The Evolution of The Square

The formal square in towns was a late 17th century development in England. Peviouslycentral area in towns and villages developed int ‘squares’ but there was nothing formal about their development. Towns like Stony Stratford, built on a thoroughfare, developed their market ‘squares’ slightly off the beaten track.

The square, as a conscious element in town planning, was characterised by terraced rows of houses on three or four sides. Squares became very fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in keeping with this trend, Wolverton was planned with its very own square in 1840. This was named after the chairman of the London and Birmingham Railway company, George Carr Glyn. The square was bounded by the railway line on the east side and terraced cottages on the other three sides. While nowhere near as grand as some fashionable London squares, it had its appeal, and rents for Glyn Square cottages were higher than the were for some of the other streets.

Gradually, the quality this square was eroded. Six cottages on the north side were pulled down to make way for works buildings and eventually the space of the square was occupied by the works laundry and eventually the Training School.

The southern terrace of Glyn Square.

Wolverton had not quite fallen out of love with the desirability of a square, so when one of the Marron Fields was purchased on 31 December 1866, the planned development included a square at the heart of it. This new field of 18 acres extended from the church yard in the east to the back lane of Oxford Street in the west. To the north lay Church Street and the southern border was the ancient Green Lane. This land was developed over two decades. Buckingham Street was built in the 1870s with Aylesbury Street. Radcliffe Street and Bedford Street were built in the late 1870s and Oxford Street in the 1880s.The development of the square was mixed.

At some stage someone must have planned this square as a place for a market. “Market Square” was used to described stand the street on the west side of the square was known in the 19th century as “Market Street.” However, that never materialise. The old market continued in the Market House beside Glyn Square and when that burned down in 1906, the market was transferred to the recently vacated school on Church Street. The closest the market ever for to the Square was in recent times after the building of the Agora. Any building on the actual Square, was in any case forbidden after the cenotaph was erected in 1921.

The Cenotaph, opened in 1921. This monument hs since been replaced.

The development of the Square was piecemeal, but was entirely private development. Some of the houses in the middle of the west side were built in the late 1870s. The corner lot on Buckingham Street was reserved for a large private house and in 1882, the re-formed Co-op., known since 1874 as the Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society, purchased the lot on the Aylesbury Street corner for £100, and set about building a large shop, bakery and warehouse. In the first part of the 20th century this became the heart of the Wolverton Co-op empire.

Early 20th C photographs of the Co-op on the Square

On the eastern side, a private developer built Morland Terrace in 1884. This was obviously planned as an above average terrace for some of Wolverton’s middle class. The houses were spacious and the occupants had an unobstructed view of the Square. A draper occupied the house on the south east cornere; otherwise these houses all started out as residences. It was only in the 20th century that some of them were converted to shops.

These two views of Morland Terrace illustrate the relatively limited shop development in the early days.

The southern frontage to the Square was purchased by the Congregational Church. Their movement started off by meeting in a back room at the North Western Hotel in the 1860s, but they soon had sufficient money to build their own church, which opened in 1878. For almost a century this large church dominated the Square but in 1970 it was demolished. The replacement building, which is still standing, initially accommodated a supermarket on the ground floor and provided church rooms on the upper floor.

The Congregational Church, before demolition.

Supermarkets have been a development of my lifetime. In the 1940s and 50s packaging was a rare phenomenon, limited to cereal boxes, tins of Ovaltine and little else. Coventionally, if you wanted a pound of sugar, the grocer weighed it out for you poured it into a container made out a of a folded sheet of stiff blue paper 9known of course as ‘sugar paper’). A quarter of a pound of biscuits would be picked with tongs from a Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit tin  and weighed for you in a white paper bag. The idea of customers serving themselves was unknown.

