Tag Archives: F W Woolworth

The Wonder of Woolies!

The very first Woolworths store opened in the United States on 21st June 1879 and when I was a boy the Rugby store at 30 High Street was one of my favourite shops in town selling things you don’t see any more like Melba chocolate, spud guns, Embassy records, pick ‘n’ mix, broken biscuits, Homemaker china, Californian Poppy perfume, and Ladybird children’s clothes.

It was big, it was bright, it was cheap and gaudy and it was like an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure. I don’t know for sure how long it had been there but there are some old pictures of Rugby that show it in the 1950s in a fine old building but some time in the early 1960s Rugby got the full attention of the modernist town planners and much of the historic centre was swept away in a frenzy of demolition and rebuild and by the 1960s Woolworths was located in a modern brick and glass building with a concrete facade which would have looked trendy then but now just looks firmly and inappropriately time locked in its post war conception.

The dark days of Winter were the best time to visit Woolworths because stepping out of the gloom into the bright lights was like visiting Santa’s grotto.  I think there was a sort of Star Trek tractor beam that pulled people in off the streets. The Rugby store was a big one, on three levels and with entrances from both High Street and Sheep Street which pre pedestrianisation were busy main roads cutting through the middle of town from Market Place to Hillmorton Road and as well as Woolworths there was Boots the Chemist, International Stores and a number of small local shops, sadly, mostly now gone.

Before it was modernised with tills at the exits it was a curious mix of the old and the new shopping experience. It had wooden floors and counters arranged in sections that were part self-service and partly manned by shop assistants.  Each section advertised its wares with a cardboard sign in a sort of aluminium picture frame which wobbled about on the counter. ‘Pick n Mix’ was close to the door with a mouth watering array of fizzy and hard boiled sweets sponsored probably by the local dentists.  Once past this distraction there were toys and games, hardware, gardening, shoes and clothing counters.  There were records too but these were mainly cheap long playing records not performed by the original artist.

Shop-lifting was a problem for Woolies and  Rugby School Boys were not allowed to shop in the store and I always thought this was due to some snobbish rule imposed by the public school itself but it turned out that it was in fact a ban by the management of Woolies because despite the fact that the pupils were from very well off families they used to nick so much stuff that it had a negative effect on store profits.

Progressing deeper into the store the counters became less interesting for young children, clothes, kitchen ware, electrical items and furniture.  Upstairs, via the escalator on one side and stairs on the other, was really for serious mum and dad shopping and there was a cafeteria for tea and a sandwich.  The third floor was accessed by what seemed to be a curious set of back stairs but I can’t remember anything especially interesting on this floor.

Woolworths was best around December time when the place filled up for Christmas and for a young boy with a few shillings to spend on family presents this was the place to spend a Saturday afternoon and get all the shopping done in one go in just one store – it was brilliant.  I seem to remember that it was good at Easter as well when there were rows and rows of chocolate Easter eggs taking up more than their fair share of floor space.

Sadly, Woolworths ceased trading and went into voluntary liquidation in November 2008 and shortly after that the Rugby store, along with all of the others across the country, closed down. I don’t know what replaced it because I don’t visit Rugby any more but the loss of Woolies in Rugby and High Streets across the country remains one of the biggest retailing disappointments of the last few years.

A Life in a Year – 21st June, The Wonder of Woolies!

The very first Woolworths store opened in the United States on 21st June 1879 and when I was a boy the Rugby store at 30 High Street was one of my favourite shops in town selling things you don’t see any more Melba chocolate, spud guns, Embassy records, pick ‘n’ mix, broken biscuits, Homemaker china, Californian Poppy perfume, and Ladybird children’s clothes.

It was big, it was bright, it was cheap and gaudy and it was like an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure. I don’t know for sure how long it had been there but there are some old pictures of Rugby that show it in the 1950s in a fine old building but some time in the early 1960s Rugby got the full attention of the modernist town planners and much of the historic centre was swept away in a frenzy of demolition and rebuild and by the 1960s Woolworths was located in a modern brick and glass building with a concrete facade which would have looked trendy then but now just looks firmly and inappropriately time locked in its post war conception.

The dark days of Winter were the best time to visit Woolworths because stepping out of the gloom into the bright lights was like visiting Santa’s grotto.  The Rugby store was a big one, on three levels and with entrances from both High Street and Sheep Street which pre pedestrianisation were busy main roads cutting through the middle of town from Market Place to Hillmorton Road and as well as Woolworths there was Boots the Chemist, International Stores and a number of small local shops, sadly, mostly now gone.

Before it was modernised with tills at the exits it was a curious mix of the old and the new shopping experience. It had wooden floors and counters arranged in sections that were part self-service and partly manned by shop assistants.  Each section advertised its wares with a cardboard sign in a sort of aluminium picture frame which wobbled about on the counter. ‘Pick n Mix’ was close to the door with a mouth watering array of fizzy and hard boiled sweets sponsored probably by the local dentists.  Once past this distraction there were toys and games, hardware, gardening, shoes and clothing counters.  There were records too but these were mainly cheap long playing records not performed by the original artist. I was in there one day with my friend David Newman when he shop-lifted an LP of Warren Mitchell (Alf Garnett) singing war time songs.

