Sunday, 13 January 2013

Woolworths


I seem to be more or less keeping up with reading my favourite blogs at the moment, and commenting from time to time, although not as much as I like to do. I love the interaction of blogging, and love to get to know people more through each exchange of thoughts triggered by blogging’s ponderings.

Anyway....with a window of just about 10 -14 days within each 3 week period, where I feel human, between chemo sessions.....getting a blog written has not been a priority. I am filling my good days with trips and visits, walks, and socialising in the real rather than virtual world. However, I keep having ideas that I have to jot down,....thinking, oooh, that can feature in a blog soon.

I had one of those moments earlier this week, when still feeling really poorly, just 4 days after a 6 hour day of chemo infusion. The postman arrived with a parcel...clearly a book....that I struggled to recall ordering. Then all became clear. Annie, from Alacala, from Moving On, previously from our Kirklees working days, had sent me a book that she hoped I would enjoy.

It was called “ Our spoons came from Woolworths” and is by Barbara Comyns.


I haven’t started it yet, but it is next on the list, and I am so looking forward to it. This is partly because if Annie has recommended it, I am sure I will love it, and partly because I wish I had written it. The title has me completely sure I will love every word. It has conjured up a huge web of connected thoughts for me. If you have the patience.....let me explain.



When I was very young, my grandparents, Alice and her very violent and unpleasant husband, Thurlo, lived on West Hendon Broadway in north London. Every Saturday morning, Mum and I ( and after 1959) Mum, my baby brother and I, would catch 2 buses from our home in Mill Hill East, to “the Broadway”. My grandmother prepared lunch, always ready for us when we arrived, and after lunch, we would walk along the Broadway to pick up a few bits of shopping. It was always a treat for me, because, at the far end of the Broadway......was........ Woolworths.

This isn't my West Hendon Broadway Woolworths.......but this is exactly how I remember it.
I adored it. I loved the huge heavy double dark wooden framed glass doors, the speak your weight machine that was just inside the middle double doors, the polished wooden floors,  and the huge high island counters spread with complete treasure troves.


My favourites were not the toy or sweet counters, although they had to be visited each week. I loved the wool counter, the haberdashery counter, the soap and cosmetics counter and the small kitchen utensil counter.
Gallery Woolworths in pictures: Woolworths in pictures
again.....not actually the West Hendon branch.....but this is what I remember, even if this photo was taken at the end of the 1930s...not the end of the 50s.

( Years later I always laughed when I heard the gorgeous Nanci Griffith’ song about her local Woolworth’s “5 and dime store” in Lubbock in Texas, which sold  “ unnecessary plastic things”, had an elevator that went “ping” and that she always had time to run into and check out a bin of cheap records while she waited for a bus home from school.)

Visiting Woolworths with my mother and my grandmother and baby brother was the highlight of my week. The noise of people’s feet on the wooden floor, the smell of polish and the colours from the counter contents are so vivid in my memory, and it all came rushing back to me when I opened Annie’s gift to me.

We always bought something....usually for me I expect.Those 2 women spoiled me rotten.We always weighed ourselves and laughed at the speaking machine, and then we wandered back home to number 158, where we had a cup of tea and a piece of my grandmother’s wonderful home made  lemon sponge cake, before setting off on our 2 bus journey home. My grandfather was rarely home....which was a good thing, although I now know that probably, after we left, he returned home from an afternoon of drinking and gambling, and my grandmother did not usually have a happy Saturday night.

In 1962 or 3, with my grandmother’s help, I bought my mother a mother’s day gift from Woolworths on Hendon Broadway. It was a set of salad servers. They cost 1/9d..........less than 10p in current currency !   I still use them.

Now, 50 years old.....still going strong.
So maybe, my novel should be called “ Our salad servers came from Woolworths”

Thanks Annie, for setting off this train of thought. I’ve enjoyed it so much, and now I am really looking forward to reading the book.

45 comments:

  1. Dear Janice - I really miss Woolworths. There are so many occasions when I wish they were still on the High Street.
    In our garden we have a constant reminder of Woolworths. I brought lots of little Box shrubs, very cheaply, from their garden nursery section one Spring. Now we have the most magnificent and substantial box balls gracing our garden, courtesy of Woolworths - about 40 of them. I regret the passing of the shop.

