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The first Woolworth stores in London

 

The first London branch of Woolworths, in Brixton Road in the fashionable and affluent suburb of BrixtonBy Summer 1910 Woolworth's had opened stores in a line across Northern England, which were doing well. The focus turned to the London metropolitan area. Frank Woolworth asked the team to follow the US pattern, where there were 5¢ & 10¢ stores in major shopping streets right across New York City.

His long term goal was a store in Oxford Street, W1. He hoped to show his countryman, Gordon Henry Selfridge, how a store should be. But first Frank wanted to master the suburbs.

He chose Brixton as a starting point. It was an affluent suburb about three miles South of the Houses of Parliament. The area was famous for its large villas, society ladies and modern shops. A shop in Brixton Road andAtlantic Road, under the London, Dover and Chatham Railway seemed ideal.

 

The store opened on 10 December 1910, and proved a hit. The prominent position attracted shoppers from the local market and commuters heading to London by train, tram and bus. Continued success prompted the building of a new much larger store, which was timed to open as the twenty-five year lease expired on the original premises. Business was transferred overnight to the other end of the parade, on the opposite side of the railway. The iconic art deco store proved a particular favourite with shoppers. Woolworth was just starting its hundredth year's trading in Brixton Road when the parent company collapse into administration. It closed in January 2009.

Ironically, while the original building was destroyed by enemy action during the blitz, the twenty-first century tenant of a new shop on the site is Footlocker, the modern trading name and format of the original parent company F. W. Woolworth Co.

 

The F.W. Woolworth store in Hare Street Woolwich opened in 1911 and closed in 1984The F. W. Woolworth store in High Street, Harlesden opened in 1911 and closed in 1991 at the end of its lease. (The original store was rather smaller, expanding to this frontage in two stages in the 1920s and 1930s)During 1911 the chain aded a further two London branches. The first opened to the far South East of the capital in Hare Street, Woolwich. The location was chosen because of the area's heavy industry, much of which supplied the famous Arsenal. Weeks later a further Woolworth's opened its doors in High Street, Harlesden, to the North of London. The outlet took a little longer to get established, but had built such a large clientele by the 1930s that it was doubed in size. Woolworths shared the premises with sister company Superdrug in the 80s and moved out in the 90s.

 

For ten years the oldest Woolworths in the world in its original location - in a dominant position in North End, Croydon forom 1912 until the demise of the store company in 2008/9.

The store in North End, Croydon was chosen by Frank Woolworth himself. He visited and shortlisted the town before deciding to establish the company. He noted that the South East London location was "fine, progressive and bustling". The doors opened on 4 May 1912 to popular acclaim. The original building was repeatedly extended and adapted to suit changing trading conditions. The Woolworth store served Croydon as one of the most popular stores throughout the twentieth century, finally closing its doors at the end of 2008 when the chain folded in the credit crunch. Croydon features extensively in the Woolworths Museum, thanks in part to the professionalism and dedication of staff in the Local Studies Unit of Croydon Central Library.

 

Close ups of the Edwardian Croydon store. Left to right: bold signage stating 'Nothing in these stores over sixpence'; the window displays featuring sheet music and paper decorations; the same sheet music on display on a wall counter at the front of the store; the frontage with the sun-awning down with a rare Darracq motor car (made in Croydon) parked outside; a close-up of passers-by browsing the windows in North End

 

The picture below shows the team at Croydon just before the store opened one morning in 1912. Unlike the Liverpool store views, which were commissioned by Frank Woolworth and focus on elegant 'tidy' items like china and glass, the Croydon image shows a young business starting out. As you might expect from a chain of twelve shops dotted around the country, no two product signs are in the same format and no two store colleague are in the same uniform. Even the "any article on this counter" sign has been adapted from its regular 3D to just one penny (no doubt in honour of Marks and Spencer just a few doors along North End). But already the Mahogany counters, the glass dividers and the golden NCR 324 cash register, complete with the Woolworth unique top sign "NOTICE! Money must be REGISTERED Before Goods Are Wrapped", had become established as the company standard.

 

The salesfloor of Woolworths in Croydon in 1912, with store colleagues waiting at their counters to serve you.

 

Rye Lane, Peckham - home to one of the early British Woolworth stores. The company tradesdfrom modern premises opposite their original location in the town until the demise of the store-based chain in January 2009


On 13 July 1912 a the next South East London store opened in Rye Lane, Peckham, about fifty yards across from the fashionable Jones and Higgins Department Store. The chain traded in Rye Lane for the next 96 years, switching to the other side of the road as part of a Sixties redevelopment scheme.

In the autumn of the same year further stores were added in High Road, Ilford, High Street, Lewisham and Broadway, Wimbledon as the pace of openings was accelerated. By the outbreak of the Great War there were also Woolworth stores in Wood Green, Edgware Road, Clapham Junction, Hammersmith, Cricklewood and Kingston-upon-Thames. Overall a quarter of the chain's first stores were in the London metropolitan area, prompting the Board to relocate the headquarters from Liverpool to new premises rented from the Crown at Victory House, Kingsway, just off The Strand in Central London.