Dudeney and Johnston, a Bedford grocer who developed queue a chain of shops in the region, took over the drapery on the south west corner of the Square, and were the first to develop anything like a sled service grocery. The Co-op followed suit and introduced wire baskets and ‘supermarket’ shopping by 1960. Each of these shops would be no larger than a convenience store today, but the were the start of this revolution. Budgens followed in 1970 on the site of the former church. Today, in town supermarkets without parking are no longer viable.

The Co-op Corner in the 1960s

As I mentioned earlier, shops around the Square began to develop in the first decade of the 20th century.On the Buckingham Street corners, at numbers 36 and 38 respectively. Albert Leeson had a grocery. The last occupant of 38 in this capacity was Fred and Grrace Old, who retired in the mid 1950s to devote themselves to Salvation Army work. they moved to a house in Cambridge Street and the shop became a gas showroom for the newly nationalised East Midlands Gas Board. At Number 36 John Nichols ran a boot repair business and ran a shop listed as “Domestic Stores”, which seems to sell various non-perishable items such as furniture polish and brass cleaner.

Travelling up Morland Terrace, from north to south, the corner shop, as I have already described, was a drapery and became a grocery after WWII. Whatever happened to Dudeney and Johnston, I don’t know. They were a significant cain in Bedfordshire, northamptonshire and Buckanand Heerts for many years. I suppose they were brought out by bigger fish.

Number 3 was residential for a number of years but Number 5 was first opened by Olive Sanders, who was a confectioner.In the early 1950, the Davies’s took over the shop. They were then a young couple and held the shop for many years. It i still open today with a similar profile.

Number 7 was residential and Number 9 first opened as a butcher. In the  1960s, at the beginning of the DIY craze, it became paint and wallpaper shop. I can’t immediately recall the name.

Numbers 13 and 15 were established as a jeweller and a tobacconist. At the opening of WWII number 13 was established as an optician and after the war functioned as such under the proprietorship of F Blagrove. Doug Roberts took over number 15 in the mid 1950s as a chemist and optician. He also, like his mentor Ewart Dale, sold a range of Kodak cameras.

Number 17 became a butcher’s shop after the war. Initially under the name of Dewhurst, it became part of the Baxter’s empire in the 1950s. The cheery fred Griffiths moved down from Leamington to manage the shop.

The house on the corner remained residential for a long time but in the late 1930 the Co-op took them over. They ran a fruit and flower shop at 21, and I think I am correct in saying, a fishmongers at number 19.

This large house on the corner of Aylesbury street and Morlnd Terrace was very much  a fine residence for many years.

Commercial development of the west side was mainly the Co-op. In time they held the southern half of the terrace, with shops, offices and a savings bank. The shop at number 9 (Buildings were originally numbered 1-11, starting at the south end. Today they have been renumbered.) was a butchers shop for many year. In the 1950s it was occupied by Woodwards. He was an enterprising man who also made his own ice cream. He sold the business c 1960 or earlier and a few years later was taken over by Terry Beckwith. He was a single man in his late 30s living with his elderly parents.  After some years he moved and the shop was taken over by a hard working couple who retained that name.

The very large house on the corner was owned by Fred Tilley. He had a coal business, the Empire Cinema, various properties and other enterprises. He was therefore quite well off. The downstairs part was converted into two shops at some stage. Number 10 was occupied by a printer, Frederick Clarke in 1915 and number 11 by the “India and China Team Company”, Grocers. Frederick Clarke later moved his press to 51 Church Street and the business continued into a second generation. 51 Church Street was demolished to make way for the Agora. In the mid century there was a ladies hairdresser on the corner and a shoe repair man in another shop.

In the last quarter of a century the Square has become almost exclusively commercial.

The Story of the Wolverton Co-op

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 Bakery

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.

The Co-op

I have been trying to discover if anybody has written a history of the Co-op in Wolverton, without success. There are fragments of information that I have turned up, but not enough to write a coherent account. Here at any rate are some notes.

