town, for whom he was a regular for six seasons. He was transferred to Chelsea in 1906 and notably scored two goals for his new club on his debut against Clapton Orient on December 15th 1906.

A year later he moved to west Ham and in 1910 to Croydon. A year later, at the age of 31, he retired from football and became landlord of the North western Hotel in Wolverton.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

E Swinfen Harris


Edward Swinfen Harris was a distinguished architect with a national reputation. Nicholas Pevsner described him as "the only outstanding local architect working in the north of the county." He worked in London as well as Stony Stratford and although his legacy is predominantly local there are surviving buildings in London, Dorset and Northamptonshire.

In the course of his career he designed many fine houses in North Bucks which are still standing today.
He was born on July 30th 1841 at 36, High Street, Stony Stratford. His father was the clerk to the town bench of magistrates, the Board of Guardians and other bodies and Edward was the eldest son.  The family later moved to Back Lane. He began his formal education when he was 11 at the Belvedere Academy at Old Stratford. He was then sent to Ullathorpe House School in Leicestershire, where he boarded.
Showing the house at 36 High Street. the birthplace of Swinfen Harris

Around 1858 he was apprenticed to the book trade. He didn't stay long and rather like his contemporary, Thomas Hardy, the poet and novelist, became articled to an architect in London. On completion of his apprenticeship he then shared an office in London with two friends but in 1868 he returned to Stony Stratford to make additions to the vicarage of Wolverton St. Mary and also to Calverton Limes.
Calverton Limes, much modified, was one of the first homes that Swinfen Harris worked on.
In the following years he was greatly involved in ecclesiastical architecture, restoring many churches. The vestry added to St Giles is his design and there is this fragment of a church in London which is also his.
holloway_st_clement091213_
Emmanuel Church, Upper Holloway, London, built 1883Most of the church was rebuilt to a modern design in 1988.















He became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and travelled extensively in Europe to study architecture.

After marriage in 1870 he settled in Stony Stratford at a new house at 15 Wolverton Road. In this period he designed the house at 19 Wolverton Road for Dr McGuire.
The large house at 19 Wolverton Road, now divided into separate dwellings.

In his professional life he was the county surveyor of North Bucks and after the passing of the Education Act built a number of local schools, including that of St. Mary’s in the town. The Plough was originally built as a school and had been a public house for 70 years.

The Plough is one of the most visible of Swinfen Harris's design.

Lovat Bank in Newport Pagnell was designed for F J Taylor, of Taylor's Prepared Mustard fame, and built in 1877.
Lovat Bank in Newport Pagnell


In 1883 he designed the stables at Bletchley Park.and later built the house at107 High Street for himself and his family.
The Old Rectory, Maids Moreton, designed 1878-9

He retired in 1914 and lived to May 30th 1924. His architectural legacy, as can be seen from the samples here, is an important one. Many of his buildings have been adapted and in some cases demolished
107 High Street, built after 1887 for his own family.






Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wolverton's Phantom Pubs

From its beginning in 1838, Wolverton's pub trade was dominated by Stony Stratford interests. The first move they made was to ensure that there was a clause in the sale of land by the Radcliffe Trust that prohibited the railway company from having a licence outlet on railway land. this was easy enough to accomplish. The Stony Stratford businessmen had a long relationship with the agents of the trustees and the Railway Company probably didn't care very much about it.

Accordingly, Joseph Clare and John Congreve of Stony Stratford persuaded the Trust to lease them four acres in the area later known as wqolverton Park, opposite Wolverton's first station. This was of course outside railway property, but contiguous, and would be a commercial success.

What Congreve and Clare did not anticipate was that the railway bad would build a second, permanent station at the south end. This action holed Congreve and Clare's foolproof scheme below the waterline. Out of desperation they persuaded the Trustess to grant them another lease for an acre of land to the west of the nw settlement. The royal Engineer came into being in 1841.

This was the status quo until 1860 when new land to the west was opened up for development. Since the Royal Engineer was already on tis land it was no longer possible to argue that licensed premises had to be outside the railway. The opportunities were quickly seized and by 1861 the north Western on the Stratford Road and the Victoria Hotel on Church Street were quickly established.

Wolverton's population continued to grow but there were no more licences to be had. Now it was the turn of the established pubs to object to new ones, but even so, the magistrates still had a Stoney Stratford orientation and di not always see things Wolverton's way. Stony Stratford, already awash with pubs, got six new licences between 1870 and 1900. Wolverton got none.

The Railway Hotel

I have seen plans to build a railway hotel adjoining the refreshment rooms at the second station.


The plans are undated so one cannot be certain but a best guess is that they were drawn up in the 1840s. After the late 1840s engines became faster and more reliable and they could speed through Wolverton. Wolverton's importance as a station went into slow decline. the building offered three stories above ground and a basement for kitchens and laundry. It would have been an imposing building, and at the time Wolverton's largest building with the exception of the church and the railway workshops.

But clearly there was an intention to build the hotel otherwise why go to the trouble and expense of developing architect's drawing, but it was never built. It is quite probable that the Radcliffe Trust prohibition against licensed premise on railway property got in the way (although there was never an objection to the refreshment Rooms serving gin to travellers) but it is possible too that the company got cold feet about the commercial viability.

Nevertheless it never got off the drawing board.

There were two attempts to get a new licence in the 1890s.

The Hotel at 49 Green Lane

William Tarry, landlord of the Victoria Hotel and by then an establishment figure, tried to get a new licence and build a hotel on the corner of Radcliffe Street and Green Lane in the 1890s. It made good commercial sense. Custom could come from the new streets as well as Bedford and Oxford Street and the upper parts of Cambridge and Windsor Street. The application was opposed by the Royal Engineer and the North Western and by several of the new residents who feared drunken and rowdy behaviour on their streets. hat In the end the application was unsuccessful.

One side effect of this attempt to get a licence was that the houses that were built on this corner are numbered 49, 49A and 49B. The lots were reserved for the hotel but in the meantime other houses to the west were built and numbered so rather than change everyone else's numbers this stratagem was adopted.

The Stallbridge Arms

The second attempt came from Michael McCaughan, a former landlord at the North Western who was then living in retirement in Leighton Buzzard. He was still connected to the trade as his widowed daughter, Sarah Dewson, was the licensed victualler at the Ewe and Lamb. In  July 1895 he made an application for a new licence at Wolverton. The premises were to be located on the corner of Windsor Street and the Stratford Road, presumably on the eastern corner as the land where the Craufurd Arms was built was not available in 1895. The new house was to be known as The Stalbridge Arms. The origin of that name is unknown.

