The first Coop store started in 1844 with the opening of a grocery store in Rochdale. Workers had banded together to form the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society to sell pure food at fair prices, using honest wights and measures. In the age we now live in, where food distribution is highly regulated, it may be difficult to conceive of a time when some unscrupulous grocers were always on the verge of poisoning their customers.
to look back nostalgically and assume, for example, that the bread which formed the staff of life was home-baked, or, if bought, was wholesome and nutritional, is romantic nonsense. By the 1840s home baked bread had died out among the rural poor; in the small tenements of the urban masses, unequipped as these were with ovens, it never existed. In 1872 Dr. Hassall, the pioneer investigator into food adulteration and the principal reformer in this vital area of health, demonstrated that half of the bread he examined had considerable quanities of alum. Alum, while not itself poisonous, by inhibiting the digestion could lower the nutritional value of other foods.
The list of poisonous additives reads like the stock list of some mad and malevolent chemist: strychnine, cocculus inculus (both are hallucinogens) and copperas in rum and beer; sulphate of copper in pickles, bottled fruit, wine, and preserves; lead chromate in mustard and snuff; sulphate of iron in tea and beer; ferric ferrocynanide, lime sulphate, and turmeric in chinese tea; copper carbonate, lead sulphate, bisulphate of mercury, and Venetian lead in sugar confectionery and chocolate; lead in wine and cider; all were extensively used and were accumulative in effect, resulting, over a long period, in chronic gastritis, and, indeed, often fatal food poisoning. Red lead gave Gloucester cheese its ‘healthy’ red hue, flour and arrowroot a rich thickness to cream, and tea leaves were ‘dried, dyed, and recycled again.’1
That was the darker side of food retailing. Grocers in provincial towns were also chemists and therefore the people one turned to for some remedy or other. John Lepper, a grocer on Bury Street in the 1840s was also a member of the Pharmaceutical Association, so it is to presumed that he knew a thing or two about chemicals. This is not to suggest that Mr Lepper was in any way corrupt, or that he adulterated the food he sold to his customers, – indeed, it was unlikely that anyone could get away with such practices in a small community – but it does show that the opportunity was there for unscrupulous retailers.
Quite apart from this, the idea of a Co-op would have been very appealing to Wolverton’s new residents, who, as we have seen in so many other areas, were very capable of organising themselves, and so, very quickly after the news of Rochdale’s experiment, Wolverton had its first Co-op.
The north end shops on Bury Street
As far as I can piece together the story from Trade Directories the Co-op story began a decade after the establishment of Wolverton. There is a suggestion that the bakery on Bury Street, operated by George Kightley, from a Stony Stratford family of bakers, was a Co-op bakery, but this is only a brief mention in some railway committee minutes and I cannot be sure of this fact. The Kightley bakery ran from the day these shops were erected in 1839 until about 1856 when they were pulled down to make way for workshop expansion. George Kightley thereafter moved to Newport Pagnell where he ran a bakery in Silver Street. However, after 1847, when the first Co-op opened on Creed Street, it is possible that George Kightley was persuaded to turn his bakery into a Co-op. At this very time he had competition from John Walker, who hd opened his new bakery on Creed Street and Kightley may have felt that his future business lay with the Co-op.
For some obscure reason this was the last building in the Little Streets to be pulled down. It was originally opened as a butcher’s shop and served as a Co-op butcher in the early 1900s.
The Creed Street shops were among the last buildings to be erected along the Little Streets. On the rise of land facing the church. There were only five units. John Walker’s new bakery was built on the Church Street corner and next door was a butcher’s shop which became a fish and chip shop in its last days. Next to that was a cottage occupied by the church sexton and the last two units, before what was later known as the ’triangle’, was occupied by the new Co-op. This experimental enterprise was staffed by Richard West, a very young man who had probably just completed his apprenticeship. His younger sister Charlotte, and a 16 year old apprentice made up the staff.
This view from Ledsam Street shows the back of the Creed Street house that was the original Co-op in Wolverton.