The Co-op movement was more-or-less contemporaneous with the development of Wolverton so it was to be expected that the idea would take hold. Exactly how it was formed and who were the prime movers will require the work of some historian with access to the minute books and papers of the Co-operative Society – if indeed they still exist. It does strike me as a story worth telling because by the middle of the 20th century the Co-op was a dominant force in retail in Wolverton. After all the small dairies in Wolverton were closed down by the requirements of the Pasteurisation Act, the only source of supply of milk and dairy products was the Co-op Dairy, located on Jersey Road. 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.

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 that 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. Kightley thereafter moved to Newport Pagnell where he ran a bakery in Silver Street.

The Co-op story certainly begins with the building and opening of the shops in Creed Street and the Co-operative Society is featured in the Kelly’s directories of the period. In the 20th century the Creed Street shop was known as a Fish and Chip shop, but until the Co-op began to expand along Church Street this grocery store was the main outlet.

By 1869 the Co-operative Society had also opened a grocery shop in New Bradwell.

In 1887 we see the first mention of the Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society, presumably a re-formed or re-named organisation. It was based in Church Street and I can only conclude that this was the beginning of Co-op expansion. The shop was probably Number 15. The location of this shop is on the right hand side in this 1960s photograph, beside the striped traffic pole.

At about this time or shortly after there was a further expansion to the new Market Square and for many years after the main office was established here. Unfortunately the exact addresses are not given and of many years after the Co-op sought to advertise its presence in the directory by listing itself only as Market Square. It is really not until 1928 that we find a comprehensive listing of addresses of places where the Co-op did business.

  • 1-5 Market Square
  • 15-19 Church Street
  • 60-64 Church Street
  • 159 & 161 Church Street
  • 106 Jersey Road
  • 30 and 47 Aylesbury Street
This is the configuration that most people would recognise in the mid century when the Co-op was at its peak.

I am not sure of the date of the picture below, but I suspect from the architecture and the large plate glass windows that it is late 1890s or early 1900s. This was probably at the time Wolverton’s most splendid shop. as you can see from the photo the houses either side, Numbers 3 and 6 are still residential. Did the Co-op own Numbers 1 and 2? Possibly. They certainly did at a later period.

The new Co-op on the Square.

Costcutter today, formerly the Co-op below

Once the west end of the town was developed in the first decade of the 20th century, the Co-op also moved westwards, establishing a grocery, dairy and butcher’s shop on Jersey Road.

Former West end Grocery and Dairy

In the late 1920s there was a further expansion as the Co-op bought three houses on Church Street and built a state-of-the-art department store.

And it further expanded along the Square to take up the first five houses from the corner. Behind the grocery was a bakery, and the shop at the corner of Bedford Street was a Co-op butcher and later an outlet for bread and confectionery.

Co-op Bakery

Once the Co-op dominated this corner of the Square

Bedford Street Corner shop
Obviously the co-op has not gone away; it has had to grow to larger superstore outlets with plenty of parking. The Wolverton Co-op shops, as they were, represent an age when shopping could be done on foot, daily, with hand-held wicker baskets. The Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society probably had its weaknesses, but its great virtue was that it was locally owned and operated. You can hardly say that of any retail outlet these days.

Milk

The only source of milk, the other staple in our lives, was the Co-op. Reuben “Pop” Bremeyer had run a small dairy at 115 Windsor Street before the war, but he had retired when I knew him andhis sons had left home and his daughter Alice operated a small greengrocery/corner shop at that address.

The Co-op dairy was on Jersey road at the back of the Co-op grocery on Church Street. The building have been changed and adapted now but there were stables for the horse here and a shed for the horse-drawn dray. This was another job that required an early start and each morning Mr & Mrs Odell (I think that was the name) would don their brown smocks, harness the horse known as “Dobbin”, load the dray with crates of milk bottles and work their way quietly around the town.
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.
Milk was either tuberculin tested (TT) or pasteurised before it was bottled. Co-op milk was pasteurised. 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.