Friday, December 23, 2016

The Battle of Passenham

One of the more obscure events in English history occurred in 1382 over a land dispute between Stony Stratford and Passenham. The two principals were Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby, and later to become Henry IV, and Sir Aubrey de Vere, chamberlain to Richard II, who held the manor of Calverton. Both principals were extremely well-connected. de Vere was the brother of the earl of Oxford and the uncle of Robert de Vere, who was a close friend and advisor of Richard II, and Henry was the son of the rich and powerful John of Gaunt, who was uncle to Richard II.

John of Gaunt had granted the manor of Passenham, amongst others, to Henry, his eldest son when he was only 15 years old. Some of de Vere's tenants in Stony Stratford saw this as an opportunity to grab the use of the land just across the river for their own purposes. They probably had the blessing of their lord of the manor. Young Henry got wind of it and sent two of his men in April to enquire into the matter. They were met with some hostile resistance from the Stony Stratford men, sufficient to cause Henry to send 60 armed men on May 29 to arrest the offenders. A week later, another of his servants, Hugh Waterton, was dispatched to retrieve a horse which had been stolen from Passenham and was met by 500 men who had come from Coventry to strengthen de Vere's side. Waterston managed to calm things down by buying breakfast for everyone at a Stony Stratford inn.

Even so, the dispute, which had by now raised passions on both sides, would not be settled and John of Gaunt advised his son to tell the king his side of the story. Presumably Richard II already had been briefed by de Vere and presented with one side of the case, but it does appear, that once the version of the Passenham tenants was presented, the king was able to restore good behaviour on both sides.

To call this a battle, is perhaps overstating the matter. Armed men were involved on both sides but it is unlikely that the matter escalated to a pitched battle.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ethel Axby and the McCorquodales strike of 1915

Ethel Axby was a remarkable young woman. Only 5’4” and dark-haired. she was the eldest daughter amongst seven other brothers and sisters of Joseph and Ada Axby.  She was born in 1893 and spent some years growing up in New Bradwell before moving to Wolverton at 27 Windsor Street. Joseph Axby was a body maker in the Carriage Works and after she left school she worked as a paper ruler at McCorquodales.

McCorquodales factory and offices at Wolverton

1915 was her year, in more ways than one, which I will now describe.

The war which had broken out in the previous year had an enormous impact on the civilian economy. So many young men had volunteered to fight (and die) for the cause that the recruitment of women for these vacancies was the only alternative. Wolverton Railway Works began to recruit women for the first time and McCorquodales, which had lost some of their male work force, brought in more women to fill those roles. McCorquodales was perhaps a special case in that the company had always employed women, and indeed the factory was set u for this express purpose, but they were not married women. Young girls left school, went to work at the”print” until they got married, whereupon they were required to leave. So in 1915 McCorquodales encountered a somewhat different mix in their workforce. From being a work force of young girls, overseen and managed by men with careers, it found itself with a rather more mixed work force - experienced married women who had returned for the duration of the war and young women who undertook the work formerly done by men for a much lower rate of pay.

Some at machines in McCorquodales

On Sunday May 2nd 1915 the Wolverton and District Labour Council organised the annual May Day event. One of the speakers was a Mrs Lewis who was the national organiser of the Women’s Trade Union League. She told the crowd, which must have included Ethel Axby and her friends and work colleagues, that if women were doing men’s jobs they should demand an equal rate of pay. Further, she added, now that they were essential workers, this was now the right time to assert their rights.

Her words must have resonated in the minds of her listeners, because less than three weeks later, on May 20th, there was a dispute at McCorquodales over non-payment of a war bonus. The war bonus had apparently been paid paid to a few chosen members of staff, and everyone else, understandably, felt that the management should be even handed with all. After lunch on Thursday afternoon, several hundred girls stopped work and pressed their demand. The company responded by closing down the factory at 3 pm. They further warned that the plant would remain closed until a majority returned to work on the existing terms. Matters stood at an impasse.

Mr F O Roberts, from the National Executive of the Typograohical Association travelled to Wolverton from Northampton to meet with the manager of McCorquodales, Mr Meacham. He reported then to the striking workers. Mr Meacham had said that the girls had nothing to complain about and that he had never heard any complaint. Mr Roberts advised the workers, that it was not his role to respond but the girls should make representations to the management.

Herbert Meacham, General Manager of McCorquodales

At this meeting Ethel Axby stood up and made the point that if representations were made by the girls they should not be accompanied by a male supervisor, as had been the practice to date. Her audience warmly agreed. A large meeting was scheduled for the following day, Tuesday May 25th at the Science and Art Institute, There it was agreed that officials should negotiate on behalf of the workers. Ethel Axby was elected secretary of the new Wolverton branch of the print union. She appealed to the girls to stand firm and that they would not return to work until the bonus was paid to everyone.

On Wednesday May 26th about 50 workers out of the 800 returned to work. The remainder stayed out. The management tried to intimidate the strikers by placing a notice on the door that said that as a consequence of the previous Thursday’s action all would forfeit their long service and marriage grants. However, if they returned to work immediately under the existing terms, the management would be prepared to overlook this transgression. Carrot and stick! This was a world where married women, at least, “respectable” married women, were not expected to work, and it was practice at McCorquodales to pay their employees a grant, based on years of service, when they left for marriage. Since Ethel Axby was intending to marry that year, she would be impacted. However, this did not deter her.

Pickets were placed outside the works and over 700 women and girls met at the Palace Cinema. There was now a new spirit of determination. They would not be browbeaten by management. They now felt that they had the support of the whole trade union movement nf that if management permitted in their attitude then the poor pay (which was about one-third of London rates) and working conditions would be exposed. There is no doubt to that the girls had overwhelming support in Wolverton.

Striking Workers and sympathisers matching down Anson Road

The police were out in full force in anticipation of trouble. That evening some of the girls visited the houses of “black leg” workers, and they were shadowed by policemen. No ancients were reported.

The government now tried to intervene. McCorquodales had a number of important government contracts and these were now in some jeopardy. According they asked Sir George Askwith, the Chief Industrial Commissioner, to look into the dispute. His first effort was to contact the union leaders to tell them that work should resume immediately, and then he would arrange a hearing for both sides. The union responded that the girls were not on strike but locked out. Further they demanded that the union be recognised and the bonus be paid. On this assurance they would return to work.

By Saturday May 29th, when the girls received their first week’s strike pay, the union was able to report an amazing surge in branch union membership. A week earlier the branch had 22 members, including Ethel Axby; now membership topped 500. Wolverton and New Bramwell demonstrated their solidarity by turning out for the meeting - men and women. It was estimated that a crowd of over 3000 gathered and they went in procession headed by both the Wolverton and New Bradwell Town bands to a mass meeting in the space beside the old market place.beside Glyn Square.