Other than references in the census and trade directories there is very little information about this early Co-op. James Harrison, aged 43 in 1861, was styled as the “Manager of the Cooperative Society Stores” in 1861, when the shop was still in Creed Street, but in 1863 the society re-formed itself as the “Wolverton and Stantonbury Industrial and Provident Society.” This may have coincided with the opening of a branch in New Bradwell, and it may also be that at this date the society gave up renting the Creed Street buildings in favour of better premises along Church Street, probably at Number 15. This house was in the middle of the southern block of Church Street, between the Institute and Radcliffe Street, that has since been demolished. James Harrison was still running the grocery in 1871, although by that time he had four assistants working for him, which perhaps confirms the notion that the business had expanded.
The house had three storeys, which offered enough space for James Harrison and his family and for the display and storage of goods. They adopted the conventional grocer’s practice of buying in bulk and selling at a mark-up to the consumer. The difference in the Co-op model was that they could depend on volunteer labour to keep costs down. Each evening, dedicated volunteers would spend an hour after work sorting out the new supplies as they came in. The society was also able to expand its range. Boots and shoes and drapery were now offered at the premises.
In 1882 the society was confident enough in its future to purchase the south west corner of the new Market Square for £100. The building on that corner was to become the nerve centre of the Wolverton Co-op for the next 60 or 70 years. The new shop on the corner sold groceries in one half and on the other side had a drapery. The drapery was a staple business in any town in that age before ready-made clothes, tablecloths and curtains could be purchased. Behind the shop, the Co-op had its own bakery.
This shows the Market Square building earl in the 20th century. By this time the Co-op had acquired the adjoining houses.
The shop on the corner of Aylesbury Street and Bedford Street, used to sell bread and cakes.
In 1892 the organisation was large enough to employ its own full time secretary. This was Fred Vickers, who held the position until his retirement 20 years later.
As it entered the 20th century the organisation became very strong and expanded its interests to many retail and service areas. The bakery was expanded and a dairy established on the same premises. A retail bakery shop opened up o the corner of Bedford Street and Aylesbury Street. The houses next door to the Market Square Co-op were acquired for expansion. They took over the butcher’s shop on Creed Street for a period and in 1912, opened up a West End branch on the corner of Jersey Road and Church Street. In 1925 the society built a new, purpose-built store at 60-64 Church Street for furniture sales. In the same year they took over the Stony Stratford Co-op. By 1928 the Co-op occupied the following premises.
1-5 Market Square
15-19 Church Street
60-64 Church Street
159 & 161 Church Street
106 Jersey Road
30 and 47 Aylesbury Street
West end grocery store, opened in 1912
The three storey building in the middle of the photo on the right (with a shop front addition) is probably where the Co-op moved to in 1863.
This is the configuration that most people would recognise up to 30 years later when the Co-op was at its peak. Groceries, green groceries, fish, flowers, baking products and savings services could be found on the square. At various premises along Church Street there was a butcher, men’s outfitter, furniture store, drapery and a second grocery. There was a second Butcher’s shop on Jersey Road and funeral services. You could, if you were so minded, buy everything you ever needed in life from the Co-op – bread, milk, meat, groceries, fish, green groceries, drapery, men’s clothing, shoes, furniture, toys, and even in death the Co-op could accommodate you and arrange your funeral.
This large house on the corner of Aylesbury Street and Moreland Terrace (Radcliffe Street) was converted into Co-op shops.
Co-op “department” store, opened c 1925,
The large store on Church Street was eventually taken over by Maisies, a clothing shop which started off at a Church Street shop closer to the Post Office. It is still. as you can see, in the hands of this company. The building is still functioning well after 90 years. There was a major fire in the building in 1953, but the structure was unimpaired.
After the second world war the co-op became the only supplier of dairy products. The Pasteurisation Act of 1951 made milk production too expensive for small dairies to compete and two other dairies, both on Windsor Street, closed down to leave the Co-op with a monopoly. Milk was bottled at the back of the Market Square premises and delivered by a horse drawn dray. This was another job that required an early start and each morning Mr & Mrs Odell (I think that was their name) would don their brown smocks, harness the horse known as “Dobbin”(at least, that is what I was told as a child), load the dray with crates of milk bottles and work their way quietly around the town, the only sound being the clink of milk bottles
Milk was paid for by the purchase of tokens from the Co-op on the Square. These were aluminium disks about the size of a penny, smaller for a half pint and coloured red for special items like cream. Tokens for whatever you required could then be left on the doorstep overnight. The milk carton had yet to be invented, so all milk came in bottles sealed with cardboard caps with a pull tag – they fitted into the slightly-recessed bottle top. Later on in the 50s the aluminium seal began to appear.