The application was heard at the General Annual Licensing Meeting for the district of Stony Stratford on August 23rd. He had many signatures in support of the bid but he ran into opposition from the Royal Engineer and North Western and the police. After some deliberation the magistrates decided that  another licence in the town was not required.

Postscript

The Working Men's Social Club moved to its present location on the Stratford Road in 1898. Ten years later the Central Club opened on Western Road. Slightly earlier, the Craufurd Arms opened in 1907. No further licences were ever granted in Wolverton even as it expanded to the south over half a mile away from the Front. When the Southern way development was added it seemed not to have occurred to anyone to provide shops, let alone pubs. Today, as pubs are in general decline, this issue is perhaps irrelevant, but for 100 years the natural growth of public house in Wolverton was stymied by commercial self-interest.

The Royal Engineer

The building that was formerly the Royal Engineer has stood at the beginning of the Stratford Road since 1841. In fact it pre-dates the Stratford Road by 3 years. With the exception of part of the Library (built in 1840) it is now Wolverton's oldest surviving building, although I doubt if it gets much credit for that. 

The Engineer was something of an afterthought  The Stony Stratford businessmen who sought to establish a monopoly in Wolverton  John Congreve and Joseph Clare, persuaded the Radcliffe Trust to place a covenant against the building of pubs on railway property  and further to lease them about 4 acres of land beside the railway line. This was the land which later became the park and was directly opposite the first railway station. They lost no time in building the Radcliffe Arms and having it up and running in 1839.

They were too hasty. In 1840 the London and Birmingham railway moved their station further to the south, leaving the Radcliffe Arms isolated.


Angry at this turn of events but not beaten, Congreve and Clare prevailed upon the Trust to lease another acre of landau the back of the school. At this date this was outside railway land (just) and would not be subject to the embargo against pubs on railway property.

The first licensee was James Salmon who stayed there until 1863 when the license was transferred to William Webb. The house was supplied by the Stony Stratford Brewery operating as Revill and Thorne from the back of the Bull Hotel. Edwin Revill owned the hardware business next door to the Bull and in 1863 it was sold to James Odell. It is of course still in the family today. In the adjoining wall between the two properties you can see a blocked-up doorway which once allowed access to the brewery.

After Edwin Revill died in 1853 the brewery passed into the hands of Thomas Phillips. He was a member of a brewing family with extensive interests across the land. He renamed it the Britannia Brewery and was run for about a year or two until he foundedfounded the Northampton Brewery Company with his brothers. It is no surprise perhaps that NBC had a close interest in the Engineer and later in the century they became leaseholders. (The land was still the property of the Radcliffe Trust.)


This plan here, drawn in December 1861, shows the Royal Engineer buildings and yard at that date. The block on the right, marked "1", is the site for the house which Number 6-7 Stratford Road The space in between, which would make up the one acre, may have been used for the grazing or the exercise of horses. In the 1890s the hotel was extended and the space filled with four lock-up shops. 


So this building, which has been a restaurant for a number of years, is the oldest building on the Stratford Road and one of the few surviving from the 1840s. For 20 years it stood on the edge of a field and there was no Stratford Road in existence.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Craufurd Arms

The Craufurd Arms was only the fifth public house to be granted a licence in new Wolverton. Its predecessors were the Radcliffe Arms (1839), the Royal Engineer (1841), the North Western (1861) and the Victoria Hotel (1861). Despite Wolverton's spectacular growth the magistrates were very reluctant to grant licences in Wolverton; in fact a condition was imposed on Wolverton by the Radcliffe Trustees that no licensed premises should be allowed on railway property, that is the original 22 acres that they sold to the London and Birmingham Railway Company. Both the Radcliffe Arms and the Royal Engineer were built on Radcliffe Trust land outside Wolverton as it then was.

Stony Stratford interests were paramount in this. Despite the spectacular growth of Wolverton, which outstripped the older town's population with its first decade, Stony Stratford was awarded six new licences, apparently without objection. The original covenant was probably introduced by John Congreve, a Stony Stratford solicitor who did a lot of work for the Radcliffe Trust. He teamed up with Joseph Clare, the owner of the Cock, to build the Radcliffe Arms and the Royal Engineer, and were naturally anxious to rule out any competition. the situation was relaxed in 1860 when Wolverton was finally allowed to expand and licences were awarded to the North Western and the Victoria Hotel, but thereafter the embargo on new licences was once more instituted. An attempt to build a new public house on Green lane in the 1890s was firmly vetoed.

The People's Refreshment House Association was a movement with temperance objectives, but rather than take a hard line against the sale of alcohol they decreed that they wold make no profit from the sale of alcohol and instead make their profit from hotel rooms, meals and the sale of non-alcoholic beverages. How they managed that is uncertain. If they made no profit on alcohol then the price would be cheaper, and, in theory ate any rate, encourage people to drink more. The chairman of this organisation was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Craufurd, who was to give his name to the new establishment when it was built.

The PRHA began to show an interest in Wolverton as a possible site in 1901. They first latched on to the Green Lane site which had been the objective of William Tarry a few years earlier and was still vacant. These negotiations came to nothing. Meanwhile the Radcliffe Trust had decided to open up new land to the west of Windsor Street for new housing, and unlike of previous occasions where they had sold land to the LNWR, they were advised to develop the land themselves. They now had full control of this development, which is why the new streets were named after Radcliffe Trustees.

They appeared to look kindly on the PRHA and no objections would be raised against a new licence. The PHRA hired an architect, mr. C.V. Cable of Hartley Wintney in Hampshire, and eventually the new house was built at a total cost of £7000. It was an elegant three storey brick building much in the style of the times. Apparently habitable attic space was part of the original design but this was eliminated to reduce the total cost.



A licence was approved in 1906 and the Craufurd arms celebrated its opening day on July 7th 1907. The first manager was Mr. H.C. Wood who was already an employee of the PRHA. In 1911 he was succeeded by Arthur O'Rourke, a Wolverton native, (and incidentally a friend, colleague in the railways accounts office and fellow Thespian of one of my great uncles) who worked there for five years until he volunteered for military service.

