Redruth: the Cornish town that lost its Woolies twice
In my last post I mentioned my February visit to Cornwall, writing about one of the county’s former Woolworths – in Launceston (store #812) – that had closed down many years prior to the chain’s collapse.
When Woolies folded in 2008, Cornwall still had ten trading stores. Most of these – in St Austell (#291), Camborne (#304), Falmouth (#306), Bodmin (#569), Liskeard (#623), Penzance (#651) and Newquay (#730) – had opened during Woolworths’ golden age of the 1920s and 30s, with a further trio – Truro (#836), St Ives (#863) and Helston (#920) – added in the mid-1950s. I visited and photographed several of these stores, which I will feature in future posts.
Besides Launceston, I’m only aware of two other long-closed Cornish Woolworths stores. Intriguingly, both belonged to the historic former copper mining town of Redruth – though I didn’t actually know this until after I’d already paid my flying visit.
Though I had no evidence at the time, I rather assumed that a town the size of Redruth (12,000 people) would have had a Woolworths at some point, so my task while visiting was to identify its likely location. Happily, one of my guesses – and photographs – was the right one.
Redruth’s original Woolworths was located at 72 Fore Street, in rather handsome premises occupied today by Superdrug. I don’t yet have a Woolies store number, but the fact that the 1870s former Trounson’s building predates Woolworths’ occupation suggests a 1950s opening. As I’ve noted before, Woolworths’ prewar town centre stores tended to be housed in purpose-built premises, and those afterwards in existing properties. [UPDATE, 12 September 2011: The ‘New Bond’ from December 1960 mentions the Redruth store number as 813, which would give an opening date of 1953 – making it contemporary with store #812 in Launceston.]
By way of proof, the ‘F W Woolworth & Co Ltd’ fascia can be made out in a c.1955 shot on the Francis Frith website, while the postcards below show the same building and street, pre-Woolies, during the first half of the 20th century.
As far as a closure date is concerned, one source cites the 1980s. This makes sense, as the latter years of the decade were a time when Kingfisher, who by then owned both Woolworths and (since 1987) Superdrug, switched a significant number of smaller Woolies stores over to its recently acquired health and beauty fascia – hence my speculative photo of what I hoped was the former Woolworths location. The property’s record at the Cornwall Council planning website lists several applications for new signage in 1987 and 1988 (but gives no further details), which would fit with that scenario.
Little more than a decade later, in November 2000, Redruth was – as I only realised after my visit – one of the first places in the country to gain a branch of Big W, located on the outskirts of the town at Station Road in Pool. Kingfisher’s new superstore format brought together ranges from across its fascias – Woolworths, obviously, as well as Comet, B&Q and Superdrug. However, the demerger of Woolworths Group plc from the rest of Kingfisher, on 28 August 2001, rather undermined the Big W concept, rendering the stores as very large Woolworths branches in all but name.
The store lasted barely four years before its closure – with the loss of 133 jobs – was announced in January 2005. Where 14 of the 21 Big W stores – such as those in Stockton and Tamworth – were downsized and rebranded as Woolworths, the seven with permission for food retailing were sold to Asda and Tesco, with the latter picking up the Redruth site. The store shut as Big W on 4 February 2005, opened as Tesco Extra later that year, and continues to trade today. A photo, I’m afraid, will have to follow next time I’m in that part of Cornwall.
You can quibble whether Redruth’s Big W really counts as an ex-Woolworths, given that it never traded under that fascia. However, I wonder whether there are any other localities that can claim to have had two different Woolies shops open and close over the last century, without still having a store in place at the time of the chain’s 2008 collapse? Answers on a postcard please…