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Wolverton railway works was established in Wolvertonmarker, Buckinghamshire, by the London and Birmingham Railway Company in 1838 at the midpoint of the 112 mile-long route from Londonmarker to Birminghammarker. The line was developed by Robert Stephenson following the great success of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway line.

The Victorian era new towns of Wolverton and New Bradwellmarker were built to house the workers and service the works. The older towns of Stony Stratfordmarker and Newport Pagnellmarker grew substantially too, being joined to it by a tramway and branch line (known as the "Newport Nobby"), respectively. The trams were also hauled by steam locomotives: the tram cars were certainly the largest ever in the UK and possibly the world.

Early years

Old Wolverton railway works with Stephenson bridge
At first, the Works was used for maintenance and repairs of locomotives purchased from outside firms. Two locomotives were built there in 1845/6 and another in 1848, but following enlargement of the buildings and increased facilities, they were turned out in quantity. A total of 166 locomotives were built at Wolverton, the last of them in September 1863. These included three varieties of the 2-2-2 'Bloomers', 86 of the 'Wolverton Express Goods' 0-6-0 and four classes of 0-4-2.In 1846 the London & Birmingham became part of the London and North Western Railway.

In 1862 a decision was taken to concentrate locomotive work at Crewe, and in 1865 Wolverton became the LNWR Carriage Works. It became the largest carriage works in Great Britainmarker — and a major employer in the area for many years.

Initially Wolverton produced numbers of 27' 6" six-wheel carriages on a rigid wheelbase. In 1873 a sleeper service was introduced to Glasgowmarker, and in 1875 to Liverpoolmarker and Holyheadmarker. The carriages for these were again three-axle, limited it is said, to 32 feet by the traverser in the Eustonmarker carriage sheds. This remained the pattern for many years, though some used Webb's patent "radial truck". Lengths gradually increased to thirty three and thirty four feet.

The 1880s saw the introduction of first-class twin-car sets with an interconnecting gangway. The 1881 sleeping cars for the Irish Mail were of this form, and in 1889 some of the first-class twins were adapted to become the LNWR's first dining cars and. In 1883, forty foot sleeping cars were introduced on the Glasgow service but, though bogies had come into use on other railways, the LNWR preferred to simply add an extra radial truck.

This configuration remained in use until 1893, when Charles Park built a rake of corridor coaches for the expresses to Edinburghmarker with six-wheeled bogies. This was first and third class only, although second class remained for many other services until 1911. In 1892, the non-automatic brake finally disappeared and in 1896 Stone's patent electric train lighting was introduced, along with communication cords.

Twentieth century

In 1901, Wolverton was the first railway works to use electricity for lighting and driving machinery throughout.

All coaches for principal services now included corridor connections and were mounted on bogies instead of radial trucks. A new royal train was built in 1903.

In 1923, when the LNWR merged into the LMS, wagon building was introduced. Such work continued after nationalisation but, in 1962, Wolverton ceased production of new stock.

The works is divided from Wolverton itself by a wall that extended almost completely along the front of the town and which still bears visible traces of the paint that was used to camouflage it during the Second World War. (During the war, two bombs and an incendiary fell on Wolverton town and another on New Bradwell village, on the other side of the track).

During the war, Wolverton joined in a joint venture with other workshops, railway and private, to produce Horsa gliders for the D-Day airborne assault. It also repaired Whitley bomber, Hawker Typhoon wings and converted some seven hundred commercial motor vans into armoured vehicles.

Although no new general service carriages were built, twenty four vehicles were built in 1977 for the Royal Mail, and twenty one diesel multiple units for the Northern Ireland Railways.

In addition work continued providing the Royal Train. Queen Victoria's 1869 saloon, comprising two six-wheelers joined by the first bellows gangway in Europe, is in the National Railway Museummarker in Yorkmarker. Further Royal coaches were built in 1903 for King Edward VII and in 1961 for Queen Elizabeth II.

The most recent Royal train was fitted out at Wolverton in 1977. It comprises eight prototype Mark 3 coaches built in 1972 for the High Speed Train, refurbished with two Royal Saloons.

These, along with the regular stock handled by the Works, are housed here in the care of Railcare which operates the remaining railway service depot.

21st century

Stephenson bridge made from cast iron girders
Landslip on Wolverton viaduct
Today, part of the original works site has become a Tescomarker supermarket. The frontage has been built to resemble the original buildings and a small independent shop on the site displays a legend to the LNWR fire station formerly on that site. Other parts are being developed for new housing.

The marshalling yards by the West Coast Main Line are used as an entrepot for white goods, but this is purely a road distribution centre and there are no rail links to the warehouses, although the rail works access line is close by. Railcare has consolidated its operations in the western end of the site and the operation is thriving.

The original bridge across the Grand Union canalmarker was built by Robert Stephenson and is a Grade II* listed monument. The bridge is composed of numerous cast iron girders, many made by the Butterley Company Iron works. It is a rare survival since most similar bridges were removed at the end of the Victorian era. The more imposing Wolverton viaduct to the north of the old station yard is one of the most impressive viaducts on the line, and was built in 1838 across the River Ouse valley. There were many problems encountered durting construction, especially landslips on the adjacent embankment. They can still be seen just south of the viaduct and were portrayed by John Cooke Bourne in his description of the railway published just after it had opened..


A variety of archival material and artifacts from the Works is stored at the nearby Milton Keynes Museummarker.


Further reading

  • Simmons, J., (1986) The Railway in Town and Country, Newton Abott: David & Charles
  • Larkin, E.J., Larkin, J.G., (1988) The Railway Workshops of Great Britain 1823-1986,' ' Macmillan Press
  • Reed, M.C., (1996) The London & North Western Railway, Atlantic Transport Publishers
  • Jack, Harry., (1987) The L.N.W.R. Bloomers Wolverton's 7ft. Singles, The London & North Western Railway Society Publications
 Source: archive material in Milton Keynes Museum
  • Jack, Harry., (2001) Locomotives of the LNWR Southern Division - London & Birmingham Railway and Wolverton Locomotive Works: RCTS. ISBN 0 901115 89 4.
  • Lewis, Peter R. (2007). Disaster on the Dee: Robert Stephenson's Nemesis of 1847, Tempus.
  • West, Bill., (1982) The Trainmakers: the Story of Wolverton Works. ISBN 0 86023 167 4.

See also

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