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Help with wolverton works heritage centre

Wolverton Railway works heritage centre

In mid 2013 an idea was formed by 2 of my well know friends who have a lot to do with the works thought about setting up a visitor centre in the works when it was under railcare and it was going to be where tours of the works could be undertaken and have a room for research and it will be a place where we could collect photo’s and stories etc.
when Railcare went bust we were concerned that nothng would happen all thought of a visitor centre died until early 2014 when i said about having a heritage centre in the works as it came to to attention that there is nothing to celebrate and remember wolverton. The musuem has some works artefacts and a room dedicated to the works but there is not enough room in there for anything to big. When the news came that the works site was going to be redeveloped we said this can’t really happern as the history will be gone for good so a few emails to St Modwen ended up in a meeting in September 2014 where we put forward a business play for the centre. It was touch and go at the time to get them to agree to a heritage centre two days later i found out at a meeting that the heritage centre was in the outline plans for the site and i started on doing plans when i found out the lifting shop or part of it was going to be where it would be i used photo’s i had and really sdtarted to plan it. The rest of the wolverton works heritage project team started to find ways of founding and see what grunts are out there for us Talks have also been had with york museum to have some of the wolverton collection back home including carriages.
The centre is also going to be bridging a gap between the museum and living archive in a way that there will be a place to research family history in the works go through newspapers and photo’s any old artefacts from the building that are falling down will be used and when the buildings come down all signs and artefacts will be used aswell.At this time in early 2015 plans are still on going but due to St Modwen still not putting in the planing to council means things are slowing down. We are also looking for any one that has any photos of the works and artefcts from there if any one also knows of ways of getting funding to help fund the project

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Wolverton Works 1838 – 1993

Wolverton Works was born when the Royal Assent was given on 6 May 1833 for the London & Birmingham Railway Act.  Work began on the line in June 1834 and it opened in stages – Euston to Boxmoor in July 1837, Boxmoor to Tring in October 1837, Tring to Denbigh Hall on 9th April 1838.  The site for Wolverton Station and Central Depot was chosen by E. Bury because it was midway between the two termini – 60 miles from Birmingham Curzon Street and 52 ½ miles from London, Euston.  It was also alongside the Grand Junction Canal so that building materials could be easily transported to the site and it was also close to two mail coach roads.


Wolverton Works (at the time called Wolverton Station) opened on 17th September 1838 with a workforce that numbered 203 men.  E. Bury resigned in July 1846 of the formation of the L&N.W.R.  In February 1847 J E McConnell was appointed Loco Superintendent of the Southern Division of the L & N.W.R. with his HQ at Wolverton.  Under his superintendence, which lasted some 15 year, his Wolverton designed and built locos led the field in performance, design and reliability.

Bloomer 2

His best known and most successful type were the “Bloomers,” of which there were three classes, all with 2-2-2 wheel arrangements.  McConnell resigned on 1st April 1862.  Under his control the Works expanded to incorporate a large Smithy, Erecting and Boiler Shops, which covered some 13 acres – five acres being enclosed. The workforce in 1862 was 2,200 and 421 engines were in stock for the Southern Division, Wolverton, maintaining them.

In 1865, carriage work was introduced and the Works became “The L&NWR Carriage works, Wolverton” Carriage superintendent.  It was extended and re-arranged for the building of carriage stock.  From then onwards, it was periodically extended to meet increasing demands and further undertakings, including the construction of road vehicles (horse-drawn and motor) of all types including “buses, goods shed barrows and trucks, and station and office furniture.

Mr Bore retired in 1886 and the post of Superintendent was taken over by C.A. Park who brought Wolverton right to the fore with his first-class carriage designs, and Wolvertons’ high class workmanship. During his command (1886-1910) the Works reached its zenith, both in size and achievement.  He designed the power station which enabled driving and lighting throughout.  When train electric lighting was rapidly superseding gas, a special single battery system was developed in the Works (patented in 1912) and called the “Wolverton System”.  Construction and Repair Plants were laid down (during the BR era some 30 sets were manufactured per week).  It remained in use in its original form (except for modification to the regulator in the 1930’s) through the L&NWR period and was adopted by the LMSR and selected by BR as their train lighting system in 1948.


When railway amalgamation took place under the Railway Act of 1923, the old L&NWR Co. became the largest constituent of the new LMSR Co.  At the time the Works were again re-named, becoming “Wolverton LMSR Carriage and Wagon Works”.


