From High Street Ken to High Holborn – more of London’s long-lost Woolies

Façade of Woolworths' former Oxford Street flagship (24 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Façade of Woolworths' former Oxford Street flagship (24 Nov 2010)

Visiting London again this week, I was able to capture another clutch of locations that used to house Woolies stores more than a quarter of a century ago.

Last time I was in London, at the end of September, I photographed – and blogged about – the former Woolworths in Kensington High Street (#162), which was sold off in 1980 and is now occupied by Uniqlo.

Former Woolworths (now Uniqlo), Kensington High Street (23 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Uniqlo), Kensington High Street (23 Nov 2010)

However, in the drizzle and fading light I hadn’t managed to spot the earlier Woolworths property, further along the street, from which the retailer had relocated in the 1960s. This time, happily, I managed to locate it.

Original Woolworths premises, Kensington High Street (23 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Original Woolworths premises, Kensington High Street (23 Nov 2010)

100thBirthday.co.uk reveals that Kensington’s Woolworths opened on its original site in August 1924, with the purpose-built property, pictured here in the 1920s, boasting “a large cinema frontage finished in glazed cream marble brickwork.” 

From the 1920s until its disposal, the address also housed Woolworths’ Kensington regional office, overseeing the chain’s stores in the South West, parts of East Anglia, and the suburbs of north west London.

Given that Woolworths moved out half a century ago, I should barely have been surprised that the building today looks somewhat different from that earlier photograph. Nevertheless, it is sad to see the property carved up into separate units (for Robert Dyas, Sony Centre and JD), with a cacaphony of clashing shopfronts and different height fascias that have little in common with each other, let alone with the ornate detail and proportions of the upper floors. At some point, the top of the building also lost its pediment and cornice, giving it a strangely unfinished look.

Former Woolworths (now Uniqlo), Oxford Street (24 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Uniqlo), Oxford Street (24 Nov 2010)

Over in Oxford Street, the former Woolies flagship (#161) – which opened in August 1924, but had apparently “never been profitable” – was sold off at the same time as the relocated Kensington High Street store, with the proceeds used to help pay for F W Woolworth & Co. Ltd’s purchase, in 1980, of the DIY chain B&Q. In a prime spot opposite John Lewis and House of Fraser, it too – coincidentally – now houses a branch of Uniqlo.

Oxford Street, with former Woolies on the left (24 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Oxford Street, with former Woolies on the left (24 Nov 2010)

100thBirthday.co.uk reports that prior to its closure, store 161 “included a big restaurant in the basement, a dedicated food hall with wines and spirits on the first floor and a huge range of toiletries, tourist items and jewellery on the ground salesfloor.” Like the original Kensington store, Oxford Street also housed one of Woolworths’ regional offices – the Metropolitan – on its upper floors.

Oxford Street store prior to closure. Source: Woolworths Virtual Museum

Oxford Street store prior to closure. Source: Woolworths Virtual Museum

This was not the only store in Oxford Street – another (store #463), opened in 1932 and was sold off at the same time as the aforementioned Kensington High Street and Oxford Street shops. I haven’t been able to source any images of this second store, however, and I’m not not clear whereabouts in Oxford Street it was. Perhaps someone who remembers it from thirty or more years ago can help fill in the gaps?

Former Woolworths (now Boots), Brompton Road (23 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Boots), Brompton Road (23 Nov 2010)

Another old Woolies that was apparently more for show than profitmaking was the one in Brompton Road (#391), not far from Harrods. This store was relatively short-lived compared to most Woolworths stores, opening in March 1930 and closing in 1970 as part of a major trading review. At that time, the sale of this and other prominent stores released funds that could be used to convert other stores in the estate to both decimal currency and self service. Today, the portion of the building that housed Woolworths is occupied by a branch of Boots.

Finally to High Holborn (store #173, closed in 1984), and the type of former Woolies site that is hardest to identify: one where the building that housed the store has subsequently been demolished. For once, 100thBirthday.co.uk isn’t so helpful, referring a little vaguely to the former store “facing the old houses in High Holborn” (the Tudor Staple Inn perhaps?), and mistakenly illustrating its piece with a picture of Oxford Street 161 instead.

