Published: 28th July 2016
The owners of the 37 acre Wolverton Works St Modwen, and their tenants Knorr-Bremse who operate the railway works, have blocked the erection of a War Memorial remembering the 213 Wolverton Works’ staff who died in World War 1. For some reason, the London & North Western Railway did not erect a Memorial as they did at every other major location.
Three years ago, some Wolverton Works’ staff and the local community decided to raise funds for the Memorial and hoped to unveil it in July, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Wolverton people in their 80s and 90s are keen to see this Memorial as they recall their parents’ memories of the war (37 Wolverton men died at or as a result of The Somme) but the numbers of these people is obviously reducing as age catches up with them.
Funds were raised by limited tours round the Works, talks and sales of a 68 page book celebrating the Works’ 175th anniversary in September 2013. Knorr-Bremse, who bought the rail operation in August 2013 kindly pledged to double any money raised which they fulfilled making the memorial possible.
By the end of 2015, enough money had been raised and the Memorial was made with the 213 names engraved on a stone slab measuring 1.8 metres high by 2.3 metres wide.
The local community is currently particularly annoyed about the Memorial as it has been ready for erection since January 2016 and St Modwen wrote on 13 April saying they could not help and it was up to Knorr-Bremse (KB) their German tenants to arrange. But in a letter dated 27 May, KB wrote they were not allowing the Memorial to be placed by the Works.
The local press, television and radio news have reported on this and Wolverton’s MP, Mark Lancaster, Minister for Armed Forces and Veterans, has taken up the issue of the War Memorial on behalf of his constituents. It is thought that the possible demolition of the Works may be the reason St Modwen and KB have decided to ignore this subject. And as he and others say, its not beyond the wit of man to relocate the Memorial if needs be in a few years. But of course by then, the numbers of the elderly who are just one generation from WW1 may well be very low if any.
In October 2015, Rail.co.uk editor Phil Marsh was asked by KB to help as their heritage advisor to document and determine what historic railway artefacts should be saved and announced this to the local media. A visit was undertaken on 26 November to the derelict 150 year old cavernous workshops to photograph them and their contents.
One room contained hundreds of wooden patterns, untouched for over 30 years while other areas contained spare parts for carriages used on preserved railways today. Knorr-Bremse also showed the hole in a wall and gap in a perimeter fence where they said trespassers gained access to these buildings.
In February 2016, the KB Communications Manager Nick Brailey agreed an action plan to conserve the artefacts with Mr Marsh and also how to manage the trespass and vandalism issues on the 38-acre site. This was confirmed in an email exchange and finally a phone conversation on 15 February but after that, nothing was heard.
A letter was hand delivered to the KB Managing Director, Nick Fitzwater on 18 May during a visit to the Works by a professional railway institute. This raised several issues such as the artefacts and trespass and vandalism management, asking who would be responsible for injury or death of ‘urban explorers’ in the derelict buildings.
Mr Fitzwater replied on 27 May writing ‘that KB has an action plan relating to the derelict buildings and artefacts’ St Modwen was also asked about who was responsible for any injuries or fatalities by trespassers and they clearly replied that their tenants KB were liable as they were responsible for security.
On 6 June a group of young children were spotted on the tracks inside the Works and on the Network Rail tracks outside the Works. They had been playing football on the concrete area at the edge of the Works minutes before the Royal Train was due to leave to collect HM The Queen who was using it to go to Cardiff.
Knorr-Bremse said in a written statement to ITN Anglia News that there was no evidence that the children had been on their property. This was disingenuous as they were clearly seen there before being photographed a few minutes later on the Network Rail tracks outside the Works.
Then on July 3, more serious trespassers entered the Works and vandalised a carriage which was under repair. It has been reported locally that two 16-year-old boys from London and a 15-year-old girl from Milton Keynes have been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and burglary. One of the boys has also been arrested on suspicion of possession of a knife blade/sharp pointed article in a public place. The two boys have been bailed until August 17 and August 19, and the girl has been bailed until August 18.
St Modwen and Knorr-Bremse announced on 20 July that they had a plan for the artefacts but they have so far declined to reveal any details of the plan.