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    1. When I read your comment Rosemary I remembered that my mother bought a forsythia "twig" from Woolies.....that developed into a huge ever needing to be pruned bush. I had forgotten that completely. I think from people's comments, it is the older version of the shop that people miss.....not the version that existed just prior to the final closure. It certainly evokes memories for many of us. I hope your the Woolworths' section of your beautiful garden continues to be a joy. Jx

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  2. You've reminded me of my trips with a mum to Owen and Owen in Coventry in the early 60s. It was a treat to be looked forward to and be slightly scared of as my mother "lost me" in the store several time.

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    1. Now Owen & Owens was posh as far as I can remember... there was one in Finchley, and we only every went there when we were shopping for posh things......so , not very often. I do remember how vast such department stores seemed though, and I'm sure getting separated from mum was a real fear.I trust the experience didn't leave too much of a scar on you. Jx

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  3. There was no Woolworth nearby...but there was one in the town where my grandmother lived.
    We children were forbidden to go there...but my cousin Anne would offer to take the younger children 'out for a walk' so that grandmother and her daughters could have a comfortable gossip without the big ears of the little pitchers picking up interesting fragments...and she would take us to a Woolworths just as you describe it.
    She would meet her boyfriend by arrangement and we would roam the aisles.
    Those wooden floors....the particular smell of that store....the red speak your weight machine...you have brought it all back so vividly.

    Lovely to see your post popping up....and glad you are withstanding the chemo.
    Roll on Caunes ....

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    1. As well as the speak you weight machine,...which as you say was red, there was another more basic weighing machine, with a huge, completely enormous circular dial. I think it was cheaper than the speaking one......but it is their redness that I recall. I think your cousin Anne must have been wonderful, offering this important part of your education. I also recognise the gossip sessions though, and often would enjoy sitting quietly in a corner, or even under the table, hoping no one would notice, so I could listen in on family gossip sessions.I'm sure my fascination with family history began when listening to the scandal that was discussed by aunts and grandmothers. Jx

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  4. If nothing else, I'm delighted to have triggered this lovely wander down memory lane. And how amazing that you still have and use your salad servers from Woolworths!
    Coming from Bradford, I always went to a family department store called 'Busby's' with my mum and granny - definitely upmarket from Woolworths. It had a lift with a liftman and little soldiers (wearing Busbies) on the ends of the banisters. It was burnt down in suspicious circumstances and eventually became a Debenhams. Not sure it's even there any more.

    I need to check out which one, but one of my blogging buddies and I 'met' because we'd both read this book. I do so hope you enjoy it!
    Axxx

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    1. I know I'm going to enjoy it Annie,I have enjoyed the thoughts it has triggered, and the blog comments seem to suggest it has triggered some interesting memories for others too....so thank you so much.
      Busby's sounds fascinating. Its' upmarketness matches my feeling for Owen &Owens in Finchley ( and Coventry for BtoB)....the real upmarket one for me was John Lewis though..... I think our nearest was much nearer central London than we ever ventured.....I never went there, I just knew it was posh, and expensive and we couldn't afford anything from there.
      What a shame Busbys burned down....those bannisters sound fabulous. Jx

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  5. Oh bugger...I just wrote a long comment and lost it! Anyway here goes again. Your memories of Woolworths have stirred up many memories for me too. I had a Saturday job there when I was 14. On the knicker and socks counter, even though I longingly wished to work on the sweet counter. Weighing out all the sweets on the old fashioned scales.

    I also remember buying perfume from Woolworths for my mother's birthday. Evening in Paris or Californian Poppy. Amazing what we remember isn't it?

    Glad the times between chemo are enabling you to get out and about. Of course real life should be a priority over this virtual one.