In those days cream was not entirely separated from the milk and each pint bottle would have an inch or so of cream rising to the top. On the occasional frosty winter morning the milk would freeze and the expansion would pop the cardboard cap and poke up a finger of frozen milk.
There were not may areas of life that the Co-op did not touch, but there was certainly one in the post-war period- that of music. Fred Anstey had a small shop in Church street, about two doors from Easy the butcher on the corner of Radcliffe Street. From this tiny shop, two steps up from the pavement, essentially the front room of the house, he sold records and sheet music and a few record players. Sheet music was very popular in those years when most households had a piano in their front room. In that era before television and the development of the gramophone, musical entertainment came from your own hands, or from another member of the family, or a friend or neighbour.
Mass production of records started to change this. First, bakelite disks that whirled around at 78rpm and at best produced o more than five minutes on one side, and then in the 1950s, the tiny revolution and the invention of the diamond or sapphire stylus. Single hit records came out as 7 inch 45rpm discs and long playing records came out in 10 inch and 12 inch versions. Beethoven’s 5th symphony, for example, could now be purchased as a single disk rather than a set of four played on an old 78rpm player.
Oddly, it took some time for the popular music market to catch u with this technology. Pop tunes were routinely released as 45rpm singles, usually with an “A” side (the song that you wanted to buy) and a “B” side with some rubbish song to fill up the space. Later these singles were compiled as an album on an LP, but it was not until 1967, with the issue of the Beatles Sergeant Pepper that the idea of an integrated album came into being.
This revolution was a little ahead of Fred Anstey who struggled a bit to keep up with the faster moving fashions. Many of us in the 1950s went to Northampton where there was a big shop on Gold Street (I can’t immediately recall the name) which had sound booths upstairs where you could listen to a single prior to purchase. Anyway, Fred Anstey retired in the early 1960s and the Co-op took over his shop. By this time were clearing their pianos out of their front rooms and no longer buying sheet music.
In 1967, upon the announcement of Milton Keynes, the Wolverton and Bletchley Cooperative Societies merged to create the Milton Keynes Cooperative Society. This was another step towards the creation of larger and perhaps less personal businesses. The story of the Wolverton, and indeed the New Bradwell and Stony Stratford Co-ops, was that of a locally created, largely volunteer organisation, dedicated to the common good of their friends and neighbours. In this sense the story of the Wolverton Co-op belongs to an age when women shopped daily with wicker baskets on their arm.
The corner shop c. 1967.
1 Wohl, Anthony S. Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983.
I have just realised that I have never written anything about the tram that once shuttled its way from Wolverton station to Stony Stratford.
By 1880 the carriage works had a large workforce. Wolverton continued to expand, as did the Wolverton end of Stony Stratford. While New Bradwell workers had a walk of only 1 mile to work, the extra mile to Stony Stratford made a difference. Demad for an easier way to get to and from work was high.
The first proposal was to build a branch railway line from Wolverton Station to Stony Stratford in 1869. This actually got as far as a bill through Parliament but it was never built. Its route can be seen in the map below. The branch turned off just south of Green Lane and arrived at the London Road to the south of Stony Stratford. At this time this part of Stony Stratford was completely undeveloped apart from the Hayes Works.
The less expensive option was to lay tram rails on the road from Wolverton to Stony Stratford and, because steam-powered road vehicles had developed, this became an option. The first proposal came forward in 1882 and, driven largely by Stony Stratford businessmen, a permit was awarded to Frederick Winby in 1883 to lay tramlines. The line would run from the north end of the High Street at Stony to Wolverton Station, a distance of slightly over two miles. This project did not get much further, probably due to lack of finance. However, in 1886 Charle Wilkinson came forward with a proposal to build the track for £13,325 and this time there were sufficient resources to see it through and the tramline was quickly in operation.
It started out successfully. Workers used it to get to and from work and Wolverton people were tempted to shop in Stony Stratford. Stony Stratford pubs were fuller than usual on saturday night because, in the days before national licensing laws, the Stony stratford pubs remained one an hour later than in Wolverton. The tram leaving after 11 pm on Saturday night was known as the “drunken car” because of the large number of rowdy drunks who clambered on board.
