by Phil Marsh

Wolverton Works rise from potential closure in time for 175th Anniversary

Published: 17th September

Wolverton’s First Day – what happened on September 17 1838

Wolverton Works, the World’s oldest and longest continually operating railway works will be celebrating its 175th anniversary after all. The Works went into Administration in July and half the workforce was laid off, including the 18 strong apprentice team.

The new owners, Knorr-Bremse has announced that sixteen of the eighteen former Railcare apprentices have been taken back on at Wolverton and Springburn near Glasgow. All the former Railcare apprentices were offered their jobs back and apart from two, have all returned to work, despite several already gaining jobs elsewhere.

The team then has resumed their apprenticeship with the new employers, which is fitting after they won a national award on the September 5 organised by the National Apprenticeship Service. Knorr-Bremse RailServices was presented with an award for its “commitment and support as an employer to the training and skill development of their staff by offering apprenticeships.”

The award was accepted on behalf of Knorr-Bremse RailServices by David Hilliard who has been behind Wolverton’s training and development for many years and commenced the apprenticeship scheme in the Railcare days. Mr Hilliard will now be carrying on his work with the apprentice team seeing the current apprenticeships through to completion, as well as being involved in any new intake.

They said:

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on learning the news commented, “I am pleased that the apprentices who were working at Railcare are able to continue their training. I hope they will play an important part in the future of Knorr-Bremse. This is just the type of vocational training we need if we’re to boost manufacturing jobs in the UK.”

Mark Cooper, Managing Director of Knorr-Bremse RailServices added, said, “My colleagues and I here at Knorr-Bremse RailServices are delighted that sixteen apprentices have chosen to join us in the new company and to complete their training here. I have always believed in apprenticeships and that we should be encouraging young people into the company and into the rail industry. We have one of the finest schemes in the rail industry here as has been recently recognised with an award, thanks to the efforts of David Hilliard and his team.

We will now be able to invest in the highest levels of training for our apprentices and employees going forward which benefits us and brings skills into the UK rail industry. I am sure that the apprentices both here and at Springburn can look forward to a great future with Knorr-Bremse RailServices and as part of the global Knorr-Bremse Rail Group.

Back to the very beginning - Wolverton’s First Day

Wolverton Author Brian Dunleavy has sent an account of Wolverton on September 17, 1838 to

George Carr Glyn must have been very excited as he rose early on Monday morning, September 17th 1838 to take his carriage to Euston. This day would mark the opening of the uninterrupted London to Birmingham railway line – a full journey of 112 miles that could be completed at double the average speed of the fastest stagecoach.

As chairman of the London and Birmingham Railway Company from its formation he had steered the new venture through the difficulties of parliamentary acts, raising massive capital, negotiating land acquisition and overcoming massive engineering problems. The last of these, the difficult construction of the Kilsby tunnel and issues with the Wolverton Viaduct had now been surmounted.

From this day through passengers no longer had to alight in the no mans land of Denbigh Hall on the Watling Street, and proceed by stage coach to Rugby before resuming their rail journey to the Birmingham destination.

He could feel pleased with himself and as he met his fellow directors and chief officers for a 7 o- clock departure from Euston. The conversation must have been lively and self satisfied.

The train passed over Denbigh Hall bridge on to new rail for the first time – at least officially, and a further 8 miles brought them to Wolverton, the first station after Leighton Buzzard, and at that time in a fairly rudimentary state. A wooden station had been erected on the embankment and an approach road from the Stony Stratford to Newport Pagnell turnpike had been cut alongside this embankment. Passengers had to climb a long flight of steps and although we have no record of it there must have been a lot of grumbling. This may have stimulated the directors to build a new station on newly acquired land to the south only two years later.

We know little about this station. Some plan drawings from 1840 survive and there is a rather rudimentary line engraving with little detail that was published at the time. Subsequent redevelopment has probably destroyed any archaeological remnants. Some facts can be asserted.

Work had already started on the new engine shed and surrounding railway cottages. A wharf was built on the south side of the canal, and a well had been sunk to over 300 feet and a pump house built over it. Steam engines were thirsty machines and the proximity of the canal would not have guaranteed a sufficient supply, although as it turned out this well water was extremely hard and had to be diluted with canal water to minimize scale.

So the painting here is largely imaginary while depending on some salient facts. The canal course has not changed and the embankment of the original line survives, as well as the bridge. The engraving above shows some station buildings. The rest is mostly conjecture. The land to the north of the canal was still a field, probably used for pasture in 1838.

It was soon leased to two Stony Stratford men who built the first Radcliffe Arms on this spot to cash in on the railway trade. The inn was trading in 1839 but it became something of a white elephant after the removal of the railway station in 1840 and its subsequent isolation from the new town.

We know from newspaper reports that a substantial crowd gathered to marvel at the new phenomenon of rail travel, many from nearby Stony Stratford who depended on the pre-eminence of coach travel for their livelihood. Little did they know.

Wolverton Books

The 175th anniversary of Wolverton Works and the West Coast Main Line has been marked with the publication of two books:

‘The Full Works’ by editor Phil Marsh and Brian Dunleavy and ‘First Impressions’

War Memorial fund has 3 copies of ‘The Full Works’ as a prize which will be signed by the author if required. A 50p donation from each book sold will be donated to help fund the provision of a War Memorial to the 213 Wolverton Works employees who died in World War 1.

On Sunday September 15, 120 fortunate people got hold of tickets to have a private tour of Wolverton Works and this raised £600 towards the War Memorial fund

Double your money offer

Knorr-Bremse delighted everyone by saying that whatever funds were raised by Dave Hilliard and Phil Marsh and others helping would be doubled by the new Works’ owners. It is hoped to erect the memorial in September 2014 when it will be 100 years from when the Works staff marched off to war, but not all returned. The fund has so far raised over £1500.

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