Horley’s old Woolies – long closed, but hard to miss
During the summer, I’ve built up a veritable stack of photos of old Woolworths stores, from all kinds of places across the UK – not that you’d necessarily realise from my recent blogging output. That’s the trouble of fine weather – it’s just so tempting to head off and photograph interesting things, rather than staying inside and writing about them.
However, now that winter’s well on the way, and the weather is less amenable for tearing up and down the country, I plan that my blog posts will finally catch up with my camera…
One old Woolies that I’ve walked past lots of times without realising is the one in Horley, in Surrey. Several summers in recent years we have stayed in a friendly B&B in the town before flying out to some eastern European destination from nearby Gatwick Airport. Since the last time we were there, in 2007, a lot has happened, however – Woolworths has vanished from the high street, and my retail interests have blossomed.
Still, even as a consumer I’ve always had a soft spot for Horley’s town centre – it’s compact and attractive, and has a surprisingly strong retail offer given the town’s relatively small (but, admittedly, affluent) population of just over 20,000 people. Highlights include the delightful Collingwood Batchellor department store in Victoria Road and, just opposite, the unusually large and impressive branch of The Original Factory Shop, housed in a former engine shed.
The town can also claim to be the location of my first ever Waitrose experience, back in 2001 – long before the retailer had made it up here to the North East, and when the most northerly outpost of the Waitrose empire was still Newark-on-Trent. Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed quite a few Waitrose experiences in more recent years.
Back to Woolies though, and it’s interesting that despite Horley’s present-day buzz and prosperity, the town’s Woolworths store (#545), opened in May 1934, was one of the first to close, back in the mid-1970s. Today, the property houses a branch of Boots. However, not withstanding the slightly questionnable blue first-floor windows, the building is in excellent condition, and is the epitome of a purpose-built 1930s Woolworths store – even more than thirty years after the retailer moved out.
Interestingly, the Woolies history site, 100thBirthday.co.uk, suggests that the opening of a huge Woolworths store in nearby Crawley (#768), in 1958 – just five miles away – had a negative impact on the Horley store’s trade. The Crawley store, incidentally, lasted until Woolworths’ collapse, and is now – like so many others – occupied by Poundland.
Whereas Poundlands seem to be popping up everywhere, one distinctive feature of Horley’s retail scene is the presence of George Davies’ GIVe collection within Collingwood Batchellor. Launched only in September last year, the label’s fortunes so far have been mixed, with GIVe’s standalone stores all apparently slated for closure. Indeed, the Regent Street flagship, as well as the stores at Meadowhall and Kingston upon Thames, have already gone.
However, the concession model – operating nationwide within Beales department stores, and in just a handful of other independents – has reportedly been much more successful. Certainly, Collingwood Batchellor had an attractive GIVe window display, and the range looked a good fit for the department store’s focus on quality, and for its older and well-heeled clientele.
With GIVe seemingly concentrating on selling through independent department stores, it will be interesting to see whether the collection is introduced into Beales’ new acquisitions – including the former Westgate department store in Rochdale (now renamed as Whitakers), and, of course, the transformed Robbs department store up here in Hexham.