However, through a bit of detective work and Google Street Viewing, I think I’ve managed to identify the correct location, adjacent to the Chancery Lane Tube station entrance towards High Holborn’s eastern end.

Former Woolworths site (?), High Holborn (24 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths site (?), High Holborn (24 Nov 2010)

The building looks about the right age (1980s), houses several small shops including a former Clinton Cards (now Holland & Barrett), as mentioned by 100thBirthday.co.uk, and is almost directly opposite the Staple Inn. Again, if anyone can shed any more light on the former High Holborn Woolies – and can confirm whether or not I’ve got the location right – please feel free to share what you know!

25 Responses to “From High Street Ken to High Holborn – more of London’s long-lost Woolies”

  1. John said:

    Nov 27, 10 at 17:48

    The City of London Guildhall Public Reference Library has an extensive collection of historic London and national telephone, trade and street directories going back to the late 19th century, and that might be a good place to find or verify addresses of old Woolworths branches.

  2. Gabriella Coscia said:

    Nov 28, 10 at 12:51

    Hi there,

    I lived in Holborn and remember the Woolworths there.

    You do have the right location however what you may not realise is that there were two entrances to Woolworth’s in Holborn the other side is in Gray’s Inn Road round the corner that part of the building was kept and is now an Argos Extra store and has been since Woolworth’s closed.

    The part that was rebuilt, wasn’t rebuilt as such only recladded as flats above and the ground floor was split in to units for Clinton Cards, Thorntons and originally Richards.

    Richards is or was Dorothy Perkins the last time I was up there, Clintons is now Holland and Barrett and the Argos is opposite a former Next Women’s branch which recently closed.

    Regarding the Oxford Street branch, after Woolworths closed it became a branch of DP and Burton’s that gave way to Tesco Metro over two floors, then Waterstone’s before becoming JD Sports before becoming Uniqlo.

    There was also a Woolworths in the Strand and a huge one in Victoria. The Victoria branch became Argos and a pub by JD Wetherspoons and still retains the original Woolies metal framedoors for the emergency exits. The Victoria Woolworths is opposite Victoria Railway Station the Strand store was is a brnach of Boots near to Aldwych

  3. Gabriella Coscia said:

    Nov 28, 10 at 12:53

    Oh and I did want to say the reason why it is recladded the building and not rebuilt because the Reed Employment Agency was trading when Woolworth’s was open as was Robert Dyas so it is the original Woolworth’s building it’s just been recladded ( Holborn branch) so hope this helps you.

  4. Gabriella Coscia said:

    Nov 28, 10 at 12:55

    One more thing,

    Woolworths in Holborn isn’t a new built it is just recladded, it’s the same building because Reed Employment and Robert Dyas were trading at the same locations when Woolworths was open.

    THe Oxford Street branch of Woolworths is near Oxford Circus opposite House of Fraser and near to Debenhams Department store – basically the middle section of Oxford Street with the highest footfall

  5. Graham Soult said:

    Nov 28, 10 at 13:26

    Hi Gabriella,

    Many thanks indeed for those insights, particularly with regard to the Holborn branch! I’d missed the part around the side, so will have to check that out next time.

    I’ve been to the Victoria branch already – see http://www.soultsretailview.co.uk/2010/10/08/londons-lost-woolies-flagships/. The Strand one is already on my list of ones to get – I’d probably have gone there last week, but I wanted to avoid getting swallowed up by all the students converging on Trafalgar Square!

    The Oxford Street store that you describe as being opposite House of Fraser is the one that I went to, and photographed above, but it’s really interesting to hear of its succession of occupants over the years. I’ve just added an extra photo, showing its position in relation to the other side of the street. Have you any idea where the second (presumably smaller) Oxford Street Woolies was? If the flagship was in the middle section of the street, I’d imagine that the other was at one of the street’s ends (i.e. towards Marble Arch or Tottenham Court Road).

  6. John said:

    Nov 29, 10 at 01:49

    The “other” Oxford Street branch of Woolworths was at 150 Oxford Street (towards the Tottenham Court Road direction), facing Poland Street.