Various union leaders made speeches before it was the turn of Ethel Axby. She showed some spirit and humour and appeared to have a natural ability to communicate with a large audience. She told them, referring to the police, that she had never had so many men looking after her! The audience laughed, and in the same vein she added, “All of the girls are doing their best to make eyes at the police and special constables, but I don’t think any of us have had an offer (of marriage) yet.” She concluded by saying that they had “come out with a bump, and they were going back to work with a big victorious bump.”

On Monday May 31st Ethel Axby travelled to London with senior union officials, Mrs Hayes, Mr Roberts and Mr Evans, to meet the Industrial Commissioner. There they received an assurance from Sir George Askwith that the union would be recognised. Further, there would be no delay in the bonus settlement. On this basis the union leaders agreed to put the matter to a vote on Tuesday.

The settlement seemed reasonable and with some good will the girls returned to work, only to discover that these promises were not upheld fully by McCorquodales. Some of the striking girls were not allowed to go back to their former positions and in some cases no work could be found for the girls. They complained and the blue-blooded Mr Norman McCorquodale, in charge of the Wolverton factory, deigned to meet with Ethel Axby and two other union representatives. He told them that he was not going to recognise the union or allow any interference in his management of the company. The girls would work where they were assigned.

Winslow Hall, the residence of Norman McCorquodale

Mr Roberts sent a telegram to Sir George Askwith warning him that the girls were likely to go out on strike and Sir George hastily arranged a meeting the following day. As a result a meeting was arranged between the management and union in London for Thursday June 3rd. It lasted for three hours. By the weekend the Commission made a decision. The girls would receive an immediate increase of 7 1/2 per cent to be implemented the week after June 3rd. One proviso was added, that this increase should be regarded as “war wages”. Presumably with the implication that the increase would not continue once the war was over. 

However, it was a great victory for the working girls and the union and was duly celebrated at mass events afterwards. In one speech Ethel Axby suggested rather cleverly that those girls who went to work during the strike because they said they didn’t want the bonus should be asked to donate this additional money to charity. Collection boxes were being prepared. Industrial relations settled down after that and one former worker, recalling the events some years later, reflected that there was little animosity between management and workers, or even between the strikers and non-strikers once things went back to normal. There was still a war on and the prevailing mood was to get on with it.

As I said at the outset, 1915 was Ethel Axby’s year. On the 15th of August she married Frederick Baldwin from Newport Pagnell ad they settled in a new house at 34 Peel Road. She was now a celebrity and the wedding attracted great interest from well-wishers. Sadly, the marriage was short lived as Frederick Baldwin died in 1924 at the age of only 32. At present, I have no more information about his death.

Ethel Baldwin continued her work as secretary for the union branch, although she was required to leave the employ of McCorquodales after she married, according to the normal standards of the day. She was of course a woman of her times and would have seen nothing amiss in her giving up paid employment to be a wife and mother. Her circumstances therefore limited her prospects of achieving further emience in union activities. However, during her brief exposure to prominence in 1915, she proved herself more than equal to the leadership role she undertook. The strike itself, brief as it was, does not seem to have made a deeper impression. I watched a film a while back based upon the efforts of Dagenham women workers to get equal pay with men. It was a good story and it was well told but you would come away from this film believing that this was the first time women had taken industrial action. This was the 1960s but in 1915 the women of McCrquodales at Wolverton were out on strike for better pay and conditions. The action by the women workers at Dagenham in the 1960s for equal pay catered much more attention and was much more long lasting. Yet this early dispute in 1915 must have been the first strike by women in their quest for equality in the work place. There was a long struggle ahead and 100 years later we cannot claim to have fully equalised the gender pay gap.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An 18th century robbery

A newspaper report from December 1st 1787.

I haven't come across the name Eaglestone before and its hard to pinpoint where he might have lived. There were very few houses as such in Wolverton at that date, apart from the Vicarage, Wolverton House and the farmhouses. Eaglestone is associated with none of these places. The Quarry Bridge of the second robbery would have been on the road from Old Stratford to Cosgrove.

On Saturday seven night 9a week ago), about six o'clock in the evening, five villains, disguised in smock frocks, with their faces blackened, &c., attempted to rob the house of Mr. Eaglestone, in the parish of Wolverton, near stony Stratford. Having met with one of Mr Eaglestone's servants near home, they led him to the house and threatened to murder him if he refused to knock at the door; which being opened by Mr Eaglestone, they rushed in; but fortunately another of his men-servants being within, they attacked the villains, and would certainly have secured them all, but unluckily in the confusion one of the men received a violent blow with a bludgeon from a fellow servant, which almost disabled him, though not before the robbers had got much the worst of it, that they were glad to decamp without their intended booty.

About nine o'clock the same night they entered the house of Thomas Ship, at the Turnpike at Quarry Bridge, near Old Stratford, and stole there about £4 in cash, some wearing apparel, and divers other articles.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rowing races on the canal

Some rowing fours from a century ago.
Rowing as a sport is not much associated with Wolverton. In the 20th century the nearest rowing clubs might have been found at Bedford in the east and Oxford in the west. However in the 19th century, when men were trying out all kinds of sports, rowing was a featured sport in Wolverton. They used the canal, rather than the river, although the canal had width limitations.

Richard Bore, who was the carriage works superintendent in the 1970s seems to have been very keen on the port and two of his sons were participants.

At the end of April 1877 Wolverton held its own Boat Race, with crews from the Galatea and Livonia Clubs competing against each other. Each crew had four rowers and a cox. The race was set up from Cosgrove Lock to Old Wolverton, a distance of 7 furlongs, just short of a mile. The particular challenge of this race was that there is no room for boats to pass each other, particularly on the Iron Trunk, so the solution was to have separate start and finish lines with one boat starting in front of the other. This probably reduced the drama of a race and turned it effectively into a time trial.

On this occasion Galatea beat Livonia by a length and a half. Two senior works officials presided over the race: Richard Bore as Umpire and William Panter as starter. William Panter grew up on Creed Street and was by this time a foreman in the works. He finished his career as Superintendent of the London and South Western Railway and was responsible for the foundation of Eastliegh in the 1890s.

The Livonia Rowing Club was still active in the 1890s. In August 1893 they competed in the Gayhurst Regatta, which, while featuring crews from the local villages bordering the river, Gayhurst, Tyringham, Great Linford, Little Linford, also attracted crews from Bedford and Eton College.

Competitive activity seems to have died in the first decade of the 20th century. The club was still active, but there are only reports of the annual trip to Fenny Stratford - rowing there on the canal, taking lunch at the Swan, and then making the return journey. The last report was in 1907.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Grocer goes Bankrupt

Here is a tale from 1903 about a Wolverton grocer who quickly became bankrupt after venturing into business.

Fred Styles started his business at 40 Church Street in 1899 with £10 of his own money and £20 borrowed from his mother. He probably believed things were going swimmingly because a year later he opened a branch grocery in New Bradwell, managed by his mother.

