There was a Restaurant in the first British Woolworths store at Church Street, Liverpool. This was a step on from the Soda Fountain that the Founder had established in his Lancaster store in 1907 and helped to inspire the famous lunch counters across North America. As the British chain expanded, a Restaurant was included in each large store. The firm aimed to promote shopping as a leisure activity. They believed that selling good food at exceptionally low prices would encourage people to allow more time for shopping. Restaurants were comfortable and accessible. Separate entrances allowed some to open longer than the store, seven days a week, from 7am to 10.30pm.
Before the opening shoppers were given invitation cards by the neighbouring Blackpool stores. Reporters were given a tour of the kitchens and example menus.
The grand opening was handled by Liverpool District Office Representative
The promotional material highlighted the wide selection of dishes offered for sixpence (2½p) or less, the smart surroundings and the panoramic views. Photographs showed the "modern, hygienic kitchens". Patrons were urged not to leave tips and were invited to take their menus home as mementoes or to give to their friends.
Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, a Fresh Fillet of Codling or a Grilled Lamb Chop were sixpence (2½p), a small cup of tea was just tuppence (1p) and a desert was threepence (1¼p).
Just one month after the date on the menu Britain declared war on Germany and soon the sixpenny days were gone forever. Bill Lacey, the man credited with the success of the restaurants, was rewarded with a double promotion. He became a Buyer at the Woolworth headquarters, with responsibility for the entire food range. This included Ice Cream, Tinned Food and Delicatessen, as well as Restaurants and Café Bars. Lacey had his work cut out, adapting the menus and displays in-store to war conditions. As the weeks passed, many foods became unobtainable. Meat, eggs and milk were all rationed. Among his achievements were:
So to the precious memory, which dates from 22 September 1941 and shows how World War II had started to take its toll. Customer Mrs Sybil Preece of Gloucester remembers visiting Blackpool with Philip, her husband-to-be, on an early Autumn trip. They chose to have a meal in the Woolworths Café on the corner of Bank Hey Street and Promenade. She remembers that it was a very impressive venue that catered for 2,000 people.
A split lobster salad was a shilling (twice 6d), a shoulder of lamb had risen by a penny to 7d (3p) and the cod had gone up by 50% to 9d.
Mrs. Preece has fond memories of the visit, recalling that the food was delicious and that she was so impressed that she took Woolworth's up on the offer to take the menu away, preserving it for posterity.
You can see a close-up, fully legible copy of the menu by clicking its picture (above). We would like to express our sincere appreciation to Mrs Sybil Preece and her son Norman for donating the menu and the background information to the Woolworths Museum, as well as to Mr Symon Knightswood, the grandson of Bill Lacey. The store chain was proud to hand out copies of the menu inside a commemorative brochure to Blackpool customers when the nearby 21st century Woolworths re-opened after a modernisation in 2006. Many of the store's younger customers were amazed that you could once buy a main meal for sixpence, once they learnt what an old sixpence was! We hope you enjoyed reading their stories and getting a "flavour" of the late and much lamented Woolworths Restaurant.
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