Perhaps its most significant achievement between the wars, alongside the manufacture of the three ten-coach “Coronation Scot” trains, was that of the invention, design and manufacture of the Wolverton coupling.  This equipment was, in fact the precursor of the modern articulated lorry.  The complete unit of coupling was manufactured within the Works from design to smithing, machining, assembly and fitting to the vehicles.  The first was put on the road in late 1929.


The works in time of war from the Crimea to World War II served the country well, being involved with Royal travel from the beginning of mainline railways.  Firstly, it supplied motive powered and, since 1865, it has built, stabled maintained and supplied the crew for the Wolverton Royal Train in the beginning for the L&NWR, then the LMSR, and today BR – one hundred and fifty three years of continuous service.

Royal Train 1887

In 1948 the railways were nationalized, the Works becoming the “BR Carriage and wagon Works, Wolverton”.  It retained the role of a new-build unit and production was maintained at the same level in all departments as during its LMS days, with one exception – the increased manufacture of the Wolverton System of Train Lighting.  1962 brought a heavy blow to the Works in the form of Beeching.  Due to the Beeching Plan and after some 98 years of carriage-building, Wolverton Works built its last carriage and wagon – the former a sleeping car No. M2454 and the latter a covered goods.  The date was May 1963 and the Works was now relegated to carriage repair.

To adopt this change, re-organisation took place, including the workforce being halved to some 2,000 men.  This change in role, together with new techniques, allowed a reduction of about 30 percent in the size of the Works.  An area of 16 acres, of which 10.5 acres were under cover, were vacated and sold, these being the three Paint Shops, Cell Shop and Stores area.

In May 1986 the BR Board announced a complete re-organisation of BREL, dividing it into two distinct business groups – the New Build and Repair Group (NBRG) and the British Rail Maintenance Group (BRNG) which was subsequently re-named British Rail Maintenance Limited.  Wolverton was a member of the latter.  From April 1987, the Works was again vastly re-organised and became a Level 5 Depot.  The Works now (1992) covers some 37.37 acres of which nine are covered and it employs some 1,000 men.

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Bancroft Roman Villa

In 1967, fragments of Roman pottery were noticed in the banks of Loughton Brook.  This was the first clue to the existence of a Roman site at Bancroft.  Four years later, its position was pinpointed under an extensive scatter of Roman tile, pottery and other material on the ploughed surface of the adjacent field.  Extensive excavation  during the period 1973-1985 revealed the site to be a 4th century Roman villa with an earlier Roman house beneath it.

The first house built at Bancroft in about AD100 was a substantial structure, with limestone foundations supporting timber-framed walls.  The weight of its thatched roof was carried by ten large timber posts.  The interior was very basic with floors of beaten earth and mainly undecorated walls.  There were two rooms at the east end and a corridor on the north side, leading to a bath suite decorated with sea creatures.


The house remained in use until about AD170, when it was destroyed by fire.  Afterwards the remains were leveled and a new house was constructed at right angles to the original house, on the same site.  It was built entirely of stone, with a tiled roof, and faced onto a cobbled trackway leading to the farm buildings.  Inside there were three principal rooms, one with underfloor heating and a bath suite at the south end of the house.  Floors were of mortar painted red or black, and the walls were also brightly painted.  There may also have been an upper floor.

The people who lived at Bancroft and farmed the lands around it, were almost certainly native Britons who had adopted Roman customs and dress.  They may have been direct descendants of the Iron Age farmers who lived on the nearby hilltop.  It is possible that they sold the farm in the fourth century (AD340) to a wealthy new owner, perhaps a merchant.


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The Iron Trunk Aqueduct


The Grand Union Canal, or Grand Junction Canal as it was called until 1929, was built between 1793-1805 to provide a vital link between London and the Industrial Midlands.

The lowest point between the canals’ two summits at Tring and Braunston, was here, at the River Ouse in Wolverton.  William Jessop, the engineer for the Canal Company, decided to cross the valley on an embankment with an aqueduct across the river.  This avoided the need to build a large number of permanent locks which would have been time consuming, wasteful of water and still would have required a special bridge or ferry for the horses.

A temporary flight of wooden locks was built between Wolverton and Cosgrove, so that the new canal could be used during the construction of the aqueduct.  The side of these old locks can still be found in the copse to the west of the canal and south of the river.  The present Cosgrove Lock was part of that original flight.

The first aqueduct was built of brick.  Work on it proceeded slowly and it was plagued with problems, even before it opened in 1805.  It was perhaps no surprise when it collapsed on the night of February 18th 1808, and the temporary locks had to be brought back into use to prevent interruption of trade.


This contemporary report from the “Northampton Mercury” gives an account of the disaster.


