The Front around 1900

The Front at the beginning of the 20th Century

Here’s an interesting photograph from Julia Bennett’s family album, taken, I would estimate, in the first decade of the 20th century. The view shows the corner of Radcliffe Street and the Stratford Road, later known as Foster’s Corner after the Foster Brothers Clothing store that occupied the site.

In this picture the corner shop is the premises of William Hutchinson, a hairdresser and tobacconist. Next to him was a cycle shop, the sign above indicating the Hobart Cycle Company. By 1911 this was the Grafton Cycle Company, who later moved to the premises which still bears the name further down the street.

The shop next door, which is now two shops (as it has been for a long time) numbered 18 and 19 was mainly occupied by John Verney who was originally a shoemaker but was also the Postmaster. So from the 1880s onwards this was Wolverton’s Post Office, although it may also have accommodated some other businesses. The Post Office appears to have remained here until the new GPO was built on Church Street in the 1930s.

Next to the east at Number 17 was a Chemist, and had been thus from almost it’s first build in the 1860s.
The censuses and Trade Directories show:

  • George Atkinson
  • William Barton (from 1891)
  • Alfred Leeming (from 1911)
  • Walter Mackerness (from 1939)
In the 1950s the business was taken over by Escott, who then ran it until his retirement. The building showed remarkable continuity for its first century.
Number 16 showed a similar continuity, starting as a butcher with frederick Oxley, continuing through Harry Norman at the time this photo was taken and through to Canvins from about 1924 onwards.
Number 15 was originally a grocery, but from 1911 onwards was a shoe shop – Freeman, Hardy and Willis.
The three storey building next door, now numbered 13 and 14, was mainly a drapery, although the proprietor at this time was also described as a house furnisher. It’s not clear whether that meant soft furnishings or furniture, or both. Quite why the awning was thought necessary for this north facing shop front is not clear.
Sigwart’s, the watchmaker and jeweller, cannot be seen, but it was there, sandwiched between the two large buildings, one of which was, and still is, the North Western. After the closure of the Royal Engineer, which can be seen at the end of the block, the North western remains Wolverton’s oldest public house still practising its original trade.
There are a lot of people standing about in this picture. Most likely they are waiting for the tram which can be seen in the distance. There is a horse and cart but motor cars are completely missing.

Driving Licence

I just came across my Father’s first Driving licence. He would have been 24 at the time and probably just about in a position to afford a used car, although I have no idea what it was.

The licences were designed as little booklets, about the size of a business card with pages where you could stick the annual licence, which was dated from the anniversary of the date you first held a licence. The fee was 5 shillings – 25p in today’s money although there is no real equivalence. 5/- in 1935 night have bought you 10 pints of beer.

The Drum and Monkey

At the back of Number 44 Stratford Road was another house which housed one of Wolverton’s two off-licences. You could ring a bell in the back alley and the proprietor would open the hatch and serve you. This was Wolverton’s “hole in the wall” and it served for quite a long time before the general liberalisation of alcohol purchases made places such as this obsolete.

Before I go on to describe its origins there was another “hole in the wall” at the second station, just off Young Street. It was in fact marked as such on the 1880 OS Map and I presume service was from the side of the old railway Refreshment Rooms.

The house at Number 44 Stratford Road was actually Number 1 Stratford Road until the 1890s when Cambridge and Windsor Streets were built and therefore on the edge of town. The additional building at the back seems to appear in the 1880s and was run by a man named Samuel Sinfield. Sinfield was a labourer in the 1881 census living at Number 3 Stratford Road, now Avenues, estate agents, but in 1881, the about 50 years old, he is recorded in this house as a Beer Seller. It is quite possible that after the other “hole in the wall” closed down Sinfield (or whoever built the house) saw an opportunity.

In the 1950s, when I remember the place, it was possible to take along a jug to be filled with draught beer. They also sold bottled beer, cider, various bottles of pop – including something called “dandelion and burdock”, cheap “Emu” sherry and cheap “Ruby” port. If you wanted anything more sophisticated you had to go to the Victoira Wine shop on the corner of Church St and Cambridge st opposite the library.

The origin of the name “Drum and Monkey” is completely obscure. There are lots of Drum and Monkeys across the land and there are various explanations of the origin of the name, none of them completely convincing. The name itself probably came to England in Victorian times when soldiers returning from overseas duty might bring back a tame monkey who could beat a drum. At one time this might have been a feature (albeit an annoying one) for some pubs. Why this should have been applied to this hole in the wall may never be known. It might have been first applied as a joke and then the name just stuck.