Jarrow’s Burton building – a retail history treasure with a Woolies twist
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As a retail history enthusiast, you occasionally come across something so special and unexpected it almost takes your breath away – particularly when that something is in the middle of a modern housing development in Jarrow, South Tyneside.
Predictably, the discovery that I’ll reveal in a moment began when I was seeking out information about the history of Jarrow’s Woolworths.
In previous posts, I’ve written about the recently closed Woolworths store within the town’s Viking (formerly Arndale) Centre, now partly occupied by Store Twenty One. However, just as Woolworths had relocated from its original sites to more modern premises in places such as Stockton and Nuneaton, I was curious to know whether Jarrow had had a Woolworths prior to the opening of the Arndale Centre in 1961. Given that the Woolies store number – 434 – would normally indicate an opening date of 1931, I suspected that it must have done.
Some Googling later, I came across a fantastic photo of Jarrow’s Ormonde Street on Ben Robinson’s Geordstoree blog (reproduced below) [broken link removed], showing not only a quintessential Woolworths building in Jarrow’s Ormonde Street, but also a very fine and typical 1930s Burton building beyond.
For whatever reason, the decision to build the 1960s Arndale Centre away from Jarrow’s established retail centre meant that everything moved lock, stock and barrel to the new location, leaving the formerly bustling Ormonde Street and nearby market square to be cleared for the North Court council housing development. The present-day ‘Market Walk’ is at least a gentle reminder of the area’s retail past.
Not surprisingly, Ben’s modern-day shot of Ormonde Street [broken link removed], taken last year, confirmed that the original Woolworths building was long gone, but – incredibly – showed that the Burton building was still there, and had even outlasted the 1960s council housing that had now itself been redeveloped. Needless to say, this remarkable survivor was something I just had to check out – and photograph – for myself.
Though Ormonde Street is only a short walk – perhaps 150 yards – from the Viking Centre’s Grange Road frontage (photo below), its neat redbrick houses make it feel a world away from being a busy retail centre. As my photo above shows, the site of the old Jarrow Woolworths is now someone’s front garden – surely making it the perfect house for me to buy, if I didn’t already have one!
With the shops surrounding it replaced with modern homes, the now rather incongruous Burton building (which currently houses an Internet-based flooring retailer, Balmoral Interiors) is pretty hard to miss. On the property’s gable end (photo below), the outline of the two-storey building that used to be joined to it is still clearly visible.
What is particularly extraordinary, however, is not just that the Burton building has survived at all, but that it is still in such good and relatively unaltered condition. Where many old Burton buildings, such as those in North Shields, Gateshead and Penrith, have been crudely carved up and spoilt, Jarrow’s retains both its original black marble fascia and what looks like the original shopfront. The blue roller shutters are not, one imagines, such a historical feature, though it would be easy enough to remove them if the need or urge arose.
Because the original shopfront hasn’t been ripped out and replaced, it means that the building’s pièce de résistance – its original ‘Montague Burton’ entrance mosaic – has also survived, again in remarkably fine condition. How fabulous it would be if modern-day retailers had the flair not only to create something as beautiful as this, but also the self-confidence to declare themselves “The Tailor of Taste.” Burton may not be the big name today that it was in the past, but back in the 1930s it would have been up there with Marks and Spencer, WHSmith and Woolworths as one of Britain’s greatest and most respected retail chains – with buildings that celebrated that status.
This particular building offers still more treats, however. Lift your eyes upwards to the impressive faïence façades, and you notice not only the lovely overlapping semicircles detail around the windows (a motif commonly used on 1930s Burton buildings), but also the original Burton logo proudly displayed on both street-facing frontages.
It seems ironic that while the building in Penrith that still houses Burton has had its original logos crudely removed at some point in the past, this one – last occupied by the retailer nearly half a century ago – still has them intact.
Given its survival, and its condition, I’d rather expected that the property must be a Listed Building – but it appears not to be, making its continued existence all the more remarkable.
Jarrow may be famous for its Monastery and shipbuilding heritage, but blessed with this fine property as well as Britain’s first Arndale Centre, the town certainly has something to offer retail tourists too – even if you do have to head into a housing estate to find it.
If you’re interested in reading more about the history of Burton and its shops, I recommend Kathryn A Morrison’s excellent ‘English Shops and Shopping’ book (2003), which features a whole illustrated section about Burton in its ‘Kings of Commerce: Multiple Shops and Chain Stores’ chapter, and which I referred to in writing this post.