The South Shields shop that’s been a Woolworths… and nearly every supermarket name too

Former Woolworths (now Sainsbury's), Prince Edward Road, South Shields (21 Feb 2012). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Sainsbury's), Prince Edward Road, South Shields (21 Feb 2012)

When I recently got hold of a copy of the 1972 Woolworths store list, I was surprised to see a reference to a North East store that I hadn’t previously known about, at 335-345 Prince Edward Road in South Shields – an apparent addition to the main South Shields store (#104) at King Street in the town centre (below).

Already marked on the Woolies list as ‘closed’ by 1972, I was curious to find out more about what had become of the Prince Edward Road site, particularly given that it seemed to be very shortlived as Woolworths, with its store number – 1105 – suggesting that it had only opened in 1965. Happily, as is often the case, a bit of Googling and tweeting has helped to piece things together.

Former Woolworths (now Store Twenty One and Poundland), King Street, South Shields (22 Sep 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Store Twenty One and Poundland), King Street, South Shields (22 Sep 2011)

The first thing to report is that the property still exists, trading today as a Sainsbury’s. It’s part of a sizeable parade of shops known as The Nook, serving the Harton area of South Shields. The stretch also includes stores such as Boots, Heron Foods, Iceland and Superdrug alongside the usual banks, bakers, betting shops and a good smattering of independents.

Former Woolworths (now Sainsbury's), Prince Edward Road, South Shields (21 Feb 2012). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Sainsbury's), Prince Edward Road, South Shields (21 Feb 2012)

As I’ve noted before, some of Tyneside’s suburban shopping centres have ended up much too large for present-day needs, but Prince Edward Road has few voids and seemingly plenty of customers. I suspect its position on the main road between South Tyneside and the coast has helped, ensuring that it gets plenty of passing trade as well as serving its local catchment of housing estates.

What of the Sainsbury’s site’s history, though? One source suggests that, pre-Woolworths, the premises housed a branch of the Boldon Co-op; one supposes that the Co-op might have occupied the property since it was built, presumably (looking at the architecture) sometime around the 1920s.

Slightly oddly, another source refers to the Woolworths store already being in place at the time of the Great Depression – in 1929 – but I suspect this must be a misunderstanding from the interview. As the 1105th store in the Woolworths estate, this shop couldn’t have opened there before the mid-1960s, and, indeed, its location on a suburban estate is typical of the sites that Woolworths began to target after the Second World War.

Former Woolworths (now Sainsbury's), Prince Edward Road, South Shields (21 Feb 2012). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Sainsbury's), Prince Edward Road, South Shields (21 Feb 2012)

Having pinned down that Woolworths must have opened in about 1965, another source suggests that it closed just two years later. Replying to me on Twitter, Christine Peel (@ovenuovenvalet) told me:

“I was brought up there from 1967-1994. It wasn’t Woolies during any of that time. Was a supermarket called Hintons.”

If that’s so – and we know that the Woolies store had gone by 1972 – it’s interesting to wonder quite what caused the store to fail. After all, as I recently noted in relation to London’s Tottenham Court Road branch, Woolworths had only ever vacated 50 or so stores by the time of the 1972 stores list, only one of which – store #1128 in Carlow – was newer than the Prince Edward Road branch. Even Carlow had lasted from 1968 until 1971, however, suggesting that Prince Edward Road might, at the time, have held the record for being Woolworths’ shortest-lived store.

Perhaps the shop was simply too big for a suburban Woolworths, particularly given the presence of very large and well-established Woolies stores in the centres of both Sunderland and South Shields. Indeed, its decent size is reflected in its present-day designation as a straightforward ‘Sainsbury’s’ rather than a ‘Sainsbury’s Local’.

Back to 1967, however, and Christine’s mention of Hintons taking over the site after Woolworths is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the North East supermarket chain that Amos Hinton had founded, in Middlesbrough, in 1871. By 1984, when it was bought by Argyll – the owner of the Presto and Liptons chains, among others – it had grown to 55 stores and 30 off licences, with branches across the North East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire.

At that point, the store seems to have had the first of a series of identity changes, with, I believe, all the Hintons estate switched over to the Presto fascia by 1986. However, following Argyll’s purchase of Safeway UK in 1987, much of the Presto estate was eventually rebadged as Safeway; the Prince Edward Road store was certainly trading under a Safeway fascia by 2002.