The building was much enlarged in 1936 with the addition of a large hall measuring 50 feet by 30 feet and an expansion of the dining room. The work was undertaken by the local builders Winsor and Glave. In the same year another building, separate from the main one, was erected in part of the garden for the use as a Masonic Lodge. This was paid for by the PRHA at a cost of £1000. The Masonic Lodges would have a prior claim to its use at an annual rental of £25. The building was completed in February 1936.

This arrangement fell apart in 1953 when one of the senior masons and the new tenant of the Craufurd Arms "had serious differences", according to Percy Sykes History of the Scientific Lodge. The subtext of this was that the Craufurd Arms manager was having an affair with the mason's wife. In these circumtances a continued business relationship was untenable and the masons departed, first for temporary accommodation in Haversham, and later for their own property on the Square.

1953 was also the year that the PHRA ceased to have any control over the Craufurd Arms. It was taken over in May 1953 by Wells and Winch, the Biggleswade brewing company. They brought in the new manager, above mentioned, who succeeded in ruffling more than a few feathers. He lasted just over a year and was replaced by Wally Odell in November 1954. He was a former Tottenham Hotspur footballer and he and his wife managed the Craufurd until February 1965 when they retired from pub life for the more conventional hour offered by the Green Lane stores.

They were not there for long. After only two months they decided that they were not cut out for the grocery business and returned to pub life at the Embankment Hotel in Bedford.

Wells and Winch were taken over by Charringtons in 1962 at the beginning of a series of acquisitions which reduced pub ownership to a handful of large companies. During this period the hotel went through a £60,000 re-fit which included a new sign. The new sign was mis-spelled "Crawford". It was  soon corrected.

Now, after over 100 years, the Craufurd Arms is still in operation but it remains the last pub in Wolverton to be granted a licence.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Victoria Hotel

In September 1861 the Phipps family of Northampton were awarded a licence to sell beer, wines and spirits at their new hotel in Wolverton. This was a period of rapid and aggressive brewery expansion after they had discovered that the acquisition of inns and public houses meant that they had ready outlets for their beer production. In the case of the Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel, the Phipps brothers went one stage further and capitalised the project from the beginning. Wolverton was clearly destined to be a promising market.



From the beginning, the Vic was a Phipps outlet, and so it remained until various mergers in the 20th century diminished the Phipps brand. The hotel was built on a large new lot at the corner of Church street and Radcliffe Street with a large yard and stables. It is still in business today although parts of the building complex have been sold off in recent decades.

The first licensee was Berkeley Hicks who for some years had been the licensee of the Radcliffe Arms. He held the licence for five years and then it was transfered in 1866 to his brother Henry who had worked as a barman for his brother at both the Radcliffe Arms and at the Victoria Hotel.

In this period this was regarded as Wolverton's premier hotel. When dignitaries visited the town they were regularly taken here for refreshment. It was probably better appointed than the North Western and the older houses, the Radcliffe Arms and the Royal Engineer.

It was not impervious to disaster. In August 1865 the roof was struck by lightening during a thunderstorm. One chimney was cracked and parts of the upper storey of the building were reduced to rubble as bricks tumbled to the ground. The report in Croydon's Weekly Standard (Bucks Standard) mentioned that one room was filled with 'electric fluid'. Fortunately the room was empty.

No one was hurt or injured by the incident and the building was hastily restored. No mention was made of the absence of a lightening conductor, but it is quite possible that there was not one provided for the original building. No doubt that was rectified in the restoration.

Henry Hicks, who was born in 1832 at Maidenhead, ran the hotel with his wife for many years. During their occupancy the hotel was enlarged with additional rooms and a billiard room. Times change, and this room was given over to a juke box and dancing in the 1950s.



In 1894 William Tarry came to be the licensee. 1894 was an eventful year for Mr Tarry. He was a sales representative for a Northampton company of Corn Merchants, Wesley Brothers. In January the founder of the firm, Joseph wesley, died, and it is possible that this unsettled William Tarry. In June he moved to Wolverton and in August was granted the licence for the Victoria Hotel. In October he married Emma Darnell from Northampton. She was the sister of a Northampton solicitor.
By far the most dramatic of William Tarry's adventures in 1894 occurred on February 26th while he was driving his horse and gig along the Northampton road near Gayhurst. He saw a boat capsize on the River Ouse and drove over to assist. He was able to pull out the occupant of the boat and told a nearby farm labourer to take his horse and gig and fetch help. Meanwhile he revived the man who was unconscious when he found him.

The man was none other than Walter Carlile, resident of Gayhurst House. Unfortunately he was too late to save the woman in the boat who was Alice Cadogan, Mr Carlile's 21 year old sister in law.

The story that later emerged was that Walter Carlile had taken his sister in law out for a ride in the boat. As they were turning in the river to return to the house a sudden gust of wind caught the sail and the boat keeled over taking on a lot of water. Exactly what happened next is unclear because Mr Carlile, probably unconscious from a knock on the head, was not able to control the boat. Alice must have fallen out and unable to swim and hampered by a heavy Victorian costume, drowned.

William Tarry was a prominent figure in Wolverton at the turn of the century. He had a fine baritone voice and often performed at concerts. He was a promoter and participant for the Wolverton and Dstrict Choral Society and he involved himself with the affairs of his adopted town. The photograph below shows the Wolverton Victorias Football team in 1899. The photograph is of poor quality but you can see Mr Tarry centre in the back row. tall, heavily moustached, bowler hatted, he must have cut an imposing figure in his day.



He did attempt to establish another public house on the corner of Green Lane and Radcliffe Street when that street was being developed but he was unsuccessful in getting a licence. Undeterred he established an off licence on the corner of Green Lane and Oxford Street. That was first licence about 1902.

In 1924 Tarry retired from the hotel and simply occupied himself with the of licence on Green Lane.
His successor at the Vic, Fred Kettle added a car hire business.

In 1955 Enie Wilford and his wife Mabel came to the Vic from Coventry. Willard was a former miner and a very thrifty man who already owned several properties in Coventry. He and his son len used to make weekly visits to Coventry to collect rents. He was also familiar with the pub trade and had been running the Miners Arms in Coventry since 1921.

Len Wilford, his son, joined his parents in the business and he and his wife Joan ran the public bar. Len Wilford had at one time been a professional football player for Coventry City.

Ernie and Mabel Wilford continued at the Vic until their deaths. Mabel died in 1975 and Ernie in 1977.

Since then the Victoria Hotel has lived with uncertainty and since 1982 has been owned by a series of companies. It has been closed, refurbished, re-opened and been through this cycle several times.


