Monday, July 17, 2017

Signalmen

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 speaking.in 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