Those Gigantic Black Boxes Are Giving Us All The Creeps (13 September 1974)
As we older residents of Bletchley view the developments now going on at the station end of the former Bletchley Road, now Queensway, I do not think I shall be far wrong in stating that our general reaction is one of mingled distaste and dismay.
Those gigantic black boxes of impending new shops now blocking off the old road and also the tall office building nearby give us the creeps. We cannot help wondering what the next brainwave may bring – if there is one. We hope the completed job will look better.
Mind you, that end of Bletchley Road never was pretty after the coming of the original London-to-Birmingham railway in the 1830s. Although the road or lane was then wide open to the fields on either side, there must have been a certain amount of wheeled traffic on it, for a controlled level- crossing was installed. This impeded the passage of hay-carts and the like. In particular, it impeded the passage of the rector’s horse and trap.
The Rev. Thomas Delves Broughton, who was rector from 1832 to 1861 (during the course of which the present rectory was built) complained about the hold-ups at the level crossing. He is said to have conducted what in these days would be called a traffic census.
Whether for that reason, or for reasons of their own, the railway company embanked the line and bridged the road in the 1840s. The building of the bridge, whilst at the same time contriving to keep trains running over the level crossing, necessitated deviating the road into a kind of dog leg. The bridge was lower than, and at a similar angle in the road, as the present main line bridge of Water Eaton Road, though it did have a separate alley-way for pedestrians.
This graceless thing, fit only for the passage of horses and carts, was made to last well into my own time in the town 100 years later. A small, yellow-coloured hut with windows all round, which stood on the embankment hard by the bridge, was once pointed out to me as the original level crossing control box, then being used for other purposes.
The embankment virtually cut off Fenny Stratford from Bletchley, though it must be admitted that at the time it was constructed this was no great drawback, except aesthetically. The subsequent development of that part of the town and of the internal combustion engine could not have been foreseen in the 1840s. At least 50 years were to pass before that could have been envisaged.
There were cottages in Buckingham Road and Water Eaton Road, and in 1853, the railway company built 20 houses later known as Railway Terrace on the Buckingham side of the bridge for the use of employees. But between the bridge and Victoria Road the Bletchley Road – then sometimes known as the Station Road – was bare.
The first sign of a change occurred in 1867 when what was colloquially called the “Half-way House” was built midway along the road. Its official name was the New Inn. The original building was demolished just before the 1939-45 war and a new building, since extended and now known as the Bletchley Arms, was erected at the rear.
This was followed in 1870 by the Park Hotel, which was built as part of a wider development scheme for the station end.
Next came the very first private houses to be built in Bletchley Road. These were four adjoining buildings, with long back gardens, one of which is now temporarily occupied as a shop by Mr. Green, the newsagent. All those houses had been converted to shops for years before I came to the town. The first has already been pulled down for the newest development.
One of the shops was occupied for many years by W.H. Smith’s, the stationers. I have a note that in 1950 the other shops were occupied by Mr. Mapley, Mr. Gray and Mr. Cowlishaw. Those buildings, when they were houses, must have been rather nice. For four years in the 1889s the house that became W.H. Smith’s was occupied by Mr. Joe Fennell before he took up a new house in Oxford Street. Many Bletchley Road developments dated from that decade and also the side streets to the north.
For some years, the Gazette occupied Mr. Green’s present shop. The situation was almost embarrassingly convenient. There was a stream of regular callers on the editorial department upstairs and innumerable occasional visitors. Besides that, I have happy memories of spotting passers-by from the front upstairs window whom I wanted to “see” and of throwing up the sash and conducting conversations with them from there. It was a period when we still knew most of the people in the town.
The houses are said to have been built for Mr. John Hill (father of the late Mr. Edgar Hill, whom many will remember) who had a shoe business at Fenny in the 1870s and possible earlier.
But to come back to station-end eyesores, one of the worst was a line of hutted shops that grew up between the wars and were situated between the bridge and the old approach road to the railway goods department. I am not saying anything against their service to the public. This was good, especially that of the wet fish and greengrocery shops and the private lending library. But the huts presented a sorry, ramshackle spectacle and were in danger of becoming ancient monuments before they were finally erased for the building of the present railway bridge and dual-carriageway.
I have also been told that before the war a few general stalls were set up on the adjacent ground on market days and that one of those visiting traders is now head of one of the largest supermarket groups in the land.