Sunday, September 21, 2008

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.


Chris Eccles said...

I used to live at 27 Church Street,when the family moved there from Bedford in October 1959. My father, Jack, was a driving instructor in Bedford in the late 1950's. It seemed that if someone from Wolverton wanted to learn to drive, they had to travel, as there were no driving schools available locally. One of his puplis was the wife of the chemist on Statford Road just before Cambrige Street and was a friend of Ray Sellick. As a motor trader he wanted to open up an untapped market and persuded my father to become Wolverton's first driving instuctor.

Outside the front of 27 and to the left was a petrol pump. Sellick's first workshop was at the bottom of our garden. There was no lift in it just a pit, some workshop machinery, and several oil dispensers. Access was gained through a very long wooden door in sections which ran on a rail at the top and a groove in the concrete floor. These premises predate his other two garages in Stratford Road Wolverton and Newport Road New Bradwell and fell into disuse when the former came online, although he did maintain ownership of 27. Access to this, Gurney's, and the coal merchants was in fact gained from the alleyway between Church Street and Buckingham Street. Next door to us at 25 was an elderly lady Gertie Gabell and at the back of her home was was Gurneys, a monumental stone mason. Next door at 29 was another lady Maisy Jones. The radio shop, next to her, I always remember as being owned by the Co-op. The family left there in the mid 1960's when my father left Sellicks to start his own driving school in Stony Stratford.

I heard that the Agora had been been built back to front. It also at one time had a roller skating rink in the late 1980's early 1990's.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

Thanks for the detail. I started driving lessons around the time your father was there, although I don't think I was aware that Sellicks were offering them. I learnt with Ron Page, who had the garage at 84 Stratford Road - then in the name of his son Michael. Ron had a Morris Minor fitted with a brake pedal on the passenger side. I'm sure I started in 1959, although it could have been a year later.
The chemist on the Stratford Road who lived on Cambridge Street was Escott.