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Front cover for Woolworth's - 100 years on the High Street

100 Years on the High Street

Hardback by Kathryn A Morrison


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Woolworth's bright red signboard was a beacon on British and Irish high streets for nearly a century. American in origin, Woolworth's 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, Woolworth's 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 Woolworth's seen through the prism of its stores.  The Woolworth's chain was of huge cultural importance, shaping and reflecting fundamental changes - mostly American in origin - that took place in the nation's shopping habits.

Despite its dominant position on the high street, by the 1960s Woolworth's was beginning to lose its way. As people acquired cars and freezers and began to desert the high street, Woolworth's 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 Woolworth's 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. Woolworth's occupied the heart of many communities, physically and commercially, and its heritage deserves celebration.


Introduction: Woolworth's legacy
1. An American retail empire, 1879-1909
2. The pioneering years, 1909-1918
3. A roaring trade, 1918-1930
4. 'The long long chain', 1930-1939
5. Woolworth's at war, 1939-1945
6. Catching up, 1945-1960
7. Retail revolution, 1960-1970
8. The sleeping giant of the high street, 1970-1982
9. After the divorce, 1982-2009
10. Aftermath, 2009-2014

Additional Information

  • Printed Price: £50.00
  • Series: Architectural History
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Format: Hardback
  • Physical Size: 276 x 219 mm
  • Pages: 240
  • Illustration: 339, colour and black and white
  • ISBN: 9781848022461


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Woolworth's image gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Store 41 in Kingston upon Thames, photograph taken 1920
  • The Bromley store with a new shopfront in 1969. The lettering was ridiculously out of scale compared with the building.
  • Store 590, Maidenhead Street, Hertford, showing central display window. Photograph taken in 2000
  • Store 173, High Holborn, London,  photograph taken in the immediate aftermath of bombing 8 October 1940
  • A sweet counter in Store 463 on Oxford Street, London, photograph taken in December 1949
  • Monogrammed Carter’s tiles on the lobby floor of Store 869, St. Ives, Cambridgeshire
  • The ‘Record Corner’ tucked under the stairs in a Birmingham store in 1965
  • An early ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ counter in Store 320, Stafford in 1964
  • A bright red ‘cash and wrap’ desk in Store 59, Belfast, photograph taken in 1978
  • ‘Pic ‘n’ Mix’ in Store 1139, Milton Keynes, after refurbishment in 1988
  • The short-lived Store 1167, at Lakeside, Thurrock, opened in 1990 and relocated in 1993
  • Store 393, Faversham, store closing 30 December 2008

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