It appears that he over-extended himself, because before too long his liabilities exceeded his assets. I 1902 he sold the New Bramwell business to his mother for £83 1s 11d, so that less the £20 he owed her, he was left with £63 1s 11d, which immediately was applied to his debt. Even so, when he appeared at Northampton County Court on July 14th 1903 for a bankruptcy hearing, he was still in hock to the sum of £351 13s 7d. He had sold a pony carriage and both his and his wife's bicycles without making much difference to the mountain of debt.

Quite how he had managed to amass debts at the rate of about £100 a year was not made clear in the hearing, but he was clearly unable to control his costs. He probably needed to talk to Alan Sugar!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Does Wolverton Destroy its Past?

The recent announcement that the remainder of Wolverton works will be redeveloped , leaving little but a vestige of the former railway town, has prompted this question. Those of us who grew up in the town in the middle of the last century knew only a town which was, at most, 100 years old. The house that I grew up in was built in the 1890s and, relatively speaking, was quite young. Those of my contemporaries who lived in houses in Eton Crescent or Stacey Avenue, enjoyed houses that were less than a decade old. We were living in a very modern town.
The 1839 Engine shed on the left.

Time changes our perspective. What was new becomes old. What is old is to be treasured. It becomes our heritage. In my lifetime all of the cottages built in the 1840s have disappeared, along with the original railway works built in 1839. The second and third station have been demolished, together will the Gables and a good section of Church Street and Buckingham Street. The Science and Art Institute suffered a disastrous fire and was subsequently flattened. The works drafting office suffered the same fate. McCorquodale's print works has also gone.
The Little Streets in the process of demolition

So much for our recent past, but if you look back over a longer period you can see that this is not unusual for Wolverton; it seems very much the norm.

The Wolverton Manor, an area of 2500 acres bounded by the Watling Street in the west, the River Ouse in the north and Bradwell Brook in the east and south, has a history that goes back to Saxon times. The Normans simply took over the existing structure in 1066. By this time, the original village  by the Happy Morn had been abandoned and a newer village settlement made nearer to the castle and church. Oh yes, Wolverton had a castle once and all that remains of that is a mound near the church. It has never been excavated. The Saxon church was replaced in the 12th century and had some later additions, but this church was almost completely replaced in 1815 by a modern church. Bradwell priory, also built in the 12th century, lost most of its buildings in the early 16th century, although some parts survived as farm buildings. On the Watling Street it is possible that some medieval foundations survive in the present buildings, but the comprehensive fire of 1742 destroyed most of the town from the Bull northwards. Earlier buildings include the tower of a late 13th century church (St. Mary Magdalene) and a late 15th century or early 16th century building (Rose and Crown). The 18th century is well-represented along the High Street, with the Bull, the Cock, and the former Three Swans, but much of the former building stock was replaced in the 19th century. Wolverton also retains a few 18th century houses: the Vicarage, Wolverton House and Wolverton Park House, and some 18th century cottages (Manor Farm).

An awful lot of buildings have been lost along the way and you can't help but observe that many other communities across the country manage to keep some ruins of their castle, their medieval churches and their 16th and 17th century great houses. Wolverton, however, has contrived to lose these buildings and indeed the process continued into the 20th century where most of 1840s Wolverton was demolished.

I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. You could argue that this betrays a progressive spirit of continual improvement, sweeping away the old to make way for the new; or it can be regarded as rather sad that we are left with so few visible signs of Wolverton's long and rich heritage. I'll leave you to make up your own mind. This post will be a survey of what has been lost.

Pre History and Early Medieval

It would be too much to expect much survival from this period, and indeed there isn't. Archaeological work has revealed traces of settlement all over the manor - the Romano British villa farm at Bancroft is the most spectacular example, but there is also evidence of another villa at Manor Farm and traces of Bronze age settlements in the area known as Wolverton Turn. It also appears that the first Anglian settlers may have chosen this site when they arrived in the early 6th century.

Medieval Wolverton

In the 9th century they moved the village northwards to lower land. The reasons for this are unclear but this remained the medieval village of Wolverton until enclosure was finally effected in 1654. From a high enough vantage point you can see the ridges and furrows of the land where the village once stood.

A surviving building from Bradwell Abbey
As far as the larger houses go there was a castle and evidence of it once being surrounded by a wall. It is suggested that this motte and bailey castle was built of wood, and initially there is every reason to accept this. But it is hard to imagine that as time passed the fortifications were not strengthened by stone walls. Stone after all was readily available from local quarries. Admittedly not a high quality stone, but suitable enough for buildings and defences.
Medieval Old Wolverton

This should immediately provoke the question why is there no remaining evidence? All I can say is that a succession of buildings in different periods may simply have re-used the quarried stone from redundant buildings. Closer to our own time there was apparently a very fine mansion in the 16th century. This was completely rebuilt in 1586 and this house in turn was demolished in the early part of the 18th century. Not a trace today remains. Some of the stone was undoubtedly use to build the new vicarage and some was carted off to various parts of the estate for farm buildings. It is not unreasonable therefore to belive that earlier stone structures, possibly even the castle itself, were recycled. If and when an archaeological dig is undertaken on the site perhaps these questions will be answered.

16th and 17th centuries
The 16th century building known as the Rose and Crown

In Wolverton itself there are no remnants of any 16th or 17th century buildings. On Stony Stratford High Street is the former Rose and Crown building which dates to the 16th century. Everything from the Bull north was destroyed by fire in 1742 and most of the southern part of the High Street was rebuilt in the 19th century. The George is an early 17th century building and the highway has been built up so much over the years the at George's ground floor is now below ground.

18th Century
Stony Stratford High Street's 18th century facade
The survival rate gets better in the 18th century and most "old" buildings in Stony Stratford date from the second half of the 18th century. The reason fro this was two great fires, one in 1736 which destroyed Church Street and part of the west side of the High Street, and, far more disastrous in 1742, the fire which started in the Bull and raged northward destroying everything in its path. The church tower of St Mary Magdalen was restored, but there was not the money or interest to replace the church, so only the tower remains. All of the inns were rebuilt to 18th century standards and present this face to the world today.
In Wolverton itself, the vicarage was rebuilt in the mid century using materials from the old manor house and it seems that some of the se materials were used in the Manor Farm cottages which date from the same period. The farm hues at Wolverton Park was built later in the 18th century and the mansion of Thomas Harrison, Wolverton House, was built between 1781-4.
The church was almost completely rebuilt in 1809 retaining only vestiges of the medieval church.

Early 19th century
Wolverton itself started to rebuild in the early 19th century. The canal brought new work to the area and the population of Old Wolverton doubled between 1801 and 1831. Slated Row dates from this first decade.

Early Victorian

Ledsam Street
Some of the first-built cottages on the north side only lasted 15 years before they were pulled down to make way for workshop expansion. The same process ate away at Bury Street until it too had gone by 1895. Gas Street also disappeared at around this time.Only St George's church and vicarage and part of the school (now the library) and the former Royal Engineer survive from the 1840s. You could argue that some parts of the Reading Room and the Vets Institute (built on the site of the first Market House) survive from that time, but the original architecture has been lost.

