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.


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.

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