The Woolworths Museum


Ladybird's first British outlet

 

The Pasold family were the brains behind Ladybird. They successfully signed up Woolworths as their first British outlet in the mid 1930s.

 

Ladybird and Woolworths are now brands of Shop Direct Group. All trademarks are acknowledged.

 

Kiddies Wear from Ladybird - original artwork from the early days of the brand when Pasolds first moved the factory to EnglandThis page celebrates the heritage of the Pasold Family and Ladybird Clothing. Their vision helped establish the brand as a worldwide market leader, famous for its quality and good design.

The Pasold family opened their first UK factory in Langley, on a green field site on the borders between Buckinghamshire and Berkshire in 1932. F.W. Woolworth was its first major customer, and enjoyed a strong partnership for many years, before buying the brand outright in 1999. Today both Ladybird and Woolworths are brands of Shop Direct Group.

 

You might expect that the first item would have been a children's garment, but actually it was a good line in Ladies' silk directoire knickers - the price of sixpence a pair was unbeatable.

 

The F. W. Woolworth store in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, which opened the same year that Woolworths first stocked clothing from the Pasolds' embryonic Ladybird CompanyEric W. Pasold's definitive history "Ladybird Ladybird - a story of private enterprise". Published by Manchester University Press. ISBN 0 7190 0682 1. © Copyright Eric. W. Pasold 1977.

 

Eric Pasold and London Agent A. C. Hurst stand in front of Ladybird's first company plane.

Above:  Eric W. Pasold, OBE, the son of the founder of the Company that became Ladybird, included many references to Woolies in his book "Ladybird Ladybird", which was subtitled "a Story of Private Enterprise" (Manchester University Press, 1977),

His book describes in exquisite detail the occasion when he and Pasold's London agent, A.C. Hurst, made their first sale to the Woolworth Buyer, Herbert Cue.

Right: Pasold and Hurst feature in the picture on the right

 

For some time Pasolds had been watching the Woolworth phenomenon. They were daunted by the sheer scale of the store chain, and the breadth of its product offering. They would never consider such a small supplier, would they?

 

Galbonz Jewellery, shown here on display in a London Woolworth store in 1932, was supplied by a close friend of the Pasolds, Salo Rand. They were taken aback at how quickly Woolworths ramped up their orders and the sheer profit that Rand made on the deal.

One day a chance encounter with an old friend, Salo Rand, who had just secured an order for £1,000 of Galbonz Jewellery from Woolworths, persuaded Eric Pasold and A.C. Hurst to give Woolworth a try.

 

Herbert Cue, who started his career like many a Woolworth man sweeping the Stockroom Floor, became the Superintendent for the London Area of Stores before moving to Executive Office as Textile Buyer.  It was Cue who first signed up the Pasold Company (later Ladybird) as a Woolies supplier.


He made an appointment to meet Herbert Cue (right), the Woolworth Buyer, at the Company's Executive Office at New Bond Street House, 1-5 New Bond Street, Mayfair, London, W1. Cue's 'textile' portfolio included bedding, towels, hankies and clothes for all ages.

The executive was new to Buying; he had just been promoted from the role of Superintendent (Area Manager) for the stores in Central London. He freely admitted "fashion is a mystery to me!" Eric Pasold takes up the story:

 

 

A few days later Mr. Hurst and I sat in the wood-panelled waiting room of Woolworth's palatial head office building in New Bond Street, watching callers being escorted by a uniformed commissionaire through a number of different doors, until our turn came.  The textile buyer was a Mr. Cue, a well spoken, friendly man, who waved us into comfortable armchairs.  From the way he fingered our samples it was obvious that he knew nothing about Directoire knickers, and he was honest enough to admit it.

New Bond Street House, Mayfair, which served as Headquarters for the British Woolworths store chain from 1930 to 1959.Directoire Knickers - Herbert Cue the Woolworths buyer had to admit that he didn't know much about them - but he still bought 36,000 dozen pairs !"What do you make of these, Miss Owen? Do you think we could sell them?" he asked, tossing the garments to his secretary.

"At 4s (20p) a dozen they seem remarkably good value, Mr. Cue, I'm sure they would sell", replied Miss Owen.

I could have hugged her!

 

The following week Mr. Cue appeared unexpectedly at Langley. Could he look over the factory?  Proudly I showed him round ... I liked Mr. Cue very much and hoped we would be able to do business together.  But a month passed without me hearing another word from him, and I had almost given up hoping when Miss Owen phoned and asked me to call again.

The name plate from the Woolworths headquarters in New Bond Street, which was the store chain's home from 1930 to 1959


"I can pay you 4s 3d [21.25p] per dozen for assorted sizes and colours ...I've written out a starting order for 8,000 dozen. The slip [store repeat] orders will add up to another 20,000 dozen during the season, I would guess."

Mr. Cue said it as if he were ordering a cup of tea. Make sure you deliver on time if you want to do regular business with us."

 

I could hardly believe my ears. Twenty-eight thousand dozen, and at 3d more than I had asked! Mr. Cue smiled: "I hope you're pleased, and if you justify the confidence I have in you there'll be plenty more orders coming!"

Pleased? He made me the happiest man in the whole of London! Now our factory would hum.

A facsimile of the first ever order raised by F. W. Woolworth from Pasolds, the Ladybird Company in 1932

 

The window of Woolworths in Chiswick, West London, adorned with the latest Spring fashions - and not one thing is over sixpence!

Over-paying for the first purchase was Herbert Cue's trademark.  He had found that some suppliers initially set their prices artificially low to secure a Woolworth order, hoping that the firm would order a small quantity. If the company placed a large order it could bankrupt the new partner. He preferred the certainty that plentiful supplies would be available if the item proved to be popular.

The tactic generated a lot of goodwill. For the next fifty years Pasold showed their new products to Woolworths first, consistently favouring the chain over Marks and Spencer.

The initial order was a hit and led to many further purchases. The store opted for occasional specials rather than carrying a regular range. The garments read like a fashion catalogue. They included boys and girls vests and pants, drawers, children's bodices, cami-knickers, tunic frocks, swimming trunks, women's aprons, gloves, face cloths, pram covers, babies' bonnets, bootees, crawlers, leggings and bedsocks.  Pasold notes that every order was very welcome and that Woolworth was easier to deal with than M&S. The pre-war favourite for shoppers at Woolies was Bravisco, a range of artificial silk underwear.

Pasold knew that he would need a plentiful supply of cheap material to keep Mr Cue happy. He found a supplier which sold any excess stock of its finest quality range as 'substandard', and agreed to buy all they had. He turned these leftovers into 100,000 pairs of Woolworth knickers each year!

 

The Ladybird Factory at Langley, Buckinghamshire (later redesignated Berkshire), complete with spinning condenser yarn on ring frames from Platt Bros. & Co. of Oldham

The Freightliner - one of many posters published by Pasold featuring the working Ladybirds. This one includes wonderful detail like the Lochness Monster in the lake in the distance!One of the most famous of the Ladybird advertising graphics features two children "checking the label"

 

Ladybird Clothing - the tradition lives on, with Ladybird now part of the world class Shop Direct Group

You can read more of the Ladybird story in the Woolworths Museum's Fashion Gallery.

 

 

Ladybird and Woolworths are now brands of Shop Direct Group. All trademarks are acknowledged.