A Woolies twist to every story
While I was vaguely aware that there had been a Woolies in Newcastle’s Northumberland Street many years ago, I hadn’t realised that it occupied the soon-to-be-Peacocks former Zavvi building.
The presence of the Fenwick department store in both shots above is the giveaway – and Newcastle Libraries’ superb Flickr stream has quite a few more images that show the Woolies store in all its glory. Interestingly, one great shot shows the Woolworths store still open in 1983; presumably someone out there can shed light on when it closed, and whether the property was anything else prior to becoming the Virgin Megastore. [UPDATE, 29 October 2010: I've sourced some old newspaper articles referring to Next's takeover of the site in 1985, and which infer that Woolies shut in 1984. More of that in a future post, I hope.]
The fate of the Northumberland Street shop seems to have mirrored that of many other large, city centre Woolworths stores across the UK. Between the 1950s and 1970s, Woolworths developed many flagship shops – department stores, essentially – in major city centres, occupying several floors and a prominent location. At the same time, there was often a smaller store at the other end of town – just like the branch in Newcastle’s Clayton Street.
However, the 1980s saw Woolies downsizing or closing many of these flagship stores, at the same time as withdrawing from certain product areas (such as adult clothing and groceries) to focus upon the ranges for which it latterly became best known – toys, confectionery, homewares, entertainment and children’s clothing. Thus, cities such as Leeds and Newcastle lost their main Woolworths store at this time, but kept the smaller one.
Similarly, when I lived in Sheffield in the 1990s, I remember hearing about the Woolworths store in Haymarket that had closed down some years before, having been rebuilt in the 1950s following war damage. The unit later became Dunnes Stores (which closed down and then reopened in the same spot a few years later), and currently houses a large branch of Wilkinson.
Meanwhile, Sheffield’s second branch, on The Moor, lasted right through to Woolies’ ultimate demise at the end of 2008. In a neat twist, bringing us back to where this blog post started, that site too is reportedly going to become a Peacocks.
With thanks to Newcastle Libraries for the use of the historic photograph of Woolworths in Northumberland Street.