Mid Victorian
Wolverton entered a new building phase in 1860 when the Stratford Road and Church Street were constructed up to the Cambridge Street back alley. Most of these buildings survive, including the North Western and the Vic. Some houses were pulled down in the 290th century on Church Street to accommodate the former Empire and the former GPO. Some parts of the south side of Church Street were demolished to make way for the Agora.

Church Street: These houses were replaced by the Empire Theatre and the GPO in the 1920s and 1930s
Late Victorian
Osborne Street

Green Lane, Victoria, Moon and Osborne Streets, Cambridge Street and Windsor Street were built in the 1890s.

Girls and Infants School opened in 1906

The Church Street school was opened in 1896 and the Aylesbury Street school in 1906. Both buildings are still in use today as school. Around them the Radcliffe Trust developed the housing stock in the first two decades of the 20th century. Nothing much has changed. The Craufurd Arms, the Palace and the West End Methodist Chapel were part of that development.
The Elms, built for the doctor c 1905

Wolverton Today

Anyone driving today through the relatively narrow older street of Wolverton will recognise that these houses were not built with cars in mind. Back gardens have been adapted over time to provide some sort of accommodation. However, most of the late Victorian and early 20th century houses were and are substantial 3 bedroom homes and will remain as such for the time being.

One thing we can be sure about is that there will be change. As I have tried to illustrate here, there have been dramatic changes over centuries and in general only a few fragments are left to show us what buildings were like in centuries past. Railway Wolverton had now had its time and I suspect that if I were here in 100 years time, I may have even less of redbrick Wolverton to write about.

The former Manor House at Old Wolverton, pulls down in the  1730s.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The lost Railway Town

178 years ago work began on a maintenance depot on a green field site about a mile away from the old village of Wolverton. It was called the engine shed but it was in fact a large complex of workshops and offices built around a quadrangle. After it was completed in 1839 work began on new housing stock and a new community started to emerge. There was a sense at the beginning that they were making it upas they went along, but in 1840 the LBR hired a company of Birmingham surveyors to properly lay out the new town on the available 22½ acres. Soon the new redbrick town became something of a wonder for travellers who stopped at the station for refreshments while their engine was being changed. Indeed the Refreshment Rooms as they were known, employing 30 busy women,  became the subject of articles, letters and even one romantic novel. By the mid-1840s this new town had a variety of housing stock, shops, schools, a church, pubs, a market house, a reading room and the second Mechanics Institute foundation in the country.
This was Wolverton Station and before the end of the first decade the population dwarfed the old village and overtook the established towns of Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell. Today we learn that the slow erosion of the railway works will now become complete and that no vestige of its former railway presence will remain.
The Wolverton works underwent considerable expansion in the 19th century. After J E McConnell became superintendent in 1846 (more or less at the same time that the L&BR merged into the larger L&NWR) the plant began to manufacture locomotives and this continued until 1871 when an L&NWR rationalisation concentrated carriage building at Wolverton and locomotive building at Crewe. Even so, the works continued to expand, eventually stretching almost a mile along the banks of the canal. At its peak the works employed 5,000 men and supported an urban population that was rare in rural Buckinghamshire. It became the second largest town in the county and only High Wycombe was larger. Wolverton people could feel justly proud of their railway heritage, and despite the burdens of two world wars, Wolverton was still very much a railway town at the time of nationalisation in 1948.
The railways lost their way in the post war period and ironically, road traffic, which had been seen off by the railways in 1840 was making an unstoppable comeback a century later. Wolverton became part of the general railway decline.
The original engine shed disappeared some years ago and was replaced by a Tesco car park. Some of the first houses gave way to workshop expansion in the 19th century and the rest of the 1840s housing stock was demolished in the 1960s to make way for something more modern, although that project, now over 50 years old, is beginning to show signs of age. The late Victorian town, built after 1860, largely remains intact.

What will now be missing is any visible evidence that this was ever a railway town. Does this matter? Perhaps not and in any case there is no purpose or point to winding back the clock. Nonetheless, the historic importance of this railway town lingers. When the new town of Milton Keynes was conceived the very existence of Wolverton and the post war development of Bletchley provided an anchor point in the north and the south as the basis for the development of virgin fields. Had there not been this urban concentration, it is doubtful that the new city planners would have paid much attention to the area. If Robert Stephenson’ s preferred route through Buckingham had not been blocked in the 1830s we might be thinking of that small town as a new city today.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The end of Wolverton's Railway history

This article has just been published in
Reproduced here in full.

Wolverton Works to be demolished by 2020 – will it also bring the end of the Royal Train?
Published: 22nd November 2016

Milton Keynes Council approves demolition of the World’s oldest railway works
Wolverton Works, the World’s oldest longest continually open standard gauge railway works is to be demolished within the next four to five years. The decision was made at a Milton Keynes Council Planning meeting on 17 November amidst some controversy when considering the St Modwen, Works’ owners, application.

This was because following a local planning referendum 18 months ago, Wolverton’s residents overwhelmingly voted to retain the buildings in any redevelopment. The whole Works forms part of a Conservation area, thought to be one of the UK’s largest as it includes a huge railway-built housing estate for Works’ employees.

Historic England refused to ‘list’ the buildings saying that they were already protected. Planning Conditions attached to the decision also breached more planning policies with only 10% affordable housing and a below par Section 106 planning gain fund demanded.

A brief history
The Works in its heyday a century ago, employed over 5000 people and was the very reason for Wolverton’s existence. It was built to service the World’s first long distance intercity line, the London to Birmingham Railway, who chose the greenfield site to locate their main Works in around 1836 because it was roughly half-way between London and Birmingham. It was also adjacent to the Grand Union Canal making it easier for building materials to be brought to site and ironically started the demise of the canal’s fortunes as railways transported goods.

The Works was also heavily involved in three war efforts, the Boer War and both World Wars. It built General Haig’s train and ambulance trains as well as repairing planes in WW2.

After British Rail ownership, Wolverton Works was bought in 2001 by Alstom to carry out acceptance and reliability modifications to their new train fleets such as the Pendolinos. When this work was complete, the French train builders sold the Works to the property developers St Modwen who leased the works to Railcare. They in turn entered administration in July 2013, just weeks before the 175th anniversary.

In September 2013, the Administrators sold the business to Knorr-Bremse, (KB) but only after half the 250 strong workforce had been made redundant. Since then, KB has quadrupled the workforce on the strength of a five year lease, which expires in 2018. The latest projects there include manufacturing Crossrail platform screens, in a refurbished workshop, and replacing every external Pendolino door. A new contract re-engineering Class 321 electric trains for Voith is about to commence bringing the overhead cranes back into use in the Lifting Shop.

Other workshops have been modernised and include a new carriage corrosion treatment unit while the traversers have been brought back into full use following electronic control panel upgrades. A new staff car park has been created near the Royal Train Shed.

