Woolworths (United Kingdom)

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Woolworths Group PLC
Woolco (1960s–1986)
Big W (1998–2004)
IndustryRetail and distribution
PredecessorF. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd (1909–1999)
Founded6 November 1909; 114 years ago (1909-11-06) in Liverpool, United Kingdom[1]
FounderFrank Winfield Woolworth
Defunct5 January 2009; 15 years ago (5 January 2009) (physical stores)
13 October 2015; 8 years ago (13 October 2015) (online)
OwnerWoolworth Deutschland (trademarks)

Woolworths was a British high-street retail chain. At its height, it operated as Woolworths Group PLC, which included other companies such as the entertainment distributor Entertainment UK, and book and resource distributor Bertram Books.

The Woolworths store chain was originally a division of the American F. W. Woolworth Company until its sale in the early 1980s,[2][3] it had more than 800 stores in the UK prior to closure. Woolworths sold many goods and had its own Ladybird children's clothing range,[4] WorthIt! value range and Chad Valley toys.[5] They were also well known for selling pick 'n' mix sweets.[6] It was sometimes referred to as Woolies by the UK media, the general public, and occasionally in its own television adverts.[7][8] The British company also owned and ran divisions in the Republic of Ireland until 1984 and Cyprus until 2003.

On 26 November 2008, trading of shares in Woolworths Group was suspended, and its Woolworths and Entertainment UK subsidiaries entered administration.[9] Deloitte closed all 807 Woolworths stores between 27 December 2008 and 6 January 2009, resulting in 27,000 job losses.[10] Woolworths Group plc entered administration on 27 January 2009,[11] and it was officially dissolved on 13 October 2015.[12] The collapse of Woolworths was a symbol of the credit crunch and financial turmoil in the United Kingdom at the end of 2008.[13][14]

In February 2009, Shop Direct Group (later known as The Very Group) purchased the Woolworths trademark and the internet address Woolworths.co.uk, which continued as a retail website until its closure in June 2015.

In July 2021, Woolworth Deutschland acquired the Woolworths brand, website, trademarks and intellectual property in the United Kingdom from The Very Group for an undisclosed sum.[15][16]



Woolworths head office on Marylebone Road, London

The British branch of the F. W. Woolworth Company, which had been founded in Pennsylvania, F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd, was founded by Frank Woolworth in Liverpool, England, on 5 November 1909.[17] Frank Woolworth had ancestry in Woolley, Cambridgeshire— Frank claimed he had traced his ancestry through the Founding Fathers of the district to a small "farm in middle England".[18] When Frank eventually travelled to England in 1890,[19] he docked in Liverpool and travelled by train to Stoke-on-Trent for the purchase of china and glassware for Woolworth's ranges, but also noted his love of England in his diary and his aspirations for bringing the Woolworth name to England:

I believe that a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live Yankee, would be a sensation here.

— Frank Woolworth

During the buying trip, Woolworth met a young clerk, William Lawrence Stephenson, who was recommended to him by John Wanamaker. Wanamaker had established a large chain of department stores across the United States and was one of Woolworth's heroes. Stephenson was invited to London to meet Woolworth again, and was offered the job as director of the new company, which he accepted.[20]

Internal concerns with British stores[edit]

After the idea for the creation of British stores, Frank Woolworth had offered invitations to store managers in the United States to open up stores in the UK and had only received offers to take positions at the time of his illness in March 1909 from Fred Woolworth of the Sixth Avenue and Samuel Balfour of the 14th Street stores in New York City.[21] After these initial offers, Byron Miller, a superintendent in a Boston store, also offered his assistance and set sail with the other volunteers on the steam boat Kaiserin Auguste Victoria on 29 May 1909 for England from Hoboken.[22]

Frank Woolworth expected other members of staff to admire the volunteers in establishing FW Woolworth & Co in Britain. However, Carson C. Peck, vice president and general manager of the company, had reservations with enlisting staff members to travel to Britain, questioning whether Woolworth had indeed created the new business adventure following a dream, or due to his dissatisfaction with the current condition of the American branch.[23]

Peck also asked those who were willing to volunteer to reconsider their decision, claiming that those who had volunteered were unaware of the uncertainty and risks involved and that some were only tentatively willing to engage in Woolworth's new endeavour:[24] His concerns mainly centred on the fact that the majority of the managers who followed the decision did so out of loyalty to Woolworth,[25] and that moving such a valuable resource already established in the United States to what was a financially unproven "Little Infant" in the UK would have a detrimental effect upon the "Bread and Butter" of the Company.

