Comment: When Bletchley woke up and smelt the coffee

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ODDS bodkins, what be all this sorcery of ‘streaming’ and ‘downloading,’ plucking music from the ethereal waves?

And from what dimension doth this trickery come, for it seems dark forces are at work? Well they are for CD and DVD shops, excepting it seems for WH Smith, who long ago realised the folly of competing with the discounted quantities in supermarkets, and the armchair internet brigade.

Indeed they still retain a presence in Bletchley, having in 1906 migrated from a stall on a platform at Bletchley Station to, with Mr Howe still in charge, one of the first four houses built in Bletchley Road.

In later years the main Co-op premises were built nearby, and, if I remember correctly, in the age of the record player here the latest hit parade ‘discs’ could be sampled through headphones in booths. They additionally featured another innovation of the time, the ‘coffee bar,’ and those of us who were then in our teens can probably remember ‘Mokaris,’ which, taking its name from a type of coffee, was opened in 1962 as a ‘coffee and grill bar’ just off Bletchley Road.

The proprietors, Mr and Mrs Shrimpton, lived above the premises and for 12 years had previously been at Aylesbury where, after employment in the print trade, Mr Shrimpton helped his brother run a restaurant business.

It seems that the town had first smelled the coffee in the 19th century, when the old premises of the Post Office at Bletchley station were taken over by the United Kingdom Railway Temperance Union and the Railway Servants Coffee Tavern Company.

Richard Moon, the chairman of the LNWR, performed the opening ceremony on April 18, 1887, and, with the outer door adorned with a trophy of signal flags, the walls were decorated with engravings and brightly coloured plates, interspersed with mottoes.

A large room was provided for reading and recreation, chess and draught boards were provided, a harmonium was included, and the premises also accommodated a ‘comfortable and commodious’ bar, or coffee room, provided with abundant tables and seats and ‘every necessary application’ for the supply of coffee and other ‘temperance refreshments.’

Initially financed by 200 shares at five shillings each, the Coffee Tavern had been formed by railway workers to provide refreshments and other facilities for railway workers ‘and bone fide visitors,’ and all the directors and shareholders were either railway workers or retired railway workers.

In fact the Coffee Tavern, more affectionately known as the Coffee Nob, would even be described as ‘Musee Capiddaire’, with ‘early examples of cereal art reposing beneath glass covers and specimens of local glassware.’

Then in order to make way for premises ‘more in keeping with the electrification age’, during March 1965 came demolition not only of the arched portico of Bletchley station but also the rest of the station frontage, including the hotel and ‘Coffee Nob.’

Thus the directors called an extraordinary meeting for April 6, and in consequence it was recommended the 83 shareholders should wind up the company.

In a previous article the local story was told of Tetley, which having introduced the innovation of teabags to the UK retail market followed this, some two years later, with their successful introduction of coffee bags to the British Catering Trade.

Not that the residents of the Osborne Street district had always been impressed, for on one occasion they raised a petition regarding the alleged nuisance of noise, smoke, and dust from the ‘coffee factory.’

Nowadays, every High Street seems to have a cloned coffee shop owned by one of the big chains. However, one company recently got quite a roasting because someone spilled the beans about their accounting practices. Still, it wasn’t too taxing, for profits had allegedly – and inexplicably – been off the boil for a number of years, thereby short changing the tax man.

Today Mokaris has long gone, and Bletchley now hosts a famous brand coffee shop. But personally, the blandness of such outlets is not really my cup of tea.