The Victorian era was a time of flourishing industry, and the Wolverton to Newport line revolutionised travel for people in the locality. Sammy Jones stepped back to the days of steam…
Before the steam train, and with the invention of the motorcar still decades away, getting from A to B was by hoof, foot or on the canal. So when London and North Western Railway were granted permission to build the four mile long branch line in June 1863, the occasion was marked with cheers in the town, and the church bells rang out.
The proposed line extension to Olney never materialised, but the Wolverton to Newport Pagnell link opened to goods, cattle and parcel traffic in 1865.
Passenger traffic began on September 2, 1867.
It was a big deal and celebrated accordingly; Wolverton Brass Band marched through the decorated streets to the Swan Hotel, and celebrations continued until the early hours.
Rustic sports were held, and tea and tobacco were handed out to all over-60s in the town!
Wolverton Works was a dominant employer in the area, and the launch of the railway provided Newport residents an easy route to work.
While you could still sit in the saddle and pedal the four and a half miles from one end of the line to the other, on those bitterly cold, crisp winter mornings, hopping aboard Nobby Newport with your fellow men must have been a more pleasant start to the day.
Today, you might choose to use a scooter to get around the town, but 150 years ago,
Nobby was the fashionable way to get about; at one time more than 30 visits were made daily, with 100s of men letting the train take the strain.
The line was also popular with children travelling to school.
A schoolboy in 1943, Norman Lyman would board one of the carriages from Newport Pagnell daily to commute to his school in Moon Street, Wolverton.
“We used to have to pay our tickets up front. It cost 33 shillings a quarter,” he remembered, “The train was also used by workers at McCorquodale and the Tech.”
Gina Thomsen would take the train to school between 1955 and 1959, but hers was a longer commute: “I would leave home at 7am from our farm in Great Linford and got on the train to Newport – I’d walk to Market Hill and then catch a United Counties bus to Bedford…and I’d do the reverse journey in the afternoon,” she remembered, “What a journey! But not very exciting…”
Nick Jones would regularly use the train when he was employed at the Works: “You purchased your ticket from the office in the waiting room that was at the station, but I seem to think travel was free if you were at the Works, or maybe I just didn’t pay!” he laughed.
“Sometimes sheep or cattle would wander onto the line from nearby fields – the train would be held up while they were moved back to safety and everyone would be late getting to work. You didn’t get in trouble for being late though, but your money was docked. Luckily that only happened occasionally.”
Of course it wasn’t only people that Nobby carried; goods were moved to and fro too, and the wagons were emptied of their produce further along the route; at the mill and goods yard – there is a reason why Station Road in Newport Pagnell is so called.
The area opposite the old doctors surgery is now a car park, but would have been abustle with people taking deliveries back in the day.
Nick Jones said: “As a youngster, I regularly took an old pram or wheelbarrow down to the coal yard to ask for a 100 weight of coal and my make-do ‘vehicle’ would be filled up to take back home. I was only about 12 years old at the time. As I recall, quite a few of us used to do that if we ran low on fuel between deliveries.”
The brick station building comprised a booking office, waiting room, station office and rest rooms.
Close by, a cattle dock temporarily housed animals that were being transported between one place and another.
Nobby Newport had been ferrying folks between the stations for nigh on a century
when it was dealt a fatal blow by ‘Dr Beeching’s Axe,’ a series of money saving economies ordered by the then Transport Manager Richard Beeching.
Residents fought against the planned closure of the service, and an enquiry was held in June 1964, but the outcome wasn’t a welcome one; the line would close after all.
The branch line had survived two world wars thanks to the goods yard in the town, but with more people looking towards the car as a more convenient mode of transport, its time was up.
Nobby Newport transported its final passengers on September 5, 1964. The train departed the station at 5:34pm.
It was the end of an era.
That last journey was well supported as a healthy crowd gathered to wave it off – even Father Christmas turned out, and a banner declaring ‘Beeching Must Go,’ made clear the animosity shown by the closure.
Symbolically, a wreath was attached to the train to mark its final departure.
As the train journeyed through the allotments between Newport and Linford, green-fingered sorts stopped their maintenance and waved Nobby on its way.
The old railway station later perished in a fire, but a tall, solitary reminder of the past remains in situ in Newport Pagnell – the home signal post is enjoying its retirement following refurbishment several years ago.
A plaque marking the signal post bears an anonymous ode to Beeching’s death-knell for the line.
Oh Dr Beeching! reads as follows:
Oh, Dr Beeching,
you’ve made your mark
We used to go to Wolverton,
via New Brad’ll and Giffard Park
Take me back to Newport,
Great Linford’s on the way
Oh, Nobby Newport,
I wish you were here today!
Today, the route that Nobby used to take is now part of the ‘Redway’ cycle network.
The train carriages were sold off locally whenever they needed replacing and we know that at least one is still in use today – it’s in the back garden of Newport Pagnell resident Elisabeth Brown: “I believe our carriage was a changing room for tennis courts on Lake Lane before the majority of houses were built in around 1930,” she said.
“When our house was built it was moved to the back of the plot and became a feature in the garden.
“It now serves as my dad’s home office on one side and was my playroom when I was younger!”
At the museum we are proud to exhibit the diorama featuring the railway line in its entirety.
Find the diorama in the MK Museum transport gallery
Images: MK Museum. Additional information: Newport Pagnell Historical Society
Although the Newport station is a long time lost under the Shepherds Close housing development, the station continues to be a source of inspiration for artist David Purvis, who got busy with his brush strokes to recreate the site only recently.
“Being a motoring and local artist, the inspiration for this painting came from a requirement to create a new piece for the Newport & Olney Lions Town calendars that I’ve donated my artwork to for a number of years,” he explained.
“These require a fresh mix of work each year and a fuzzy black and white photo of the ‘Newport Nobby’ loco on its own got me thinking of a piece for the 2021 Calendar.
“I’ve only produced a handful of railway paintings over the years and I rely on a great friend who’s a railway enthusiast to help me with the details.
“A bit more searching on the internet and seeing the model of the station in the MK Museum helped piece things together. I had black and white references of the loco and a bit of the station. The station colours and carriage colours were on the MK Museum model and confirmed by my friend. The signage was similar across the local rail network as well, so that also helped. A bit more research found trolleys and other typical station material.
“I widened the overall perspective of the platform to make a landscape view and decided on an autumn scene to set off the train, particularly with the colours of the trees and leaves. The engine driver and fireman standing on the platform were actually a reference of two guys I photographed at the time on the North Norfolk Railway – I remember saying at the time, ‘they’ll appear in a painting of mine one day…’
For image details visit olneyart.co.uk
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