Splendid 20th Century Pictures of British Woolworths

Early Pick n Mix counter Stafford Woolworths 1964

Early Pick n Mix counter Stafford Woolworths 1964

The British version of F.W. Woolworth Company was founded by Frank Woolworth in Liverpool in November 1909 when he wrote in his diary:

I believe that a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live Yankee, would be a sensation here.

The first American store had opened thirty years previously in Pennsylvania on June 21 1879. It was unique at the time because it actually displayed the price of items.

The first British shop opened at 25 – 25A, Church Street and 8, Williamson Street Liverpool [18] (the street addresses of the different entrances) on 5 November 1909 with a performance by a full orchestra, circus acts and fireworks.The shop was an immediate success with large queues outside. The low priced 3d. and 6d. (“threepenny and sixpenny”) items were nearly all sold by the end of the first day of trading. The fine mahogany counters were stacked full of china and glassware, all at much lower prices than in other British stores…. The secret was mass production, with Woolworths placing big orders, paid for in cash, to secure better prices.”

At the onset of the First World War, F.W. Woolworth & Co. had forty shops in Great Britain and Ireland located in most major cities. By 1923 there were 130 branches, and William Lawrence Stephenson (1880–1963) became managing director. He implemented a strategy of major expansion, with the company buying or building freehold properties. Many of the stores had distinctive faience tiled art deco frontages. The expansion was funded entirely out of earnings and without any borrowing or further capitalisation.

The 800th branch, at Wilton Road, Victoria, London, opened in September 1953. On 22 May 1958, the 1000th branch (known as “Portslade” to distinguish it from the existing Hove branch) opened in Boundary Road, Hove. The peak of 1,141 branches was reached in the 1968.

Rising inflation in the 1970s forced many Woolworths to close down, but by 1980 the company’s finances were healthy enough to allow it to buy B&Q. The group was then soon taken over by Kingfisher, and in 2001 Woolworths was floated as an independent British company. It faced the challenge of injecting new life into a well loved but tired brand. This never really worked and on 5 December 2008, Woolworths recorded their greatest single day takings of £27 million but also axed 450 head office and support staff jobs. A closing-down sale started six days later on 11 December.

On 17 December 2008, administrators announced that all 807 Woolworths stores would close by 5 January 2009 (later changed to 6 January), with 27,000 job losses. Prime Minister Gordon Brown noted that the Government had considered saving Woolworths, but they concluded that it was a “financially unviable” business.

Basingstoke Woolworths 1966

Basingstoke Woolworths in 1966

 

A bright red ‘cash and wrap’ desk in Store 59, Belfast, photograph taken in 1978

A bright red ‘cash and wrap’ desk in Store 59, Belfast, photograph taken in 1978

Billericay Woolworths 1950s

Billericay Woolworths 1950s

 

swansea-woolworths-1949

Swansea Woolworths in 1949

 

Woolworths celebrating its first Belfast store in 1915.

Woolworths celebrating its first Belfast store in 1915.

 

‘Pic ‘n’ Mix’ in Store 1139, Milton Keynes, after refurbishment in 1988

Pic ‘n’ Mix’ in Store 1139, Milton Keynes, after refurbishment in 1988

 

Notting Hill Woolworths 1958

Notting Hill Woolworths 1958

 

High Holborn, London, photograph taken in the immediate aftermath of bombing 8 October 1940

High Holborn Woolworths, London, photograph taken in the immediate aftermath of bombing 8 October 1940

Woolworths

Woolworths

Kingston upon Thames, photograph taken 1920

Kingston upon Thames, photograph taken 1920

 

High Wycombe Woolworths 1926

High Wycombe Woolworths 1926

Pan's People at Woolworths in March 1975

Pan’s People at Aylesbury Woolworths in March 1975

Sweet counter at the Woolworths on Oxford Street, December 1950

Sweet counter at the Woolworths on Oxford Street, December 1950

 

The ‘Record Corner’ tucked under the stairs in a Birmingham store in 1965

The ‘Record Corner’ tucked under the stairs in a Birmingham store in 1965

The Bromley store with a new shopfront in 1969. The lettering was ridiculously out of scale compared with the building.

The Bromley Woolworths with a new shopfront in 1969.

Woolworths in Sheffield in 1978.

Woolworths in Sheffield in 1978.

Fudge ad woolworths thirties

Fudge advert Woolworths 1930s

gardentools-large c.1935

Garden Tools sold at a loss to encourage people into the stores in spring, c.1935.

A huge display of Spring bulbs at the Woolworths store in Kilburn c.1932

Spring bulbs at the Woolworths store in Kilburn c.1932

home-china

Home china in a Woolworths store c.1935

Woolworths

c.1935

Woolworths-maldoninterior-june1932-large

The interior of the Woolworths in Maldon, June 1932.

Woolworths in Maldon, June 1932

Woolworths in Maldon, June 1932

Woolworths Ad from Just Seventeen magazine, June 1992

Woolworths Ad from Just Seventeen magazine, June 1992