The Off Licence in Green Lane

Green Lane, as I have said before, is a very ancient trackway that is at least 1000 years old. It followed a line that was slightly at an angle to the rectangular grid pattern that was the model for Wolverton. Thus when Radcliffe Street, Bedford Street and Oxford Street were built the end houses had yards that were shaped like a quadrilateral than a rectangle.



The house at the end of Oxford Street on the east side ended up with an extra large garden. It was owned by William Tarry who was the licensee of the Victoria Hotel and was given the name "Mount Pleasant."

In 1903 William Longhurst applied for a licence to sell beer to be consumed off the premises. Longhurst was renting the property from Mr Tarry and it is probable that Tarry built this flat-roofed extension around this time. A few years earlier Tarry had tried to get a licence for a new hotel or public house on Green Lane at the corner of Radcliffe Street and had reserved a lot for the purpose. He was unsuccessful and probably determined that an off-licence was the next best thing.




In the 20th century this off licence was on of two in Wolverton; the other was known as the Drum and Monkey in a back alley just off the Stratford Road. Both off licences lasted for many decades in the 20th century until the regular sale of alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores pushed them out of business.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The North Western Hotel

In 1860 the Radcliffe Trust finally agreed to provide more land for Wolverton's expansion. Up to that date Wolverton was restricted to the original 22 acres acquired by 1840 and it was the intransigence of the Radcliffe Trust on these matters that led to the creation of New Bradwell in the 1850s.

Wolverton was also restricted as far as pub licences were concerned. A condition of sale to the railway company by the Radcliffe Trust was that there were to be nolicenced premises on railway land. Accordingly, the two hotels that Wolverton had up to that point were the Radcliffe Arms and the Royal Engineer. Both were built outside railway property.

The land sale of 1860 changed that and two new hotel licences were applied for, successfully, - one for the North Western, another for the Victoria Hotel.

The lots for the North Western were purchased by Thomas Davies. He was a Euston railwayman, who had had some brief exposure to Wolverton in 1854, when he was brought in temporarily to act as Station Master after the sacking of Samuel Shakespeare. One assumes that he kept an eye on Wolverton activities  and in 1859 saw an opportunity for some risk-free speculation. In 1861 he sold the property to the Newport Pagnell Brewery who then set about building the new hotel. They were granted a licence in September of that year.A month later Michael McCaughen was granted a license and he proudly announced the opening of the new hotel, "replete with every accommodation."



The Newport Pagnell Brewery was sold to Charles Wells of Bedford in the 1920s and thereafter they supplied beer and other alcoholic beverages to the North Western, as they do to this day.

Today, and for most of the last century, the North Western presents a plain font to the Stratford Road. When it was built however, there was access from the street to the stables at the back.Once the age of horse-drawn transport was over the two passages were in-filled with the two narrow properties you can now see. They were built in the 1890s. The one on the east side, which later was numbered 10,was for some years the home and workplace for Alfred Davies, a hairdresser. Later it was occupied by On the west side of the North Western a jeweller by the name of was the first occupant. He was succeeded in 1896 by Emil Sigwart a german immigrant who established a thriving business here and in Northampton with his son and daughters. The Wolverton shop finally closed in 1972.

The North Western also had assembly rooms at the back. One of the earliest events featured the clairvoyant Madame Card. The lady was billed as an ‘illusionist, mesmerist, clairvoyant and electro biologist,’ It appears that everyone was suitably astonished by the performance of Madame Card.


Michael McCaughen was called up before the magistrates two years later for serving drinks outside of licensing hours. Apparently on Sunday afternoon on March 18th 1867 police sergeant Chaplin noticed two me quickly escaping by the kitchen door as he was approaching. When he got there there was a third man and evidence of jugs and glasses. McCaughen said that the man had just arrived by train from Birmingham but when Sergeant Chaplin checked this story the train from Birmingham had yet to arrive. Needless to say McCaughen's sorry was not believed by the magistrates and he was fined £2 and 11s in costs.This was not the last time McCaughen appeared before the magistrates. In 1871 he had his licence suspended for two week, which must have been a heavy fine indeed.

The assembly rooms were regularly used every Sunday by the Congregationalists, starting in 1866. Eight years later, in 1874, they had raised sufficient funds to buy some land in the 'new building field'. This large plot, occupying the whole south side of the Square, was the destination for the Congregational Church.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Newsagents

Newsagents were familiar enough in the 20th century, but when did they start up and who was the first in Wolverton?

It may not be easy to answer that a question. Certainly newspapers were available from Wolverton's beginnings. London newspapers were only a few hours away by train.

There were newspapers at the Reading Room in the 1840s. I saw a letter written by the vicar, George Weight, complaining that men were reading "that vile newspaper" the Sunday Dispatch. Presumably someone took on the responsibility for the sale and distribution of newspapers in Wolverton and Stony Stratford.

The best guess is that newspaper sales and distribution in Wolverton was a sideline or part time business. Possibly an existing business or individual took on the role but no one in the Trade Directories specifies themselves as such until Harry Cornelius Muscutt styles himself as a Newsagent in 1899. Muscutt was a boot and shoe maker who had a lock up shop just beside the Royal Engineer - Number 2. He was from a family of shoe makers from Long Buckby. He came to Wolverton at about the age of 20 and lodged in Young Street. After he married he lived in Aylesbury Street and may have had his business premises in Church Street. The boot and shoe business was changing in the last part of the 19th century. Cheaper ready made shoes from Northampton factories had been putting shoemakers out of business for some years and gradually the shoemaker was becoming a shoe repairer.

It is probable that he was already acting as a newsagent in the 1890s but, as the decade wore on and at the end of the century that the newsagent business became big enough to become the main enterprise. New, popular newspapers were being established in this period. The Daily Mail was founded in 1896 and was joined by the Daily Express in 1900 and the Daily Mirror in 1903. The Bucks Standard, or Croydon's Weekly Standard as it was originally known, was produced in Newport Pagnell in 1859 and was joined by the Wolverton Express in 1900. The appetite for news was growing and with a high level of literacy in Wolverton demand must have been high.

So Harry Muscutt probably found himself in the right place at the right time. His shop, just opposite the main works gates, was ideally located for the workers to pick up their daily reading material. I can recall from the 1950s the number of early morning bodies milling around the Stratford Road and spilling into the shop for a newspaper and packet of Woodbines. Muscutt and Tompkins, as it then was, required a staff of five to handle the rush.