    It is now occupied by HMV

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?client=firefox-a&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=51.515752,-0.137667&spn=0.000773,0.003433&z=19&layer=c&cbll=51.51562,-0.137657&panoid=nj5ExVm5w8BRGc3Le_ONWg&cbp=12,339.5,,0,-12.65

  7. Graham Soult said:

    Nov 29, 10 at 09:17

    Excellent! Thanks John :)

  8. John said:

    Nov 29, 10 at 18:42

    Whilst poking around, I came across the following page which shows a 1950′s view down Oxford Street.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/allhails/2878223569/sizes/o/in/photostream/

    The second Woolworths branch is the shop on the other side of the road that is in between the taxi and the bus.

    That page is a linked from the following where there are some comments relating to the Woolworths branches in Oxford Street.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/allhails/2878223569/

    The next thing is whether there was a branch in Tottenham Court Road. Some say there was (where Paper Chase now are) but others say there never was.

    It is also interesting and ironic to note that the Foot Locker store in Oxford Street (Foot Locker are the US Woolworths Company) is actually located in what was the HMV building.

  9. Graham Soult said:

    Nov 29, 10 at 19:32

    Excellent finds John!

    Incidentally (and as I’ve added to the discussion on Flickr), I *do* have a record of there being a Tottenham Court Road branch of Woolworths. It was store #175, and there’s a reference to it the December 1958 issue of The New Bond that I have a copy of. It’s just a line in the ‘Changes and Appointments’ section of the magazine, listing a Mr R W Parratt, who was the manager of 175 TCR, as having moved to become manager of store #602 in Norbury.

    So, now we know that there definitely was a TCR store, we’ll have to keep an eye open for any old photos that might indicate where it was!

  10. Soult's Retail View » Blog Archive » West Ealing’s surprising former Woolies building said:

    Dec 13, 10 at 13:46

    [...] visiting London last month, I also found time to pay a visit to the interesting shopping area of West Ealing – home, as [...]

  11. Gabriella Coscia said:

    Dec 19, 10 at 13:09

    West Ealing Graham, there is nothing there the area has really declined over the last decade as Ealing itself has because of Westfield White City.

    Once upon a time, Marks and Spencer had a West Ealing branch, WH Smith, MCdonald’s Burtons even Poundland shut down there because they could not sustain the store.

    Ealing itself lost Bentalls (Fenwicks) to Beale’s to Primark.

    Most of Arcadia’s stores closed to go in White City and Ealing is really a former shadow of itself for retail. Far better to go to Kingston, White City or even Richmond these days.

  12. Jonathan Carling said:

    Jan 07, 11 at 21:13

    Hi Graham – remember working with you when I was at NERIP and you at Northumbria Uni a few years back. In the 1980s I lived in North London and was told that there had been a Woolies in Wood Green, in what was then the Habitat store. Don’t suppose anyone can confirm that?

  13. Graham Soult said:

    Jan 10, 11 at 11:07

    Hi Jon – good to hear from you!

    There definitely was an old Woolworths in Wood Green – it was store #26, giving it an opening date of 1913.

    More recently, there was a new store – #1240 – within The Mall Wood Green, which closed following Woolies’ collapse and is now New Look.

    However, I know nothing else about store #26 – when it closed, what is became, or what it is now. John, who’s a regular contributor to this blog, makes a reference at http://www.soultsretailview.co.uk/2010/05/28/finding-old-woolworths-stores-in-unlikely-places-courtesy-of-the-new-bond/#comment-2497 to remembering the Wood Green branch, so maybe he can shed some more light on the subject!

  14. John said:

    Jan 12, 11 at 00:43

    I worked in Wood Green from mid 1973 to mid 1974. The Wood Green Shopping City had not yet been built and there was a lot of derelict land that remained after the closure and removal of the railway line that had run from Severn Sisters to Palace Gates.

    Woolworths was at that time next door to Marks and Spencers on Wood Green High Road. It can be seen in the street view image and comprised what is obviously the initial store (although I doubt whether that frontage was the original from 1913) which is now Dorothy Perkins and half of Sainsburys, but had been extended sideways to include what is the rest of Sainsburys and the UCKG entrance.