    (If you end up with two comments from me...just delete whichever one you want)

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    1. Ayak....this is wonderful, you actually worked on the knicker counter at Woolworths. I suspect this was my only ambition at one stage in my life. What stories you can tell ! I do remember buying stockings from Woolies later on....they sold the only ones that didn't wrinkle too much on my skinny 14 year old legs. I also recall the perfume bit.... again, later than my initial childhood memories, I recall buying Biba make-up as a teenager.....not being allowed to make the 20 minute tube trip up to Kensington to actually visit the Biba shop.
      I bet you can even remember the smell of Evening in Paris and Californian Poppy. Jx

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    2. Oh now you've brought back memories of Biba! It was my favourite shop when I lived in a shared flat in Earls Court when I was about 19 yrs old. I used to go to Biba at every opportunity, buying their wonderful make-up. I had a super silky dressing gown from there with padded shoulders, all muted yellows and blues...I wish I still had it!

      And yes I can almost remember the smell of those perfumes from Woollies!

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    3. You clearly had a charmed youth.... a job in Woolworths and a frequent visitor to the Biba shop. I recently bought a Biba ( the new brand ) beaded jacket....there has been an attempt to resurrect the gorgeous Hulanicki designs...but it is nowhere near as gorgeous as those originals. I wonder what happened to your dressing gown.

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  6. What a coincidence! I used to save up to buy my Mum "Evening in Paris" & "Californian Poppy" perfumes from Woollies, which she dutifully used to the last drop.
    I have all Barbara Comyns' novels - very good & rather dark.

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    1. This store, in its earlier form, has certainly sparked a few people's memories hasn't it ?
      I'm looking forward to the Barbara Comyns' reading. Jx

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  7. What a delight to remember Woolworths. In the Australian country town where I grew up, Woolworths looked the same! My matching memory is buying a Mother's Day gift for Mum from Woolworths of two tiny glass dishes, edged in gold, for a total of 2 shillings. I still have one of them. Thank you for a lovely post.

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    1. I dont think Woolworths was very different anywhere was it ? The original American stores, the UK ones, and those in Australia all seem to have been similar. It was clearly the place for us all to buy things for our mums wasn't it ?.....salad servers, perfume and glass bowls. Jx

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  8. Woolworths was the same everywhere. Every small (and large) town had one and Tredegar where I grew up was no exception.

    Thanks for this reminder. I remember in the early 70's buying vinyl albums, from the small selection they stocked, as we didn't have a record shop near.

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    1. I'm glad you mention the records Gaynor. I am pretty sure my mother used to buy Woolworths' versions of musical shows.... and it maybe that our version of South Pacific was bought there.I cant be sure, but I like to think so.
      You are right though.... they were all the same weren't they ? Jx

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  9. I really miss Woolworths too.
    There are a few shops that have a similar breadth of goods on sale, such as Wilkinson's and a new one here called The Range. But in Woolworths you could get sweets, shoe polish, pyrex dishes, garden plants, clothes (Ladybird label), toys......and spoons !!
    Is it my imagination or did Woollies (as we called it) also sell things like cheese and boiled ham?
    It's such a shame that they've gone as no other shops have quite the same feeling about them, especially as they were in the 50's and 60's.

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    1. Yes... The Range just isn't the same is it. The Ladybird label was fabulous, I remember lots of good value, and good quality children's clothes. I also think my mum must have aquired her entire pyrex collection from Woolies too.
      I dont remember ham and cheese, but it will be interesting to see if anyone else does. It does seem that people's fond memories are for the store they remember from the 50s and 60s, or just about early 70s..... those shops that closed down on our high streets just a few years ago.....were not the same at all. Jx

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  10. This Blog is like a 'Blast from the Past'....for one I never knew that you had Woolworth's in the UK. I always thought it too be only in North America.
    We had a Woolworth on every corner in the city.....every Saturday we would go in with girlfriends and scout the stores. I remember buying pink lipstick for 29 cents called Bubble Gum Pink....they always had some on the counters....and yes those wooden floors, and the lunch counter they use to have the best grill cheese sandwiches with fries on the side....with a milkshake. I could go on and one with memories.
    Now Walmart took over everything.....they are on major street corners taking up blocks.
    Those days are gone.....thank you for sharing this post and bringing back memories. You are always in my thoughts and stay well. :-)

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    1. I'm pretty sure the lunch counters were a purely North American aspect of Woolworth stores....but yes, we had them, and they weren't 5 and dime stores, they were 3d and 6d stores....although that was actually before my time.
      Thanks for your comments Erica ( Irene) I'm glad it brought back some memories for you.... we have Annie to thank for that. Jx

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  11. Today's version: the $1.00 stores! We take the grandkids there; give them each $5.00; and wait to see what 'treasures' they buy, for themselves or others. Only rule: nothing that goes in the mouth (candy, etc). Sometimes it will take them an hour+ to make the big decisions. Wonder if they'll have some memories in time?

