J Cunningham’s ingenious use of primary source material, as for Ambulance Train, is in evidence again with this song, written for the 1977 Stantonbury Campus Drama Group musical documentary, All Change! Written and directed by Roy Nevitt, the play told the story of the coming of the railway to the area in the mid-19th century and the growth of the railway towns of Wolverton and New Bradwell. As Wolverton is half-way between London and Birmingham, it was here that that the LNW Railway Company built the world’s first Grand Central Station where passengers could descend during their six-hour journey to refresh.
Roy Nevitt’s production set the precedent of using the words of primary source materials for the script that the actors spoke, and for the lyrics that inspired local song-writers. With the elapse of more than 100 years after the events, there were no people whose memories could be recorded, but there were documents, magazine articles and books. Margaret Broadhurst’s diligent research for the project revealed that in 1849, Sir Francis Bond Head wrote in his book Stokers and Pokers:
The refreshment establishment at Wolverton is composed of a matron or generalissima; seven very young ladies to wait upon the passengers; four men and three boys; one man cook, his kitchen maid and his two scullery maids; two housemaids; one baker and one baker’s boy; one garden boy and an odd man.
… But the bell is violently calling the passengers to Come, come away! – and as they have all paid their fares and as the engine is loudly hissing, they soon, like swallows of summer, congregate together and fly away.
Sir Francis also reported that the average annual consumption at the Refreshment Room was 182,500 Banbury Cakes, 56,940 Queens cakes, 45,012 bottles of stout, 43,800lbs meat, 36,500 lbs of flour 29,200 pâtés, 25,692 bottles of ale, 16,425 quarts of milk , 13,140 lbs of butter, 10,416 bottles of soda-water, 8,088 bottles of lemonade, 5,840 lbs of loaf-sugar 5,208 bottles of ginger-beer 5,110 lbs of currants, 2,920 lbs of coffee, 2,095 bottles of sherry 1,277 lbs of tea 1,095 quarts of cream, 547 bottles of port…
…And, we regret to add, 666 bottles of gin, 464 bottles of rum, 2,392 bottles of brandy!
Every train stopped at Wolverton Station for precisely 11 minutes so that passengers could visit the Wolverton Refreshment Room to consume these delights. The contemporary Victorian journal Punch reported:
We defy any soup to be so red hot, so scorchingly and intensely scarifying to the mouth as the soup you are allowed just three minutes to swallow at the Wolverton Station of the London and Birmingham Railway…
Image (unknown artist) and primary source material from LAMK archive.
The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album Real Lives (LAMK)