Sunday, October 8, 2017

A History of Cricket at Wolverton

I discovered this book in Mrs, B's Emporium on Church Street. It is a comprehensive account of the history of the game in Wolverton, written by Colin Kightley, who started playing for the club in 1975.

There were probably games in the 1840s, but the recorded history of our local cricket began in 1859, when Edward Henry Crpydon founded his newspaper, Croydon's Weekly Standard, better known to us in the 20th century as the Bucks Standard. These early games were played in pasture fields or meadows and not all of the locations are known. Two that were almost certainly used in the 19th century, were the field on the south side of the canal, between the Galleon bridge and the footbridge to the east, and the field south of Green Lane at the Moon Street end. Mr Kightley suggest that the club may have played on the ground where the Drill Hall was later built for at least one season.

The development of Green Lane and Victoria Street in the 1890s pushed the cricket field further south to, I suppose, the land later occupied by the school. However, plans were afoot to secure a permanent ground for the Cricket Club and they played their last season at the so-called "Big Field" in 1899. After one season playing all their games away, the club first occupied their new ground in May 1901.

Colin Kightley's research into the cricket club's history is detailed and impeccable. He has been able to rely on some club records, but for earlier results he has patiently trawled through newspaper records to compile statistics. Two thirds of the book is a descriptive history of the club and he has compiled a substantial appendix detailing the batting and bowling figures for every player from 1894 to 2011. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to find the batting and bowling stats for one H.S. Dunleavy, who between 1899 and 1913, amassed some quite respectable figures. It is known in the family that he was an active sportsman in his youth, but nobody bothered to keep any record. I am therefore grateful for a little bit of extra colour to my family past.

The book will be valuable for Wolverton cricket enthusiasts, but it should also be of interest to those who wish to flesh out some details of their family history.

There are many aspects to Wolverton's rich history, and I am pleased to note that Colin Kightley has made this important contribution. Recommended.

Friday, September 29, 2017

How York House got its name

York House Centre on the London Road is a thriving youth and community centre since 1963, when the building was taken over by the St Giles Youth Club. Two years later, in 1965, the organisation changed its name to the York House Youth Club. So where did the name come from?

York House Centre today

Well, it doesn't start here. The name comes from the house at 77 High Street, for many years now the Conservative Club. It was built by John York as a private house in 1840. He was the owner of the Tannery and for a time a partner in one of Stony Stratford's early banks.

77 High Street, the original York House
In 1892, Adeline Slade moved her school for girls to Stony Stratford and took out a lease on 77 High Street. She named her school, York House School, and it operated from these premises for a decade. In 1902, after some unsatisfactory experiences with her landlord, she moved to a large house on the London Road for a rental of £50 a year. Three years later she was able to buy the property at auction for £810.
York House as a Girls School

She wished to keep the name of the school, and notwithstanding the name of the house at 77 High Street, she named it York House, a name that survives today.

A History of Banking in Stony Stratford

At the beginning of the 19th century men with some resources were tempted into banking. They had a high income, usually from the rental of land and property, and in the new commercial and industrial climate of the 19th century, it made sense to lend stagnant money and earn even more.

Stony Stratford's first bank was founded as a partnership between William Oliver, a local landowner, and Richard Harrison, resident of Wolverton House, who had inherited a great deal from his father's ventures. The new bank was called Oliver, Harrison and Co. Unfortunately, the bank got into difficulties within a few years. It was easy to lend money, but not always easy to get it back when needed, and in 1821 the bank failed. Harrison and Oliver were able to meet their financial obligations and the bank closed without the stigma of bankruptcy.

A few years later, William Oliver's son, John, revived the idea of the bank and went into partnership with John York, who owned the tan yard on Mill Lane. The new bank was known as Olivers and York. John's father William was still alive, although close to the end of his life, and so the Olivers were plural. This new bank took the precaution of being underwritten by a London bank, Jones, Loyd and Company, so that if there was a temporary cash flow problem, they would be covered. The bank proved to be stable and they later opened a branch in Newport Pagnell.

The history of banking, as with almost every other type of business, is that some grow larger and swallow up their smaller competitors, and this is illustrated in Stony Stratford and Wolverton. By 1854, the Olivers and York Bank had been taken over by the Bucks and Oxon Union Bank. By the 1870s, this bank was drawing on a bigger entity, the London and Westminster Bank.
Early 20th century photo shows Lloyds Bank on the right. Cox and Robinson have since moved to the Square and the Victoria Cafe recently burned down.

This bank prospered to the end of Victoria's reign and then was taken over by Lloyd's Bank. At the same time, a second bank, the London and County Banking Company Limited, opened a sub branch on the Hight street, but only open on Tuesday and Friday.

Wolverton in the meantime had been without banking services. It was probably assumed that anyone who needed banking services, such as merchants, could make the trip to Stony Stratford. For ordinary people in Wolverton, (by far the largest majority) a savings bank and a building society, met their needs. But the takeover by Lloyds of the Stony Stratford Bank meant that they had the resources to open a sub branch in Wolverton, which they did on the Square c 1903. Lloyds later moved their branch to 24 Stratford Road.

The London and County Bank changed its name to the London Westminster Bank before the first World War and in the 1920s became known simply as the Westminster Bank at its premises at 80 High Street.

It was not until 1928 that Barclays established themselves in the district, opening a branch at 29 Stratford Road. Lloyds Bank at about the same time moved to permanent premises at 47 Stratford Road.
The shop with the green awning was the Wolverton branch of Barclays Bank.

This situation prevailed at the middle of the 20th century. There have been may changes since, but I won't go into these. After 1945 there were five dominant banks, known as 'the big five'. Wolverton and Stony Stratford had three of them: Lloyds in both Wolverton and Stony Stratford, Barclays in Wolverton, and Westminster in Stony Stratford. The other two, Midland and National, were not represented.
Two houses converted into a Lloyd's branch at Wolverton. The manager lived in the flat above.

