The Sad Tale Of Friendly Fenny (18 October 1974)
I used to like Fenny Stratford. It had character. This was not just an old world charm. Still less was it a quaintness. Nearly every building, whether of the 17th century or of the early 20th century, was in strictly utilitarian use.
It was a hodge-podge of architectural styles. Yet this gave it a certainly liveliness and homeliness that seemed to brush off on the inhabitants. It was still the sort of place where everybody seemed to know and be on good terms with everybody else, except for the occasional oddity.
Every weekday morning for several years after 1946 I walked the length of Aylesbury Street to the police station in Simpson Road. It was an enjoyable experience – yes, even at the “cop shop” on most days.
At first I was a foreigner. But in only a few weeks I had a friendly wave from every tradesman who happened to be around his shop door and from some other people besides. All right, maybe they were hoping for my custom sometime. If so, it was a surer way of getting it that (sic) the stark, unfriendly anonymity of many of today’s enterprises.
Writing entirely “off the cuff,” I believe that the sole remaining traders of those who were in Aylesbury Street in 1949, are Mr. and Mrs. Salmons, the grocers and tea shop; Cowlishaw’s, the drapers; and Fortescue’s, the motor people. I am not sure about Phyllis Cooper’s, the ladies’ hairdresser, myself being no lady.
Gone are such people as Mr. Ashford, the newsagent; Mr. Crosby, the barber; Mrs. Flemons, the draper; Moss’, the grocers; Pacey’s, the ironmongers; Mr. Wells, the men’s outfitter; Mr. Waine, the butcher; the Duffield Brothers, men’s shop; Clifford Stevens, the baker; and Leopold Durran, the optician.
Gone also, on the opposite side of the street, are such people as Mr. Golding, confectionery and ice cream man; Mr. Davy, the tailor; Mr. Baker, the photographer and odd bits and pieces man; Mr. E. Vaughan, the garage proprietor; and Mr. Papworth, the greengrocer.
Some of the businesses are now being carried on by other people under other names; but the series of shops formerly known as “Durran’s Corner” at the cross-roads have been pulled down; other former shops stand empty; the motor trade seems to take up a large part of the street; and in general the street has lost its former character.
Mind you. even in those days a question mark hung over the Fenny end. Trade was going more and more to the Queensway end and seemed to be deliberately encouraged to do so, though the opening of Manor Farm and Water Eaton estates provided a temporary shot in the arm for Aylesbury Street.
The crossroads area was also becoming almost impossible to live in on account of the through traffic along the High Street part of the A5. The M1 had not yet been constructed and the last pre-M1 years were a nightmare for High Street dwellers.
Day and night the air was filled with the roar of the engines and squealing of brakes of heavy lorries. The stream of traffic nearly cut Fenny in two, and it brought little or no trade to the town.
The town’s trade was better before the internal combustion engine came into general use than afterwards.
At the annual dinner of the Bletchley Chamber of Trade in 1950, Mr. Frank Duffield, of Duffield Bros., recalled times when “looking out of the window over our shop you could see so many people walking up and down Aylesbury Street that you could have walked on their heads.
“Motor trade was only just beginning. The Salvation Army band stood in the middle of Fenny crossroads and there would be a big crowd around.
“Aylesbury Street was the only place for business and with no picture palace to go to the only thing for boys and girls to do was to walk up and down the street and listen to the band.”
In the days Mr. Duffield was speaking of the cattle market was held in Aylesbury Street. This was a revival of a market for which a charter had been granted in ancient times and which had died and been re-born several times since.
The decline of Fenny as a main shopping centre may be said to have been heralded in the early 1920s when the market bell no longer rang in Aylesbury Street, but rang in Oliver Road, off Queensway instead.
But since the last war its decline has been hastened most shamefully, firstly, by the Ministry of Transport in taking an unconscionable time to make up its mind about the Watling Street, and secondly by the planning authorities in making that an excuse for not doing anything themselves in their own sphere.
Some of the old business names, of course, have disappeared through death or removal. The Stevens bakery business, though not always in that spot, was well over 100 years old when Clifford retired, sold out to another baker and left the district.
The name Stevens appears in the local manor court rolls during the 1300s, also in connection with old St. Margaret’s Guild, and Clifford himself, a Methodist, took a quiet amusement from claiming that it was an ancestor of his who was such a nuisance to the Rev. Williams Coles, Rector of Bletchley, in 1766.
Another old business not carried on under his surname after he died was that of Mr. Cyril Pacey, the ironmonger. His grandfather had the business in the 1870s.
Old trading names disappeared, others took their places and became old in turn, but Fenny retained its character over many years.
There is now a conservation plan, but it is still only a plan, and I fear it may have come too late to conserve what was best about Fenny – its spirit.