Harry Muscutt and his wife had two daughters. One of them, Ida, married Bill Tompkins from New Bradwell. The other, Florence, married a Clarke from Castlethorpe. He was a seed merchant and when the newsagent business moved to Number 5, the seed merchant established themselves at Number 2.
Muscutt and Tompkins newspaper shop in the 1960s.

Bill Tompkins joined the business and added his name to the sign above the shop. It expanded and developed. At one time they had a tobacconist's shop at Number 3, the newsagents at Number 5 and a stationery shop in part of Number 9 - Number 9a. In addition they established a printing shop at the back of Number 3. The equipment has since been donated to the Milton Keynes Museum.
Former M & T presses in the MK Museum


Bill Tompkins and his wife did not have any children and in the 1920s they brought in a young relative from Long Buckby, Reg Tomalin, to participate in the business. When Bill Tompkins retired Reg Tomalin took over the management of what was by that time a varied and extensive family business. Ralph Tompkins, Bill's younger brother, joined the business in the 1930s and managed the newspaper shop.
The shop at 9a, to the right of this picture, was Muscutt and Tompkins Stationery shop.

By the mid-century Muscutt and Tompkins was far and away the largest newsagents in the town and incorporated the subsidiary businesses mentioned above, but the time was ripe in the early 1900s for similar businesses to join Muscutt, and cater to Wolverton's expanding population.

In 1900 the Wolverton Express published the first of its weekly newspapers. It was based at 103, Church street, although the paper was never printed there. It appears to have been the brainchild of Albert Edward Jones. He was born in Winchester in 1870 to a career army officer who came to Wolverton in 1890 as a Sergeant Instructor, presumably to drill the local militia. The family took up residence at Radcliffe Street. Albert Edward Jones, the eldest son,  went into the works as a coach painter but by 1901 he was living on Church Street with his family and is listed as a "Bookseller and Shopkeeper". The Trade Directory of 1903 describes him as "manager Wolverton Express; newsagent & stationer and agent for the Aylesbury Brewery Company." In 1907 he is described as "proprietor" of the Wolverton Express. On this basis it might be reasonable to assume that Jones originated the whole thing.

Emerton's, home of the Wolverton express.

Around 1910 he took on a young reporter Alfred Emerton, who had grown up on Ledsam street. Emerton volunteered to serve in the 1914-18 war in 1915 and it seems that his shorthand and typing skills were immediately seized upon and he was appointed to staff headquarters in Egypt. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and was gazetted by General Allenby in 1918 for "distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty."

After the war he returned to the Wolverton Express and when Albert Jones retired in 1930 was able to take over the business. The shop became known as "Emerton's" - a name it carries to this day.

He retired from the business in 1950 and Bert Foxford, who had been brought up by the Emertons, took over as editor. Another key member of the business at this time was Len Allen (always known as "Joey") who was chief reporter and advertising manger. Later his brother Frank Allen joined the business.

The first 60 years of the 20th century were all prime years for the Wolverton Express. Almost everyone in the district had the paper delivered very Friday and it acquired the nickname, for reasons that are probably unknown, "The Buster." The paper did not survive the succession of mergers and acquisitions from the 1980s onwards.

I have the impression that the shop on Church Street, although selling newspapers, magazines, comic and books, relied on stationery goods for its main retail trade. It appeared to me, at any rate, to have the best range of notepaper, pens and so on.

These two newsagents were joined by a third in about 1910. Walter Lawson, who had been associated with the boot and shoe industry in Kettering, decided to move his family to Wolverton and establish a news agency, which he did at 19 Church Street, in a shop which is now demolished.

Shortly after he moved to 50 Church Street, now occupied by St Andrews Bookshop, and around 1920 to 58 Church Street.
58 Church St., the former business of Lawson and Son

At this address it became known as Lawson and Son. Walter Lawson and his wife had four sons. The eldest, Horace, lost his life in battle in 1915. Two other brothers, Herbert and Cyril, seem to have gone off and done something else, and the youngest, Stuart, born in 1905, joined his father in the business and succeeded him until his own retirement around 1970. Stuart developed the business as a toy shop, which continuing to sell newspapers and magazine. Every Friday he would take toys down to the Friday Market to sell them from a regular stall.

The newspaper business may have been the smaller part of the operation at this time.

Stuart Lawson was a keen photographer and could often be seen walking around the area with a folding camera hanging from a strap around his neck. He was also a pipe smoker, and for some reason most likely unconnected, had an enlarged thumb, which was used to tamp down the tobacco.

To this list I should probably add the sub post office at the corner of Anson Road and Aylesbury Street. They sold some newspapers but I don't think they had a delivery service.

The Sunday papers, probably for reasons connected with Sunday trading laws, were always sold separately from the main newsagents. This was a part-time, private activity. Yu could only have them delivered to your door, as far as I know, unless it was possible to go to the house of the distributor and buy a copy. At one time the distributor used the shed at the back of King's the bakers to organise the rounds.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

1815


Within a few days of writing this we will be marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It was a terrible battle with heavy casualties on both sides but at the end of a very long day Napoleon's army was defeated for the last time and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Weillington, emerged as the hero of the hour.

Let's not underestimate the importance of this event for European history but also in 1815 an inspired and unlettered genius was working in the north east of England to resolve engineering problems which had much more significance for those of us interested in the history of Wolverton. It was in this year 200 years ago that a self taught mechanical engineer was able to forge the available technology of the day to create a steam engine that could move a locomotive frward. This man was George Stephenson.

In 1814 he had managed to forge the available technology of the day to create a steam engine that could move forward on rails. The steam locomotive was born. In 1815 he was improving the design and experimenting with iron rails that would not break under the weight. He also presented his design for the miner's after lamp. One month later, a Cornishman called Sir Humphrey Davy presented a similar design and because he was an educated man from the landed classes he was credited with the invention. Most people in London found it difficult to believe that an unlettered northerner would have the wit to design such a device. Nevertheless Stephenson's lamp went into manufacture and was known as the geordie lamp. It is said that the term "Geordie". now applied to anyone from those arts, originated from the fame of George Stephenson.

He is of course best remembered for his pioneering work with the railways and by the time his son Robert (who was born in 1803) was of an age to go to school George Stephenson was prosperous enough to to send him to private school. Thus Robert grew up without a Geordie accent and was able to speak the language of the financiers and politicians of the day and it was he who engineered the London and Birmingham Railway and determined the route which brought a railway lone to Wolverton in 1838.