Wolverton, as I said above, established a Building Society and a Savings society. Both were volunteer organisations for many years. The savings society was established by George Fitzsimmonds, the works accountant in the last quarter of the 19th century. Men would bring the money they wished to save to a room at the Science and Art Institute each Friday evening, where Fitzsimmonds and his fellow volunteers would carefully record each deposit. This money was then taken to lloyds Bank in Stony Stratford on the next banking day and deposited. Fitzsimmonds remained a bachelor all his life but he put a great deal of energy into community work. He served on many parish committees and was instrumental setting up the recreational Park which opened in 1884.

The Co-op, the Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society, also established a savings bank at the end of the 19th century. Post Office savings schemes were also available from an early date.

In the early 1950s Wolverton opened its first Trustee Savings Bank at 73 Church Street under the management of Geoff Taffs. The new venture was underwritten by the Northampton Trustee Savings Bank.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Saint or Sinner?

Some time ago I wrote about the Reverend William Thompson Sankey, Stony Stratford's great benefactor of the 19th century. The vicarage, New Street, and St Paul's School (later Fegan's Homes) re all part of his legacy. The earlier post can be read here.

But all was not sweetness and light after all. I have just read the petition for divorce which Mrs Sankey made in 1871 and a very different picture emerges.

Just to recap, Sankey was born in 1829 and in 1858 married Jane Royds, a very wealthy widow. She was then about 40 and already had four children. She gave birth to another son by Sankey in 1859.

She was the source of all the money for his building program in Stony Stratford and now appears to have been a source of friction between them. No doubt she was willing to fund his projects in the first years of their marriage, but by 1867 she was drawing in the purse strings, and this drove Sankey to inexcusable behaviour.

If the divorce petition is to be believed (and it certainly bears the ring of truth) Sankey turned to violence. She claimed in the petition that he was a man of violent temper who had frequently abused her and her children, used threatening language and on one occasion in 1867 struck her in the face and left her with a black eye. This apparently was after he had asked for money and she had refused. There were other incidents: he snatched a chair that she was sitting on away from her and caused her to fall on the floor; he kicked a candlestick out of her hand in a fit of temper; he threatened her with a poker and when she said that she would write to his mother to complain, threatened to cut her throat. On one occasion he dragged her around the room by her arms and put his foot upon her face.

She was granted a separation but not a divorce in 1871. Sankey died only a few years later in 1875 so she was relieved of any further burden. He was only 46.

William Thompson Sankey is regarded as one of Stony Stratford's greatest benefactors and I suppose this still holds true, but there was a darker side to his character, which is now revealed. We may regard him partly as a product of his times - a Victorian male, who believed he had an absolute right to spend his wife's money - but this hardly excuses his violent behaviour towards her.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Local Newspapers

Printing started like in England as a highly regulated industry. The printing press was invented in Germany in the 15th century but it was not until 1476 that the government permitted printing in this country. Thereafter, fearful of seditious books and pamphlets, successive governments placed printing under very tight control. Even paper making was restricted, so that the skill was lost in England and it needed a man like Henri Portal, a Huguenot refugee from France to establish paper making in this country. His first mill in Hampshire expanded to become the huge De La Rue paper and printing industry, which is now famous for making bank notes.

So it was unsurprising when newspapers began to be printed in the 18th century that the first thought of government was to tax them. They imposed a stamp duty of 7d on every newspaper sold. Newspapers became a luxury item. After some lobbying the stamp duty was reduced to 4d in 1815 but it was still too high. More people were becoming literate in the 19th century but for most a newspaper was unaffordable. Some relief came in 1836 when a new act reduced the stamp duty to 1d. The newspaper industry was about to take off.

This was the signal to many entrepreneurs to acquire a printing press and satisfy people's hunger for news and information. This occurred too at the same time that railways were developing and it was possible for London newspapers to be distributed across the nation. The Sunday Dispatch was at least one of the newspapers that was devoured by readers in Wolverton's Reading Room. I have seen a letter written by George Weight, the first vicar of St George's, complaining that men were wasting their time reading "that vile newspaper, the Dispatch."

The real trigger for the development of local newspapers cam in 1855, when the 1d tax was completely abolished. Newspapers could now be printed and sold at a reasonable price. Sales grew exponentially.

The first local man to take advantage of this was Alfred Walford of Stony Stratford, who started The Cottage Advertiser in 1857. He was a printer and stationer at 73 High Street. It was later known as Stony Stratford and Wolverton Station Advertiser. The name subsequently changed to the  North Bucks Advertiser in 1868, and so it continued. In 1902 or thereabouts, George Eadley acquired the business and the North Bucks Advertiser continued until 1909, when it closed. I do not know if it was acquired by another newspaper.

Also quick to take advantage of the new tax free regime for newspapers was Henry Croydon, who had a similar printing and stationery business in Newport Pagnell, and he started a weekly newspaper known as Croydon's Weekly Standard. The first issue came out in 1859. After Croydon died in 1887 the business was acquired by James Line and the newspaper was re-named as the Bucks Standard. In 1967 it changed its name to the Bucks Standard and Milton Keynes Observer. In 1975 it was absorbed, like so many North Bucks papers into a larger Milton keynes entity.

The Wolverton Express was a latecomer. It published the first of its weekly newspapers in 1901. Curiously (because nothing is known of these newspapers) it claimed to incorporate the Stantonbury Herald, the Stony Stratford Standard, the Bletchley Journal and the Towcester Times. In 1903, the Name was changed to the Wolverton Express and Bucks Weekly News, which title it held until 1951. Then it was simply the Wolverton Express until it became the Milton Keynes Express in 1967.

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

Emerton's, home of the Wolverton express.

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

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

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

The first 60 years of the 20th century were all prime years for the Wolverton Express. Almost everyone in the district had the paper delivered very Friday and it acquired the nickname, for reasons that are probably unknown, "The Buster."

