Here’s an interesting fact. In 1957 households spent 33.5% of their income on food; in 2007 that statistic had dropped to 15%. I have often wondered in this age of supermarkets how they made a living. This explains why so many corner shops were able to survive 50 years ago – Wolverton being quite typical.
The scattering of small shops across the town illustrate well how we used to shop before the car made supermarkets possible. There were other factors too. Refrigerators were uncommon and few groceries came in packages. Even then, foodstuffs had a very limited shelf life. Kitchens were simple, with only a cooker and a sink with only cold running water.
Each corner shop in Wolverton I estimate had the potential to serve up to 100 households. In practice this number would be smaller and even then not all of the food budget would be spent in the corner shop. Once or twice a week housewives would shop on the Square or the Stratford Road or at the Market on Friday.
So where were these corner shops?
On Anson Road, at No. 43 was a general grocery. There was another nearby at 45 Jersey Road and yet another at the top of Jersey Road at 105. I never went to this shop but I assume they drew their customers from Western Road and Furze Way.
Three shops in the middle of Church Street were situated quite close together – Whalleys, on the corner of Church Street and Windsor Street; Wheelers, on the east corner of Cambridge and Church Streets; in the middle, at 136, Tarrys.
Further up Windsor Street at No. 44, Sidney Smith ran a corner shop. It is still a convenience store today, much expanded in size since the 1950s. Sidney Smith had a photo portrait studio upstairs.
Alice Bremeyer had a small shop at 115 Windsor Street. It was actually the conservatory on the side of the house and the shop could barely contain two people. Her father Reuben, who had retired after the war, operated a dairy from the same premises.
Byatts ran a significant grocery shop on the corner of Cambridge Street and Aylesbury Street at No: 45. Mr Byatt retired in 1952 and the business was taken over by Mr Dimmock. What perhaps distinguished Dimmocks from the other shops was the provision of cheese, sliced bacon and ham, loose tea, biscuits from a large Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit tin.
The Victoria Street stores, which served a good part of Victoria Street, Stacey Avenue, Marina Drive and Gloucester Road was probably a significant business. There was a further shop on Green Lane at the head of Oxford Street.
I can only draw on the experience of seeing my mother shop. Bremeyer’s was just opposite our house so it was very convenient for her to nip across the road for odd items as needed. I think all our greengrocery came from Bremeyer’s. Her main grocery shop was Byatt’s (later Dimmock’s) further down Cambridge Street. For meat she used the butcher’s on the Square (later Baxter’s) walking past the butcher on Green Lane on this errand. For her it was important to have a good relationship with her butcher in order to get the right cuts of meat. For fruit, when it was available, she would have to go to Keller’s on the Stratford Road.
This was a bustling business at Number 5 Stratford Road. Newspapers were still, even in the 50s and 60s, important organs of communication and there was always a huge sale of daily morning papers, daily evening papers and weekly papers. Men and women would flood in on their way to work and after work for an evening paper, and, of course, cigarettes.
It was the railways that made the growth of national newspapers possible. They were printed in Fleet Street at night, bundled to Euston in the early hours of the morning and loaded onto the slow train for delivery at each station. By 5:30 in the morning the papers, bundled with coarse string, were deposited outside Muscutt and Tompkins. A short time after this the unwrapping and sorting began. Newspapers were piled by title and then counted out for the paper rounds. Paper boys would arrive after 6, sort their papers and be off.
In the 1950s the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror were the biggest selling titles. The Daily Mail, Daily Herald, Daily Sketch, News Chronicle and Daily Telegraph were in the middle, and The Times and Manchester Guardian sold very few copies. In those days the Times still had classified advertisements on the front page, so you could not tell what stories might be inside. It was also printed on better quality white paper. The Daily Herald used blacker, more greasy ink, and handling it always left your hands dirty.
The News Chronicle disappeared in the mid-1950s, the Herald and Sketch later. The Manchester Guardian morphed into the Guardian and set up its printing and publishing in London.
The Evening papers from London, the Evening Standard and Evening News sold moderately, but the big seller was the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
Muscutt and Tompkins had its foundations in the 19th century. Harry Cornelius Muscutt was a shoe maker turned news agent. He may have bought the business from a man called Robert Tilley who was operating there in 1883. Anyway, it was Muscutts by 1890.
Bill Tompkins, who was very much a figure in Wolverton when I was young, married Ida Muscutt, one of Harry Muscutt’s daughters and thus the business became Muscutt and Tompkins. It certainly grew as a family business during the 20th century, holding at least three shops on the Stratford Road – a tobacconists at number 3, the newsagents at Number 5 and at Number 9 a stationery shop and printing business.
According to the Office of National Statistics the average expenditure on tobacco was 6.1% of household income. In 2007 that relative figure was 1%. Tobacco sales were good business.