The corner building served as the office for the tram company when it opened in 1886
One of the trams, fully restored at MK Museum.
Success went to the company’s head and the following year they got permission to extend the line to Deanshanger, a further two miles to the west. Construction began almost immediately and the extension opened in 1888. There was some merit in the idea. The E H Roberts ironworks had been growing since 1820 and there was by this time an actual village at Deanshanger. However, the extension proved to be a loss making effort and the company went bankrupt in 1889.
This photo shows the tram at Deanshanger, probably in 1888.
Sir Herbert Leon was a London financier and he had lately purchasedBletchley Park. He took an interest in the`Tram company and in 1891 he put together a consortium of businessmen based in Bedford and they purchased the dormant company. The Deanshanger section was never re-opened, but the Staraford -Wolverton line did make money and proved to be a good investment. The Deanshanger tracks were eventually pulled up and used as pavement edging in Stratford’s market square.
The tracks were laid to a gauge of 3’6″ which meant that the vehicles were very narrow, as can be seen in the accompanying pictures.
Some tram company worker c. 1902
The Wolverton-Stony Stratford tram flourished for close to 20 years but during WWI got into financial difficulties. The invention and availability of the bicycle meant that many workmen could use this cheaper option to travel at no great loss of time and by 1915 motorised bicycles were becoming common, The LNWR agreed to take over the company in 1919 on more-or-less the same loss-making terms that they had assumed when taking on the Newport branch line some years earlier. The tram ran regularly until the General Strike of 1926, when the LMS, (successor company to the LNWR) decided not to resume the service.
An early motorised bus, which replaced the tram.
After the business closed down, everything was doisposed of. Several old trams ended up in gardens or allotments like the one below.
Despite its name the abbey, or more properly, the priory, was founded as part of the Wolverton estate, but because of its closeness to the village of Bradwell, became associated with that name.
The Wolverton Manor by the end of the 12th century. The land the south of Bradwell Brook has been granted to the Priory and the Stony Stratford settlement is just beginning.
It was founded as a bequest of the baron of Wolverton, Meinfelin, at or soon after his death circa 1154. He gave the southern section of the manor, beyond the brook to support the priory. Building probably began soon after this date. As was customary, the new priory came under the jurisdiction of an established house, in this case Luffield, on the border of Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. The monks followed the Benedictine order and as well as their expected duties to pray at regular hours, were also responsible for working the land, just as their peasant neighbours did. Most of the land came under the plough.
This drawing, taken from recent work by archaeologists, shows that most of the land was under the plough.
The priory was never very prosperous. After the original endowment of land, little else was forthcoming, It was granted the right to appoint the vicar of Holy Trinity church, which meant that some of the revenue from tithes would find its way into priory coffers. The priory also held some land in Padbury and the churches of Padbury, Stantonbury, Stoke Hammond and Chalfont St Giles. Stantonbury was ceded to the bishop of Lincoln at an early but unknown date and Chalfont St Giles wen the same way in 1259. Other than the prospect of future endowments there was not much scope for the priory. Many priories and abbeys functioned as hostelries for travellers, but the foundation of Stony Stratford around 1200 closed off that option. The route followed by Queen Eleanor’s cortege in 1290, for example, went from Delapre Abbey in Northampton to Stony Stratford and then to Woburn Abbey. Had there been no inns at Stony Stratford it would have been possible for Bradwell Abbey to develop a hostelry a mere two mile further on the Watling Street.
The records of the priory are extremely sketchy. The Priors that we know of were Nigel (mentioned in 1189), Richard (mentioned in 1201), John (mentioned in 1219); another Richard resigned in 1237 and was replaced by Simon de Kantia. Prior John was mentioned in 1253 and Bartholemew in 1272. Robert of Ramsey was elected in 1280 and 40 years later, in 1320, we know that Prior John died and Robert of Rowsham was elected to replace him. He may not have been there very long because in 1231 Prior Robert Foliot died and was succeeded by Simon of Elstow. He resigned five years later and William of Loughton was elected in his stead.