We can look back now upon an era of almost 100 years where small, locally owned and operated newspapers served their districts. There're still local newspapers but they are usually part of a newspaper publishing group and depend on a larger market area.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Woodville Chronicle

My recent book moves a few miles away from Wolverton, four miles in fact, to Grafton Regis, home to the Woodville family, who gained much prominence in the 15th century, when Elizabeth Woodville became queen of England in 1464. I in the landscape and with some of the stories and legends of the Woodvilles, told to me in some earnestness by my primary school teacher. The “Queen’s Oak” at Potterspury, reputed to be the meeting place of the widow Grey and Edward IV, was still a substantial tree when I was young. At that age I believed the legend without question.
I revisited the Woodville story a few years ago as a by-product of a developing interest in 15th century history and discovcered (not completely without surprise) that historical assessment was somewhat at odds with the innocent tales of my childhood. The family has not enjoyed what we might call “a good press.” Some criticism is fair and justified, but it appears to me that much is an unconsidered reflex founded on snobbery. To characterise them as “greedy and grasping”, for example, when they were doing no more or less than any other 15th century family in a similar position, is a judgement that is founded on prejudice.
This book is a product of my investigation into the family and is not simply an account of Queen Elizabeth’s sudden rise to power. I have tried to give a balanced account, although I am doubtless guilty of giving the family the beenfit of the doubt.
The years when the Woodvilles hit the headlines, so to speak, covered a relatively short period of 20 years, but the longer history of the family was quite an honourable one and part of this book is designed to flesh out the Woodville antecedents
The family reveal themselves to be highly intelligent, athletic and cultured; they showed leadership ability and were able to hold their own in the highest ranks of 15th century society. 
Some families rise and maintain their place, like the Cecils or the Spencers or the Russells, but the spectacular rise of the Woodvilles, coming as it did with the sensational marriage of Elizabeth Woodville to Edward IV possibly could not hold. Such power as they had was entirely due to the king and was immediately vulnerable after his untimely death in 1483, and so it proved. They may have been unlucky. Had the males survived into a Tudor generation they may have taken a firm place in the establishment and their origins may have become rather less than the central fact about the Woodvilles.
The grandchildren of Elizabeth Woodville included Henry VIII and his sister Margaret, whose descendants became the Stuart kings in the 17th century. Jane Grey, was also a great grandchild and she was encouraged to press her claim to the throne in 1553. She lasted nine days.
The 15th century was one of the more turbulent periods in English history and at its close there were some winners and many losers. the story of the Woodville family therefore reflects the story of the century. They began their rise in the first decade of the century and by the seventh decade they were a power in the land. And then Fortunes Wheel turned unluckily for them and by the end of the century the Woodville name had disappeared from history. Their influence lasted a little longer as their bloodlines continued in the royal family and in the aristocracy. 
The book is available in bookstores, from Amazon at
or from the publisher, direct:

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Evolution of The Square

The formal square in towns was a late 17th century development in England. Peviouslycentral area in towns and villages developed int 'squares' but there was nothing formal about their development. Towns like Stony Stratford, built on a thoroughfare, developed their market 'squares' slightly off the beaten track.

The square, as a conscious element in town planning, was characterised by terraced rows of houses on three or four sides. Squares became very fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in keeping with this trend, Wolverton was planned with its very own square in 1840. This was named after the chairman of the London and Birmingham Railway company, George Carr Glyn. The square was bounded by the railway line on the east side and terraced cottages on the other three sides. While nowhere near as grand as some fashionable London squares, it had its appeal, and rents for Glyn Square cottages were higher than the were for some of the other streets.

Gradually, the quality this square was eroded. Six cottages on the north side were pulled down to make way for works buildings and eventually the space of the square was occupied by the works laundry and eventually the Training School.
The southern terrace of Glyn Square.

Wolverton had not quite fallen out of love with the desirability of a square, so when one of the Marron Fields was purchased on 31 December 1866, the planned development included a square at the heart of it. This new field of 18 acres extended from the church yard in the east to the back lane of Oxford Street in the west. To the north lay Church Street and the southern border was the ancient Green Lane. This land was developed over two decades. Buckingham Street was built in the 1870s with Aylesbury Street. Radcliffe Street and Bedford Street were built in the late 1870s and Oxford Street in the 1880s.The development of the square was mixed.

At some stage someone must have planned this square as a place for a market. "Market Square" was used to described stand the street on the west side of the square was known in the 19th century as "Market Street." However, that never materialise. The old market continued in the Market House beside Glyn Square and when that burned down in 1906, the market was transferred to the recently vacated school on Church Street. The closest the market ever for to the Square was in recent times after the building of the Agora. Any building on the actual Square, was in any case forbidden after the cenotaph was erected in 1921.
The Cenotaph, opened in 1921. This monument hs since been replaced.

The development of the Square was piecemeal, but was entirely private development. Some of the houses in the middle of the west side were built in the late 1870s. The corner lot on Buckingham Street was reserved for a large private house and in 1882, the re-formed Co-op., known since 1874 as the Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society, purchased the lot on the Aylesbury Street corner for £100, and set about building a large shop, bakery and warehouse. In the first part of the 20th century this became the heart of the Wolverton Co-op empire.

Early 20th C photographs of the Co-op on the Square

On the eastern side, a private developer built Morland Terrace in 1884. This was obviously planned as an above average terrace for some of Wolverton's middle class. The houses were spacious and the occupants had an unobstructed view of the Square. A draper occupied the house on the south east cornere; otherwise these houses all started out as residences. It was only in the 20th century that some of them were converted to shops.

These two views of Morland Terrace illustrate the relatively limited shop development in the early days.

The southern frontage to the Square was purchased by the Congregational Church. Their movement started off by meeting in a back room at the North Western Hotel in the 1860s, but they soon had sufficient money to build their own church, which opened in 1878. For almost a century this large church dominated the Square but in 1970 it was demolished. The replacement building, which is still standing, initially accommodated a supermarket on the ground floor and provided church rooms on the upper floor.
The Congregational Church, before demolition.

