Birth of UK’s shopping centres started in MK

The centre:mk, Midsummer Place and the Secklow Bridge Market.
The centre:mk, Midsummer Place and the Secklow Bridge Market.

Living Archive has launched a book of the month campaign, offering 50 per cent off popular titles from its local history collection.

And for its first special offer it’s chosen a book to add fuel to the current debate on the future shape of the city centre. For ‘The Story of the Original CMK’ is a fascinating record of what architects, planners and commercial interests really intended for a city centre that was like no other at the time.

“More than three decades on Milton Keynes’ shopping centre has been copied many times over but it’s important to remember the huge amount of thinking and scheming and dreaming that went into creating something that had not been seen in the UK before,” explained Living Archive general manager, Mel Jeavons.

According to former chief CMK architect, Stuart Mosscrop: “All other modern shopping places were...tarmac machines for spending money, entirely enclosed. The example in Britain (was) the Arndale Centre. No, we thought, this is not just to do with Mammon. This is going to be the first place that we actually make for all the people in Milton Keynes.”

Not everyone had faith that the ambitious glass palace with its lush planting and plentiful seats was what people wanted. The book quotes former commercial director Allen Duff who worried about the impact CMK would have on Stony, Wolverton and, above all, Bletchley – and tried to persuade some of the retailers to move into the centre.

He recalled: “Most of them said... ‘Our customers are loyal. We don’t believe this great white elephant you’re building will ever work.’ The Grocer magazine worte articles about how it relied on people travelling – petrol was £1 a gallon, people won’t travel to use it.

The sceptics could not have been more wrong. Indeed, a disgruntled McDonald’s, which threatened to come for compensation when it learned only a proportion of the units would be occupied by opening day, had to eat its words. “There was a queue outside McDonald’s the following day and there has been ever since hasn’t there?” quipped Keith Mason, former CMK divisional engineer.

Inevitably there were compromises, as this fully illustrated book by Living Archive’s Roger Kitchen and Marion Hill reveals. In the words of those who were involved, we hear about the bitter struggle

over putting doors on a building intended to be open to the public – and the elements. It’s also fascinating to reflect on what has changed since that first vision of a centre made distinctive by its range of specialist shops. And, of course, the land surrounding the shopping centre – which was as carefully considered as the building itself.

For anyone who has watched the city centre’s evolution, or shopped at what’s become known regionwide as thecentre:mk, The Story of the Original CMK is a compelling read. “Perhaps, in light of the current debate about the market and Primark and the Point, it’s more relevant than ever,” said Mel Jeavons.

For a copy visit Living Archive’s website (shop section)