A complete community
The value of Wolverton is not just in the survival of its Victorian and Edwardian housing. It was/ is a model of the kind of sustainable community that modern urban designers are trying to achieve. Within a small area the spiritual, educational, sporting, leisure, entertainment and shopping needs were provided, usually under the encouragement of the Railway Company, which had a concern for its workers’ well-being and morality as well as providing them with housing.
The Company actively supported the development of local clubs, societies and churches. They funded the building of the first railway town church - St George the Martyr - that slightly preceded the construction of St Mark’s in Swindon. Indeed, the first station and the early layout of Swindon seems to have been influenced by what was happening in Wolverton.
“ It is clear that the GWR looked upon Wolverton as a possible model for its new settlement and there are several instances of information being exchanged between the two companies prior to the construction of the first houses at New Swindon in 1842. Brunel was in contact with the London & Birmingham Railway in 1837 … and in 1839 he visited Wolverton by train” (Swindon: The Legacy of a Railway Town, John Catell and Keith Falconer HMSO 1995 p.13)
Other denominations are also catered for including the provision of the first site for Methodist worshippers in the Works Reading Room. However the C of E bias in the Railway Board may account for the site occupied by the St Francis de Sales Catholic Church. Rather than fronting on to the main Stratford Road it actually has its main door facing into a backway!
The Railway Company, encouraged by the Radcliffe Trust, who supplied the land for the first school in Creed Street, also made an important contribution to education and self-improvement including the building of the Creed Street schools and later the Boys’ School in Church St. They also contributed to the costs of building the Science and Arts Institute in Church Street, the centre for further education in the town. It was designed by the leading Victorian architect G.E.Street, the Oxford Diocesan architect It was unfortunately destroyed by a fire in the late 1960’s.
On the present Wyvern School site between Church Street and Aylesbury Street one can clearly see two distinct styles of educational provision. On the northern, Church Street, side is the former Boys’ School (now a nursery) built on land donated by the Radcliffe Trust and erected with the help of funding from the Railway Company in 1896. On the southern, Aylesbury Street, side are the Infants’ and Girls’ School (now Wyvern First School) that were built by the Bucks County Council. The County Council also built the Wolverton Secondary School (now Bushfield Middle School).
Sport was also supported and promoted by the Railway Company. Wolverton Park on the north eastern edge of the town was created by the LNWR for its workforce and it includes one of the oldest surviving grandstands in the country, built in 1899, and a velodrome that was an important Whitsuntide national venue prior to the outbreak of the First World War. The Company imported good footballers from other railway towns and offered them jobs. As a result Wolverton Football Club enjoyed considerable success in the early years of the century. (See article about Wolverton Park, ‘Because we’re worth it’ by Simon Inglis in the Observer September 21st 2003)
There are two Working Men’s Clubs dating from 1898 and 1907 and there are pubs too, including the Crauford Arms that was originally established as a Temperance Hotel. There were two cinemas, one of which, although now used as a church, still has many surviving features of its former life.
Allotment gardens where families could grow their own food were another feature of Wolverton’s life. The town had one of the highest percentage of allotments per head in the country and although many plots have been lost to new housing development, two significant sites still remain and represent an important piece of evidence of Wolverton’s heritage.
Shop buildings are concentrated in Church Street, the Square and Stratford Road but most corner sites throughout the grid house corner shops to serve each long street.
The LNWR also had its own gas works that also served the town and there were two water towers (one of which survives) to supply water to the town.
Last but not least the town has its own cemetery on the western edge of the town.
The use of sustainability principles in Wolverton give it a significance as an integral part of its value as an historic monument to nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial history. At a time when the new town of Milton Keynes (of which it forms a part) is trying to introduce more identity and urban living into its centre to sustain growth for the future, Wolverton stands as an early example of a robust urban environment created to sustain itself and encompass growth.