Supermarkets have been a development of my lifetime. In the 1940s and 50s packaging was a rare phenomenon, limited to cereal boxes, tins of Ovaltine and little else. Coventionally, if you wanted a pound of sugar, the grocer weighed it out for you poured it into a container made out a of a folded sheet of stiff blue paper 9known of course as 'sugar paper'). A quarter of a pound of biscuits would be picked with tongs from a Huntley and Palmer's biscuit tin  and weighed for you in a white paper bag. The idea of customers serving themselves was unknown.

Dudeney and Johnston, a Bedford grocer who developed queue a chain of shops in the region, took over the drapery on the south west corner of the Square, and were the first to develop anything like a sled service grocery. The Co-op followed suit and introduced wire baskets and 'supermarket' shopping by 1960. Each of these shops would be no larger than a convenience store today, but the were the start of this revolution. Budgens followed in 1970 on the site of the former church. Today, in town supermarkets without parking are no longer viable.
The Co-op Corner in the 1960s

As I mentioned earlier, shops around the Square began to develop in the first decade of the 20th century.On the Buckingham Street corners, at numbers 36 and 38 respectively. Albert Leeson had a grocery. The last occupant of 38 in this capacity was Fred and Grrace Old, who retired in the mid 1950s to devote themselves to Salvation Army work. they moved to a house in Cambridge Street and the shop became a gas showroom for the newly nationalised East Midlands Gas Board. At Number 36 John Nichols ran a boot repair business and ran a shop listed as "Domestic Stores", which seems to sell various non-perishable items such as furniture polish and brass cleaner.

Travelling up Morland Terrace, from north to south, the corner shop, as I have already described, was a drapery and became a grocery after WWII. Whatever happened to Dudeney and Johnston, I don't know. They were a significant cain in Bedfordshire, northamptonshire and Buckanand Heerts for many years. I suppose they were brought out by bigger fish.

Number 3 was residential for a number of years but Number 5 was first opened by Olive Sanders, who was a confectioner.In the early 1950, the Davies's took over the shop. They were then a young couple and held the shop for many years. It i still open today with a similar profile.

Number 7 was residential and Number 9 first opened as a butcher. In the  1960s, at the beginning of the DIY craze, it became paint and wallpaper shop. I can't immediately recall the name.

Numbers 13 and 15 were established as a jeweller and a tobacconist. At the opening of WWII number 13 was established as an optician and after the war functioned as such under the proprietorship of F Blagrove. Doug Roberts took over number 15 in the mid 1950s as a chemist and optician. He also, like his mentor Ewart Dale, sold a range of Kodak cameras.

Number 17 became a butcher's shop after the war. Initially under the name of Dewhurst, it became part of the Baxter's empire in the 1950s. The cheery fred Griffiths moved down from Leamington to manage the shop.

The house on the corner remained residential for a long time but in the late 1930 the Co-op took them over. They ran a fruit and flower shop at 21, and I think I am correct in saying, a fishmongers at number 19.

This large house on the corner of Aylesbury street and Morlnd Terrace was very much  a fine residence for many years.
Commercial development of the west side was mainly the Co-op. In time they held the southern half of the terrace, with shops, offices and a savings bank. The shop at number 9 (Buildings were originally numbered 1-11, starting at the south end. Today they have been renumbered.) was a butchers shop for many year. In the 1950s it was occupied by Woodwards. He was an enterprising man who also made his own ice cream. He sold the business c 1960 or earlier and a few years later was taken over by Terry Beckwith. He was a single man in his late 30s living with his elderly parents.  After some years he moved and the shop was taken over by a hard working couple who retained that name.

The very large house on the corner was owned by Fred Tilley. He had a coal business, the Empire Cinema, various properties and other enterprises. He was therefore quite well off. The downstairs part was converted into two shops at some stage. Number 10 was occupied by a printer, Frederick Clarke in 1915 and number 11 by the "India and China Team Company", Grocers. Frederick Clarke later moved his press to 51 Church Street and the business continued into a second generation. 51 Church Street was demolished to make way for the Agora. In the mid century there was a ladies hairdresser on the corner and a shoe repair man in another shop.

In the last quarter of a century the Square has become almost exclusively commercial.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Milton Keynes and Me

Richard Macer is a recognised documentary film maker. Although not a household name, he has a number of successful credits behind him, created over a twenty year period. He was also raised in the new development of Milton Keynes at the very time that bulldozers were scraping the land and new developments were sprouting, apparently randomly, across the North Bucks landscape. Both he and Milton Keynes reached the age of 50 this year and he would seem well-qualified to make the film Milton Keynes and Me, which premiered on BBC4 on August 17th.

I am sure that there are those who will admire the film, but as one who spent 25 years of his life growing up in the area before Milton Keynes, I found it unsatisfactory. During the film we learned that Mr Macer's parents, both Londoners, decided to settle in a new house near Great Linford and raise their family there, while Mr Macer senior commuted every workday to London. He seems to have had a conventional and happy childhood and he received his secondary schooling at Stantonbury Campus, at the time the outcome of a belief that bigger could only be better.

Curiously though, the 'me' part of the film was a very small part of the essay. There were interviews with his parents, his sister, and a boyhood friend, but this was such a small part of the documentary that the personal part was, in my view, almost irrelevant. The bulk of the footage wanted to explore the experience of newcomers. There was, however, little enlightenment on this aspect.

He started by tediously recycling the old jokes about concrete cows and roundabouts. Is this the only way to introduce Milton Keynes. Aren't are we not all past that? Much attention was paid to the terraced and block housing developments of the 1970s and to the new city centre on Bradwell Common, which was to accommodate a major shopping centre and many other central amenities. One or two settlers from the 1970s  (other than his parents) were asked for their opinion. We saw old footage of a Fred Roche interview and two of the pioneering architects offered their views. It was a mishmash and I was left with these questions? Was the film a personal memoir about growing up in the new Milton Keynes? If so, it failed to deliver. Was the film designed to reflect on the maturity of a town that started 50 years before with only the planner's pencil? If so, it was only partly successful.

