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