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THE WOLVERTON MECHANICS INSTITUTE

Jeff Wells

’Wolverton, it may be known to all our readers, as it certainly is to all railway travellers, is a railway town, called into existence by the London and North Western Railway Company [1], and inhabited almost exclusively by their servants and work people’.

With this opening passage, The Illustrated London News, 29th December 1849, began a full account of a festive occasion held at the station for the benefit of members of the Institution. Move to the photographs page The News continued its introduction by drawing a comparison between those employers who treated their workforce with a ‘reckless, heartless, and un-Christian system of screwing down the labourer to starving point’, with the LNWR Company which had ‘for many years past, taken a friendly, if not paternal, interest in the comfort and welfare of the numerous body of men whom they employ’. The workmen had repaid such care ‘by a zealous devotion to the interest of their employers, and the assiduous discharge of their many arduous and responsible duties’.

What follows is a part transcript of the commentary made by the News. It reveals details not only of the soiree itself but also of the disposition of the Company at that time.

The Soiree

‘The anniversary meeting of the Wolverton Mechanics’ Institute, which took place on Friday evening last, in the large Engine-room of the Station, and which led us make these few preliminary observations, was in every respect an interesting celebration.

 

‘The Company, having built a church and schools for their work-people, followed up their good work by a handsome donation to the Mechanics’ Institute. Though established for nine years, or upwards, the last-named institution had not in any respect proved so successful as to satisfy the wishes of its founders; and it was, therefore, resolved this year to aid its funds by a public entertainment or soiree, to which all members, with their wives and families, should be invited, together with such influential persons from the neighbourhood, or from London, as could be induced, in their love of the cause of education, and the self-elevation of the working classes, to lend it their countenance.

‘The arrangements were chiefly planned, we believe, by Mr. J.E. McConnell, the Superintendent of the Locomotive Department for the Southern Division of the railway, whose headquarters are at Wolverton. The Directors granted the use of the large engine-room for the occasion, which, being cleared of its usual contents – of forges, and engines in course of construction or repair – was laid out for the accommodation of a very magnificent tea-party of fifteen hundred persons. The guests, amounting to at least the number, had assembled by six o’clock, and made a very gay, and very happy-looking appearance.

‘The room was brilliantly lighted with gas, which, at every convenient corner, was twisted into stars and crowns, initials and cornucopias. The large pillars and joists were festooned with laurel and other evergreens; and flags waved and dangled from all parts of the room over the heads of the assembled spectators and guests’.

Story continues ...
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