Is this the end of the Agora? 4 – What it replaced

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.

A History of Shopping in Wolverton Part IV

The Development of Church Street



This view of Church Street from the 1920s gives us a flavour of what Church Street looked like for most of the 2Oth century.  The Vic is dominant, but all the houses on the north side up to the Empire had been converted to shops – and so they remain. The south side (now demolished) was more of a mixture of commercial and residential.

The first shop conversion, as far as I can tell, was the house at Number 8, shown below.

This was the house at the left which in 1861 shows up as a Chemist and Druggist, then owned by George Ward Davids, a widower in his thirties with two small children. He moved away from Wolverton soon afterwards, but a chemist practised from here for about 100 years. The shop frontage had more conventional, early 20th century plate glass windows and was not as now represented.
The house to the right, now numbered 6, was empty in 1861, but later became a bakery.
By 1871 a few more commercial enterprises had opened on Church Street. It is not alway possible to pinpoint the location, because of variances in the numbering in the 19th century, but in some cases I can make a reasonable inference from 20th century usage.
William Covington established his bakery at the corner of Radcliffe Street and Church Street. Again this functioned for over 100 years before it was pulled down to make way for the Agora development.
James Irons has set up as a coal merchant, probably on the south side where Tilleys ran the successor business. Lewis Camozzi has a builder’s yard. Again I suspect on the south side. There is a confectioner, Thomas Sear, and a Grocer, James Harrison. It is likely that they were on the north side, probably between 30 and 34.
And there are two tailors, John Mitchell and James Sykes. I think the Sykes went into a third generation of Tailors on Church Street.

By 1881 John Eady had opened his butchers shop opposite Covington’s Bakery. this business went down through at least three (or possibly four) generations  before it was closed by the Agora development.

A number of these houses were still private until the 20th Century, as you can see from the following table. On the north side, houses 14-20 were cleared to make way for the new General Post Office, and 22-24 for the Empire Cinema. These changes took place in the late 1920s and mid 1930s. More recently Numbers 10 and 12 have been demolished for Post Office expansion. It is interesting to see the continuity of function in some shops, Number 28 for example, which still operates as a jeweller today.

Beyond The Vic there was a corner shop at Number 44. After the war this became the office for the Wolverton Building Society, subsequently the Northamo
pton Building Society, then the Anglia Building Society and now Nationwide. These buildings were torn down and redeveloped.
The houses from 58-64 were converted to a furniture warehouse. Lawsons the newsagent and stationery dealers moved into No: 58 and the other three units were rebuilt as a Co-op Furniture Store. It is now Maisies.

Church Street North

Number
1901
1911
1928
1939
6
Bickford, Baker
Kirby, Baker
Kirby, Baker
Kirby, Baker
8
Field, Chemist
Field, Chemist
Leigh, Chemist
Leigh, Chemist
10
Private
Private
Private
Private
12
Barnes, Coal Merchant
Pidgeon, Tailor
Pidgeon, Ladies Outfitter
Pidgeon, Ladies Outfitter
14
Private
Hayward, Insurance Agent
Bellamy, Boot repairs
Post Office
16
Private
Private
Private
Post Office
18
Private
Private
Private
Post Office
20
Private
Private
Wolverton Mutual (Coal Merchants)
Post Office
22
Private
Private
Carey, Hairdresser
Empire Cinema
24
Private
Private
Empire Cinema
Empire Cinema
26
Chown, Gents. Outfitter
Chown, Tailor
Chown, Tailor
Chown, Tailor
28
Emms, Watchmaker
Emms, Watchmaker
Hawkins, Jeweller
Hawkins, Jeweller
30
Gregory, Confectioner
Atterbury, Grocer
Davis, Greengrocer
Roberts, Greengrocer
32
Carr, Boots and Shoes
Manton, Bootmaker
Ridge, ladies Outfitter
Pointon, Ladies Outfitter
34
Private
Elliot, fancy Repository
Ellery, Grocer
Ellery, Grocer
36
Private
Gregory, Confectioner
Lewis, Pastrycook
38
Aldridge, Tobacconist & Fancy Repository
Aldridge, Fancy Repository
Bull, Fancy Repository
40
Empty
Eastman, Butcher
Ashby, Pork Pie Shop
Taylor, Watchmaker
42
Victoria Hotel
Victoria Hotel
Victoria Hotel
Victoria Hotel
44
Cave, Grocer
Baker, Outfitter
Taylor, watchmaker/ Conservative Association
Newton & Calcott, Soicitors/ Conservative Association
46
Private
Private
Private
Private
48
Swain, Athletic Outfitter
Swain, Athletic Outfitter
Swain, Athletic Outfitter
50
Lawson, Newsagent
Wolverton Mutual (Coal Merchants)
52
Private
Private
Private
Private
54
Private
Sharp Bros. Drapers
Sykes, Tailor
Sykes, Tailor
56
Sharp Bros. Drapers
Sharp Bros. Drapers
Lawson, Newsagent
58
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Lawson, Newsagent
Lawson, Newsagent
60
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Co-op
Co-op
62
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Co-op
Co-op
64
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Lindow, Furniture Dealer
Co-op
Co-op