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  12. As always Jane, you are in the business of creating memories for those lucky grandchildren. Jessie still loves the idea of fruit and dairy for breakfast......your famous banana bread with ice cream. We have £ shops here, and in France we have the Euro shops.......somehow, they lack the romance of the early Woolworth treasure houses......but I'm sure they will be remembered fondly by the Robinson grandchildren. Jxxx

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  13. This super post catapulted me right back to my childhood, Janice, and I'm so glad that Annie's gift sparked the thought and that you felt well enough again to write it. We had a Woolworths in Darwen where I was born and it was just as you described it. It wasn't self-service back then and sold a very wide range of goods. Apart from the sweet counter, I clearly remember the haberdashery and the cosmetics counters and buying first stockings, then tights there. It was also where we looked first when wanting to buy small gifts for our parents and grandparents.

    Of course there were other shops which sold a range of goods, especially the Co-op, but Woolies was the place for cheapness and choice and I loved it.

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    1. I am so delighted that Annie's gift has prompted so many memories for people. I certainly bought stockings from the Hendon central branch ( smaller than the Hendon Broadway branch of my childhood visits to grandma...... or maybe I was just bigger ! )
      Woolworth's fate was sad....the decline into that dreadful place where the only thing they seemed to sell was pick and mix sickly sugar coated sweets, to the final closure. Mind you... I'm really sad about Jessops.....and HMV. I remember going into the Oxford St branch as a teenager, to listen to the latest records in their listening booths. It was a great day out with friends, all for the tube fare. Oh well.
      Perhaps we should start a Co-op memories blog..... can you remember your mum's divi number.... our was 1185269 ! Jx

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    2. Crikey, Janice, what a memory you have! I haven't a clue what our number was, though I clearly remember sticking the divi slips to the long sheets and adding up the totals without the aid of a calculator. :-) The divi paid for a lot of our Christmas presents back then.

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    3. It stems from so many years of hearing my mother recite the number as the final bill was totted up. I can remember it, alongside phone numbers from friends who had phones years before we ever had one....but have no idea what my own mobile number is..... And I've had the same slumber for 20 years. Oh well, at least I know lots of other people who have the same problem. J.

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  14. Love this one mum, you descriptions are great, I can imagine it even though i never actually saw it.

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    1. Thanks, remind me to do something about your deprived childhood Jess.
      xxx

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  15. This really stirred up some happy memories for me, Janice, and our girls have their own Woolworth memories. My fondest memory was of the Woolworth's in downtown Chicago on State Street. Our dentist was in the Annex to Marshall Field's. Twice a year we would go with our mother to have our teeth checked; usually just a cleaning, but, I'm old enough to remember having a cavity filled with the use of a foot powered drill. After the appointment, my mother would walk us over to Woolworth's and we would sit at the counter, which seemed to snake round and round the basement, but, was likely only an S, and we could have a malted milk. Ooooo, I can still taste it. I had my first French fries and coke at the Woolworth in Broadview, IL. Oh, I could go on and on. Must find the book. Thank you, my dear, for that memory. I'm glad you were feeling well enough to post. Penny

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  16. I have so enjoyed reading people's Woolworths memories Penny. Those from your side of the Atlantic always seem to involve lunch counters, which we didn't have......but we recall them from movies, and of course, the Civil Rights news reels. Sorry that your Woolworths memories are connected to dentist vists, but even that sounds interesting. I am feeling very good at the moment, and after the next chemo session, will be half way through ! So.....all is good. Jx

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  17. Dear Janice, this post is exactly what I love about blogging - social history, or what!! And the fascinating responses from everyone. My Woolworths memory is of buying cheap pans which resulted in the contents always sticking to the bottom. (Or perhaps it was that in those early days I just couldn't cook!) Himself says that what he remembers is the smell of the wooden floor, possibly of the oil with which it had been treated.

