- Kathryn A Morrison
- Published by
- Historic England
- Publication Date
- 15 November 2015
- 240 pages, 339 illustrations
- 276 x 219 mm
Woolworths bright red signboard was a beacon on British and Irish high streets for nearly a century. American in origin, Woolworths grew rapidly after the first branch opened in Liverpool in 1909. The business model with inexpensive goods piled on counter tops scored an immediate hit with British consumers. By 1930 there were 400 stores, and by 1960 over 1000.
With its own architects department and regional construction teams, Woolworths erected hundreds of prominent stores in shopping centres throughout England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. It is these buildings often typical of the commercial architecture of their day which provide the focus of this book. This is not, however, a conventional architectural history it is the story of Woolworths seen through the prism of its stores. The Woolworths chain was of huge cultural importance, shaping and reflecting fundamental changes mostly American in origin that took place in the nations shopping habits.
Despite its dominant position on the high street, by the 1960s Woolworths was beginning to lose its way. As people acquired cars and freezers and began to desert the high street, Woolworths tried to stay ahead of the game with unsuccessful ventures into out-of-town and catalogue shopping. But by the time of its demise in 2009, a shrunken Woolworths owned just two of the stores which it had built and developed over the preceding century.
The closure of the last British stores in January 2009 provoked an outpouring of nostalgia and grief. Woolworths occupied the heart of many communities, physically and commercially, and its heritage deserves celebration.