My principal gripe was that the film paid no heed to the North Bucks that predated the arrival of the first bulldozer. There were settled communities in the area. Some towns like Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford and Fenny Stratford had long histories. Wolverton was a Victorian new town and the post WWII sprawl of Bletchley was a major development in its own right. All of the villages within the designated area had ancient histories of their own. Yet those watching this documentary without this prior knowledge could be forgiven for assuming that there was nothing in the area prior to 1967.  It could have been built on Dartmoor!  There was already a significant population and infrastructure in the area before Milton Keynes and the truth is that it may have been 20 years before the number of incomers matched the pre-existing population. Did they not recognise one another? Was there no interaction between the two groups? History and common sense should tell us otherwise. Young men joined the established football and rugby clubs, some women sought out the Women's Institute. Choral societies, history societies, horticultural societies attracted new members and those with an interest in politics joined their local parties. Not everything was invented in 1967.

What was also missing was any acknowledgement that anything happened outside of Central Milton Keynes. Apart from a visit to his parents' home in the Great Linford area, there was no recognition that a great deal of MK development was not merely block housing complexes but many tracts of individual houses in a variety of architectural styles, spread across the landscape. There are small local shopping and service centres in many districts, as well as recreational facilities and other amenities. One of the great provisions in Milton Keynes (in my view) was the 'redways', cycle and walkways that link all parts of the city free of road traffic. That surely was an idea that was ahead of its time! I would also observe that many incomers moved into settled past of North Bucks, like Wolverton, Bletchley, Sony Stratford and Newport Pagnell. This was another feature that was absent from the documentary.

As  I said earlier, Richard Macer needed to have a clearer idea of the story he wanted to tell. Had he stuck to his personal story, I think the film would have been more interesting. The other thread to his documentary - how have people settled into the new town after 50 years - was largely unexplored. Milton Keynes is by no means a homogenous city and with time will become less so. There are already great differences between, for example, Stony Stratford, Fishermead and Wavendon, and I expect that in another 50 years, these differences will be even more pronounced. Any telling of the story of a mature Milton Keynes should consider some of these aspects, I would have thought.

My own view is that the new city has been a great success.There are always those who will find fault and there were some mistakes made by the planners, but on balance, I believe that most of the inhabitants are very content. Communications are good and amenities are excellent. The air is relatively clean. Jobs are in good supply. An interesting but little known fact is that 50 years ago the government were considering the area between Portsmouth and Southampton (where I now live) as a potential site for their new city. In the end they chose North Bucks. What I can report 50 years later is that the projected "Solent City" has actually arrived, but instead of a planned new town with proper infrastructure and amenities, we have ribbon development planted by various local authorities, poorly planned roads, bottlenecks which are a daily source of frustration, rotten parking provision and planning departments who make it up as they go along. Milton Keynes residents should be thankful that 50 years ago there were men and women of vision who were able to bring their talents to create a remarkable new town.

Monday, July 17, 2017


The Signal Box, which most of us remember at Wolverton and up and down the line, was quite a late invention in the history of the railway. Early signalling depended on railway policemen, who patrolled a 2 1/2 mile section of the line, and signalled by flags whether it was safe for a train to proceed.

Occasionally there were accidents.

One such occurred at Wolverton on the evening of June 4th 1847. A mail train, bound for Liverpool, pulling 19 coaches, collided with some stationary coal wagons. The fault seemed to lie entirely with the signalman. The policeman, named Fossey, was stationed at the Blue Bridge, where presumably he was visible to the engine driver as he waved his flag and displayed the light which said the line was clear. On this occasion Fossey hoisted the flag and then wondered if he forgotten to move the points. He seems to have panicked, and ran 50 yards to hurriedly switch the points. Unfortunately he had it right the first time and when the train came through the driver found himself on a siding, heading for  stationary coal train. All efforts were made by the driver to shift into reverse and by the guard to apply brake, but they could not avoid disaster. A collision was inevitable.

The engine and tender, and the footplate men, were more-or-less fine, but the fourth and fifth carriages came off the rails, crashed into each other and splintered. Seven passengers lost their lives.

The Coroner's inquest was almost immediate. He travelled to Wolverton on Monday and opened proceedings at 12 o'clock. There was an impressive series of witnesses, eye witnesses and many senior officials of the l&NWR - Captain Huish, the General Manager, Mr Bruyeres, the superintendent of the London to Birmingham line, Mr McConnell, Superintendent of the Wolverton Works, a representative of the Board of Trade, and various legal counsels, including an unnamed 'legal gentleman' to act for the signalman, Fossey.

The hearing lasted 9 hours, during which time the essentials of the accident nd its aftermath were disclosed. Frederick Parker, assistant locomotive superintendent at Wolverton, took a lead role in trying torescue the accident victims, and he commandeered jacks and machinery and men from the works to try to unravel the wreckage.

Fossey, it turned out, had some form. He was relatively new to the job, but it was felt, after tuition, that he could handle the job. However, he had diverted an excursion train into the same siding on an earlier occasion. For this he was reprimanded and fined one shilling. John Bedford, superintendent of the police, was of the opinion that he had learned from his mistake and no further action was required.

The passengers who were killed in this accident were all men, and all from the middle class, which tells us something about travellers at that period. Ordinary working people did not have the time or money to travel, except at weekends, and fares at this time were still beyond the reach of most.
Mr John Simpson Sherrat was formerly secretary of the Lichfield and Birmingham Railway Company, Mr T Makinson was described as a graduate of MKagdalen Hall, Oxford, Mr J Clifton was a silk mercer, Mr J B Rattray was from the firm of Keay and Rattray, iron founders of Dundee, Me Miller was secretary of the Ragged School in London, Mr Cope was a 20 year old young man on his way to Wolverhampton and Mr Henry Smith, another young man on his way to Birmingham

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Gunpowder Plot in Stony Stratford

George Atkins was something of a retail entrepreneur. He established (and later sold) a drapery business in New Bradwell, leased the Radcliffe Arms at Wolverton in 1861, and had a grocery on the High Street in Stony Stratford in middle of the 19th century. Like most grocers of that period he employed a staff of about 8 or 9 people and prospered in business.