    I do hope that the results of the chemo sessions will become less grueling for you over time.

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    1. I too recall the smell from the floor. I have loved reading everyone's personal memories, you're right, it is proper social history, and completely fascinating. Thanks for your good wishes. J.

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  18. I'm going to order that book straight away, I'm glad you showed it. I remember the Woolies in Reading where I grew up very well but I don't think it was as soulful as yours, definitely no wood floors.
    The comments have been so interesting. My school friend Su and I used to hitch up the M4 from Reading to Kensington High Street to shop at Biba. Occasionally we'd get the train but we preferred to save our money for clothes! I don't have any relics but I do have a near perfect velvet jacket from Mr Freedom which was just round the corner on Church St. I broke the bank to buy it and then hardly wore it.

    Busbys in Bradford..... when I was a student and then young mum there, Busby's bit the dust. But even after it stopped being Debenhams, the bus conductors were still calling that stop "Busby's". I wonder if they still do?

    Best wishes Janice, hope you have a lot more good days than bad.

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    1. I have been so delighted by the responses this blog has generated. It just takes a little thing to trigger a memory....and we're off down memory lane. I have now started the book Annie sent me...and love it. I would call it whimsical with a hint of darkness.... and I'm only on page 35.

      I love the idea that wherever Busby's was, is forever Busby's. certainly I can never call Kendalls in Manchester, House of Fraser....it will always be kendalls, and actually, it will always be Kendall Milnes to me...the name even before just Kendalls.
      I am having more good than bad days, and am really enjoying every minute of the good days. Thanks Jill.

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    2. Oh, you've just started another memory hare here, Janice! Growing up in Lancashire I remember Kendal Milnes as a VERY special shopping destination - so much bigger and more glamorous than any of the shops in our local towns. :-)

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    3. It was posh wasn't it. I also recognise , as soon as I saw your comment, that it was Kendals, with one L. I didn't discover Manchester until I went to university at 18, but have loved it ever since. One of my best friend's mothers, who I might add was incredibly posh..... Had an account at Kendal Milnes. Nothing could be more of a sign that she was a class above us !
      I bought an evening dress from Kendals in 1992, as the evening dress for my wedding day......it remains the most expensive dress I have ever bought, even 20 years on. ( It cost 6 times more than my wedding dress ) yes, a very special shop. Jx

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  19. Fascinating to read both your blog and other people's responses. I remember the sweet counter. I loved the look of it but even as a child I didn't really have a sweet tooth and would buy things that looked fab and give them away, not quite finished, to my younger brother. Sherbet dabs were the exception and always got finished!

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    1. The sweet counter was spectacular wasn't it ? Perhaps it was distant memories of that, that made the modern Woolies decide that pick and mix was their unique selling point.......a mistake, I fear.
      Sherbet dabs....or sherbet fountains...with that stick of liquorice sticking out...oh yes. J.

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  20. Janice, I have been thinking about you, knowing you are soldiering through your treatments and all that entails. Just wanted you to know you were in my thoughts and prayers. Penny

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    1. Thanks Penny, it does feel a little like soldiering through at the moment...sometimes being half way through feels very positive, and at other time, its a bit like, Oh heavens, I've got to go through everything I've been through, all over again.Most days are good though... thanks again Jx

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  21. I'm always thinking about you Janice....and hoping for the best. I can understand what you are going through and just think the worst is over. You are always in my thoughts and prayers, I so enjoy reading your posts and you seem like such a nice person. Take care (((HUGS))) Erica

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    1. Thanks Erica ( Irene). I am doing well, but just at the moment, dont seem to be up to actually blogging very much. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, they do mean a grea6t deal to me. Jx

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  22. In about 1955 I bought my mother a small diamanté lizard broach from Woolies in East Grinstead, Sussex. She wore it almost every day thereafter, and I still have it. Either she was just being nice, or I had exceptional taste; probably the former.

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