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Character Study

Wolverton Works
The Railway
The Works
War Work
Power and Utilities
The Town
The Wider Landscape of Wolverton

The Railway

When Robert Stephenson (1803 - 59) brought the London & Birmingham Railway through in 1838, (part of the London & North Western Railway from1846) the Wolverton area was largelygreen fields, although the canal had already been constructed. ‘Wolverton’, later to be called ‘Old Wolverton’, was a community of around 400 over towards Stony Stratford. When the railway came, the area built around it was known as ‘Wolverton Station’ but rapidly developed into the ‘new’ Wolverton.

Stephenson chose Wolverton to provide a site roughly half way between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street for the servicing and refuelling of locomotives. The line also conveniently bisected the Grand Junction Canal here too and supplies to build the new railway town were transported by barge. As the population grew to carry out these tasks, so did the town, with many of the new streets (e.g. Bury Street, Young Street, Creed Street, Glyn Square) being named after railway officials. Also named after a railway official, albeit much later, was the modern McConnell Drive. J(ames) E. McConnell was the L&B’s first Locomotive Superintendent and designer of the famous Class 31 locomotives of the 1850s that were nicknamed ‘Bloomers’.

The present Wolverton station is the third of that name and lies on a loop line that was not opened until 1881. The original main line took a more direct route to the east of the original Works buildings and, when the Works was expanded around it, through the station. The first station (see 1841 map) was on this original line to the north of the canal, high on the embankment, with access from what is now Old Wolverton Road. However, it lasted only two years, becoming quite inadequate for the increasing traffic. There are remains - the stone faced embankment at Wolverton Park at the base of the Old Royal Train shed is the original foundation of that station.

The new, much larger, second station, also on the original line, lay to the south of Stratford Road, its centre point being roughly where the present slip road from Creed Street/Glyn Square enters McConnell Drive. The site of the western (down) platform is now under McConnell Drive. The eastern (up) platform was obliterated after 1881 by a new paint shop for the works; (this burnt down in the 1990s and has been replaced by a new warehouse of sympathetic design). However, one of the two original tracks through this station still exists and is the only access from the present main line into the remaining Works complex. This Works track runs along the eastern edge of McConnell Drive and can be seen there (over the wooden fence, which is the original railway fence) or by looking down towards the south from the bridge on Stratford Road.

The second station, more elaborate than either the first or third, incorporated the famous Refreshment Rooms where passengers ate and drank in the ten minutes allowed by the trains that stopped there.

Interestingly, a small part of the second station complex remains in the form of a weighbridge office now in a small yard on the Creed Street-McConnell Drive slip road.

The third (1881) station remains, but in an incomplete state. It once had a distinctive wooden station building, painted black and white, on the north side of the road bridge above the track, with wooden stairs leading down to each of the platforms. This was unfortunately removed by British Rail in about 1990 before it could be listed. The three original platforms (1, 2/3 & 4) remain. The outer edge of Platform 4 also remains adjacent to the car park, once a goods yard. This platform was used by the trains for the “Nobby Newport” line to Newport Pagnell, which closed in 1964 (this line can be followed as a footpath to Newport Pagnell).

The diversion of the main line in 1881 resulted in the two rail bridges over Old Wolverton Road. The original, skew bridge, now a Grade II listed structure, built by Stephenson in 1838, is that on the Old Wolverton side; the 1881 bridge is that closer to the Haversham road. The ‘Blue Bridge’ to the south of the station, so called because of the colour of the bricks used, was originally a cattle bridge to Stacey Hill Farm. Known as an accommodation’ bridge, it is the last one left on the line and is also a Grade II Listed structure. It was doubled in 1881 (newer part to the east) and can be seen adjacent to Millers Way (H2). In 1847, there was a serious accident at the Blue Bridge which resulted in the deaths of seven people and injuries to others. The inquest was held at the Railway Reading Rooms.

The old road over the Blue Bridge is now fenced off, but the bridge can be seen from various angles, including that of McConnell Drive, which also overlooks what was once Wolverton’s biggest goods yard. All tracks have now been lifted there, except for the line into the Works. This line still passes through an underpass originally built to facilitate entry into the Works without disturbing the goods yard above. The most spectacular of railway artefacts in Wolverton, however, is the viaduct (also listed) that crosses the River Great Ouse a few hundred metres north of Old Wolverton Road. With its six major arches (each span 18m) and six smaller ones, this was one of the major feats of the L&B in 1838, originally costing £30,000. The adjacent embankment is also noteworthy; it was constructed with great difficulty because of slippage and spreading. On one occasion it even caught fire as a result of the spontaneous combustion of the material used.

Osprey of the Wolverton Bloomer Class

A view from the Grand Union Canal wharf looking toward the first station

The third station, now sadly demolished.

Driver Bill Faulkner on the last run on the last day of the 'Nobby Newport' line.

By Geoffrey Ealden, Anna McEvoy, Julia Newman, Andra Roach, Peter Smith