Royal farewell?
The Royal Train has been constructed and based at Wolverton since 1869 and is now likely to be relocating after 150 years there. The existing Royal Train Shed was built in 1988 and will also be demolished to make way for housing overlooking the canal.

Some of the Royal Train staff now fear that the train will no longer operate if relocated from Wolverton but if it carries on, it is understood that Derby could be the new home - but the train may be retired and enter preservation.

Milton Keynes 50
Milton Keynes will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in under eight weeks time. The Council is looking to celebrate this throughout 2017 using the town’s heritage but curiously agreed to lose most of it! But the debate seemed to centre on the Council’s squeezed finances and the need to try and catch up on their housing targets set by Government.

Andrew MacLean, Head Curator of the National Railway Museum sent a statement to the planning meeting emphasising just how important Wolverton Works was to UK history, but to no avail.

They said:
St. Modwen said that the £100m Wolverton Works regeneration plans will support hundreds of current and future rail-related jobs for the town and deliver much-needed new homes and community facilities for Wolverton. In September, planning was approved for the construction of a Lidl store in an early phase of St. Modwen’s wider masterplan and construction will commence in spring 2017.

St Modwen say that the key features of the regeneration plans for Wolverton Works are:

• Jobs: Provision of business space for Knorr-Bremse RailServices Ltd, protected for future rail-related employment use only

• Supporting small businesses: New business space providing premises for small/ medium size businesses and start-ups

• Homes for all: Up to 375 new homes - a mix for all ages, family sizes, needs and pockets

• Funding for social infrastructure: contribution of c.£4m towards vital services of which £3m is allocated to education

• Heritage value: Opening up what is currently a closed site, existing buildings’ facade retention and heritage features throughout public spaces

• New community space: The potential to create a railway heritage centre – St. Modwen is discussing opportunities with Milton Keynes Museum

• New open spaces: Provision of a new public square and multiple landscaped spaces equivalent, in total, to the size of 2 football pitches

• Architectural identity: Use of a ‘Design Guide’ to ensure new buildings reflect the Conservation Area with pitched roofs, use of brick, terrace housing and other key features

• War memorial: Publically accessible space allocated for a memorial

Gary Morris, Senior Development Manager at St. Modwen said: “ We have worked closely with Milton Keynes Council, local stakeholders and the Wolverton community to develop a sensitive design for the Works. Not only will these plans enhance the unique identity of the town and reflect its much-loved railway heritage, but they will also encourage further economic growth and regeneration for the town.”

Further planning applications will be brought forward in due course, to determine the exact designs of the new buildings. comments:
In April, St Modwen wrote to Phil Marsh they would not get involved in the War Memorial and that it was for Knorr-Bremse to attend to. This was included into the planning application at the last minute to help garner votes. St Modwen also still says that only 300 jobs are at The Works. It is in fact around 480, Knorr-Bremse’s figures. Initially, there was to be provision for a Heritage Centre either. Network Rail has confirmed it is looking at the future of the Royal Train.

St Modwen also said that safeguarding jobs could only be achieved by demolishing the Works and building a new one. Nick Brailey, Communications Manager for Knorr-Bremse told Phil Marsh in February 2016 that they would ot be relocating if they had to remain in the existing buildings.

The future?
Whatever the pressures on the Council brought by St Modwen and Knorr-Bremse behind the scenes, it emerged in the planning meeting that Knorr-Bremse had not yet told St Modwen their requirements for a new Works. Once this has been established, a detailed planning application will be submitted for approval and no demolition will take place until all Approvals have been obtained. This will take up to two years.

The development will be delivered in phases to avoid business interruption to Knorr-Bremse. Once the foodstore has been built, phase two will see Knorr Bremse move to the west of the site say St Modwen ( where they already work ) and a new premises can be built for them. The final phase will be the new homes, and what is described as ‘potentially’ a community/ heritage centre and public spaces on the west part of the site in around 3-5 years’ time.

And finally
One key point which the Council, Knorr-Bremse and St Modwen are all silent on is the provision of a level crossing for HGV’s to access the site. It is known that the Office of Rail and Road do not sanction any new level crossings but as the new one will be inside the Works curtilage, it will be the Health & Safety Executive that approve it or otherwise. This was brought up at the Planning meeting by a local councillor but ignored by the rest of the meeting.

This also ignored locally agreed planning policies and any protection afforded by being inside a Conservation Area. Progress can be followed at .

Monday, October 31, 2016

Wolverton Rugby Club - 1958

In 1958, largely due to the activism of John Cawthorn (right, back row in the photograph), re-formed for its first game in almost 50 years. Cawthorn, then only about 16 years old, managed to persuade men such as Bill Tompkins and dr Coster to get behind the project and the Wolverton UDC provided a pitch and goal posts at the Top Rec. A program of fixtures was organised and from very certain beinningthe club grew in size and strength, eventually acquiring its own club house and pitch. Once Milton Keynes came into being the club changed its name to Milton Keynes Rugby Club.

Pictured here are the pioneers of that first team:

Back Row l-r: Mike Sullivan, ?, Dicky Ratcliffe, Paul Homes, ?, Derek Haycock. Jim Thomas, Ron Williams, ?, John Cawthorn.

Front Row l-r: Reg Wright, Norman Brazell, ?, Trevor Bates, Ron Parrot, ?, Peter Hempstead, Jeff Capell.

Boys at front l-r: ?, Roger Haycock

(Photo kindly supplied by Roger Haycock)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Wolverton Rugby in 1890

A Wolverton Rugby Club was re-formed almost 60 years ago, and I was part of it. We had no facilities. We changed in the Wolverton Baths along the Stratford Road, made our way to the Top Rec, where we played our match, and then back to the Baths to clean ourselves up. Sandwiches and more than one pint of beer at the Craufurd afterwards. Often we had barely enough bodies to make a 15 and there was more than one occasion when we had to "borrow" a player or two from the opposing team.

The story was not dissimilar in 1890, when Wolverton's first rugby club was making its way in the competitive world of its day. As can be read in this newspaper report from the Northampton Mercury of 4 January 1890, Wolverton was short of players. However, here they are, playing Northampton at Franklin's Gardens. Northampton is now one of the mightiest teams in the land and it boggles the mind a bit that Wolverton was once thought to be on a more-or-less equal footing. Two week's later, they travelled to Warwick.

In 1890 Wolverton Rugby Club played on a pitch marked out beside the canal, in the field between the Galleon bridge and the blackboards bridge, now of course a housing development.

In the article below the Wolverton umpire was Mr. F. Swain, a keen sportsman in his day, and the man who founded Swain's sports shop at 48 Church Street.