In 2004, of course, Morrisons bought Safeway, swiftly disposing of various tranches of stores to other retailers. The Prince Edward Road shop was one of the 114 stores sold to Somerfield in October 2004, upon which it traded briefly as Somerfield. In September 2005, however, the Competition Commission confirmed that South Shields was one of 12 stores that Somerfield would be required to divest due to the “significant reduction in competition in their local markets”. A year later, therefore, the store was sold again, with Sainsbury’s as the new – and, to date, final – purchaser.

So there we have it: one shop, with one rather complicated history. Indeed, while my original intention might have been to blog about 335-345 Prince Edward Road from a Woolies perspective, it actually tells an even more interesting story: one where, from Hintons to Sainsbury’s – via Presto, Safeway, Morrisons and Somerfield – it also provides a fascinating snapshot of recent consolidation and change within the UK’s ever-evolving grocery sector.

10 Responses to “The South Shields shop that’s been a Woolworths… and nearly every supermarket name too”

  1. steve gray said:

    Feb 26, 12 at 22:38

    Hi Graham
    I used to call on this store when it was a Hintons in 1982/83 as a sales rep for Procter & Gamble

  2. Graham Soult said:

    Feb 26, 12 at 23:02

    That’s brilliant, Steve! I love how there’s always a reader somewhere who has a connection to every store I blog about :)

  3. Jonathan Carling said:

    Feb 27, 12 at 21:18

    I remember going there often when it was a Hintons, probably in the late 70s

  4. Rob said:

    Mar 09, 12 at 13:51

    Really interesting to see this. I remember shopping at Hintons when I was a young lad in the 1980s.

    When it was rebranded to Presto they built quite a large extension on the back, which was the last major refurn until Sainsbury’s gutted it. At the same time, the Liptons store at the bottom of the Nook closed as that chain had also been bought by Presto. This was a non-food store for many years until Tesco recently took it over as a Tesco Metro.

    At one time the Nook had five supermarkets. Hintons, Kwik Save, the Value Stores (now Iceland), Laws (later Wm Low, then closed and subdivided) and Liptons.

    When the Sainsburys refit was taking place they took down the Somerfield fascia and you could see the outline of the old Hintons sign underneath. Presumably it’s still there.

  5. Greg said:

    Mar 12, 12 at 22:01

    Many former Hintons sites had raised Hintons logos in a row throughout their time as Presto, they just took the Hintons lettering off the sign, painted over the logos with white paint (over the cream) and put Presto letters up over them. At least Linthorpe and Northallerton were the same. When they became Safeways they put a new sign over the top so maybe there are some old Hintons reminders still out there hidden away.

  6. Ann Employee said:

    Mar 18, 12 at 19:31

    I currently work in that store now and we know it used to be a Woolworths store many years ago and their has been sightings and smells (cigar smoke) of an odd presence in our stockroom. We have called the ghost Oscar and its supposedly a former manager, Woolworths one we think, who hung himself in the stockroom many years ago. Does anyone have any more info on this?

  7. Sean Wilson said:

    May 01, 12 at 02:00

    I worked in this supermarket during my student days when it was Safeway in the late 90s / early 00s. You couldn’t ask for friendlier customers and staff.

    Harton Nook (or simply just “The Nook” as the locals call it) is still a cracking shopping area.

    I didn’t know about the stockroom incident, but come to think of it, there was an eery presence there!

    Very happy memories of this store…long may it continue to thrive…

  8. Jim Davis said:

    Nov 23, 12 at 12:45

    Was “Moores” store in the same area–It had a sign saying Maypole in tiles on the frontage–There was also Robertsons the Fruiterers and Quigleys the fruiterers as well in the area

  9. Jim Davis said:

    Nov 23, 12 at 12:47

    Was the Woolies in King Street So. Shields extended or modernised at some point as well and reopened by the Corrie actor–Bernard Youens–alias Stan Ogden?

  10. Susan Murta said:

    Sep 23, 13 at 21:29

    Hi my grandparents lived opposite Woolworth Store at 110 Prince Edward Road every Tuesday it was an event to be taken to the store with my grandfather to get my pick n mix quality street sweets I can still remember the pretty coloured wrappers this was 1966 and I was 3 years old at the time, I think the store closed in the early 70′s and became Hintons supermarket

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