“On Friday morning last, the inhabitants of this town were thrown into the utmost consternation, by information which arrived from Wolverton, that the large aqueduct arches under the immensely high embankment for carrying the new line of the Grand Junction Canal across our valley, about a mile below this town, had fallen in, and that the river Ouse w\s so dammed up thereby that this town must shortly be entirely inundated to a great depth. On repairing to the spot, however, it was found that one of these arches which had been propped up underneath with timber, soon after the centres were removed, was still standing, and that this one arch, owing to there being no flood in the river, was able to carry off the water of the river as fast as it came down.  On examining the other two arches, it appeared, that about 22 yards in length of the middle part of each had fallen in, and blocked up the arches laying the canal above in complete ruins, emptying it as far as the nearest stop-gate on each side, and exposing the remains of 500 quarters of coke or cinders, which the contractors, had laid on the arches. The ends of each of the broken arches were found standing in a crippled state – Most fortunately for the public as well as the Company, the old line of canal and locks across this valley are still remaining and in sufficient repair immediately to convey the barges and prevent interruption to trade but the loss of £400 per month, which we are told has of late been the amount of the extra tonnage received lost to them during the period of rebuilding the arches and repairing the canal over them.


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McCorquodale Printing Works

The Chairman of the L. & N. W. Railway Co., Sir Richard Moon, expressed his desire to have a Printing Works at Wolverton to employ the daughters of the men working in the Railway Works. Mr George McCorquodale readily agreed to this and opened a branch in 1878 with approximately 20 employees, the land being purchased from the Radcliffe Trustees.

The work carried out when the factory first opened was the manufacture of Official Registered Envelopes for the G.P.O., and for many years a Government Excise Officer checked the number of envelopes stamped. The first building consisted of one floor, running north to south, and was in use until 1897 with a six horse power gas engine in the north end providing the power. The Office, which was in part of the building, was used in later years as a paper warehouse, and the Engine House was the first dining room for the male employees. The first three-floor building was erected in 1884. About this time general envelope making was commenced on the ground floor, and a little later General Printing, Ruling and Binding was added. By 1886, there were 120 females and 20 males employed.

In 1889, a further three-floor building was added, part of it running parallel with the Stratford Road, the ground floor being used for a printing department. A 12 horse power Crossley Gas Engine was then installed to augment the one previously referred to. Even then it was a frequent experience for one or both of these engines to fail, leaving the plant at a standstill. Some cottages were also erected for the employees, and a house built and occupied by the then manager, Mr. John Appleton.

XWNS004 Stratford Road, Wolverton

About 1890 a dining room was built between the two three-floor buildings and was formally open by the late Mr. George McCorquodale, the founder of the Company, this being his last visit to these Works. The development of the works proceeded rapidly. In 1894, another three-floor building was erected, the ground floor now being used as a Paper Warehouse, the first floor the Miscellaneous Dept., and the top floor the Folding and Sewing Section. In 1897 the cottages were pulled down and yet another three-floor building was erected by Henry Martin & Son of Northampton, the ground floor being used as the Large Machine Printing Dept., the first floor the Ruling Dept., and the top floor as the Binding Dept. In 1899, a one storey building was erected by T. P. Robinson & Sons and used as the Composing Dept., later occupied by the Warehouse and Engineers` Dept. A private Fire Brigade was formed in 1904.

In 1905, the Envelope Works, a building 300 feet long by 100 feet wide, was built, and a large proportion of the Works was reorganised and re-arranged. In conjunction with the building of the Envelope Works, a Power House was erected and two 85 horse power suction gas engines with dynamos were installed for the generation of current for power and lighting of the factory. All the other gas engines were scrapped and in 1911 it was necessary to increase the power units with the addition of a 300 horse power suction gas engine with necessary generators and dynamos. These continued in use until 1924 when replaced by the Northampton Electric Light & Power Co. The old Power House was then used as a Waste Paper Dept. and Carpenter`s Shop.

In 1910 a Government contract for postal stamped Stationery was secured and another ground floor building erected on the south-west end of the Envelope Works. This was known as the Inland Revenue Works. A Government staff of about 12 or 15 people was appointed to supervise the creation and checking of the production of this stamped stationery. Soon after this four acres of land were acquired on the south side of the Stratford Road, and another building erected in 1912, and extended in 1914. After Armistice a large army hut was purchased for use as dining, reading and recreation rooms. Towards the end of 1920 and early 1921, a new case room and stereo dept. was erected behind the three-floor building erected in 1897.