This brings us to the Black Death, which reached the Wolverton area in 1349. There were probably as many casualties as there were elsewhere, but two that we know about are the last of the Wolverton barons, John de Wolverton, who died in that year, and William de Loughton, the Prior of Bradwell. We must assume that the plague also killed off many of the monks because there were simply not enough men to manage the estate in the following years. Browne Willis reports that the buildings were in a state of disrepair by 1361.
John of Billing was elected Prior in 1349 and it is unclear how many years he served, but his successor, John of Willen, was deprived of the post for incompetence in 1361. Who succeeded him is not known but John Horwood was the prior in 1388. In 1380 the income of the priory was £32 6s. 2d. – not very much for an institution of this size.
John Harwood died in 1410 and was replaced by William Horwood, who may have been a relative. After that the rest of the 15th century does not record the names of the priors.
The priory was undoubtedly poor but for some this was an attraction. One monk from St Albans petitioned his abbot to be allowed to spend his retirement years at Bradwell where he could get closer to God by living a life of real poverty. There are also no bad reports of Bradwell, no evidence of backsliding or corruption. The bishop of Lincoln, who visited at sometime between the years of 1431 and 1436, gave the priory a good report and was only concerned about the small numbers of monks.
This drawing, taken from a Bradwell Abbey brochure, illustrates how the priory may have looked in 1524.
By the turn of the 16th century the monastic movement was in decline. Contrary to popular belief, which associates the monastic dissolution with Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in the late 1530s, many were closed down in the 15th century to fund other projects. In many cases the income was used to support the new colleges which were growing up at places like Oxford and Cambridge, and such was the fate of Bradwell Abbey. In 1524 the lands and the revenues of the priory were acquired by Cardinal Wolsey to help towards funding his great project of Christ Church College at Oxford. The income amounted to £47 4s. 1 1/4d. Not a great deal of money, but as the cardinal no doubt noted to himself, “Every little helps!”
One of New Bradwell’s more colourful characters in the past was the Vicar of St James. The Reverend Guest arrived in 1908 and almost immediately proved to be controversial. He was inducted with appropriate ceremony on Thursday 17 September 1908. He was single, 40 years old, and had held curacies in seven different places in Ireland, where he was born, London and Brighton. Perhaps the warning signs were already present in this fact alone, but he was energetic and at this date spoken highly of. His stipend was £350 a year – a very good income in 1908. He was barely six months into the job when he sparked the first major controversy of his incumbency; he discovered that the register used for marriages was the one for St Peter’s at Stantonbury and that St James had never been licensed for marriages. Technically, therefore, these marriages could be construed as illegal. Something of the order of 500 marriages had been conducted over a period of 50 years. So what did the good reverend do? Instead of making his discovery quietly known to the bishop and looking for solutions he contacted the Registrar of BMD to inform them that the marriages were illegal and made a dramatic announcement from the pulpit. The news caused a sensation and not a little consternation amongst those unfortunates who now were led to believe that they had been ‘living in sin’ throughout their married lives. The Bystander (April 7 1909) was quite critical at the time and called him a ‘troublesome guest.” Eventually, more rational heads took command of the situation and an act of parliament retrospectively legalised the marriages. 30 years later, the dramatist J B Priestley used this incident to construct his play When we are married, where long married couples meet to celebrate a 25 year union only to discover to their horror that they have been illegally married. One gets the impression that Reverend Guest was a man of strong character and strong beliefs who rarely stopped to consider the views of others – there was only one way, his way. Matters came to a turbulent head in 1913 when he appears to have antagonised the entire parish. His parish was essentially working class, as was Wolverton. There were no gentry or time honoured traditions in a town that was barely 50 years old. The predilection for most parishioners was for simple church ceremonies based on the book of Common Prayer. They had no truck with fancy ritual which they regarded as ‘popish.’ In the parlance of the day they were ‘low church.’ A petition, signed by many, had been submitted to the bishop of Oxford complaining about the services of the church, which, in their view, were distinctly ritualistic, in their view. The bishop had shown the petition to Reverend Guest who, in a vestry meeting, treated it with contempt had threw it on the floor. At the last Sunday in April the bishop was to be at St James for a confirmation ceremony and had agreed to meet with the parishioners at 5 o’clock. The parishioners looked forward to it eagerly, believing that the situation could be resolved. As the Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press remarked, “For two or three years past, Church matters at Bradwell have proceeded the reverse of smoothly.” Passions were obviously riding high as about 1000 people turned up to listen to the bishop and have their say. Among them were some “Kensitites”. that is follower s of John Kensit a campaigner against ritual in church. The bishop found himself in a difficult position. He obviously wanted to support his parish priest and was probably reluctant to cave in to mob rule. At one point said that Rev Guest had been reasonable, which was greeted by snorts of derision from the crowd. The meeting became quite rowdy with lots of jeers and catcalls and people shouting out. The bishop eventually left seeing that there could be no outcome, other than removing Rev Guest, which he was unwilling to do. A contingent of police from Newport Pagnell were present to keep order. The outcome, if indeed there was one, was that Rev Guest remained the incumbent. Unlike the situation at the Stony Stratford church of Wolverton St Mary’s in 1909, where there were clear doctrinal differences between the vicar, Oliver P Henly and the Church of England, Newman Guest was more or less preaching in accordance with the church’s teachings. Newman Guest’s issues were more to do with his personality. So whereas Henly was locked out of his church, Newman Guest continued as vicar for another 30 years. The bishop did try to persuade him to move to another parish in 1916 but he refused. Over the years parishioners voted with their feet and joined other churches. In September 1915 he was before the magistrate for assault on a 14 year old girl. He apparently asked the girl why she was not in church. She replied that she was a Primitive Methodist, whereupon Guest, who did not like her attitude, slapped her on the face. He was fined £3. Nowadays the incident would probably have brought calls for his resignation. In 1916 he married Dorothy Cooke from Eastbourne. His parishioners may have hoped that this would calm him down, but even she, after giving birth to two sone and a daughter could not cope with him and left him in 1926 to return to Eastbourne. She took her eldest son with her but Newman Guest put up a fight to keep the two younger ones with him in New Bradwell.
Relations with his congregation deteriorated over the years and by 1943 he was conducting services to an almost empty church. Only six members of the parish council stayed loyal to him. On Sunday he would ring the bell, go through the form of the service and play the organ in a practically empty church. Something of Rev Guest’s combative personality can be discovered at a meeting of church ministers and laypeople to discuss the new prayer book in May 1927. The new proposals, he said, gave a layman power over the cure of souls, and he thought it was a wrong position to thrust upon a vicar. He added, “I would object to it in my parish.” The Rural Dean, Canon W. L. Harnett of Wolverton tried to quell the potential controversy by pointing out that the presentation of the new prayer book was for information only and it was not advisable to provoke controversy. Guest was a strong and fit man and even in his forties he was prone to challenge other men to a swimming race. There are several newspaper reports of such challenges. Mostly he lost against much younger men, but this did not seem to deter him from putting up a challenge. He was also a recognisable figure on his bicycle which he regularly used to travel around the parish. The bicycle was of nearly vintage and I am told had a fixed wheel, which must have made it hard work cycling up the hill. Coming down was easier of course, but the fixed wheel made it hard to keep one’s feet on the pedals. Accordingly, he had a bar made to rest his feet while he was freewheeling downhill. One day in 1932 the front fork of his bicycle collapsed while he was coming down the canal hill at speed, and in the course of the fall he hit his head. He did recover. Rev Guest was an accomplished musician and sometime composer, but even that was not without controversy. He composed a Valse in C Minor and he was accused of plagiarising Chopin’s Valse in C minor. To prove his point Reverend Guest played the two pieces and the audience were persuaded that the two pieces were dissimilar, The occasion was a bazaar to raise funds for the school and as it happened my grandmother was there at this occasion to open proceedings on Saturday November 6th 1937. He finally resigned his ministry at St James in 1943, and died three years later in a Bedford nursing home in December 1946 at the age of 79. He must rate as the most colourful ecclesiastic in the district in our history. He was argumentative and pugnacious, characteristics which, for al his gifts and intelligence, precluded him from higher office. During his years in New Bradwell he collected a lot of historical information which were published in newspaper articles and then by himself as Stantonbury Tales in 1924. He also adopted the habit of getting up in the middle of the night to play the organ and thus disturbing the neighbourhood. Complaints were of no avail and some felt that this activity was a deliberate act to disturb the peace of his neighbours. The Bradville at one time changed its name to The Jovial Priest and sported a sign purporting to be based on the bicycling eccentric.