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.

First-Wolverton-Station-2

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.

Several-War-Contracts-2

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”.

Coronation-Scot-Carriages

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.

Coupler-Wagon

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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One Response to Wolverton Works 1838 – 1993

  1. Harry Jack says:

    Para 2: Edward Bury did not resign in July 1846 on the formation of the L.& N.W.R. He first intimated a wish to retire in November 1846, and in fact he continued working until March 1847 to enable a trouble-free handover to his successor McConnell, who had moved into Wolverton on 15th February 1847. (This “July 1846” story comes from the writings of the quite unreliable Clement Edwin Stretton (1850-1915) and has been repeated all over the place, but as so often, he was wrong. For details, see my book “Locomotives of the LNWR Southern Division … & Wolverton Locomotive Works” published by the Railway Correspondence & Travel Society in 2001.)

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