A combination team of Wolverton and Oluey footballera, at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday aftemoou, were beaten by the St. James’s representatives with a try to four minors. The fixture was Nurlhamptou v. Wolverton ; but several of the latter's men could not play, and so the Oluey Club was drawn upon to fill up the vacancies. Then  Wolverton were a man short. The Northampton team, about half-an- hour after the match should have commenced, looked like numbering about twelve players. Eventually, however, by getting several unselected men to play, It was made possible to put a full, although weak, home fifteen in the field. The Wolverton men, with their backs to the lake, started a somewhat poor game—which cost spectators 6d. to witness—something after three o'clock. Williams did some good forward work for Northampton; Allinson made a short run and a useful boundary kick, and Hough—who failed to play up to his previous day’s form—put in a little sprint, but was soon collared. This play was at the home end, where a maul took place later on between Robinson and Hilton, the former proving the stronger, and touching down for his side. On the re-start, Dunham and Hooton tackled well, and the latter, picking up after a dribble by Moring, was promptly pulled down by Golding. A. Farrer. by a long kick, returned the leather to Northampton’s 25, and Allinson had again to touch. Almost immediately Hough nearly scored, but dropped the ball on the line, and only a third touch was credited against. Northampton at half-time. Moring a minute or two later received from a line-out and kicked, but Smith made a pretty return. Shortly after there was a dispute. The ball was kicked over Northampton’s line, and Ruff, who was off-side ran in after it. From the presence of a number of people around the goal line, it was impossible to say what followed. Robinson claimed that be touched down; Ruff that he scored a try by touching the ball after it was handled by Robinson – but it was still in motion. Each umpire, J. Roseblade, (Northampton) and F. Swain (Wolverton) stood by his respective side and eventually the visitors gave way. Hardly was the ball again rolling than C. Stanley got hold and showing the Wolverton backs a clean pair of heels, scored a try, amidst cheering, for Northampton. Moring took the kick, a difficult one, and tailed, and the game shortly after concluded.
Wolverton.—Back, G. Inns ; three-quarter backs, Smith, Hough, and Hooton ; half backs. Gallop and Hllton ; forwards, Ruff (captain). A. Shaw. J. Gardiner, A. Farrer, T. Farrer, W. Cooke, J. Biginton, G. Covington, (one short).

Northampton.—Back. A. Robinson; three-quarter backs, C. Stanley, C. J. Allinson, and A. Orton ; hair backs, W. Moring and T, Phipps ; forwards. C. Phipps, T. Stanley, J. Ayers, A. Dunham. Golding, Drsge, Williams, C. Parr, and W. S. Godfrey.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Wolverton's Manor House

I was reminded yesterday that Wolverton doesn't have a manor house, despite its history as an important manor. It did at one time have a castle, but more of that in another post.

We do not know what the late 16th century house looked like exactly but it may have been similar to this.
The large house, and there would have been several versions of it over the centuries, was built on the higher crop of land at Old Wolverton, next to the church, overlooking the valley. It held a commanding and defensible view. Of the earlier buildings we know next to nothing. It is probable that the Longuevilles improved and enlarged the earlier medieval property during the 15th century. The only reference we have to the building is from the Tudor traveller and writer John Leland, who was passing through around 1540.

The Langevilles of later tymes hath lyen and bilded fairly at Wolverstun in Bukinghamshie (nere Stony Streatford).
We can only interpret "bilded fairly" as that the house was of sufficient size for Leland to take notice, and the reference to "later times" probably indicates an early Tudor building.

Later in the century Sir Henry Longueville decided to embark on his own building project at a cost of £12,000 - a very significant sum of money. This was in 1586. Once again we are short of any drawing or description until Thomas Hearne, writing in 1711 tells us this much:
It stood near a large mount, thrown up East of the Church, & it was a magnificent Edifice, being 145 Feet in length & built with good Free-stone. It had 9 large transome windows in the Front, of good polished Free-stone which was very regular; it had in the first Range a spacious lofty Kitchen, Buttery, Hall & Great Parlour, in which last room were painted in the large Escucheons (sic), the Arms of the Longueville Family with their matches quartered & impaled. There were also some arms in the windows of painted glass; particularly of Wolverton & Roche: the first of which bore, B. an Eagle displayed A determined by a Bendlet G. K. the other, viz. Roche, gave G. 3 Roaches A. This front part, as seems to me, built by Sir Hen Longueville in Queen Elizabeth's time: and Sir Henry & his lady Elizabeth Cotton's Arms, being placed there in 2 Shields, with this date, 1586, seems as if they were the builders, and that it was begun to be built then; it cost, as I have been informed, above 12 thousand pounds in those days. At each end were several Rooms of an antient tower structure, which were chiefly made use of, & particularly those on the south wing, by Sir Edward Longueville. I visited him in 1711: & several rooms in the new building were never finished, or properly furnished, as appeared to me. 
I also discovered a document in the Nottinghamshire archive which was prepared about the same time as a sale prospectus for the estate and the house. It is able to offer us some supporting (although in places conflicting) detail.
The House is 60 yards in front with two Wings about 15 yards in lenght (sic). Built of Stone is very Strong & in perfect good repair. The Gallary which is a very noble one, the floore was never layed down, all offices that are necessary as Wash houses, Brew house, dary house, larders, Granarys, Wood Barns, Stables for 20 horse, Coach House with 20 Bay of Barning with a Worke House, two Duffcoates & several Houses very necessary for any use in good repair.
The house, as we know from other accounts, was not in "perfect good repair", but this is a sale prospectus and some glossing is to be expected. We can read from these two accounts that the house was stone built with a frontage of 180 feet (Hearne says 145) with two wings at each side of 45 feet. It is not clear which of the "offices" are included in the wings of the great house but it is probable, given the size of the stables and coach house, that these and almost certainly the dovecotes are separate structures. From Hearne's description we might infer that the kitchen and buttery (larder) made up one wing of the building. I am guessing that a second floor gallery was designed around either the hall or the "great parlour" but that this floor was never completed, although this phrase never layed down is open to different interpretations.

Hearne's observations are probably accurate but his interpretations can be modified. The window displaying the date of 1586 is more likely to have been the completion date rather than the date building began; windows are usually the last part of house building. His observation that the greater part of the building seemed unfurnished may have more to do with Sir Edward's straitened circumstances than the fact that the building was not completed and that he had been selling off furniture to pay debts and was confining himself to one wing of the building. £12,000 was an enormous sum of money to spend on a house in Elizabethan times, and even if that sum had been exaggerated, there should have been plenty of money to complete the building to the satisfaction of Sir Henry and his wife.

The sketch above is a representation of the architecture of the period with only Hearne’s notes as a guide. We do not know the placement or orientation of the building but as Hearne writes of a south wing one would guess that the main part of the house faced south east, towards the Old Wolverton road. It was probably built to the south of the old motte, but within the bounds of the Norman bailey. Those of you who are familiar with the site will know that there is a raised level area above the vicarage and this was more than likely the ground for the former mansion.