On the evening of November 25th 1859 one of his staff noticed a cord trailing from under the door of a locked room. On closer inspection, the rope was found to have been drenched in salt petre, and once the door was unlocked they discovered a trail of gunpowder and a keg of about 100lbs connected to this trail.

The intention must have been to blow up Mr Atkins' premises, possibly that night. There was certainly enough gunpowder to cause destruction and possibly loss of life. However, although Mr Atkins had his suspicions about the culprit, he had no proof, and if anyone knew anything, they were not telling. As a result, the authorities were informed but no one was ever brought to court. Mr. Atkins probably sacked the disaffected employee and that was the end of the matter.

There are no further details. We don't know what kind of employer Atkins was. As a Victorian, he would probably demand hard work for little reward, but, then as now, some employers were able to create better relations with their staff. Atkins himself was in court a few years later for using illegal weights. By this time Imperial measures were standard. Weights were stamped as proof of their legality and inspectors, from time to time, checked against abuse. if george Atkins used a 15 ounce weight for 1lb, for example, this would make a healthy difference in his profits over time.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Early development of Wolverton

I am just revisiting some documents I have written about before, but the ones shown here can precisely date the early development of the town.

The first purchase mad in 1837 was a 27 acre strip to accommodate the new railway line. In the same year, after deciding to build a maintenance depot at Wolverton, they approached the Radcliffe Trust with a request for a further 8 acres.Within this square (as seen on the map below) they built the workshop and surrounded three sides with housing. The workshop and some of the housing was complete by late 1839 but it was already apparent that this community was going to grow rapidly, so a further 13 1/2 acres were purchased in 1840. (The markings 'B' and 'C' are not. strictly the right place. 'B' should be above the Stratford Road and 'C' to the south of that line.)

The map shows the placement of the second station and the two Radcliffe Arms. I have told this story elsewhere, (and also here) but briefly, the first Radcliffe Arms was opened in 1839 opposite the first station. After the railway company built the second station, the Radcliffe Arms was stranded in the "middle of nowhere". The immediate solution was to build the Royal Engineer in 1841, but around 1847 a new Radcliffe Arms was built by the side of the road, just to the east of the canal. The old building was converted into housing units.

It is also interesting to note that the Haversham road at that time ran alongside the embankment and that the Stratford Road ran down a gentler slope, straight to Stonebridge House Farm. The loop line and the new embankment of 1880 changed all that.

In 1858 the Radcliffe Trust finally allowed the town to expand. The two plots make 1, 1 and coloured in light red, were for additional works expansion (north of Stratford Road) and the new Church Street and Stratford Road, built in 1860.

In 1864, more land was purchased to the west, a field of almost 20 acres, marked 3 and coloured green. The additional strip beside the Stratford Road was purchased two years later. The delay may have been due to the pre-existing farm buildings which were still in use. At the same time another 18 acre field was purchased for housing development. This extended Wolverton south to Green Lane and was built upon over the next 15 years to accommodate Buckingham Street, Aylesbury Street, Radcliffe Street, Bedford Street and finally Oxford Street

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Story of the Wolverton Co-op

The first Coop store started in 1844 with the opening of a grocery store in Rochdale. Workers had banded together to form the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society to sell pure food at fair prices, using honest wights and measures. In the age we now live in, where food distribution is highly regulated, it may be difficult to conceive of a time when some unscrupulous grocers were always on the verge of poisoning their customers.
to look back nostalgically and assume, for example, that the bread which formed the staff of life was home-baked, or, if bought, was wholesome and nutritional, is romantic nonsense. By the 1840s home baked bread had died out among the rural poor; in the small tenements of the urban masses, unequipped as these were with ovens, it never existed. In 1872 Dr. Hassall, the pioneer investigator into food adulteration and the principal reformer in this vital area of health, demonstrated that half of the bread he examined had considerable quanities of alum. Alum, while not itself poisonous, by inhibiting the digestion could lower the nutritional value of other foods.

The list of poisonous additives reads like the stock list of some mad and malevolent chemist: strychnine, cocculus inculus (both are hallucinogens) and copperas in rum and beer; sulphate of copper in pickles, bottled fruit, wine, and preserves; lead chromate in mustard and snuff; sulphate of iron in tea and beer; ferric ferrocynanide, lime sulphate, and turmeric in chinese tea; copper carbonate, lead sulphate, bisulphate of mercury, and Venetian lead in sugar confectionery and chocolate; lead in wine and cider; all were extensively used and were accumulative in effect, resulting, over a long period, in chronic gastritis, and, indeed, often fatal food poisoning. Red lead gave Gloucester cheese its 'healthy' red hue, flour and arrowroot a rich thickness to cream, and tea leaves were 'dried, dyed, and recycled again.'⁠1
That was the darker side of food retailing. Grocers in provincial towns were also chemists and therefore the people one turned to for some remedy or other. John Lepper, a grocer on Bury Street in the 1840s was also a member of the Pharmaceutical Association, so it is to presumed that he knew a thing or two about chemicals. This is not to suggest that Mr Lepper was in any way corrupt, or that he adulterated the food he sold to his customers, - indeed, it was unlikely that anyone could get away with such practices in a small community - but it does show that the opportunity was there for unscrupulous retailers.
Quite apart from this, the idea of a Co-op would have been very appealing to Wolverton’s new residents, who, as we have seen in so many other areas, were very capable of organising themselves, and so, very quickly after the news of Rochdale’s experiment, Wolverton had its first Co-op. 
The north end shops on Bury Street

As far as I can piece together the story from Trade Directories the Co-op story began a decade after the establishment of Wolverton. There is a suggestion that the bakery on Bury Street, operated by George Kightley, from a Stony Stratford family of bakers, was a Co-op bakery, but this is only a brief mention in some railway committee minutes and I cannot be sure of this fact. The Kightley bakery ran from the day these shops were erected in 1839 until about 1856 when they were pulled down to make way for workshop expansion. George Kightley thereafter moved to Newport Pagnell where he ran a bakery in Silver Street. However, after 1847, when the first Co-op opened on Creed Street, it is possible that George Kightley was persuaded to turn his bakery into a Co-op. At this very time he had competition from John Walker, who hd opened his new bakery on Creed Street and Kightley may have felt that his future business lay with the Co-op.