It must have been an odd experience for the suave, well-educated scion of a wealthy banking family, George Carr Glyn (later Baron Wolverton) to have encountered a seemingly rough character such as George Stephenson, and he was probably difficult to understand. yet Glyn was able to reflect on this in a speech given in 1849 at Wolverton (a year after Stephenson's death) where he was able to reflect on the value of education.
Education was the groundwork of everything valuable in after life. Let them conceive what a basis it lay down for the rising generation. Let them remember that they were living in a country where the lowest among them might, if properly educated, arise in the race of life to the highest rank – that in this happy country – blessed be to God for it! – no degree, no grade, no exclusion existed, which prevented the well-educated youth from taking up a high position, such as his father, not so well-educated, could never have arrived at. (Cheers.) He needed not to remind them of the instances of the truth of that assertion, but there was one whom he could not refrain from mentioning here, because it had been his lot to have been thrown much into contact with him – he alluded to the late George Stephenson. (Cheers.) He had his failings, which of them had not (cheers)? But he (Mr. Glyn) held that the rise, the life, and the position of that man had been an honour to himself and to the country to which he belonged. He had heard him often detail passages in his interesting life – the privation which he had endured, and the industry with which he struggled against the anxiety of his early commencement; but what had struck him (Mr. Glyn) most, and had made the deepest impression on him, was when he recounted the zeal, the toil, and the privations he underwent to ensure the best education for his only son. (Cheers.) He appealed to them that if he (Mr. Stephenson) had not been repaid for that toil and for those privations? Had not that son repaid everything a father could have done? And did he not know bear a European character and estimation? (Cheers.) Let them rely on it that the cost of education would be one which they would never regret to have paid. (Cheers.)    

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shoot the Pianist!

In the 1960s there was a French film starring Charles Aznavour, called Tirez sur le Pianiste - Shoot the Pianist. I never thought I would come to write about an actual attempt. I discovered this story while digging into the history the Palace.

In the early days of silent film, subtitles carried the rather crude dialogue, and atmosphere was created by a skilled pianist who would vary the music according to the scene.

In 1920 the resident pianist at the Palace was Gladys Smith who lived at her parent's house at 97 Anson Road.

She was being courted by an 18 year old by the name of Reginald Riley. He was an electrical apprentice in the Carriage Works. He lived with his father at the George at Stony Stratford, and we may infer that he was probably lodging in an unimproved outbuilding.

Gladys seems to have become fed up with Reginald and decided to terminate the relationship. She wrote letter to him on Christmas  eve 1919 to tell him as much.
 ‘I wish you the best of luck, and also health. I hope you will take care of yourself and control yourself.’ 
 ‘I feel convinced that being apart will be the best for both of us.’ 
Reginald was not willing to let go, and on the night of Saturday, December 27th 1919 at 10.10pm he went to see her as she was leaving the cinema and the two walked to her home. When she was about to go in he then asked her not to, and as they stood at the doorway she asked him if he been drinking. When he replied that he had she told him she hated it, to which he demanded, 
What game do you think you are playing with me. We don’t have much time together and tonight we have had no time at all.”
When he asked if she still wanted him she replied, 
“No, not in the way you have shown yourself of late.”
At this he grabbed her hand and said he would frighten her and make her put her hands up, but she replied, 
“No you won’t, you haven’t frightened me yet.” 
The next move shocked Gladys. He took a revolver out of his pocket and fired it at her. She apparently did not see the gun or feel anything, but she did see a flash and hear the report. She went inside and slammed the door.
Once inside  she discovered that only  a button had been shattered and her coat was singed. It was a narrow escape.

Her father and the lodger went out to challenge Reginald Riley n found him quiet unconcerned and asked Mr Smith to give him a fag!

Another neighbour was now on the scene and they jointly tried to get the gun away from him  and, while his pockets were being searched, he suddenly made a run for it. The men immediately gave chase but as they got near the fugitive he turned and fired at the then. Before long he was out of  ammunition and the despertethe youth threw the gun away and ran into a back way. Here he was seized by his pursuers who took him to the house of police sergeant Honour. 
There Mr. Smith explained that Riley had shot at his daughter with a revolver and when asked if he understood the accusation Riley said, 
“Yes, sergeant. I quite understand. It is quite true what they say.” 
On being told he would be arrested on a charge of attempted murder he said, “Alright, sergeant. I feel a bit upset. They had been saying things about me.” 
Police sergeant Honour then took him to Stony Stratford police station, where upon being charged the prisoner said, “I am a good shot, and I can’t understand how I came to miss her.” 
He was then remanded in custody until January 2nd when, unshaven and with eyes seeming a little wild, he appeared at Stony Stratford police station before a packed court. There he was further charged with shooting at a man with intent to harm, and for stabbing Francis Craddock at Wolverton on Christmas Eve. This had been with a knuckle duster made from an old knife, and during the evidence the reconstructed coat button, flattened on one side, was produced. During the proceedings it was revealed that about six weeks ago he had bought a revolver and cartridges for 10s from an apprentice fitter of York Road, Stony Stratford, and also disclosed was his home service in the R.A.F., from June 1918 to May 1919. By the verdict of the court he was detained for trial at the Bucks Assizes at Aylesbury, where on Friday, January 16th 1920 he appeared before Mr. Justice Horridge. 

Three charges were brought but acting for the defence Sir Ryland Adkins MP said that although his client pleaded guilty he asked that the intent to murder be dropped, and this was agreed. The Judge said the report he received from the Governors of Borstal Gaol stated the prisoner to be a most respectable young man. He had no previous convictions and the case was not recommended for the Borstal Institution. As for other evidence, a report was read from the Bucks constabulary stating that on July 29th 1919 the accused had been seen in London Road, Stony Stratford, in a very excited condition. When asked what was the matter he said he had killed his girl at Stony Stratford but when he ‘came to himself’ after being detained he wanted to know why he was there. This the defence claimed proved him to be of a highly strung disposition, and therefore liable to be greatly upset on receiving a letter from his sweetheart saying it would be best for them to part. 


In conclusion the Judge said that men must learn that they could not act in this way just because girls, as they had a perfect right to do, declined their company. This kind of thing was by no means exceptional in his experience, and a sentence of 18 months’ hard labour was imposed.

Reginald Riley appears as a very unstable character and was also very possessive We know the type, common enough even today, but without the slightly lunatic tendency to fire guns at people.

I don't know what happened to Reginald Riley and he does not appear in North Bucks again. perhaps he emigrated.