This plan shows the possible siting of the old mansion

Sir Edward Longueville completed the sale with Dr John Radcliffe for £40,000 and after paying his debts he dumped his wife and went off to live at Bicester with his mistress. He died a few years later in a hunting accident.

The old manor house did not last much longer either. In a letter dated 24th October 1715 William Bromley (one of the Trustees) wrote that “the Great House was: very ruinous, & since it is now never likes to be used as a Gentleman's Seat you'll consider whether it may not be advisable that it be taken down, & the materials disposed of.”

In 1926 it was dismantled. Most of the other buildings on the estate were in poor state of repair and when it came time to rebuild the Vicarage this course of action recommended itself to the Trustees. Parts of the old mansion can be found in the Vicarage which is still standing today. I have also been told that some of the Manor Farm cottages are built of material from the old Manor House and it would not surprise me if much of the stone and timber found its way into houses in Stony Stratford. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The John Radcliffe Hospital

On Thursday I visited a friend who was being treated at the John Radcliffe Hospital, a great sprawling modern series of buildings in the leafy suburbs of Headington, Oxford.

What has this to do with Wolverton? Well, the forerunner of this hospital was the Radcliffe Infirmary, established by Dr John Radcliffe's estate in 1759, and, paid for out of the rents collected from the Wolverton Manor. Dr Radcliffe purchased the manor in 1713 for £40,000. He got 2,500 acres of farmland (at the time yielding valuable income) and the whole of the east side of Stony Stratford's High Street, which had several large inns such as the Bull, the Three Swans, the Horseshoe and the Red Lion - all contributing to the rent total. The annual income from the estate was about £2,700. This seems like a piffling amount today, but in the 18th century it was quite enough to support the Radcliffe Library and pay for the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

The 18th century was a great age for building new hospitals. Northampton's Infirmary opened in 1743. Edinburgh had a new one in 1729 and Winchester in 1736. In that context Oxford was a little late but the process did begin in 1747. It took time. First there was difficulty about acquiring land and then there were delays in building, but eventually the foundation stone was laid on 27 August 1759 at the 5 1/2 acre site on the Woodstock Road.  The building was mainly completed in 1767 but it took until 3 July 1771 for the formal opening ceremony to take place. The cost had been high. The Trustees had originally planned to spend £4000, but with the delays and additions the total bill came in at £12,791 15s. 6d. - just over 10 years' net rents collected from Wolverton.

In the next century, new wards were added together with additional buildings to meet the demands of a growing population. The Radcliffe Trust continued to make a capital investment, but that was all. The city and the county and individual citizens were expected to contribute towards the operating costs of the infirmary. Doctors were expected to donate their time as a public service; it being assumed that they were well enough compensated by the fees of their prosperous patients. Nursing too, had yet to emerge as a profession, so the day-to-day operation of the hospital was largely entrusted to orderlies, who may not have been well paid.  In that regard the infirmary was a relatively cheap operation in the 18th century.

At around the same time as the Radcliffe Infirmary's first phase had been completed the Trust acquired an adjacent field to build an observatory. Nobody at the time saw a conflict but towards the end of the 19th century, as the Infirmary (by this time the County Hospital) needed to encroach upon the Observatory land to satisfy the demands of a growing population. There was resistance from the Observatory who believed that their line of sight would be impeded by new buildings and that chimneys would cloud the atmosphere. They were probably right, but two Trustees, who gave their names to Wolverton streets, Sir William Anson and Lord Peel, found themselves on opposite sides of the argument. Anton favoured Infirmary expansion; Peel did not. In the end the demands of people overcame the unimpeded view of stars.

Wrangling continued for some years in the early 20th century until the intervention of William Morris in 1927. He was willing to make a substantial contribution to the development of the hospital, but only upon the condition that the land housing the Observatory be made available. The Radcliffe Trust, who ha in any case been considering moving the observatory, concluded that this would now be the time. They set a price of £100,000 on the land, which was accepted without demur, and it was sold in 1930. Morris could call upon wealth that far outstripped that of the 18th century John Radcliffe and the combined site became the Sir William Morris Institute of Medical Research, later changed to Nuffield after Morris's elevation to the peerage.
Map of Headington Manor showing the proposed site development.

The Radcliffe name more-or-less disappeared at this point at the main infirmary, but earlier, in 1919, the Radcliffe Trust had purchased the Manor of Headington as a site to treat tuberculosis patients. In 1960 this site was chosen to build a new hospital, and by this time the NHS was steering the ship. The site was chosen for a maternity hospital and John Radcliffe's name was chosen.  And in 1982, when Oxford's hospitals were centralised at Headington the name of John Radcliffe was preserved as the "Churchill John Radcliffe Hospital". In 1994 "Churchill" was dropped and it has been known since as the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Verity Bargate

Verity Bargate appeared briefly at Wolverton Grammar School during the mid-50s, perhaps just for one year in 1956-1957 when she completed her O-levels. She boarded at Wolverton House while she was there. She was a year or so older than me and I don't recall having anything to do with her. However I do remember her as a very lively character and my sense is that she kept the Senior Mistress, Miss Full, occupied. She went on to achieve some distinction as a writer and theatre director but it came at a cost as the biography from the DNB makes evident, and is quoted in full below. As children we have no idea what lies under the surface of the lives of other children, so the DNB biography, written by the theatre critic Irving Wardle, came as a complete surprise.

The  girl did, however, have talent. I found these pieces from the school magazines of Autumn 1956 and Spring 1957, which may be the first example of her writing in print and it does show a precocious talent. At the age of 16 most of us were writing rather stodgy school essays, but this, on re-reading it now after 60 years, illustrates a gift for language. Her vocabulary, style, her sharp  observation and humour should have marked her out at that age for a career grounded in writing. Instead, she was encouraged to train as a nurse when she left school in 1957, something that she was apparently unsuited for. Sadly, in 1957, intelligent and educated women were given few choices - secretarial work, nursing, teaching or marriage. Take your pick!


The Grammar school is ancient now,
But bright with many a hue;
And rules are drawn up everywhere 
What not—and what to do.
Few rooms are held as out of bounds,
Except perhaps for two,
From which from time to time come sounds 
Not much unlike the zoo.
Inside there is a smoky haze 
Through which dim shapes are seen 
And books are piled up in a maze—
Which shows that someone’s keen!
Sanctum sanctorum—how they laugh!
For these two rooms are for the Staff!

Verity Bargate, 5T. (Autumn 1956)

We were making the long, dreary journey to London and going past the grimy factories and embankments of Dagenham and East Ham, when my attention was drawn in rather an unusual way to the elderly couple sitting opposite me.

The husband with his wrinkled face and snowy hair was describing the view from the window to his frail little wife, whose eyes were shining as she listened to his words. The unusual thing was that the view the husband was describing was far more like the Elysian Fields than the dreary prospect of smoke-grimed chimneys and endless grey wails in front of us.

He told his wife of green hedges, golden corn and blue, blue skies; of cattle grazing peacefully on dewy sward and small boys running with careless abandon through waist-high grass; of an occasional golfer trying desperately to get out of a bunker and thus put an end to his humiliation.

