A trip down Woolies’ memory lane


Graham Soult took the members of Ulgham WI on an architectural tour of Woolworths’ stores in the North East. So what did we learn about wor Woolies?

Frank Winfield Woolworth was Barbara Hutton’s grandfather. He opened his first store in Utica, New York, on February 22, 1879.

The first store in the UK, store number one (all stores were known by their number), opened on November 5, 1909, in Liverpool. Newcastle was store 27 in 1913, and Morpeth was store 439, opening on May 30, 1931.

Mr Soult showed us how to identify an ex-Woolworths’ store – symmetry, narrow windows, a five-bay 1-3-1 formation and the black granite riser from pavement to the window base. Many went from bare ground to opening in just eight weeks.

What happened to the 33 stores in the North East when Woolworths collapsed?

One remained empty, another became a council office, and many became discount fashion stores or supermarkets, including Morpeth, which is now an Iceland.

Graham gave us a riddle from the Woolworth staff magazine, New Bond. What can you buy from this store that costs one for 3d, ten for 6d, 100 for 9d, 1,000 for 1s?

He felt Woolies was important because of the memories, its place in people’s hearts, its legacy – there were 1,000 stores in the UK, its swift demise, the snapshot of change, and it was a part of his family, his grandmother had worked there.

Ulgham agreed with Woolies’ memories and members recalled items they had bought. Everyone had shopping experiences to recount.

Woolworths had taken 100 years to grow and only 40 days to unravel. Graham Soult captured all this with enthusiasm and photographs in one evening. It certainly set us all talking.

And the answer to the riddle – door numbers.