Wolverton Secret Garden

Last week, with our monthly informal walking group, we had a circular walk around Milton Keynes. We left Stony Stratford, following part of the Ouse Valley Way alongside the River Ouse, which was in spate. We made our way under the Iron Trunk at Cosgrove, and finally found ourselves at the New Inn at New Bradwell for coffee. The New Inn is alongside Bridge 72 on the Grand Union.

River Ouse in spate at Stony Stratford

We returned along the canal, following the off (non-towpath) side and passed the famous Bill Billings/IWA mural at Wolverton. It is a pity that this work of community art has recently been defaced by graffiti. There are plenty of blank areas that a budding Banksie could use. Bill was the artist in residence for Milton Keynes in the 70s & 80s as it grew from a building site into a New City.

For the first time we had a good look at the Wolverton Secret Garden which is on the off-side near Bridge 74. We have seen it on numerous occasion since it was established as we have passed by boat, but as with many boaters we failed to explore it. It is fascinating, and an object lesson in community action. I recommend crossing the canal and exploring it. You could call in on your way to Tescos!

The garden, is built on the site formerly occupied by 4 villas, built by the London & Birmingham Railway Company in the 1840s to house some of the important members of the management of the Railway Works. The houses were occupied until the late 1960s when they were demolished and the area became neglected. It was recently purchased from Network Rail and turned into a wonderful community garden.

The foundations of the villas remain. On their doorsteps some mosaics have been created. Three of the designs are based on objects that might have been found in different rooms of the houses -the other two doorsteps were made in the style of encaustic tiled doorsteps of Wolverton's terraced houses, with a train for the Stationmaster's House and a quill, account book and money for the Accountant's house.

Mosaics at the Secret Garden

There are excellent interpretation boards showing the history of the area and one of the last Bill Billings sculptures - a couple on a couch. It was carried out by art pupils from the Radcliffe school under the direction of Phil Smith and Bill Billings and unveiled in October 2007 shortly before Bill's death on Boxing Day 2007.

Scuplture by Bill Billings, Phil Smith and pupils of the Radcliffe School
The flowers are in memory of Bill Billings.

On the way back to Stony Stratford we stopped off for lunch at The Galleon at bridge 68 which had just reopened after a refurbisment. We can recommend it as a stopping-off place if you are boating between Cosgrove and Wolverton. The food was good, the beer choice good, and the surroundings smart.

The refurbished Galleon at Old Wolverton

I thought that I would close this blog with a tribute to Bill by repeating one of his jokes. It is firmly routed in the 1980s before the use of satellite navigation, the growth of Milton Keynes, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

When the KGB wish to pass out their spies after they complete their training, they send them to London, give them a white van and details of an address in Milton Keynes. If they manage to arrive at the address within 24 hours then they are qualified.