09 March 2024

Wolverton Park,
a 300-year-old house,
railway sports grounds
and a Victorian gate lodge

Wolverton Park, near Old Wolverton, was built over 300 years ago, ca 1720 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing on a recent evening about Martin Heron’s public sculptures ‘Reaching Forward’ along the canal banks at the Wolverton Park development, close to the railway lines and the former railway works.

Wolverton Park is originally the name of a much older house, built ca 1720, standing in its own spacious grounds just off the old Wolverton to Stony Stratford road and close to Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton.

When a new road was cut through to Wolverton Station, the house at Wolverton Park found itself on a corner with Mill End, isolated from much of the land on which it once stood. The house still stands there, and – although it has been enlarged and added to over the years – there have been few visible exterior changes over the last 50 or 60 years.

Wolverton Park is an early to mid-18th century two-storey house with an attic and a slightly older two-storey extension to the right. The house has a steep early tiled roof with a dormer to the rear. A mid-19th century addition at the rear links with the stables. Inside, the house has a staircase that dates from ca 1720, with heavy turned balusters and a moulded handrail, and that rises by short flights in the central well.

The mid-19th century addition at the rear of Wolverton Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Wolverton’s leading local historian Bryan Dunleavy, who has known the house since his childhood, has researched the history of Wolverton Park. For much of the 19th century, it was the home of James E McConnnell (1815-1883), the locomotive engineer who designed the famous ‘Bloomers’ that were built at Wolverton Works. He succeeded Edward Bury as Works Superintendent in 1847 and remained at Wolverton until 1862.

McConnell was born in Fermoy, Co Cork, on 1 January 1815, the son of a Scottish father, Quentin McConnell, and an English mother, Elizabeth (Bradbury). His father died when James was a four-year-old, and at the age of 13 he was apprenticed to an engineering firm in Glasgow in 1828.

McConnell was working at Edward Bury’s locomotive works in Liverpool by 1837, and he became the locomotive superintendent for the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway in 1842. The L&NWR recruited him to take over from Edward Bury in Wolverton in 1846. By then, he had married Charlotte Bowton Addison (1822-1886). The McConnells moved with their children into Wolverton Park, and were soon followed by Charlotte’s widowed father, Dr James Addison (1774-1852), a surgeon from Burnham in Essex.

James McConnell was paid £700 a year, a salary that allowed the family could to live in style at Wolverton Park. Bryan Dunleavy suggests this also made McConnell the highest paid man in Wolverton at the time.

McConnell’s locomotives were among the most successful of the time. But he clashed with some board members, resigned in March 1862 and moved to Great Missenden where he practised as a civil engineer. The board never replaced McConnell in Wolverton. Instead, engine building was consolidated at Crewe and Wolverton specialised in carriage building.

In the mid-20th century, Wolverton Park was the home of the military historian and journalist Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (1895-1970). He died in 1970 and his library formed the nucleus of the Liddell Hart Centre, the military studies library at King’s College, London.

Wolverton Park opened in 1885 as the railway company sports grounds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Wolverton Park is also the name of the former railway company sports grounds, opened on the other side of the railway tracks, on the north-east fringe of Wolverton in 1885. James McConnell came to Wolverton after the London and Birmingham Railway, later part of the London and North Western Railway, established its works in the town in 1838.

Wolverton was chosen because it was a midway point between the two cities and a place where engines could be changed conveniently, refuelled and repaired. Wolverton began to grow close to an older village by the side of the Grand Union Canal and locomotives were made in Wolverton until 1861. After that, carriage building largely took its place. The works covered 37 acres in 1886 and employed 2,000 people, figures that had more than doubled by 1907, and remained at that until the early 1960s.

At first, the area was referred to as Wolverton Station and was described as the London & Birmingham’s ‘grand central station and locomotive depot,’ making it the world’s first Grand Central station.

The company built railway sheds and a locomotive works and laid down streets of slate-roofed, red-bricked terraced houses on a grid plan for their workers. Workers from across Britain were attracted to work in the new town, and the facilities they were provided with included a park, educational facilities and allotments. When locomotive building was moved to Crewe, Wolverton became a centre for building and repairing railway carriages.

Wolverton Park, an LNWR company sports ground, opened on the north-east fringe of the town in 1885. The facilities included a football ground, a running and cycling track, a bowling green, and grandstand.

The park was one of the finest company sports grounds in Victorian England, alongside those in Bournville (1887) and Port Sunlight (1889). It was laid out with an elegant a gatekeeper’s lodge, and included a bandstand, a running track, a cycle track, a football pitch, tennis courts and a bowling green.