In 1923 contracts were secured for the production of postal orders and old age pension forms. Special machinery was constructed for the production of the work, and the whole Stamped Stationery was transferred to the factory on the south side of Stratford Road. A further contract was then undertaken for the production of Widows and Orphans Pension forms. The annual issue of postal orders increased from 100 million to 350 million over the years, and was presumed to the success of the Football Pools.

In 1926 another floor was built over the warehouse to accommodate the offices. In the same year the automatic Sprinkler Fire Protection system was installed throughout the Works and the Fire Brigade disbanded. During 1935 -1936 the yard on the north side of the General Works was built over, making a small machine printing room, 386 feet long by 29ft wide. The total frontage of the various buildings on the north side of Stratford Road was 986 feet, and the whole factory approximately 4 ¾ acres. A further 2 ½ acres of land was let as allotments to the Bucks C.C.

XWNP221 McCorquodales

Records of 1937 -39 indicate that the total number of employees was nearly 800 and 11 of the men had over 40 year’s service. In the early years the majority of the 700 to 900 girls working at McCorquodale were between the ages of 13 and 21, the school leaving age in 1914 being raised from 12 to 14. One former employee, Mabel Archer, explained at that time “You were not allowed to work at McCorquodale when you were married. When you married you left, and if you had worked there for ten years you received a grant of £10”. In the early 1890`s, to encourage female employees to remain in the factory as long as possible, the Directors, it would appear, decided to give a wedding grant on their wedding day of £10 to those who had completed 10 years service; £15 for 15 years, and £20 to those who completed 20 years service.

From the time the factory started until 1909 the working hours were from 6 am to 5.30 pm and 6am to 12 noon Saturdays, with ¾ -hour break for breakfast and 1-hour for lunch, making a total of 54 hours per week. In 1909 this was changed to a 50-hour week, subsequently reduced to a 48-hour week by national agreement, and by 1935 wages had risen from 4/6d to 10 shillings per week. By 1959 this was reduced to a 42-hour week. McCorquodale not only provided shorter working hours but contributory pension funds, the marriage bonus, paid holidays, a mutual sick society, as well as providing a dining room. Early records claim that holidays consisted of Bank Holidays, without pay, and apprentices were allowed an additional half-day on “Pancake Day”, also without pay. It was customary for the firm to subsidize an outing once a year, usually to the seaside. The outing cost employees 9d each which included the train fair and access to the pier. Normally the hired train would leave at 4am and meet many delays on the way. There is no mention whether this was held on a Sunday or an unpaid  day in the week.

In 1912 the Good Samaritan Society was started, and continued as a voluntary movement until 1926, when about 50% of the employees were members. This movement was then reorganised and all employees voluntarily agreed to a deduction from their wages of 1 ½d. per week for juniors and 2d. per week for seniors, with the Company occasionally giving substantial donations to help this worthy cause. The directors gave permission for the Reading Room to be used for dances, whist drives, etc., in aid of this fund, and the cash benefits given to the employees were then considered to be amongst the best in country.

At the outbreak of World War 1 McCorquodale suffered the loss of senior male staff through enlistment and the women workers were not only under pressure to work harder, but had the increased responsibilities of running a home and suffer increases in the cost of living. The government then organised war bonuses to be paid to workers to help compensate. The actual amount paid varied depending on the area and the type of work. It also depended on employees working a full week, for if one day was missed the bonus was not paid. However, in many cases women were being paid half the war bonus that men received, causing discontent. By 1915 Wolverton had a well established cooperative movement, a Labour Party branch, and a branch of the Women`s Cooperative. In 1909 there were reports of suffragette activity in the area.

On June 5th 1915 the Wolverton Express described the following:-

“The work girls and men at Messrs. McCorquodale`s Works were locked out on Thursday 20th May, in consequence of a demand for a war bonus which it was alleged had been given to some men. Some 800 to 900 workers have been affected. Negotiations between employers and employees failed to bring about a satisfactory settlement to both sides and on Wednesday morning when the works were re-opened only about 50 workers entered the factory”.

The Wolverton Express also reported women marching through Wolverton with “red ribbons flowing from their coats and hats”, with other reports of bands playing and a garden party. The strike lasted for more than two weeks. Five Hundred of the women workers joined the Paper Workers Union and their demand for both a war bonus, and recognition of the Union, involved pickets, parades, collections and meetings. The women eventually succeeded in securing a 7.5% increase in their weekly earnings as “war wages”.