The Story of the Palace Cinema

The Palce Cinema still stands rather awkwardly on the Stratford Road in its original location. It ceased to function as a cinema over 50 years ago and it has had various uses since then.

In my young and teenage years it was regarded as a bit of a flea pit. The last renovation was in 1935 and the interior was certainly frayed at the edges. The Empire was regarded as the better cinema.

The great sensation of 1956 was the release of the film Rock Around the Clock, a sort of biopic about Bill Hayley and the Comets who had been projected to unlikely stardom by the release of the hit record. Looking back now, I think it was a 'B' movie to end all 'B' movies, hurriedly put together to cha in on the craze.  Bill Haley and his band had been on the road for year and were approaching their late 30s Two of them including Haley himself were balding and Haley had a few strands of his forelock arranged like a question mark on his forehead. The publicists dubbed it a "kiss curl." At any rate it wasn't a Bobby Charlton comb-over.

Even so, they brought a new energy to popular music,, quickly supplanting the mellifluous ballads that were typically crooned at the time. It was a  revolution to us and the Palace was packed with primed teenagers, all pumped up ready to jive in the aisles.

The manager, sensing trouble, came out to warn us that no misbehaviour would be tolerated. In those days that was enough to settle us down.

The filmmakers had hired some dancers to accompany the band in the film  and as jivers they were pretty good. Lots of throwing over the shoulder and hips and swinging under legs. At one moment a female dancer was supported overhead by her crotch and this became too much for one boy, who shouted out,
" 'E's got 'er quim!"
This was greeted by laughter and stamping of feet and another visit from the manager, who stopped the film and put us on final warning.


The Picture Palace was the first of its kind in Wolverton and was erected in 1911. Astonishingly, the building of the Palace took only nine weeks from the laying of the foundation stone to its opening on December 11th 1911. Even in those simpler days this was some feat of organisation and this probably tells us something about the very remarkable man who gave us the Palace Cinema - George Barber.

George Barber was born in 1860 in Tunstall, one of the potteries towns in the worst of imaginable circumstance in Victorian times. He grew up in the Workhouse. The Workhouse was conceived with charitable intent but Victorin attitudes insisted that the charity be earned through work. So the inmates of the workhouse got food and shelter in return for menial and often back-breaking work together with the loss of status that being in the workhouse implied. Many, who out of desperation committed themselves to the workhouse, were single unmarried mothers who had no other support for themselves or their child.

George Barber was not quite in that predicament but at the age of five his father became too ill to work and without any other means of support the family had to commit themselves to the workhouse

For most people that would have meant a miserable life at the lower margins of society, but there was something in George Barber that drove him to rise above his circumstances. He taught himself to read and write and learned mathematics. He learned to play the accordion so that he could earn money in pubs  and as a boy about 12 or 13 went to work in the mines. Later he found work with a chemical manufacturer and advanced to become a chemical and gas engineer.

All of this was in his native town of Tunstall and it was here, in 1909, that he opened his first Picture Place. He was approaching 40 and this was certainly an adventurous phase in his career. This was the new age of cinema and George Barber was ready to take advantage. He had opened a picture house in Bletchley earlier in 1911 and this foray into North Bucks must have brought Wolverton to his attention.

The first showing on December 18th in Wolverton was a film called Zigomar. Not much is known about it except that it was a French production - not that that would have mattered in the silent era - and it was a 3 - reeler. That is the total playing time was about 35 minutes. With reel changes the actual time for the audience would have been about 1 hour. Moving picture were such a great novelty in 1911 that I don't suppose anyone minded at all about some of the things that would bother us today.

George Barber stayed in Tunstall, eventually becoming Mayor of Stoke on Trent, but he sent down a manager, Mr Thomas Moss, to run his Wolverton Picture Palace.

In 1920 a steel girder was installed to span the building so that a larger balcony could be supported. In the same year Barber opened the Scala at Stony Stratford. Thomas Moss moved to Stony to manage the new facility while Jack his son was left to manage the Wolverton Palace.

In 1923 Barber initiated a publicity stunt whereby "messages" were dropped from a plane on June 21st. These messages are essentially numbered tickets and in the weeks following a number was flashed on the screen in the interval. Anyone with a matching number would be entitled to 10s.

The last serious renovations were undertaken in 1935., and although these were extensive - lush seats, new thick pile carpet, by the mid 1950s it was all looking a bit shabby.

George Barber died in 1946 and either around that time or before the theatres were sold.
In 1955 the Palace and the Scala were owned by F W Allwood Theatres who went out of business in July 1955. The cinemas were then acquired by a Mr EV Thomason. He struggled to make them financially viable and did not renew the entertainment licence which expired at the end of 1960. The Palce officially closed on January 23rd 1961 after screening a film called The Tattered Dress.

The property was subsequently acquired by a man called Eddie Green, who owned the California Ballroom in Dunstable. His plan was to convert the Palace into an entertainment and dance centre and he succeeded in getting a music and dancing licence on August 17th 1962. Later he was able to get the premises licensed for the sale of alcohol.

It proved a popular venue and several big names in the entertainment industry of the day made their way to Wolverton.

On weeknights when music and dancing was not allowed Bingo was the min entertainment and indeed, only three years later, in 1965, the South Midland Social and Bingo Club purchased the Palace. The magistrates were increasingly reluctant to grant occasional music and dance licences because of persistent unly behaviour outside the dance hall and eventually the palace settled into becoming a Bingo venue. Zetters acquired the site as a bingo Hall in 1970 until 1999.

I was u for sale for many years until it was acquired by the Pentecostal Church for Faith Ministries.

A some time during these years the awning at the front, which was a useful bus shelter as well as providing some decorative embellishment, was taken down. The building, now painted apple blue looks very stark.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Story of the Empire Cinema

Those of us who grew up in Wolverton in the 1940s and 1950s  and attended the Saturday morning matinees for children at 6d (later 9d) a session probably believed the cinema had been there forever. In actuality its history was a short one, but nonetheless quite interesting.
The Empire Cinema in its heyday

The interesting development of this property owes everything to Fred Tilley, a Wolverton born entrepreneur. He was born in 1870 at 75 leadsman Street and his father William was working as a smith on engines in the railway works. When engine building and maintenance was finally moved to Crewe in 1877, it appears that William Tilley moved  as well and took his family to Crewe.
There Fred served is apprenticeship as a turner and moved back to Wolverton around 1891 once he had completed his apprenticeship.