All this I heard with growing wonder, and it was only as we drew into a station and the couple rose to get out that realisation dawned on my until then uncomprehending senses. The wife walked with a white stick and was totally blind.
Verity Bargate, 5.T. (Autumn 1956)


We own a dog. Please do not be misled by that relatively mild statement. It would have been better to say a dog owns us. She is, ostensibly, a dachshund. Her mother definitely was; her father, I fear, is unknown. Although we usually call her Mitzi-Mary there are, as always, variations on this theme, and she is registered in the Kennel Club as Tugboat-Annie. When she was taken to the Kennel Club to be “identified” the judge, after a long examination, said she thought she must be a dachshund because she didn’t know what else she could be. If Mitzi was hurt when she heard this, she didn’t show it, but she was rather subdued on the homeward journey. 
She was not acquired because we wanted another dog, she was thrust upon us in such a way that it was impossible to refuse. The alternative was a brick and a bucket of water. My mother went to see her owner merely to please a friend who had said she would. A rickety shed was unlocked, a voice said “Here’s Baby" and a tiny, bandy legged little thing staggered out, blinking in the bright sunlight. She was in a very bad condition, through sheer neglect, but she gave my mother such an appealing glance that—well .... She came home in state in a handbag and immediately made us all her slaves. She was so weak and helpless, and so very, very small. 
Weak ? Helpless ? Small ? It seems incredible now to think that any one of those adjectives could ever have been applied to Mitzi. She is large, strong and independent. At first we were under the impression that she was to be a miniature dachs.—-at six weeks, she could have turned into almost anything, but as she grew and grew (and grew) our hopes diminished and finally disappeared altogether. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we had on our hands a Dog Dubious. Some of her features are definitely of German origin, and it is difficult to trace just where she starts to go astray. 
She is devoted to us and we all adore her, so of course she is excessively spoilt. I think, however, that it would take a heart of stone to resist the appeal in those large brown eyes; her left front leg, which is unashamedly about as bandy as the right; the really enormous feet, the long silky ears that are the colour of autumn leaves, and the way she sits, head on one side, looking at you, pleading, wheedling, coaxing, hoping and above all, trusting.  
I think I am right when I say that we all hope that when, and if, we get to heaven, the first thing that we shall see will be a small brown bomb careering madly towards us, wings and halo left far behind, ears flying and eyes shut, over the green velvet of the Elysian Fields.
Verity Bargate (Spring 1957) 
The biography below is taken from the DNB.
Bargate [married names Proud, Keeffe], Verity Eileen (1940–1981), theatre producer and novelist, was born on 6 August 1940 in Exeter, the second child of Ronald Arthur Bargate, electrical shopkeeper and later sales manager in the London Metal Warehouse, and his wife, Eileen Dewes. Her childhood was disrupted by her parents' divorce in 1944, followed by her mother's departure to Australia, leaving Bargate and her elder brother Simon for four years in the care of their father. When her mother returned it was with a new husband, Clarke Taylor, a Royal Air Force doctor, who installed his new family in air force bases at Hornchurch, Essex, and Bicester, Oxfordshire, and dispatched his stepdaughter to a succession of boarding-schools and holiday homes. In later years she described her upbringing as that of a ‘middle-class charity child’ (private information).On leaving school Bargate trained as a nurse at the Westminster Hospital, London, where she qualified as a state registered nurse and supplemented her income with private nursing. Although she was emotionally and physically unsuited to this profession (in which she came to rely on the ‘pep pills’ that sowed the seeds of her future intermittent spells of ill health), it was five years before she abandoned nursing and took a job with a media analysis firm in Paddington, London, where she remained until her meeting and subsequent marriage on 14 February 1970 to Frederick Proud, with whom she had two sons, Sam Valentine (b. 1971) and Thomas Orlando (b. 1973).Proud was an aspirant director who had studied at the Rose Bruford College, and with Bargate he launched the Soho Theatre at an address in New Compton Street in 1969, as a somewhat late arrival on London's lunchtime theatre scene. With a policy of offering new and little-known work at low prices, it established itself as a home of good acting and arresting texts—which ranged from modern English and American plays to Sheridan and Cervantes. Reviewers got to know Bargate as the beautiful long-legged girl on the door. She had no theatrical experience but she knew about public relations work, and one reason for the theatre's success was her ability to win over the press with intelligence, good humour, and excellent home-cooked food. Even so, its position was precarious; and in 1971 it was obliged to quit its original premises for a temporary home at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street, Islington (to which it introduced lunchtime shows), before finding a more secure base in Riding House Street (behind Broadcasting House) in the following year, and changing its name to the Soho Poly.Shortly after this move the marriage collapsed, leaving Bargate (from 1975) as the theatre's sole artistic director. She seldom directed shows herself; instead she emerged as a persistent and effective encourager of new talent. Policy for her meant ‘putting on what I liked’ (private information). This involved extending the lunchtime programme to full-length evening productions; opening the doors to women directors and designers; and concentrating exclusively on living writers with whom she worked as a catalyst and a midwife. Not all of them were full-time playwrights. The actor Bob Hoskins claims that she saved him from insanity by letting him present his one-man piece, The Bystander, as a therapeutic exercise. Among those whose careers advanced from the Poly to other stages were Hanif Kureishi, Tony Marchant, Micheline Wandor, Caryl Churchill, and Barrie Colin Keeffe (b. 1945), whose studies of alienated working-class youth spoke for a hitherto voiceless generation.In Keeffe Bargate found a second partner who also persuaded her to embark on writing of her own; from this point her life underwent a powerful and subsequently fatal acceleration. Until now she had played the public role of a hopeful supporter of others, which had masked her spells of ill health and her private sense of oncoming calamity. She was convinced that, like her mother, she would die at the age of forty, and it was of great significance to her that her birthday fell on the same date as that of the bombing of Hiroshima. The dark side of her nature now found expression in her writing. With grim logic, her birth as a novelist coincided with the onset of cancer, and the remainder of her life became a neck-and-neck race between creativity and disease.Of Bargate's three books, No Mama No was published in 1978, and Children Crossing in 1979. At the insistence of her publisher Tit for Tat (1981) was rewritten in its entirety, even though Bargate had one arm in a sling at the time. Her subjects were the lies and cruelties of the sexual contract, and the emotional wounds parents and children inflict on each other. Terrible things happen. A seaside holiday ends with the children dead under a juggernaut: mastectomy becomes an instrument of sexual revenge. But the narrative voice is irresistible, and connects the immediate events to a deep well of early pain.Verity Bargate died in Greenwich Hospital, London, on 18 May 1981, two months after her marriage on 14 February to Keeffe and a month after the publication of her final book. Her ashes were scattered on the lake of Lewisham crematorium. Her memorials are her books, her theatre, and the annual Verity Bargate award for short plays.