Church Street South


The south side of Church Street never developed quite as fully as the north side in shop conversions, possibly because the rising ground meant that customers had to climb steps. The key shops were the butcher, Eady, pictured above, and the bakery on the opposite corner. The Co-op may have had a grocery at Numbers 15-17. After the war they opened a Men’s Outfitters at Number 29.
Another curiosity was Fred Anstee’s shop at Number 33. He sold radios (or “wirelesses” as they were originally called), sheet music and records.


Most of these buildings were demolished to make room for The Agora.


Number
1901
1911
1928
1939
7
Brett,  Confectioner
Parker, Confectioner
Parker, Confectioner
Parker, Confectioner
9
Private
Private
Thompson, Plumber
Thompson, Plumber
11
Strange, Butcher
White, Butcher
White, Butcher
13
Private
Private
Private
Private
15
Jones, Dairy
Co-op
Co-op
17
Empty
Private
Co-op
Co-op
19
Styles, Grocer
Co-op
Co-op
21
Private
Private
Private
Private
23
Private
Private
Private
Private
25
Gosbell, Bootmaker
Gosbell, Bootmaker
27
Private
Sykes, tailor
Gabell, Motor Engineer
Gabell, Motor Engineer
29
Private
Private
Private
Private
31
Private
Private
Private
Private
33
Private
Private
Private
Anstee, Wireless Appatatus dealer
35
Private
Private
Private
Private
37
Private
Private
Private
Private
39
Eady, Butcher
Eady, Burtcher
Eady, Butcher
Eady, Butcher
41
Covington, Baker
Covington, Baker
King, Baker
King, Baker
43
Beesley, Dairy
45
Private
Williams, Fruiterer
Mackerness, fancy Goods Repository
Mackerness, fancy Goods Repository
47
Private
Dale, Hair Dresser
Dale, Hairdresser
Dale, Hair Dresser
49
Private
Private
Private
Private
51
Private
Private
Private
Clarke, Printer
53
Private
Private
Private
Private
55
Private
Private
Private
Private
57
Lines, Hairdresser
Lines, Hair Dresser
59
Private
Private
Private
Private
61
Private
Wootton, Draper
Wootton, Milliner
63
Private
Private
Private
Private
65
Private
Private
Private
Private
67
Private
Private
Private
Private
69
Private
Private
Private
Private
71
Private
Private
Private
Dunkley, Turf Agent
73
Private
Private
Private
Private
75
Private
Private
Private
Private
77
Private
Private
Private
Private
79
Private
Sanitary Laundry
Sanitary Laundry
Leighton Sanitary Laundry

109 Church Street

In the early twentieth century this was a Confectionary run by a Mrs Ada Lea and subsequently by H. Savage. After the war it was a general corner grocery store in the hands of V. Wheeler. I think his name was Vic Wheeler. His daughter Vicky was about my age I think. I don’t recall ever going into this shop or having any reason to do so. It does not appear to have strayed too far from its original purpose after a century.

133 Church Street

A week or so ago I wrote about small dairies in Wolverton operating before WWII. This house/shop on the corner of Church Street and Windsor Street was one of them. The proprietor then was G. Young. After the war it became a general grocery shop operated by G. Whalley. It was not in my recollection ever a busy shop. I think the steps were a barrier of sorts and there was direct competition with Tarrys across the road at 136 Church Street and Wheeler’s on the corner of Cambridge Street.

