Wantage (153): Opening

Waitrose Wantage opened on 24/09/1974. The following article appeared in the Partnership’s in-house magazine The Gazette 28th September 1974 at the time.

“Waitrose at Wantage

The latest Waitrose supermarket, at Wantage, Berkshire, opened its doors to customers on Tuesday. It is in Wallingford Street, just off the central Market Place. It has a selling area of 817 square metres (8,798 square feet) and nine check-outs, all at the front of the shop. There is a car park for 75 cars attached for the exclusive use of Waitrose. The manager is Mr K Blake, who had previously been manager at Brighton since the opening of that branch in 1966. Wantage has all the usual Waitrose departments, including wines.

The dining-room and restroom on the first floor has wood panelling on the walls, similar to the dining-room at Bracknell, and looks very attractive. Mr R S Welch, the development assistant in charge of the Wantage opening, said he thought it is the best looking dining-room in Waitrose. He hoped too that the wood panelling would save the cost of having to redecorate the walls every few years.

There was some excitement at the branch on the Thursday before opening. The selling floor and the pavement outside the shop are both slightly lower than the level of the road. Torrential rain that day caused flooding in Wallingford Street and water came into the shop to a depth of about six inches. Fortunately it was during the day and Partners were able to move cartons of stock, from which they were filling the shelves, off the floor and no damage resulted.

Local people have told Mr Blake that the rains that day were the worst they had known for 50 years. At least a contributory cause of the flooding in Wallingford Street appears to have been a partial blocking of the drains which would not have been noticed in normal circumstances. The drains have now been fully cleared.

Wantage is 24 miles west of Reading and 14 miles south of Oxford. Its chief claim to fame is that King Alfred was born there in 849 and a statue of him dominates the Market Place. The town was destroyed by the Danes in 1006 and for much of its life since has been a primarily agricultural town serving the surrounding dairy farming area. For a while towards the end of the 18th century it had a bad reputation. To quote a local guide book: “For some reason Wantage became the resort of gangsters and undesirables from London and even became known as ‘Black Wantage’. It is said that Bow Street Runners looking for an escaped criminal came first to Wantage to search for him.” A local government reform early in the 19th century seems to have restored law and order and Wantage since has been a very respectable town. Its present population is 8,340.“

Location: 17 Wallingford Street, Wantage, Oxfordshire OX21 28BD.

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