A compact community
Compared with other railway settlements Wolverton is unusually compact; an early reflection of the reluctance of the major landowner, the Radcliffe Trust, to release land for building except on their terms
Compactness is a very important part of Wolverton’s character - it is not a sprawling suburb but a complete town. Everything is within walking distance. This is important for those who live, work and visit or indeed wish to study it. The Wolverton Conservation Area is unusually comprehensive in that it includes all of the railway community-associated elements of the town, including the cemetery.
The evidence of a sustainable community where people worked together, played together and prayed together is still largely here. Within its small compact grid there are houses, schools, corner shops, churches, pubs, hotels, cinemas, a theatre and sports facilities: the railway company, in keeping with other more well known single industry towns such as Port Sunlight and Saltaire, had a caring, philanthropic outlook towards the town. In short, the town works as a sustainable community.
The raison d’etre of the town - the Railway Works - remains largely intact if altered. The town points down the hill towards the workplace and the views from the top of the town are of the roofs of the railway workshops. The local description of the Stratford Road and the Works wall as ‘The Front’ emphasises this focus. The Works that formerly employed 5,000 people now employs only 400 but now a modern workplace is housed within some of the old original railway workshop buildings. Although now empty and in a state of disrepair some of the original workshops (including the old Royal Train shed) have been listed and can be converted tonew uses so that the evidence of the town’s railway heritage will be retained and enhanced. The Conservation Area is designated for its significance as a railway town of local as well as regional and national importance.
Several railway structures of particular significance are the early railway structures built by Robert Stephenson - the Railway Viaduct.railway bridges and parts of early works survive from pre- Brunel. There is also an important earlier canal structure - the Iron Trunk Aqueduct. Much of the triangular building survives in its pre Brunel form while its early alterations reflect Brunel’s engineering ideas at Swindon. (ref. Whishaw’s Railways of Great Britain and Ireland 1840 cited in Swindon: The Legacy of a Railway Town by John Catell and Keith Falconer HMSO 1995)
Like its railway buildings, Wolverton town is essentially a horizontal/ grid settlement laid out along straight lines. Houses are mostly built in terraces and are two storey. Three storeys are not unknown, but rare. Unlike mill towns where the factories are multi-storey, the railway workshops are all single storey. Only key buildings, churches and other public buildings like Wyvern School, rise above the rooftops of the houses.
The only monumental buildings of the town were and are old railway structures, such as the Ouse Valley viaduct and the great rock-faced stone revetment of the embankment to the south of it, which once carried the first station and where now the former Royal Carriage shed (built in 1889) now stands.
The town’s fortunes reflected those of its industry, the railways, reaching its fullest development along lines laid out by the L&NWR Company in 1908, gently declining between the wars and more significantly thereafter.