More Church Street Shops – 1950s


In the 1950s and before the war Number 48 was “Swains” a sports equipment shop. As a gameing shop now it is more-or-less in the same tradition. The right hand window usually displayed footballs, tennis rackets and cricket bats; the left hand window had luggage on display.

Footballs in those times were made of leather panels and had an inflatable rubber bladder. When the bladder had been pumped up the nozzle was secured with string or elastic bands and then tucked into the leather casing. The opening was then laced up tight. On wet days the ball soaked up a lot of water and were hard to kick and impossible to head. Football boots were made of hard leather with leather studs nailed into the sole. As the boots wore down the nails would often come through the sole and cause discomfort to the foot.
Swains also sold indoor games such as chess sets and cribbage boards.
The owner of the shop was a Mr Willcox.
The frontage appears to be original although I am not sure about the doors. From memory, the entrance was a single door set into the porch.
Swain’s business claimed to have started in 1898, but not, I think, at this address.
The bookshop next door at Number 50 used to be the Wolverton Mutual Society Coal Merchants.

52

Number 54 was variously Sykes the tailor and Greys, Gentleman’s Outfitters. Number 56 was a Ladies Milliner’s shop run by a Mrs Wilson.

The Estate Agent shown here used to be Lawson and Son in the 1950s. The shop sold tableware, toys and stationery. Stuart Lawson, the father was the principal; his son Barry was probably in his early 20s in the mid-50s. Stuart Lawson was a keen amateur photographer and an active member of the Wolverton Photographic Society.

The Co-op built Wolverton’s only department store here in the 1930s. they must have taken down three houses in order to do so. Within this store sold furniture and drapery, and they may have had other departments. I don’t think I ever had occasion to go inside. Maisies, the present occupants, used to occupy 54-6 Church Street. I don’t know when they took over the Co-op store.

This block has been completely rebuilt. or refaced. judging by the type of brick used, this must have occurred at the time that the Agora was constructed.
The corner building was for a long time the office of the Wolverton Building Society. Transactions were relatively uncomplicated in those days. You saved money with the society, usually weekly. When you had sufficient money for a deposit you could apply for a mortgage. Most of Wolverton’s citizenry were owner-occupiers in those days and the Building Society was therefore a key institution. Later it became part of the Northampton Building Society and subsequently the Anglia Building Society. Now it is a small cog in the Nationwide group.
The back yard, on the Radcliffe Street side was filled with a creosoted wooden structure called The Marler Hall. This was a meeting hall for the Wolverton Conservative Party who also, for a time, maintained an office above the Building Society.
I think the house at 46 was a private residence.

A Gora Blimey!

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!

Church Street Shops

On the north side of Church Street, between the Wesleyan Chapel and The Victoria hotel stood a parade of shops and commercial services.

At Number 6, The “Brighton” Bakery run at the time by Cyril East. Next door at No: 8 AG Leigh a Chemist. I think there had been a chemist here since the 19th century. These two old 3 storey terraced buildings still survive.

I can’t remember who was at Number 10, but at Number 12 Ken east and his wife ran the Central Cafe together with a banquet catering business. These two buildings are now demolished.
After the GPO and the Empire there was a Gentleman’s Outfitter, Chowns. Mr Chown also supplied boy’s school uniforms for the Grammar School. Next door at Number 28, a jewellers, as indeed it is today. In the 50s the proprietor was W.S. Hawkins.

┬áNumber 30 was called “Donnies” in the 1960s – a sweet shop. Before that I do not know what it was called. I am not sue at this atge about no 32.
At Number 34 a grocer – Ellerys in the 1950s and earlier and subsequently a food or convenience store of some sort. Next door a confectioner Pollard.
Next door to the Vic was a watchmaker and jeweller, T F Taylor

The Empire


Of the two cinemas in Wolverton I tended to favour the Empire. This probably dates from the Saturday morning experience in the early 50s where we could go to watch a collection of cartoons and short features for 6d. The manager of the Empire at this time was quite enterprising and offered prizes for various talents during the interval. He thus guaranteed that the auditorium was packed.