For some obscure reason this was the last building in the Little Streets to be pulled down. It was originally  opened as a butcher's shop and served as a Co-op butcher in the early 1900s.

The Creed Street shops were among the last buildings to be erected along the Little Streets. On the rise of land facing the church. There were only five units. John Walker’s new bakery was built on the Church Street corner and next door was a butcher’s shop which became a fish and chip shop in its last days. Next to that was a cottage occupied by the church sexton and the last two units, before what was later known as the ’triangle’, was occupied by the new Co-op. This experimental enterprise was staffed by Richard West, a very young man who had probably just completed his apprenticeship. His younger sister Charlotte, and a 16 year old apprentice made up the staff.

This view from Ledsam Street shows the back of the Creed Street house that was the original Co-op in Wolverton.

Other than references in the census and trade directories there is very little information about this early Co-op. James Harrison, aged 43 in 1861, was styled as the “Manager of the Cooperative Society Stores” in 1861, when the shop was still in Creed Street, but in 1863 the society re-formed itself as the “Wolverton and Stantonbury Industrial and Provident Society.” This may have coincided with the opening of a branch in New Bradwell, and it may also be that at this date the society gave up renting the Creed Street buildings in favour of better premises along Church Street, probably at Number 15. This house was in the middle of the southern block of Church Street, between the Institute and Radcliffe Street, that has since been demolished. James Harrison was still running the grocery in 1871, although by that time he had four assistants working for him, which perhaps confirms the notion that the business had expanded.
The house had three storeys, which offered enough space for James Harrison and his family and for the display and storage of goods. They adopted the conventional grocer’s practice of buying in bulk and selling at a mark-up to the consumer. The difference in the Co-op model was that they could depend on volunteer labour to keep costs down. Each evening, dedicated volunteers would spend an hour after work sorting out the new supplies as they came in. The society was also able to expand its range. Boots and shoes and drapery were now offered at the premises.
In 1882 the society was confident enough in its future to purchase the south west corner of the new Market Square for £100. The building on that corner was to become the nerve centre of the Wolverton Co-op for the next 60 or 70 years. The new shop on the corner sold groceries in one half and on the other side had a drapery. The drapery was a staple business in any town in that age before ready-made clothes, tablecloths and curtains could be purchased. Behind the shop, the Co-op had its own bakery.

This shows the Market Square building earl in the 20th century. By this time the Co-op had acquired the adjoining houses.

The Bakery

The shop on the corner of Aylesbury Street and Bedford Street, used to sell bread and cakes.
In 1892 the organisation was large enough to employ its own full time secretary. This was Fred Vickers, who held the position until his retirement 20 years later.
As it entered the 20th century the organisation became very strong and expanded its interests to many retail and service areas. The bakery was expanded and a dairy established on the same premises. A retail bakery shop opened up o the corner of Bedford Street and Aylesbury Street. The houses next door to the Market Square Co-op were acquired for expansion. They took over the butcher’s shop on Creed Street for a period and in 1912, opened up a West End branch on the corner of Jersey Road and Church Street. In 1925 the society built a new, purpose-built store at 60-64 Church Street for furniture sales. In the same year they took over the Stony Stratford Co-op. By 1928 the Co-op occupied the following premises.
1-5 Market Square
15-19 Church Street
60-64 Church Street
159 & 161 Church Street
106 Jersey Road
30 and 47 Aylesbury Street
West end grocery store, opened in 1912
The three storey building in the middle of the photo on the right (with a shop front addition) is probably where the Co-op moved to in 1863.
This is the configuration that most people would recognise up to 30 years later when the Co-op was at its peak. Groceries, green groceries, fish, flowers, baking products and savings services could be found on the square. At various premises along Church Street there was a butcher, men’s outfitter, furniture store, drapery and a second grocery. There was a second Butcher’s shop on Jersey Road and funeral services. You could, if you were so minded,  buy everything you ever needed in life from the Co-op - bread, milk, meat, groceries, fish, green groceries, drapery, men's clothing, shoes, furniture, toys, and even in death the Co-op could accommodate you and arrange your funeral.

This large house on the corner of Aylesbury Street and Moreland Terrace (Radcliffe Street)  was converted into Co-op shops.
Co-op "department" store, opened c 1925,
The large store on Church Street was eventually taken over by Maisies, a clothing shop which started off at a Church Street shop closer to the Post Office. It is still. as you can see, in the hands of this company. The building is still functioning well after 90 years. There was a major fire in the building in 1953, but the structure was unimpaired.

After the second world war the co-op became the only supplier of dairy products. The Pasteurisation Act of 1951 made milk production too expensive for small dairies to compete and two other dairies, both on Windsor Street, closed down to leave the Co-op with a monopoly. Milk was bottled at the back of the Market Square premises and delivered by a horse drawn dray. This was another job that required an early start and each morning Mr & Mrs Odell (I think that was their name) would don their brown smocks, harness the horse known as "Dobbin”(at least, that is what I was told as a child), load the dray with crates of milk bottles and work their way quietly around the town, the only sound being the clink of milk bottles

Milk was paid for by the purchase of tokens from the Co-op on the Square. These were aluminium disks about the size of a penny, smaller for a half pint and coloured red for special items like cream. Tokens for whatever you required could then be left on the doorstep overnight. The milk carton had yet to be invented, so all milk came in bottles sealed with cardboard caps with a pull tag - they fitted into the slightly-recessed bottle top. Later on in the 50s the aluminium seal began to appear.
In those days cream was not entirely separated from the milk and each pint bottle would have an inch or so of cream rising to the top. On the occasional frosty winter morning the milk would freeze and the expansion would pop the cardboard cap and poke up a finger of frozen milk.

