In the late 1980s, shining after modernisation under new management, Woolworths staff took great pride in their stores. Many colleagues had very long, dedicated service, and corporate memory was remarkably strong. In many of the longest-established branches they had particularly fond memories of one Manager, who had entered their folklore as a kind of Patron Saint. They would share stories of "sir" as if he had recently left the store, when sometimes he had last unlocked the doors more than fifty years earlier. In two of the largest and best known outlets, Brixton, SW9, and Bognor Regis, West Sussex, their hero was called Mr Picot. Despite the rare name, they weren't the same man, but two brothers, Frank and Phil.
The 1901 Census for Tunbridge Wells in Kent enumerated a house full of Picots. The family had recently moved from their ancestral home in St Helier, capital of Jersey, Channel Islands. At the head of the household was Matthew J.F. Picot (35), a Sales Manager, and his wife Elizabeth (39, née Le Sueur), with five sons - John (12), Clement (9), Frank (7), George (3) and Philip (1), a daughter, Mary (6), and Matthew's mother also called Mary (70). They had one servant, Annie Lord (33).
The four oldest boys all served during World War I as volunteers rather than conscripts. John swapped Master Boatbuilding in Southampton for the Army Ordnance Corps, while Clement forewent a prized job as a Cable Wire Operator in Clerkenwell, London for the Royal Navy. It seems John's choice of Regiment was to join his younger brother, Frank, who had enlisted on his seventeenth birthday in September 1910, and had risen to become a Sergeant. George Fauvel Picot had followed Frank's example, enlisting at the outbreak of War. He was assigned to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (an infantry regiment founded in 1689 as the 'Welch Fuzziliers'). All four survived the long conflict; but by 11 November 1918 bore both mental and physical scars.
Phil turned eighteen shortly before the Armistice. Having faced the daily ordeal of waiting for news of four sons on the front line, and seen its toll, Matthew and Elizabeth would not countenance him joining up. Instead they evangelised a career in accountancy, or teaching like Mary, for their bespectacled youngest. Somehow, by God's grace, their brood was one of the lucky few to survive the conflict intact, despite every eligible person doing their bit at the first opportunity.
Two of the three soldiers - Frank and George - joined the rapidly expanding F.W. Woolworth Threepenny and Sixpenny Stores as 'Learners' (Management Trainees), and were soon followed by their youngest brother Philip. They proved to be the cream of the crop, and quickly rose to the top in-store. Meanwhile John and Clement returned as heroes to their careers in the boatyard and at the Telegraph Office.
Frank and Phil went on to serve in the High Street for the rest of their working lives, while his disability prompted George to take a behind-the-scenes job at Woolies for much of the Thirties before stepping up again through the World War. He took early retirement in 1947 after twenty-six years' service, opting for a less physically challenging role elsewhere. The Woolworths Museum is proud to honour the brothers, share their stories and set the record straight.
Key: * = Opened a brand new store or re-opened the branch after it was extended
AGM = Associate General Manager (A second manager on 'special duties' in a large superstore)
PT Pro-Tem Manager, providing temporary cover when the regular manager was temporarily unavailable
Press coverage of the strike at Woolworth's Brixton when the staff found out their Manager was being moved.