The Poor Boy Who Foresaw The City (10 August 1973)
People looking at present developments in this area may not all be aware that confidence in Bletchley and district becoming a large and important place did not begin with the new city plan, nor with the Town Development Act of 1962, nor yet with the “Bigger, better, brighter Bletchley” sentiments expressed by the Gazette on its birth in the 1930s.
Nearly a hundred years ago a similar confidence was being expressed.
Similarly the idea of a large district council including the villages is not by any means new. And there have also been notions about the district’s lay-out which came remarkably close to what is actually happening.
For instance: I am the happy possessor of a copy of the second issue of the Fenny Stratford Weekly Times, which was “Published by T.C. Warren at his Stationery Warehouse, New Road, Fenny Stratford “on Thursday, August 28 1879. Its leading article recalls that 50 years previously the town had a public hall but no longer has one and goes on to advocate that a town hall should be provided (which it was, though for long the building has been used otherwise).
It then states: “Fenny Stratford is admirably situate, with excellent railway communication to all parts; a canal passes through the town; and still more, we have a beautiful and healthy locality. A town possessing these qualifications is almost certainly at some time to become a large and important place, but its prosperity depends largely upon its residents.”
The writer could not have foreseen the advent of the motor age and the difference it would make to towns lying along the old Watling Street, which in his time had grass growing down the middle, as old folk used to tell me. But it must have boosted enormously the confidence of local people who strove to make the town prosper and, one assumes, themselves along with it.
One of these was Mr. Hedley Clarke, whom I knew for the few years that he lived after the war. As a boy he was poor. He worked at Berwick’s shop in the High Street.
Each morning he had to clean the boots, catch a lively horse in the fields running down to Simpson and also do other chores before starting his real day’s work at the counter. But he was a hard worker and a born businessman.
One day he heard someone say: “If this boy isn’t kept back he will be the boss of these premises.” Forty –five years later he did own those premises, only to sell them again eight years afterwards and tell that story as “the greatest inspiration of my life.”
But over those decades he had dealt in much more than that, and for many years was in charge of the sub-post office in Bletchley Road (Queensway) that stood where Elmo’s stores are now, the general post office then being at the railway station.
Some said he was too much of a businessman for their liking, but in his own way I think he did a lot of good for the town, including playing a big part in running the Bletchley Horticultural Society’s annual August show which before the war was known as the best one-day show in the Midlands.
I had nothing but courtesy from him and I particularly remember the simple pleasure with which he showed me a fine root of potatoes he had grown at his house in Manor Road from just a piece of potato and with no more feed than clippings from the lawn.
On one occasion he said that during all his time in Bletchley (I think he was a Bow Brickhill boy) he had never ceased to extol Bletchley as an ideal industrial centre – though not one to be swallowed up by brickmaking.
He regretted the time years before when at a review of county districts only Water Eaton of several parishes to the south of the then Bletchley urban area had agreed to a proposed inclusion in Bletchley.
He then suggested:
- That every rural council should be abolished.
- That urban areas should be extended to cover the whole country.
- That the Brickhills should become residential areas.
- That industry should be concentrated around the railway, the canal and the main road.
- That the riverside should be used for playing fields with a promenade along the banks.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that, of course. Bletchley’s expansion is going northwards as part of an unforeseen new city. A then unforeseeable motorway is also having an effect.
But today we find the old district councils in their last year and large new ones created to take in both rural and urban elements. We find large industrial estates just off the old main road and the railway. And we find the riverside planned as a linear park throughout the city.
Hedley’s observations were made more than a quarter of a century ago. They were suggestions, not forecasts.
Obviously they were not made on the spur of the moment, but had been simmering in his head and most likely in other heads too for years.
In the light of what is happening today, I don’t think they were at all bad, do you?