There were not may areas of life that the Co-op did not touch, but there was certainly one in the post-war period- that of music. Fred Anstey had a small shop in Church street, about two doors from Easy the butcher on the corner of Radcliffe Street. From this tiny shop, two steps up from the pavement, essentially the front room of the house, he sold records and sheet music and a few record players. Sheet music was very popular in those years when most households had a piano in their front room. In that era before television and the development of the gramophone, musical entertainment came from your own hands, or from another member of the family, or a friend or neighbour. 
Mass production of records started to change this. First, bakelite disks that whirled around at 78rpm and at best produced o more than five minutes on one side, and then in the 1950s, the tiny revolution and the invention of the diamond or sapphire stylus. Single hit records came out as 7 inch 45rpm discs and long playing records came out in 10 inch and 12 inch versions. Beethoven’s 5th symphony, for example, could now be purchased as a single disk rather than a set of four played on an old 78rpm player.
Oddly, it took some time for the popular music market to catch u with this technology. Pop tunes were routinely released as 45rpm singles, usually with an “A” side (the song that you wanted to buy) and a “B” side with some rubbish song to fill up the space. Later these singles were compiled as an album on an LP, but it was not until 1967, with the issue of the Beatles Sergeant Pepper that the idea of an integrated album came into being.

This revolution was a little ahead of Fred Anstey who struggled a bit to keep up with the faster moving fashions. Many of us in the 1950s went to Northampton where there was a big shop on Gold Street (I can’t immediately recall the name) which had sound booths upstairs where you could listen to a single prior to purchase. Anyway, Fred Anstey retired in the early 1960s and the Co-op took over his shop. By this time were clearing their pianos out of their front rooms and no longer buying sheet music.

In 1967, upon the announcement of Milton Keynes, the Wolverton and Bletchley Cooperative Societies merged to create the Milton Keynes Cooperative Society. This was another step towards the creation of larger and perhaps less personal businesses. The story of the Wolverton, and indeed the New Bradwell and Stony Stratford Co-ops, was that of a locally created, largely volunteer organisation, dedicated to the common good of their friends and neighbours. In this sense the story of the Wolverton Co-op belongs to an age when women shopped daily with wicker baskets on their arm.

The corner shop c. 1967.

1 Wohl, Anthony S. Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tram

I have just realised that I have never written anything about the tram that once shuttled its way from Wolverton station to Stony Stratford.

By 1880 the carriage works had a large workforce. Wolverton continued to expand, as did the Wolverton end of Stony Stratford. While New Bradwell workers had a walk of only 1 mile to work, the extra mile to Stony Stratford made a difference. Demad for an easier way to get to and from work was high.

The first proposal was to build a branch railway line from Wolverton Station to Stony Stratford in 1869.  This actually got as far as a bill through Parliament but it was never built. Its route can be seen in the map below. The branch turned off just south of Green Lane and arrived at the London Road to the south of Stony Stratford. At this time this part of Stony Stratford was completely undeveloped apart from the Hayes Works.

The less expensive option was to lay tram rails on the road from Wolverton to Stony Stratford and, because steam-powered road vehicles had developed, this became an option.
The first proposal came forward in 1882 and, driven largely by Stony Stratford businessmen, a permit was awarded to Frederick Winby in 1883 to lay tramlines. The line would run from the north end of the High Street at Stony to Wolverton Station, a distance of slightly over two miles. This project did not get much further, probably due to lack of finance. However, in 1886 Charle Wilkinson came forward with a proposal to build the track for £13,325 and this time there were sufficient resources to see it through and the tramline was quickly in operation.

It started out successfully. Workers used it to get to and from work and Wolverton people were tempted to shop in Stony Stratford. Stony Stratford pubs were fuller than usual on saturday night because, in the days before national licensing laws, the Stony stratford pubs remained one an hour later than in Wolverton. The tram leaving after 11 pm on Saturday night was known as the "drunken car" because of the large number of rowdy drunks who clambered on board.

The corner building served as the office for the tram company when it opened in 1886

One of the trams, fully restored at MK Museum.

Success went to the company's head and the following year they got permission to extend the line to Deanshanger, a further two miles to the west. Construction began almost immediately and the extension opened in 1888. There was some merit in the idea. The E H Roberts ironworks had been growing since 1820 and there was by this time an actual village at Deanshanger. However, the extension proved to be a loss making effort and the company went bankrupt in 1889.
This photo shows the tram at Deanshanger, probably in 1888.

Sir Herbert Leon was a London financier and he had lately purchasedBletchley Park. He took an interest in the`Tram company and in 1891 he put together a consortium of businessmen based in Bedford and they purchased the dormant company. The Deanshanger section was never re-opened, but the Staraford -Wolverton line did make money and proved to be a good investment. The Deanshanger tracks were eventually pulled up and used as pavement edging in Stratford's market square.

The tracks were laid to a gauge of 3'6" which meant that the vehicles were very narrow, as can be seen in the accompanying pictures.

Some tram company worker c. 1902

The Wolverton-Stony Stratford tram flourished for close to 20 years but during WWI got into financial difficulties. The invention and availability of the bicycle meant that many workmen could use this cheaper option to travel at no great loss of time and by 1915 motorised bicycles were becoming common, The LNWR agreed to take over the company in 1919 on more-or-less the same loss-making terms that they had assumed when taking on the Newport branch line some years earlier. The tram ran regularly until the General Strike of 1926, when the LMS, (successor company to the LNWR) decided not to resume the service.

An early motorised bus, which replaced the tram.

After the business closed down, everything was doisposed of. Several old trams ended up in gardens or allotments like the one below.