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?client=firefox-a&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=51.592409,-0.105733&spn=0.000723,0.002411&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=51.592333,-0.105624&panoid=3oBVpS5vqxzn4OL71SWpsg&cbp=12,71,,0,-4.27

    It was also extended sideways behind the shops up to the Dovecote Avenue junction and there was a separate entrance that can be seen in this view, below futher development, down that remnant of the side turning. (The frontage is on the extreme right of this view).

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?client=firefox-a&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=51.592561,-0.105958&spn=0.000365,0.001206&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=51.592561,-0.105958&panoid=jWSH_Pc6op7tOcERPv3H1A&cbp=12,74.38,,0,-4.14

    The major side extension (I think the front had already been extended sideways) round the back was constructed during my year working in the area and on the day it opened the entire pavement area in that last view, including all of that side road was packed with customers queueing to get in.

  15. Jonathan Carling said:

    Jan 15, 11 at 22:08

    Wow – thanks. The internet is a wonderful thing!!

  16. Gabriella Coscia said:

    Jan 27, 11 at 20:33

    There was a woolworths in Wood Green Shopping City in the mall opened a few years ago and is now New Look. Wood Green isn’t that great for shopping a number of retailers have gone over the years including Burger King, Currys, Currys Digital, House of Fraser what was then DH Evans when it closed in 1995 and a few others. Basically Wood Green is tatty.

  17. Soult's Retail View » Long-lost London Woolies in High Holborn and Tottenham Court Road said:

    Apr 09, 11 at 11:18

    [...] Most recently, in November, I returned to Kensington and tracked down the original store #162, further along the street, as well as capturing the former Oxford Street flagship (#161, now Uniqlo), the old Woolies in Brompton Road, near Harrods (#391, now Boots), and what I hoped was the long-closed store at High Holborn (#173). Grays Inn Road entrance to former High Holborn Woolworths (5 Apr 2011) [...]

  18. Soult's Retail View » Tracking down Oxford Street’s second ex-Woolworths said:

    Apr 11, 11 at 19:11

    [...] in November, you might recall that I photographed the former Woolworths flagship store (#161) at 311 Oxford Street, below, which opened in 1924 and was sold off in the early 1980s. Since [...]

  19. Soult's Retail View » Going down the Strand – the old Woolies near Simpson’s and the Savoy said:

    Apr 12, 11 at 00:04

    [...] year during the 1924-25, following on from those that I’ve already blogged about previously: Oxford Street (#161) and Kensington High Street (#162), which opened in August 1924, and High Holborn (#173) and Tottenham Court Road (#175), opened in [...]

  20. Soult's Retail View » Can you identify this mysterious Woolworths from a century ago? [updated] said:

    Nov 20, 11 at 22:54

    [...] Interestingly, the store wasn’t Aberdeen’s original Woolworths – that was store #79, at 48-52 St Nicholas Street, which appears to have opened on 18 October 1919 and closed sometime before the early 1980s. That address appears not to exist today, though the current Gap store in St Nicholas Street bears a remarkable resemblance (perhaps coincidentally) to the flagship Woolworths in London’s Oxford Street flagship (#161). [...]

  21. Soult's Retail View » The fragment of Uniqlo that lives on in Coventry said:

    Mar 02, 12 at 13:06

    [...] chain now has twelve stores across the capital, including an Oxford Street flagship and a couple in premises that once housed some of London’s largest branches of Woolworths (above). A popular and UK-wide transactional website supports Uniqlo’s physical store [...]

  22. Stuart said:

    Mar 10, 13 at 21:00

    Hi, store 175 in Tottenham Court Road was at 20/21 Tottenham Court Road and closed in 1970. Hope that helps.

  23. Graham Soult said:

    Mar 10, 13 at 21:06

    Thanks Stuart! It’s already sorted: http://www.soultsretailview.co.uk/2012/02/18/locating-the-former-woolworths-in-tottenham-court-road-forty-years-after-its-closure/ :)

  24. Stuart said:

    Mar 10, 13 at 21:37

    No problem Graham… Glad you found it! I’ve just found your site and its fascinating. As a former Woolworths employee of many years service I remember so many of these locations. Thank you so much!

  25. Graham Soult said:

    Mar 11, 13 at 07:09

    You’re very welcome, Stuart! Glad it’s of interest :)


Leave a Reply