Fifties postcard confirms location of original Alnwick Woolworths
Back in April I blogged about the apparent location of Alnwick’s original Woolworths, where the chain traded for the first fifteen years of its 55-year stint in the town. As I reported then, I was “yet to find any photographic evidence of Woolworths in this location”; now, however, my discovery of a postcard from the era has confirmed that I had indeed identified the right spot.
If you saw the last blog, you’ll recall that the first Alnwick Woolworths (store #822) opened at 32 Bondgate Within on 26 November 1953, moving along the street to numbers 40-42 on 1 February 1968. While the latter premises – vacated following Woolworths’ 2008 demise – now house M&Co, it was clear to me that the original Woolies building at number 32 had been demolished sometime after its relocation, making it a little harder to identify that same spot today.
Assuming there had been no renumbering of Bondgate Within since the first Alnwick branch appeared on Woolworths’ 1957 stores list, I’d noted that it would equate to the location of the present day Yorkshire Building Society. Now, the old postcard that I’ve acquired confirms this to be the case.
With its characterful buildings, interesting shops and sense of space, Bondgate Within has always been a much-photographed street – indeed, only last year it was named Britain’s best shopping street in the Google Street View Awards. However, it’s taken a while to track down a view that is from the right period (i.e. 1953 to ’68) and that has the Woolworths store within shot. Furthermore, thanks to it being a Valentine’s postcard – with its helpful system of negative numbers that correspond to particular decades and years – it’s possible to date the photograph quite precisely to the latter end of the 1950s.
The rather dreary Iceland and YBS building is one of very few modern insertions within Alnwick town centre, so it’s easy to compare the late 1950s view that I found with a view from the same spot today.
The edge of the grand HSBC building (then Midland Bank) is visible on the far right of both shots, and much of the rest of the street is easily recognisable. It’s just a pity that the modern building in place of the original Woolworths has rather disrupted the unity and rhythm of the streetscape.
Though I’ve blogged repeatedly about the architectural features that characterised Woolworths’ purpose-built stores before the Second World War – such as the original Redcar and Byker shops – the chain’s approach to property after the war began to change.
With over 750 stores by then, there were relatively few towns of any size that didn’t have a Woolworths already – Alnwick being one of them. However, rather than building afresh, as would probably have happened in the 1930s, new stores in those smaller, established town centres tended to be housed in existing buildings. In Alnwick, the 1950s postcard seems to confirm that Woolworths took over the building that had already existed at the turn of the century, and was shown in the c.1906 postcard that I featured last time (below).
On the scale of things, working out where a defunct retail chain used to trade from fifty years ago isn’t necessarily that important. As a researcher interested in retail history, however, finally finding this ’50s postcard is a great example of how the historical research process works: locating and triangulating fragments of evidence in order to – eventually – piece together the whole story.
My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market intelligence, including archival research services and extensive coverage and understanding of Northumberland and the North East. It also works with retailers nationwide to improve their stores, customer communications and market knowledge. For more information, visit www.cannyinsights.com, drop me an email, or give me a call on (0191) 461 0361.