Monday, February 20, 2017

Half a million page views

At some point recently this Blog notched up 500,000 page views. I don't always check this so it was only this morning that I saw that it had reached 514,595 page views. This must tell us something about the interest in Wolverton.

I started this in a fairly inexperienced way in September 2008. At first very few people noticed, as you might expect, but traffic slowly built up. After a few months the blog was clocking about 1000 views a month, but by the middle of 2012 this had built to 10,000 page views a month - sometimes more. Towards the end of 2013 traffic tailed off when I was blogging less frequently but in the last two years the visits average 6-7,000 a month.

The largest number of visitors come from the US at 238,715 , surprisingly ahead of the UK at 189,092 There are quite a lot from Germany and smaller numbers from France, Australia and Canada, but what beats me is that Russia is logging 5,579 visitors.

What I probably didn't realise when I started this over 8 years ago is the extraordinary information there is about Wolverton and how many stories there are to tell, so I think there is plenty to keep me going for more years to come. I won't be blogging with the kind of intensity that I was five years ago, but I will try to keep up a reasonably steady flow.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Queen Victoria's Christmas

Queen Victoria and her husband were the guests of the Duke of Buckingam at his palatial establishment at Stowe at the beginning of 1845. The journey would take the by railway from Euston to Wolverton and thence by carriage to Stowe. For the railway and North Bucks residents this was a great occasion and great efforts were made. A waiting room was re-decorated for her Majesty and the roads were scraped and levelled. Most of the towns and villages along the route were decorated. This report from the Morning Chronicle details the return journey.
The newly refurbished waiting room at Wolverton

Morning Chronicle January 20 1845

Her Majesty’sVisit to Stowe
Return of Her majesty
(From our reporter.)

The principal entertainment provided for her Majesty at Stowe on Friday evening by the care of her noble host, was a concert in which the Messrs. Distins were the performers.
To this concert the invitations were very numerous. The list was given in Saturday’s paper.
As the company arrived, something like a drawing-room was held – the guests, on being announced, passing in long array before her majesty, who occupied a throne-like chair in one of the principal apartments.
The Earl of Delawarr and the Duke of Buckingham stood on either side of her Majesty.
During the evening the Queen, observing that some inconvenience was experienced by several of the ladies and gentlemen as they were introduced in approaching sufficiently near to the place she occupied, rose, and herself attempted to move her seat to a more desireable position. The motion was of course anticipated by the watchfulness of her Majesty’s attendants, and the position of the chair duly altered.
The concert went off extremely well, her majesty expressing herself as much gratified. The following was the programme:-
Quintet: “Robert toi que j’aime” Meyerbeer.
Quartet: Prize glee, “Harmony” Beale
Fantasia: Trumpet, Mr. Distin, “The Soldier Tired,” accompanied on the pianoforte by Mr. James Perring Dr. Arne
Quintet: Etude, “Le Penitent Moir” Bertini
Quintet: “Fra poco a me” (Lucia) Donizetti
Quintet: Air de Joseph Meehul
“God Save the Queen.”
About half-past elen o’clock her Majesty and the Prince, attended bythe Duke of Buckingham and the Duchess, passed into the supper room, where they remained for about half an hour.
Shortly after twelve o’clock the Queen and the Prince retired for the night, and the company generally took their departure shortly after one o’clock.
Stowe House in 1829

At an early hour on Saturday morning the note of preparation for the departure of the Queen and her Royal Company was sounded.
The portion of the Bucks Yeomanry not selected for escort duty was drawn up near the mansion of Stowe.
The artillery troop took up a favourable position for firing a royal salute.
In Buckingham something like the bustle for the day of arrival was visible. From an early hour the church bells tolled merrily. The flags and banners, which had been kept flying, and the arches and evergreen decorations which had not been removed,looked as fresh and gay as ever. Most of the inhabitants wore ribbons and favours, and the stand erected for spectators was again partially crowded.
Shorty after ten o’clock the royal cortege left Stowe, both her Majesty and the Prince having expressed their delight at the reception they had met with, and their appreciation of the efforts made for their entertainment by their noble host. Bothe The Duke of Buckingham and the Marquess of Chandos rode alongside the royal carriage.
The party passed through the double lines of the yeomanry, the artillery meanwhile saluting, and the band playing the National Anthem.
At Buckingham they were met by townspeople in procession, formed into a somewhat similar order as on the day of arrival.
The usual demonstrations of loyalty and affection were vociferously bestowed on all hands.
After leaving Buckingham, the party proceeded rapidly towards Wolverton.
The escort duty was arranged as before.
At the different arches along the road, groups of the peasantry living in the neighbourhood had assembled, and vociferously cheered the Queen and Prince as they passed by.
At Page-hill the Duke of Buckingham stopped and took leave of his royal guests, returning to Stowe. The Marquess of Chandos accompanied them to Wolverton.
At Stony Stratford, the royal party was met by Lord Carrington, the lord-lieutenant of the county, on horseback. The cavalcade proceeded slowly through the little town, the denizens of which greeted it right loyally. As at Buckingham the evergreens, flags, and ivy still decorated the streets.
The distance from Stony Stratford to Wolverton was soon accomplished, and the cortege drove to the station at a rapid rate.
Inside the station, the staff of the Royal Bucks Militia, and a dismounted party of the yeomanry, under Major Lucas, were drawn up. A number of respectable people had also been admitted to view the arrival and departure of royalty. The usual preparations had been duly made. Crimson cloth was laid over the platform, and the apartment destined for the reception of her Majesty arranged as on the journey down.
Mr Glynn, the chairman of the company, Mr. Creed, the secretary, and several of the principal officials of the railway were in attendance.
The royal party arrived shortly before twelve o’clock.
Her Majesty and the Prince retired for a short time to the apartment provided for them, and then, the special train being reported in readiness, proceeded to the royal carriage. On the platform they took leave of the Marquess of Chandos and Lord Carrington. Prince Albert conversed for some time with the former nobleman, who stood close to the door of the royal carriage.
At twelve o’clock the train was set in motion. Mr. Berry drove the engine. The distance from Wolverton to Euston square, fifty-to miles, was performed in an hour and twenty-five minutes.
On the arrival of the train Mr. Boothby, one of the principal directors was in attendance to receive it, and many ladies were assembled on the platform to greet her Majesty on her return.

The whole of the coachmakers and other mechanics working at the terminus, as well as the servants of the company, were also assembled, amounting in all to between three and four hundred, drawn up on the platform. The assemblage cheered lustily as the train stopped, and her Majesty and the Prince stepped across the platform into the apartment provided for them.

Cheap Beer

This rather wry announcement was printed in the Leighton Buzzard Observer, Tuesday 19th October 1869.

CHEAP BEER Mr. E. Garnett of No. 1, Stratford Road, Wolverton, having recently obtained a licence to sell beer of the premises. the Stratford town-crier paid Wolverton a visit on the morning of Saturday week, announcing that all persons who purchased ale from Mr. Garnett on that day, would receive a pint and a half as a pint, and those who ordered a quart would receive three pints, and so on in proportion. in consequence of this somewhat startling announcement a very great number of persons availed themselves of this very liberal offer.

Garnett was an auctioneer who had moved to this address some five years before. The house still stand, and its annex, which was later known as the Drum and Monkey. Since 1900, the address has been 44 Stratford Road, when a new numbering system, moved Number 1 to the east end - The Royal Engineer in this case.

Clearly Garnett was only too aware of the effectiveness of giveaway offers. He was not wrong. The Drum and Monkey lasted for 100 years.

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.