An article in the Bucks Standard, November 5th 1938 edition, mentioned that employees of McCorquodale embarked on a “mission of mercy” to raise at least £500, following an appeal by Lord Hesketh to help meet the £100,000 extensions and improvements to Northampton General Hospital. Employees spent months in preparation, with every encouragement from the General Manger, Mr H.E. Meacham, and the firm`s directors. A grand floral bazaar was staged in the works Reading Room with the stalls representing the four seasons of the year. The opening ceremony was attended by Mr Hugh McCorquodale, son of the Work`s founder, and his charming wife {known in literary circles as Barbara Cartland}. The stalls were judged by Mrs de.Chair of Bradwell House with prizes presented of £1, for  the Small Machine Dept., 15/-, the Binding Dept., and 7/6d, the Reading Room. Mrs McCorquodale was presented with a model motor car, with electric lighting, and a model garage for her 12 month old son Ian. A gift of an invalid bed-table made in the works was presented to Lord Hesketh for the hospital. A final total of £660 was raised.

The buildings on the north side of the Stratford road were demolished in 1988 and later replaced with car salesrooms. The buildings on the south side of the Stratford Road were purchased by Bong {UK} Ltd and they submitted an application in December 2005 to replace the existing buildings with a mixed use development of 134 dwellings {including 16 flats for the elderly}, 6 workshops and 4 commercial properties.  A report from an archaeologist at that time suggested that this may be a site of a Roman or Anglo-Saxon cemetery. However, the new residential streets were completed in 2010, centered on the new McCorquodale Road, retaining the front wall of the McCorquodale building facing the Stratford Road.

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A School in Moon Street Wolverton

Wolverton-County-Secondary- In 1902, the first co-educational secondary school in Wolverton, serving the North Bucks district, was opened.  It had 17 pupils and was based at the Science and Arts Institute in Church Street, Wolverton.  In 1907 it moved into its own premises in Moon Street.



 An Important step in the educational progress of the County of Buckingham was marked on Wednesday by the formal opening of the fine new Secondary School, erected by the Bucks County Education Committee, at Wolverton.

Science-&-Arts-Institute-WoFormerly the classes, in connection with the Wolverton and District Higher Education Centre, were held at the Science and Art Institute, but since November, when the new buildings were completed, the school has had a separate building thoroughly worthy of it.

It is situated in a convenient spot in Moon Street, and is a very attractive and well designed structure, being built of red brick with white stone dressings.  It has separate entrances for boys and girls, a handsome central hall and four classrooms on the ground floor.  Also two good cloakrooms.  On the first floor is a convenient and well equipped laboratory, lecture rooms and two classrooms.

The floors of the entrance hall cloak rooms and lavatories are of terrazzo mosaic paving and the other floors are of pitch pine blocks.  The stair steps are made of granite concrete.  Internally the walls are finished with siripite plaster and coloured with Olsina washable distemper.  The building is heated throughout with hot water pipes, and the ventilating arrangements are on the most up-to-date system. Accommodation is provided for 160 scholars, and the building is so arranged that extensions can be added in an economical manner.

Messrs. Harrington, Ley and Kirkham of London were the architects and Mr. E. Green of Northampton, the builder.  The schools were crowded with visitors on Wednesday afternoon, who evinced great interest in the various departments and also in an exhibition of student’s work in one of the class-room.  Mr. D. Clarke, C.A. took the chair at the opening ceremony.  He had much pleasure in calling upon the Chairman of the County Council,  Mr. Tonman Mosley, to formally declare the school open.

Mr. Tonman Mosley recollected very well the time when he came down to Wolverton with other members of the Bucks County Council and having a most interesting inspection of their Institute.  He remembered how well they considered technical education was being conducted in the district, and he felt that, after that, the County Council ought really to take a second place, because Wolverton itself was so much in the forefront of advanced education.  Proceeding, he said, he hoped the County Council were doing their duty.  They had devoted some £25,000 to the advancement of Secondary Education and, in nearly every district, they had already provided or were providing means for parents to send their children to school for higher education.  An adjournment was then made to the Wolverton Science and Art Institute where the prize distribution took place in the large hall.

First-HeadmasterThe Headmaster (Mr. E.J. Boyce), submitting his very satisfactory report, said in 1902 the school had 17 pupils.  Now there were 52 boys and 31 girls drawn from nearly all parts of North Bucks.  Last year two pupils matriculated at the London University.  The Headmaster said the work of the school had increased so much that the new buildings were already not large enough, and pleaded for extensions.  Thanks to the Chairman concluded the proceedings.  Refreshments were then served, and subsequently an interesting exhibition of drills and exercises was given by the girl scholars.

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