Where there are now two windows and a double door was an open foyer. The ticket kiosk was on the right . Inset were two double doors leading into the picture house. The walls held posters featuring the latest films.
In the 50s cinemas still offered a main feature film and a “B” film as part of the same programme. In part this practice dated back to the times when films were much shorter but it was also a means of protecting the declining British film industry. Even though Hollywood films were the main attraction, a British film could still get into the cinema as a “B” feature. This was a restrictive trade practice but it did ensure that quite a lot of good British films, albeit low budget, found and audience.
The film programme probably changed twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday. I would imagine that in those pre-television days many people went to the “pictures” twice a week.
Showings were also continuous, so if you missed the first ten minutes of the film you could sit through the entire programme and pick up the first ten minutes at the beginning of the next showing.
In my child’s imagination The Empire was an important and imposing building. It looks rather unimpressive today.

Reconstructing Church Street

After the demolition of the “Little Streets” Church Street remained one of Wolverton’s oldest streets, but a decade or so later a good section of Church Street itself met the wrecker’s ball.

The Agora, a covered shopping centre, took up a complete block of Church Street and Buckingham Street and closed off Radcliffe Street into the bargain. The section of Buckingham Street was almost entirely residential and the houses looked very much like those that remained. The only unique building to go wsa the Gas Board Showroom on the north west corner of Buckingham Street and Radcliffe Street.
The south side of Church Street was not as fully developed commercially as the north side and was a mixture of residential and commercial. Those that had developed shop fronts had large plate glass windows with the exception of Antees, Eady, the butcher and King the baker.
Starting from the back lane by the Science and Art Institute and the churchyard was the Sketchley Dye Works – so called but really a drop-off and collection point for laundry and dry cleaning. My father, in common with most other men of the period, wore detachable shirt collars. As far as I recall they were never washed at home with the rest of the laundry but were sent away for cleaning. They always came back stiff with starch. I assume Sketchley provided this service. This building was numbered 7.
Number 9 may have been a residence, but at Number 11, for a time, was E A Read, a fishmonger. Tilley’s, one of Wolverton’s coal merchants, had their office at Number 13. Winter heating depended entirely on coal in those days and coal, coke and anthracite was delivered to household cellars or bunkers in blackened hessian hundredweight sacks.
The Co-op occupied Number 15 but I am not sure in what capacity. At Number 17 the Northampton Chronicle and Echo maintained an office, presumably to pick up local news and sell photos and other services.
The Co-op Mens Outfitters could be found at 19.
Numbers 21,25, 29,31,37 were residential.
ET Ray, the Stony Stratford firm of solicitors, maintained a Wolverton office at Number 23.
WG Sellick, who also had a garage at New Bradwell, had a service garage at Number 27. I think access must have been from the back alley. because all I remember of the shop window is that it was used to store tyres. In later years, as people began to buy cars, Sellicks formed Wolverton Motors and had a purpose-built garage on the Stratford Road. 
Anstee’s. at Number 33, was a music shop. Here you could buy sheet music (still a business mainstay in the early 1950s, gramophone records, radios (they were still called wireless in the 50s) and record players. The mid-50s saw us begin to make the transition from the 78rpm disk to 45rpm EP (extended play) and 33rpm LP (Long Play). The two latter were manufactured using a vinyl compound which could bend and did not shatter easily. EPs were 7 inch diameter and used for pop singles. They had a punch-out centre for use in juke boxes. The other technology that came along with this was the diamond or sapphire stylus to replace the old steel needle. The LP catalogue in the mid-50s was mainly classical with some jazz and musical shows. The pop album had yet to be invented.
Next door the Co=op had one of their two Butcher’s shops; the other was at the top of Jersey Road.
On the corner of Church Street and Radcliffe Street, at Number 39, was Eady the butcher. The entrance was at the corner angle.
All of these shop had steps.
At Number 41, on the opposite corner was a bakery, run by Mr and Mrs King with the help of their sons and one employee called Alf. Mrs King ran the shop and wrapped the loaves in a single sheet of white tissue for the customers who queued each morning for fresh bread. Mr King would deliver bread to customers in a pony and trap, usually in the afternoon. Baking started in the very early hours of the morning.
Further on from Kings were two more shops, Strickland’s – a wool shop, and a men’s barber, owned in the early 50s by Farndon and subsequently by Garwood. These were numbered 45 and 47.