How sleepy Linslade became a Victorian boom town

Passengers boarding a train at Leighton Buzzard railway station in the 1890s
Passengers boarding a train at Leighton Buzzard railway station in the 1890s

The building of the railway through Linslade turned a small farming settlement into a boomtown attracting people to the new opportunities to make their fortune.

The busy streets that grew up on the fields between the canal and the railway station were lined with shops, pubs and small factories.

A horse and cart in Wing Road in June 1908

A horse and cart in Wing Road in June 1908

The opening of the canal in 1800 and the railway in 1838 meant Leighton Buzzard could benefit from cheap coal and fast communications to London and Midland industry. This created a market for exporting sand to build houses in fast expanding London and Birmingham. A market garden industry grew up around Leighton producing fresh food for the capital’s shops.

An unexpected benefit of being only an hour from London by train was that Linslade became the haunt of the London gentry who came to hunt in the Buckinghamshire countryside. The lure of the Rothschild stately homes at Ascott and Mentmore and their regular hunting weekends brought the Prince of Wales and cream of Britain’s aristocracy to house parties.

As a result many of the best houses in Linslade were built as weekend hunting lodges with attached stables.

The new town became full of grooms, ostlers and stable boys who kept the horses in peak condition for the weekend of sport. Linslade also became popular for small boarding schools because of the “pure air” of the Aylesbury Vale compared with the London smogs. The hotels and hunting boxes of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade provided discreet romantic hideaways for the London nobility.

The story of Linslade’s development from a sleepy hamlet to a Victorian boomtown is being told on Wednesday, April 8 at Linslade Community Hall (St Barnabas) at 8pm by Paul Brown, of the Leighton Buzzard and District Archaeological and Historical Society. Members free, non-members £3.

The meeting will be followed by the society’s AGM and the society’s new annual journal Transactions will be available free to members.

The pictures show passengers boarding a train at the railway station in the 1890s and a horse and cart in Wing Road in June 1908. The “rocket” on the back is in fact the cowl for chimney at St Leonard’s Church at Heath and Reach. The little girl is Alice with her dog Lark. She is the daughter of Fred Stone, who ran the Red Lion Inn at Heath and Reach and was also the village carrier. Fred probably took the photo on his way back to Heath and Reach after collecting the cowl from the station. Alice continued to live in Heath and Reach until the 1990s.