The lodge at Wolverton Park is an integral part of the park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The lodge is an integral part of Wolverton Park. It was built at the park entrance in 1885 as part of the original scheme, and may have been designed by an in-house architect at the LNWR. It was built in the Old English style and is a similar lodge at Queen’s Park, Crewe, another LNWR town.

The former Victorian gatekeeper’s lodge at the entrance of Wolverton Park is on a busy corner close to Wolverton train station and between the two railway bridges that cross Old Wolverton Road.

The two-storey house is built of brick, with some elevations now painted, and it retains many of its original features and windows, including timber framing, some tile-hanging on the first floor, and a red tile roof with ornamental ridge tiles.

The house has a projecting gabled front fa├žade with a bay window on the ground floor, and jettied window with a long four-light window on the first floor above. There is a timber-framed first floor and gable, and the gable has two small attic windows. A tall brick stack rises from the centre of the roof, and there is a prominent lateral stack at the rear of the house.

The decorative details include a stucco plaque with an urn, and the interior may still have the original fireplaces, joinery and staircase.

The lodge at Wolverton Park was built in the Old English style and may have been designed by an in-house architect at the LNWR (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Wolverton was incorporated in the new town of Milton Keynes in 1967. But the railway workforce was reduced to under 1,000 in 1986. As Wolverton declined, its buildings fell into disrepair and dereliction, the works became largely vacant and some of the buildings were demolished.

Milton Keynes Partnership and Places for People worked to revitalise the old industrial area, and the brownfield site became an award-winning showcase of how to invigorate a historic site, with shops, offices and homes bringing new life to the area.

Wolverton Park accommodates 290 homes that are a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, duplexes, penthouses and townhouses. A key part of the project was refurbishing the Royal Train Shed and the Triangular Building that date back to 1845, creating 80 homes and commercial space.

The site and park are bisected by the Grand Union Canal, and most homes have either park views or canal-side frontages (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The site includes the park originally built for the works’ employees. It is bisected by the Grand Union Canal, which means that most homes have either park views or canal-side frontages.

The architects RPS Design worked to incorporate the new homes into the existing structures. Construction work was managed by Willmott Dixon Housing, with Rolton Group providing civil and structural engineering services.

The original park area at Wolverton Park has been retained for public use, although the football club, model car club and bowls club were all relocated to new venues, and the old gatekeeper’s lodge has recently been restored and refurbished and was let on the open market.

The decorative details at Wolverton Park Lodge include a stucco plaque with an urn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
25, 9 March 2024,
Saint Swithun of Winchester

Saint Swithun depicted on the gateway at Magdalen College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are more than half-way through the Season of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday (14 February 2024), and tomorrow is the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lent IV) and Mothering Sunday (10 March 2024). I am probably going to spend much of the weekend watching rugby on television, especially the match between Ireland and England at Twickenham later this afternoon.

Throughout Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The gateway at Magdalen College, Oxford with Saint Mary Magdalen (centre) between Saint Swithun (right) and Bishop William Waynflete (left) of Winchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 25, Saint Swithun of Winchester

Saint Swithun of Winchester is commemorated in Common Worship on 15 July. He was Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century, although little is known of his life.

He was bishop for 10 years and appears to have been the trusted adviser of Egbert, King of Wessex. He had asked to be buried ‘humbly’ and not in a great shrine and, when he died on 2 July 862, his request was fulfilled. However, when a new cathedral was being built, Ethelwold, the new bishop, decided to move Swithun’s remains into a shrine in the cathedral, despite dire warnings that to move the bones would bring about terrible storms.

His body was translated on 15 July 971 and, although many cures were claimed and other miracles observed, it apparently rained for 40 days, as forecast. Thus the feast-day of Swithun became synonymous with long, summer storms, rather than as an occasion for celebrating Christian simplicity and holiness.

Saint Swithun’s Tower in Magdalen College, Oxford, leads from Saint John’s Quad into Saint Swithun’s Quad (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Luke 18: 9-14 (NRSVA):

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13 But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Saint Swithun (second from left) in the second row of saints and martyrs on the Great Screen in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023; click on images for full-screen viewing)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 9 March 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘International Women’s Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Right Revd Beverley A Mason, Bishop of Warrington.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (9 March 2024) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord, we pray that women with one heart and mind will exert their power and authority to work for peace.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified:
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Merciful Lord,
grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil,
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Eternal God,
give us insight
to discern your will for us,
to give up what harms us,
and to seek the perfection we are promised
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the eve of Lent IV:

Merciful Lord,
absolve your people from their offences,
that through your bountiful goodness
we may all be delivered from the chains of those sins
which by our frailty we have committed;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for Jesus Christ’s sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday: Alcuin of York

Tomorrow: Saint Edmund (870), King of the East Angles, Martyr

The choir, Great Screen and High Altar in Southwark Cathedral … Saint Swithun is said to have set up a college of priests in Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org