A History of Shopping in Wolverton Part VI

Corner Shops: The Final Phase

Well, the final phase of this little historical survey.

I have covered most of these in earlier blogs, which I will list below, but here is a general comment.

Food shopping up to 1960 was a daily activity. Refrigerators were scarce and storage space in kitchens wa limited. Packaging was a new science. Supermarkets in this country were no more than a concept in the brains of Mr Sainsbury and Mr Cohen. Therefore there was a high demand for readily accessible shops. It was an expensive way to shop (people in the 1950s spent one third of their income on food) but the convenience outweighed that. In addition you could get milk, bread, meat and groceries delivered to your door.

Once Cambridge Street was built, corner shops appeared at the Church Street, Buckingham Street intersections. The same happened with Jersey Road and lastly Anson Road. Some shops appeared at the head of Oxford Street and Green Lane, and another general store opened at the corner of Victoria Street and Radcliffe Street.

For a general discussion about the role of Corner Shops go to: Corner Shops

About the former grocery at 39 Cambridge Street

For two small corner shops go to 133 Church Street and 109 Church Street

The Jersey Road Shops are here

Bremeyers on Windsor Street here

And the Green Lane shops in this post

I also mention the Stratford Road shops at the bottom of Jersey and Anson Roads here.

There are some gaps in this coverage. The development and one-time domination of the Co-op I will discuss in a separate post when I have gathered all the information. There were also corner shops at Windsor/Aylesbury and Anson/Aylesbury which I have not featured and at Buckingham/Cambridge.

This survey has covered 120 years and it is interesting to see the changes. In the 1840s you could still buy from the farm gate and milk was delivered to your door in open pails. 100 years later there are greengrocers, dairies, grocers, butchers, baker, confectioners in most parts of the town. Towards the end of our period opticians and purveyors of the latest technology – the radio – start to appear. What you do not see is interesting too. There are no carpet dealers nor a shop specializing in china and glass, unless the ironmongers did this. Yet quite early in the 19th century you will find China and Glass Dealers in Stony Stratford and Leighton Buzzard, but not, it seems in Wolverton.

The Anson Road Post Office

44 Anson Road was Wolverton’s only, and it appears last, sub Post Office. This has now been converted to a residence with few clues that it was once a shop. The bay window is probably recent. if memory serves me correctly the shop window was originally plate glass. They also sold stationery and some toys around Christmastime. It was run by a man named Longmore and it was clearly named the Anson Road Post Office.
That much is simple and straightforward, but when I checked back in the Trade Directories to see when it might have started up I encountered a surprise. Up to 1939, the address was 44 Jersey Road, not Anson Road!
Some facts first, from Kelly’s Directory:

1924 Henry Riddell, shopkeeper, Post Office 44 Jersey Road

1928 Henry Riddell, shopkeeper, Post Office 44 Jersey Road

1931 Henry Riddell, shopkeeper, Post Office 44 Jersey Road 

1935 Wm S Longmore shopkpr & post office, 44 Jersey Road 

1939 Wm S Longmore statnr. & post office, 44 Jersey Road 

I spoken to one or two people who are possibly old enough to recall if it was ever in Jersey Road. The house that is there shows little evidence of ever having been a shop other that a side door on Aylesbury Street, but I have to assume that the Kelly’s directory was right. Even if there was a mistake in the 1924 edition it would not have survived for 15 years and two owners.

It is not immediately obvious what Mr Longmore gained from the move. The Anson Road address might have been larger and was certainly a slightly newer building.

Green Lane

Just about every rural community has a Green Lane, an old trackway that was not heavily used. Our Green Lane started at Stonebridge House Farm and followed a more-or-less direct line to Calverton. That line was a little changed by 17th century land enclosure which required a diversion somewhere near Warren Farm and it was later cut by the canal and the railway.
By the end of the 19th century Green Lane started at the southern end of Ledsam Street and followed its old route to the Watling Street, but the first part was now populated with houses, starting with the Surgeon’s house (The Elms) and new terraces up to Osborne Street. I think that Western Road, built twenty years later, changed the line of Green Lane because the old track continued alongside the Recreation ground and the Cemetary for a number of years. Green Lane only had (as it still does) houses on one side of the street; the north side was made up of the abutments of Radcliffe, Bedford and Oxford Streets.
The western end of Green Lane became a corner grocery – run by Mitchells in my day. I assume their catchment area was Green Lane, Osborne Street, Oxford Street and possibly Bedford Street and the end of Victoria Street. I often called in there to buy some tooth-rotting sweets on the way to school.
I do recall buying some glucose tablets once prior to the annual cross country race. Someone told me that these would give me extra energy and we might now reflect that the quest for performance enhancing substances is not a recent phenomenon. It all came to grief however. I was doing quite well and was up with the leading pack when I was attacked by a stitch coming up Stacey Hill. I tried to strugle on but ended up with a poor finish.

