There was a time when Wolverton Park in Milton Keynes would have been a riot of clanging metal, red hot coal and billowing steam. This was during its heyday when Wolverton was a hub of building and servicing steam locomotives in the mid-19th century; its depot ideally located halfway along the London to Birmingham railway line, with the wharf on the Grand Union Canal nearby for materials to be shipped to.
The area is now being redeveloped, and in recognition of Wolverton’s railway past, a unique sculpture was installed in 2012. It’s called Reaching Forward by artist Martin Heron. It depicts two 8m-high figures, reaching out to each other across the canal. One of the figures has a ‘Bloomer’ travelling along its arm, in recognition of a steam locomotive built at Wolverton Works over 150 years ago. The figure’s rusty body is made up of rail tracks, made with corten steel, which was used to build railroads in the United States.
The other figure on the other side of the canal is built of stainless steel and has a group of cyclists riding along its arm, including a Penny Farthing among more contemporary bikes. It’s a striking vision of the past reaching out towards the future and an awe-inspiring site as you approach it along the canal.
If you’re a railway enthusiast you can find images, archives and artefacts from the Works at the nearby Milton Keynes Museum, which also has a full size replica of a ‘Bloomer’ outside the front entrance. It was nicknamed ‘Bloomer’ because around the time these trains were entering service, an American women’s rights advocate called Amelia Bloomer was campaigning for ladies to be able to wear dresses that showed their legs. Wolverton’s locomotives had their wheels and lower structure exposed, hence the nickname ‘Bloomer’!