Eighty-five years on: tracking down the ex-Woolworths in Stafford and Stoke

Original former Woolworths (now River Island), Stafford (3 Feb 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Original former Woolworths (now River Island), Stafford (3 Feb 2013)

An anniversary is always as good an excuse as any to write a Woolworths-related blog post, and if you were around 85 years ago today – on 23 June 1928 – you could have enjoyed the opening of not one but two new Woolies stores in Staffordshire: store #320 in Stafford, and #324 in Stoke-upon-Trent.

Neither, however, was the same location that Woolworths was trading from when it collapsed in 2008, both stores having relocated many years ago. So, even with the correct address, locating those original, long-vacated Woolworths locations can be a bit harder than tracking down those that were still there five years ago.

Former Woolworths (now Sports Direct), Stafford (3 Feb 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Sports Direct), Stafford (3 Feb 2013)

Over to Stafford first, and you may recall that I blogged about my visit to the latter-day store #320 – at 18-19 Gaolgate Street – back in 2011. Woolworths opened in that location on 22 March 1962, and traded there until 3 January 2009, at the point where all 807 remaining stores were being shut down. Those premises are still occupied by Sports Direct, as they were back in 2011.

Rear of former Woolworths (now Sports Direct), Stafford (3 Feb 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Rear of former Woolworths (now Sports Direct), Stafford (3 Feb 2013)

To find the original #320 Stafford Woolworths, however, you have to head to 18 Market Square, and today’s River Island store, next to the entrance of the modern-day Guildhall Shopping Centre. The Staffordshire Past Track website features a very good photograph of the building as Woolworths, taken in 1934 at the point where the Guildhall was being demolished and rebuilt further back from the square. This exposed the previously hidden gable end of the Woolworths building, and which is still visible today.

Original former Woolworths (now River Island), Stafford (3 Feb 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Original former Woolworths (now River Island), Stafford (3 Feb 2013)

Given the transfer of the #320 designation from the old store to the new store, you might imagine that it was a straight relocation – but apparently not.

On Woolworths’ 1972 stores list, the 18 Market Square shop is still listed alongside the new Gaolgate Street branch, but now renumbered as store #1067. This suggests that the Gaolgate Street store probably was originally intended as a direct replacement, but that for some reason the original store was kept open alongside for at least another decade. When the Market Square store closed isn’t clear, but it had certainly gone by the time of the 1993 stores list, reflecting the fact that maintaining two stores in a relatively compact town centre like Stafford was never likely to be a viable long-term proposition.

Former Woolworths and TJ Hughes (now Poundland), Hanley (30 Apr 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths and TJ Hughes (now Poundland), Hanley (30 Apr 2013)

Up the road in Stoke-upon-Trent, the first point to make clear is that I’m not talking about Stoke-on-Trent city centre – the area that’s still often referred to as Hanley – but to the original town of Stoke-upon-Trent, one of six that formed the confederated county borough (and later city) of Stoke-on-Trent back in 1910.

Hanley’s own Woolworths (#55) opened in Parliament Row (Upper Market Square) on 25 March 1915, and traded there continuously – via various extensions and modifications – until 27 December 2008. Reflecting the new use patterns seen up and down the country, the Hanley ex-Woolies – initially taken over by TJ Hughes – is now occupied by Poundland, who acquired the site following TJ Hughes’ collapse and closure.

Ex-Woolworths (now BargainBuys), Stoke-upon-Trent (30 Apr 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Ex-Woolworths (now BargainBuys), Stoke-upon-Trent (30 Apr 2013)

As in Stafford, the town of Stoke-upon-Trent gained a new and improved Woolworths store in the 1960s, with the premises at 12-14 Campbell Place opening on 4 March 1960. Again, this store operated until Woolworths’ demise, closing on 3 January 2009. Today, the premises are occupied by a discount variety store called BargainBuys, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it had ceased trading if you initially approached it – as I did – from the back.

Rear of ex-Woolworths (now BargainBuys), Stoke-upon-Trent (30 Apr 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Rear of ex-Woolworths (now BargainBuys), Stoke-upon-Trent (30 Apr 2013)

The Stoke Woolworths that opened 85 years ago today is, however, a bit more difficult to pinpoint than the original one in Stafford. The 1957 Woolworths stores list gives the address as ’6-8 Majestic Buildings, Campbell Place’, which places it within the imposing Art Deco block that sits directly next to the 1960 store.

Awkwardly, though, today’s occupants of the property – including Ladbrokes, Cash Converters, Greggs and Heron Foods – just give their address as ‘XX Campbell Place’, which doesn’t help to locate the ex-Woolworths store within the Majestic Buildings block.

Majestic Buildings, Stoke-upon-Trent (30 Apr 2013). Photograph by Graham Soult

Majestic Buildings, Stoke-upon-Trent (30 Apr 2013)

A postcard from about 1953 may provide an answer, however. This shows Campbell Place with what I believe was the old Majestic Cinema occupying the site of what would soon become the 1960 Woolworths store. To the right, the left-hand portion of Majestic Buildings is also shown, with clear Dorothy Perkins and Beresfords fascias but definitely no Woolworths.

Postcard of Campbell Place, Stoke-upon-Trent, c1953, with Majestic Buildings on the right

Postcard of Campbell Place, Stoke-upon-Trent, c1953, with Majestic Buildings on the right

Hence, using powers of deduction, it almost certainly places the original Stoke Woolworths in the right-hand half of Majestic Buildings, where Greggs and Heron Foods are today. Interestingly, these two thriving modern-day retailers are themselves replacements for less successful multiples in these locations, the Greggs unit having most recently been Shoe Zone and the Heron Foods a branch of the ever-collapsing fashion chain Ethel Austin.

So, an interesting if not entirely complete story of four Woolworths locations in two Staffordshire town centres – but I’m sure Soult’s Retail View readers will, as always, help to fill in the gaps, and correct any errors. Over to you, please!

My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market intelligence and historical research, including coverage of ex-Woolworths locations nationwide. It also works with retailers 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.

3 Responses to “Eighty-five years on: tracking down the ex-Woolworths in Stafford and Stoke”

  1. Danny Bent said:

    Jun 24, 13 at 18:52

    Great stuff. It’s worth mentioning that the ex Woolies in Nuneaton near me closed and then traded as TJ Hughes.
    It is now a 99p stores, still with a double entrance(with tills both end)but no upstairs as TJ Hughes had.
    This store is massive with wide aisles and must be one of the largest 99s stores in it’s portfolio.

  2. Michael Laybourn said:

    Jun 30, 13 at 10:15

    I was born & brought up in Stafford …..and can remember the Woolworths store in Market Square,until it closed around 1974,when it became a home decorating store,called “Brian’s Wallpapers”,which lasted until the Guildhall Centre was built on the site of the old market hall,and became part of that development,becoming River Island.
    Woolworths,until it closed still retained its wooden floorboards,moulded ceiling and gas lights,which had chains hanging from the lights,along with electric lighting…..I think all of that was still in situ while the store traded as Brian’s Wallpapers.Back in the early 1970s,when the country was experiencing power cuts due to the miners strikes,Woolworths in Market Square could continue to trade using those gas lamps,whilst the new,modern store further up the road in Gaolgate Street would be closed.The goods entrance was located through an archway,sharing an entrance to the market hall in Craberry Street.

  3. Graham Soult said:

    Jul 04, 13 at 18:09

    Thanks Michael – that’s fascinating!


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