Once back in Wolverton he must have set eyes on Jane Knight, a daughter of William Knight, once a coach painter, but now a businessman. William Knight hit upon the idea of tendering for surplus railway sleepers and selling them for firewood. In this straightforward way he became quite prosperous and could afford a large house at 2 Market Square.

Fred Tilley proposed to Jane but she turned him down so he decided to try his luck in the US, following a brother who had emigrated some years before. There he worked as a toolmaker in a Brooklyn shipyard. He probably would have made a success of life there and we would never have heard of him, but it does seem that he was determined to win Jane Knight, and on his return, with a bit of money behind him, he was able to impress her sufficiently to agree to marry him. They were married at St George's on October 13th 1900.
Fred Tilley with his wife and family outside their house at 81 Victoria Street.

He was now working as a tool maker in Coventry but the couple were prevailed upon by William Knight to return to Wolverton so that the grandchildren could grow up there. Fred was co-opted into his father-in-law's business as a firewood dealer. I should also mention that William Knight at the end of his life owned a number of properties in Wolverton, which on his death in 1908 was divided between his two son's and his daughter, Jane.

In 1911, at the age of 40, Fred Tilley started to blossom in his own business ventures. He started up a wooden toy factory, known as The English Novelty Company, at the back of six cottages which he owned on Church Street.
This view of Church street, taken in 1902, shows the terraced houses that were eventually replaced by the Empire and the Post Office.

The war proved to be the making of Tilley. The wooden toy market had hitherto been dominated by the Germans, but imports were impossible after 1914, and demand for Tilley's products increased. The company produced wooden engines, cars, armoured cars, forts, castles, doll's bedsteads, train sets, bridges, tramcars and wooden play blocks. By 1917 the premises had expanded to 13,000 square feet and employed 100 people, mostly boys and young women.

There appears to have been some concern for health and safety and the building was tall and airy and was fitted with an extractor fan to take sawdust out of the building.

In March 1918 the Board of Trade sponsored a British Industries Fair where Tilley's toys were exhibited to much acclaim.

This was the high point for the industry, for no sooner was peace declared the Germans resumed manufacture and their high quality and lower price (due to Germany's ready access to raw materials) began to eat into the profitability of the English Novelty Company.
A view from the Vic corner, 1902

Never short of ideas, Fred Tilley converted the paint shop of his factory into a concert hall. It had a corrugated iron roof which must have been noisy during rainy days, but nonetheless the enterprise went forward, Wooden tip up seats were laid out in rows before the stage and on December 4th 1922 the New Empire Palace of Varieties opened with entertainment from the Star London Company. Judging from the names of the entertainers on this bill, these were not household names, but no doubt Wolverton people were grateful that these entertainments were on offer in the town.
The opening attraction for the newt theatre in 1922

Another variety production at the Empire: Sep 11th 1925

The premises were also used as a dance hall but the two functions were not really compatible and in May 1923, after a production of Ship Ahoy, the theatre was closed for renovations. The stage was enlarged and the seating capacity increased from 500 to 800. Fred Tilley himself was content to take a back seat in this enterprise and leased the premises to people in the entertainment industry.
In 1926 films were introduced, silent films of course, one and two reelers with a pianist thundering away his accompaniment.

In 1932 the County Council gave permission for the cinema to show "talkies" and on Monday November 21st 1932, the first sound and motion pictures were shown. The cinema was redecorated in red and gold and upholstered seats were provided in the balcony. There were still concerts. The Wolverton Light Orchestra, for example, gave a concert every Sunday evening, but the live acts were now local amateurs, rather than travelling professionals.


Interior view of the Empire

The cinema arm, the mainstay of the business, was now in the hands of Union Cinemas.

In 1936 Fred Tilley sold the lots next door to the Empire to the Post Office, who then built a new General Post Office. 30 years later, with the cinema industry in general decline, the Post Office purchased the property after the expiry of the lease in 1969.

The last show at the cinema was a double bill of british films, "Carry on Cleo" and Carry on Screaming". The date was May 17th 1969. After that the cinema closed its doors.

The Post Office has also moved on and the former Empire is now a furniture store.
The buildings as they are today


Friday, May 15, 2015

Wolverton's War Memorial


On Saturday July 10th 1921 a huge crowd gathered in the Square to witness the unveiling of the permanent War Memorial. It was made of Portland stone and stood 28 feet 8 inches high. The cost was £500 and the money had been entirely raised by public subscription.

There are some interesting observations to be made about the preparations for this day, almost three years after the end of the war. There was an almost universal desire immediately after the war, and not only in Wolverton, to build some lasting memorial. A committee was formed to raise the money and decide on the nature of the memorial and the process was initiated in November 1918.

Various proposals were considered - a memorial hall, a bandstand, and, strikingly, a proposal for a public swimming pool. That particular dream took another 40 years to realise. After much discussion over two years, and consultation with the general public, the memorial cross became the preferred option.

There was a debate about the location. One opinion, from Old Wolverton's Reverend Mildmay, was that the memorial cross should be at the Old Wolverton turn, mid way between Wolverton and Stony Stratford. It was his view that Wolverton would grow to meet Stony Stratford in 30 years! His vision has almost come to pass but it has taken a lot longer than one generation.

The favoured location was the Square, which at that time was relatively new. It was land owned by the LNWR and they had not really done much with it. Buckingham Street and Aylesbury Streets had been developed in the 1870s and 1880s. Moreland Terrace was built in the 1890s, made up of above average properties, and there was probably an intention that the owners should enjoy an open view, rather like Glyn Square 60 years earlier. The Congregational Church commanded the southern side and the western side was made up of houses of mixed size. Briefly, this was called Market Street, so there must have been at least the germ of an idea in someone's mind that the Square could be used as a market. The old Market House beside Glyn Square remained in use until 1906, when it was largely destroyed by a fire. The old school on Creed Street became available in that very year, and the market immediately transplanted itself. No further consideration was given to the Square.

Accordingly the Memorial committee approached the LNWR and persuaded them to grant the land to the Council for the memorial. In everyone's mind at the time this became a sacred space, and this probably explains why, over 90 years later, no other building has set its foundations on the Square. Not even the Agora was allowed to trespass!

This memorial was actually the second. A wooden memorial was erected in 1919 while the process of developing a permanent memorial took its course.

Over time the limestone deteriorated due to the ravages of atmospheric pollution and in the later part of the last century it was torn down and replaced by a third memorial.