At the time of this photo it looks rather neglected.
Opposite, at the top of Oxford Street, was Wolverton’s second off-license where one could buy a jug of ale, dandelion and burdock wine, Emu sherry and Smith’s crisps amongst other things. 50 years ago it was run by a Mr Hobson.
Henry Hicks, owner of the Victoria Hotel in the late nineteenth century had some plans to build another pub in this vicinity, which would have offered a better distribution of pubs in the town. Obviously this came to nothing, but the off license may have been allowed as compensation.
Next door was another butcher’s shop – a London Central Meat Company outlet.

Jersey Road Shops

The Co-op pretty much dominated the commercial life of Wolverton in the mid-century. This house at the top of Jersey Road was a Co-op butcher’s shop for a period. Presumably it served customers in jersey Road, Anson Road, Western Road and Furze Way. As I remember it then the front window was a full plate glass window and there may have been an awning. The forecourt was open without a wall.

Opposite, and obviously still a shop of sorts, was a general grocery store. I am sure it served the same catchment area as the butcher’s shop. I think at one time it went under the name of Lush and Pearce.

At the Aylesbury Street corner was yet another small grocery shop. The frontage has been modified now that it has been converted for residential use. It is quite astonishing now that I look back how many of these corner shops there were. A block away, on Anson Road, was yet another small grocery as well as the Anson Road Post Office, and further down Jersey Road you could find the much bigger Coop Grocery.

Winsor and Glave, on the opposite corner, comes into a slightly different category. They were mainly builders and carpenters and most of this work was done in the workshop at the back. I suspect the shop, which sold paint and wallpaper was an outgrowth of their former activities. I believe they also built coffins and acted as undertakers.

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.

Bremeyers

I’m going to take a tour around some corner shops that were pretty fundamental to Wolverton’s food economy before the coming of the supermarket.

This house at 115 Windsor Street used to have a glass conservatory at the side, just like ours at 113. You can pretty well see where it used to be because of the new wall and the painted area on the wall. Alice Bremeyer ran her shop out of this area. Her father Reuben (always known as “Pop”) ran a dairy here before the war but after that retired from business and left his daughter to run the shop. There were also, I believe, two sons but they had moved on to other things. Alice sold green grocery and most staples and my mother was always popping across the road to buy the odd item. It was very convenient. For any household living to the south of Western Road, namely the Windsor St extension and beyond, this was nearest shop.
Alice soldiered on here until the 1970s. I was told that she decided to pack it in when the government introduced VAT

39 Cambridge Street

The independent grocer has now been consigned to memory. This house on the corner of Cambridge Street and Aylesbury Street was once a thriving grocery that could support a family quite comfortably. It was my mother’s grocer of choice and that of her parents who lived on the Stratford Road.
Cambridge Street was built in the mid 1890s and the first recorded occupant in 1901 was Robert Henderson. He was self-employed as an “Oilman Colour” which I would interpret to mean that he made paint. This may explain why the workshop was built at the back.
By 1907 it was a grocery store operated by Byatt and Hopkins. Later it was Byatt only and he continued there until he retired, possibly about 1951 or 2. It was then taken over by W R Dimmock and continued to thrive. In its later years I am given to understand that it was owned by a Mr Powell who surrendered to the inevitable growth of supermarkets in 1975.
The large plate glass windows facing Cambridge Street have been replaced as have the sash windows above. I don’t remember windows on the Aylesbury Street side. With the additional buildings at the back it is now a large residential property.
As a personal footnote to this, my grandfather and his brother, then 16 year old and 17 year old apprentice clerks, lodged next door in 1895 after his father moved away to become Station Master at Leighton Buzzard.

Corner Shops

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.