Buckingham Street began the third phase of Wolverton’s development. In the first phase in the 1840s all the cottages were built by the railway company.
In 1860, when the Stratford Road and Church Street was opened for development, the building was left to private contractors.
In the 1870s, the LNWR returned to building their own cottages and renting them to employees, but in Buckingham Street this was only done on the north side, so you can see here an identikit terrace of houses, all built by the same contractor.
However, on the south side, the plots were open to private development, which is why you see slight variations in the architecture, usually reflected in the design of doorways and windows.
The following photographs will give you some idea of what the Agora replaced. The first picture, taken sometime in the 1960s shows the shop on the corner of Radcliffe Street and Buckingham Street. It was at one time a corner grocery but I don’t have much memory of it. By the time I took this photo it was out of business.
At the corner of Radcliffe Street and Church Street was Eady’s, the butchers. By 1960 it was in at least the third generation of family ownership.
Here are some views of Church Street as it was before the Agora. The north side, with the Vic on the corner is more-or-less recognizable. On the right is the row of houses and shops that were demolished.
The next view, looking west, shows the Post Office on the right (now a Mosque) and the demolished row on the left. The nearside house was for the custodian of the Science and Art Institute.
Much the same view of Church Street but looking East. On the right you can see the Science and Art Institute and in the distance he corner of Creed Street.
This last photo, taken from further along Church Street gives us a glimpse of the shops on the right that were taken down to make way for the Agora. On the left the two visible shops are the Wolverton Mutual at No. 50 (now St Andrews Bookshop), and with the awning, Swains – a sporting goods shop. Beyond that the houses and corner shop (Wolverton Building Society) were remodelled and rebuilt to the present Nationwide buildings.
This is a bit of a mystery photograph. The shop was on the corner of Buckingham Street and Radcliffe Street, opposite the Gas Showroom. I cannot remember anything about it. The “Dura Glit” signs in the window suggest that it may have been an ironmongers but that is purely a guess.
By the time this photo was taken (1968) the shop had probably fallen on hard times and closed. You can see from this photo how the wall stepped down as the road sloped down to Church Street and Eady, the butcher.
Today I stepped inside the Agora. I was shocked. My expectation, given that the planners of the day had seen fit to demolish complete sections of Church Street and Buckingham Street and isolated the Square from Church Street and the Front, was that the interior would be an indoor shopping centre. Instead I encountered a warehouse. I see now that it must have been the planner’s intention to replace the traditional market with a new superstructure in the middle of the town.
Well, let me say this. The project is an abject failure.
The market that ran every Friday in the Market Hall was a vibrant living organism. Many traders of all stripes set up their stalls inside and out and I don’t recall many vacancies. United Counties scheduled buses from all the outlying villages on Friday morning and returning at lunchtime. They were mostly full and the Friday market was a very crowded place.
One job which I took on in my teens was to help one trader, Harry Tooth, to unload his rugs, tablecloths and bedlinen from his van. I would help him unload before school in the morning and load up after 4 in the afternoon. So he got in a full day’s trading at Wolverton market.
Fifty years later I still see town markets flourishing so I see no reason why the old Wolverton market could not have continued to thrive.
Wolverton had certainly grown in an unusual way because of Railway Board decisions. Once Bury, Garnett and Walker Streets had been razed, the commercial traders had to move but before too long the Front and Church Street had formed a new shopping centre ith residences to the east, south and west. When the little streets were flattened in the 60s the eastern side was gone and the town became once more lop-sided.
The planners and builders of the Agora could have justified their decision had they built a shopping centre with important tenants – but a warehouse doesn’t cut it!