The Wonder of Woolworths

Mention Woolworths at a social do, and almost everyone will have a warm, memory to share. In fact, Pic and Mix reminiscence, should feature as a top tip, ice breaker for anyone over the age of 20. Other Woolies’ recollections are likely to depend on what decade you were born in and your role in the family. However, it is true to say that Woolworth made a difference to many homes, enabling access to music and films, as well as make up and household items through their practice of bulk buying and offering low cost lines. My favorite Woolworth goodies include the first record I ever bought with my Saturday job earnings (Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen), a red vanity case, and my sister’s furry toy monkey with the stripy top, which I secretly coveted (the cuddly primate that is, not the top).

As a young mum, I often popped into the Stratford Woollies for low cost, family items.My baby daughter fascinated by the colours and shapes on display, would briefly forget to attempt a buggy, break out. This fascination. grew over time, into a full- blown marvel at the wondrous, confectionery range, coupled with the sheer delight of anticipating the moment of autonomy, at the pic and mix counter.

There were several branches of Woolworths in Newham. The stores in Stratford and East Ham (which opened in the 1920’s), survived up to the UK company’s demise in 2008, despite relocation to accommodate town developments, and being bombed during WW2. 



Local residents and workers hold fond memories of shopping in Woolworths

“I can remember choosing chocolates that were similar to ones you might find in a selection box, with shiny wrappers, only these were better, as you just included the ones you actually liked. As kids, Mum would shout stop, feel the weight of the bag, then maybe lose one or two of the chewies, before paying. I used to think that Woollies’ Pic and Mix was genius”, Des, aged 61



 “Woolworths was great for videos, also mini electrical things like fairy lights and plugs. We always got Easter eggs from there, although it was difficult to choose, as there were so many different types”.  Al, aged 53


“Mum used to buy me 6d jigsaw puzzles, I loved them as a kid, Michael aged 84


I can remember going into woollies when they had the brown wooden counters. I loved Christmas, with all the sparkly decorations. We were allowed to choose two chocolates for the tree. Without hesitation, I always chose the chocolate folded umbrella with the little curved handle, and the set of parcels, you know, the ones where each chocolate parcel was wrapped in a different coloured, shiny paper, and four or five were tied together with a bow at the top to hang it on the tree,” Mary, aged 58





“I used to buy the little lipsticks, they were cheap and I could keep them smuggled in my purse. I wasn’t supposed to wear make-up as a young teenager, so I used to put it on, walking down the road. My cousin Gina used to buy singles, and my children used to buy blank, cassette tapes to record off the radio. We all used to love the multi packs of blank, video tapes, and probably got and gave them for several Christmas in the 90’s, along with the fancy boxes of bubble bath or Ronco thing.  Loved the Woolworth Christmas adverts at first, real epics, but then they dragged on a bit” Rai, aged 71



“When I worked in reception, we used to take it turns to go over to Woollies, the one in the Stratford shopping centre, grab a bag, and fill it with pic and mix and then share it with fellow workers”, Ger aged 51




Woolworth’s supported a number of brands including the Ladybird range of children’s clothes, Baby Doll cosmetics and the controversial, Embassy Records that produced cover versions of hit songs for Woolworths until it was taken over by CBS records in 1965. Woolworth then started stocking chart singles and budget labels in the 1970’s including the Chevron label, which was exclusive to Woolworth





Ex staff members mentioned how they enjoyed working for Woollies


“My mum as a teen, worked at woollies during the fifties. She loved it. They used to listen to records before the store opened and called it their jive, half hour”, Barry, aged 69


“My mum worked in woollies before she got married, she was sad to leave. She said the girls were great and they had a lot of fun in and out of work. When she got married she got a bonus from the company and her manager bought her some items for her tea set”. Rina aged 51





Key dates

1909 Frank and Jennie Woolworth came over from New York and set up the UK’s first Woolworths in Liverpool

1920’s Woolworth’s came to East Ham, Stratford, Manor Park and Upton Park

1940 East Ham Woolworths was heavily damaged by bombs during WW2

1958 virtually every High Street in Britain and Ireland had a Woolworths, and many Cities and larger towns had two or three branches.

1966 Woolworth’s profits were in decline. The store in Manor Park had closed a few years earlier. The company decided to modernise and swapped their curved wooden facades for a more blocky, stainless steel look.

1977 Woolworths sponsored the repainting of many iconic London Routemaster Buses to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The adverts featured a Union Flag and the words 'That's the Wonder of Woolworth'.

1980 Woolworths UK took over the DIY chain B&Q.

 The deal was financed by closing and selling two major London freehold stores.


1994 Upton Park branch closes



Woolworths went into administration on November 27, 2008, laying many non-store staff off, only a week after making the announcement, but promised to keep the stores trading at least until Christmas. East Ham and Stratford stores closed at the end of December 2008. The stores were all closed by 2009.

For more information about Woolworths,  Woolworths Museum


For a 1960’s staff booklet http://www.woolworthsmuseum.co.uk/Booklet/1960sCareerBooklet.pdf