 

On the subject of thieving, Rugby School Boys were not allowed to shop in the store and I always thought this was due to some snobbish rule imposed by the public school itself but it turned out that it was in fact a ban by the management of Woolies because despite the fact that the pupils were from very well off families they used to nick so much stuff that it had a negative effect on store profits.

Progressing deeper into the store the counters became less interesting for young children , clothes, kitchen ware, electrical items and furniture.  Upstairs, via the escalator on one side and stairs on the other, was really for serious mum and dad shopping and there was a cafeteria for tea and a sandwich.  The third floor was accessed by what seemed to be a curious set of back stairs but I can’t remember anything especially interesting on this floor.

Woolworths was best around December time when the place filled up for Christmas and for a young boy with a few shillings to spend on family presents this was the place to spend a Saturday afternoon and get all the shopping done in one go in just one store – it was brilliant.  I seem to remember that it was good at Easter as well when there were rows and rows of chocolate Easter eggs taking up more than its fair share of floor space.

Sadly, Woolworths ceased trading and went into voluntary liquidation in November 2008 and shortly after that the Rugby store, along with all of the others across the country, closed down. I don’t know what replaced it because I don’t visit Rugby any more but the loss of Woolies in Rugby and High Streets across the country remains one of the biggest retailing disappointments of the last few years.

The Spitfire, The Hurricane and Airfix Model Kits

Although the Spitfire is probably the most famous and the most recognisable of all the British planes used by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War the Hurricane was in fact the principal fighter in the Battle of Britain and not the Spitfire as most people think.  In 1940 there were thirty-two squadrons with Hurricanes and only nineteen squadrons of Spitfires.  They looked similar but there were differences between them and they complimented each other and worked closely together to shoot down enemy aircraft.   The quicker Spitfires were best for engaging the Luftwaffe’s fighter planes, like the Messerschmitt, whilst the Hurricanes took on the fleets of bombers like the Junkers and Heinkels.

I can tell the difference between them because when I was a boy I used to like making model aircraft from Airfix self-assembly kits.  The Spitfire was much better looking with sleek elliptical wings, a slim body and a long raking nose.  The Hurricane was chunkier with a higher cockpit and stumpy little wings.  My first Airfix kit was the Hawker Hurricane and I have to say that after that it was always my favourite of the two.

In the beginning Airfix was sold in F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd.  for two shillings (that’s 10p today) and the first in the range, in 1952, was a very small scale model of Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hind.  It was so successful that Woolworths than began to ask for additions to the range and soon Airfix began to produce more polybagged model kits.   The famous duck-egg blue Spitfire model appeared in 1953.

An Airfix kit was notoriously difficult to assemble and the only absolute certainty was that once it was finished it definitely wouldn’t look anything like the picture on the box.  Getting the fuselage and the wings snapped together was usually a fairly straightforward procedure but things quickly became increasingly complicated after that, with fiddly little bits and pieces that required huge dexterity, great precision and unnatural amounts of patience to position into exactly the right place.  I was often a bit over eager at this stage and would prematurely glue the obvious parts together without reading the instructions properly and then realise that some of the fiddly bits needed to be planned for and carried out before the larger bits were put together.  Two good examples of this were the propeller on the Spitfire and the tail gunner’s position on the back of the Lancaster bomber which would only turn or swivel as intended if placed in position before permanently attaching the fuselage section together.

What made things especially difficult was the Humbrol plastic cement glue with its curious smell and a habit of exuding the tube nozzle in far greater quantities of stringy ooze than you could ever possibly need for such a delicate operation and it would end up in sticky white flakes on the end of your fingers or big dollops on the dining room table that would strip the varnish off and end up in a telling off.   I always found the gluing together part of the operation especially tricky when finally putting the cock-pit window into position at the end and my model was always left with smears on the plexi-glass that if this was a real plane would have made it virtually impossible for the pilot to see where he was flying.  And thinking about the pilot, one of the most irritating things was to discover that I had got the cockpit in place and the whole thing finished before I had placed the pilot into his seat and there he was rattling around in the bottom of the box along with all of the bits of discarded plastic and the double sided page of incomprehensible assembly instructions.

After the gluing together stage came the painting and this was an equally messy affair with paint dribbling down the fuselage, bits of wool and hair getting stuck on the model and fingerprints in various places where I had tried in vain to rectify the damage.  Most of the damage was done because I was naturally impatient.  Paint came in little tins and it was sensible to let one colour dry before applying the second but I rarely had enough time for that which mostly led to disastrous results.  Finally there was the delicate process of applying the decals which had to be separated from the backing paper by soaking in water and then requiring a most delicate touch to manoeuver them carefully into position on the fuselage and the wings.  Sometimes if I was lucky they could be used to cover up the dodgy paintwork but mostly they would end up on first contact in the wrong place and crease and tear as I tried to correct the error.

I finished the Hurricane and the Lancaster to some sort of messy sub-standard but I can recall making such a catastrophe of a bright red Westland Lysander that as soon as it was completed I was so ashamed of it that I immediately consigned it to the bin.

Airfix was also popular in the United States, France and Germany, but here the swastika transfers on Heinkels and Messerschmitts were banned.

Airfix model aircraft were an important part of my childhood in the days before computer games and a really significant thing about Airfix was that it taught important life skills like reading assembly instructions that were as deeply impenetrable as the Amazon rainforest and which were useful later in life for dealing with flat-pack furniture assembly.