THE WOLVERTON MECHANICS INSTITUTE
’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 , 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. 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 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’.