To me it seems that these return sheets are in danger of being misunderstood and that it is a good deal like asking a boy to volunteer to go into a bear's den when he does not know whether he is to eat a nicely cooked luscious bear's steak, or be eaten by a great, big black bear.

— Carson C. Peck

Inauguration of British stores[edit]

Despite reservations such as Peck's, the decision to launch stores in the United Kingdom went ahead as previously planned by Woolworth. He considered several locations for the first stores, together with future possible sites.[26] The chosen location for the first store was 25 - 25A Church Street and 8 Williamson Street in the centre of Liverpool[27] (the street addresses of the different entrances). It opened on 5 November 1909 with a performance by a full orchestra, circus acts and fireworks.[1]

As a means of adherence to American trading tradition, only viewing of items was allowed on the first day of the shop's opening. This included guests being given complementary tea while being entertained by a traditional brass band in the refreshment room. The event was reported positively by the local newspaper, the Liverpool Courier, which praised the decor of the stores along with the value and range of items on sale.[28]

Despite local press praise, British national newspaper the Daily Mail likened Frank Woolworth to Phineas Taylor Barnum and claimed that the store location had been decided as part of a contingency plan in the event of failure so as to facilitate escape from any financial liability.[29] Despite these reservations, the store proved to be a success; large queues outside and low priced 3d. and 6d. ("threepenny and sixpenny") items leading to it being almost stripped bare of goods before the end of the first day of trading and being attributed to mass purchased mass-produced foreign and local goods.[30]

At the onset of the First World War, F.W. Woolworth & Co. had 40 stores in Great Britain and Ireland located in most major cities - from which a total of 57 staff including store managers had enlisted; the majority of whom did not return after the end of the war in 1918.[31] Despite American staff again offering their services to the Woolworths branches in Britain, remaining staff increased their efforts to cope with the lack of staff members throughout the war with several staff members being promoted to managerial positions.[32]

Stores in the United States, which were then stocking ranges also present in British stores, were dependent upon European manufacturers which had adopted newer production methods than their American counterparts.[33]


Interior of a Woolworths store in Reading in 1945

After the First World War, the company continued to expand with the opening of further branches. By 1923 there were 130 branches, and William Lawrence Stephenson (1880–1963) became managing director. He implemented a strategy of major expansion, with the company buying or building freehold properties. Many of the stores had distinctive faience tiled art deco frontages. The expansion was funded entirely out of earnings and without any borrowing or further capitalisation. The 400th branch, at Southport, Lancashire, opened on 12 July 1930, and the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1931. The US parent company reduced its holding in the company to 51.7% at that time.[34] In 1934, the 600th store was opened, in Wallington in Surrey.[35]

Expansion was effectively suspended between 1940 and 1950, owing to the Second World War and post-war restrictions, but then resumed. The 800th branch, at Wilton Road, Victoria, London, opened in September 1953.

A store was opened in Kingston in Jamaica in 1954. This was followed in 1959 by one in Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe); its layout was based on that of a store in Guildford.[36] Woolworth also operated stores in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the West Indies.[37][36]

On 22 May 1958, the 1000th branch (known as "Portslade" to distinguish it from the existing Hove branch) opened in Boundary Road, Hove. The peak of 1,141 branches was reached in the late 1960s. From then until the US parent sold out in 1982, a number of branches were closed and sold, and at the time that ownership shifted to the UK, there were about 1,000 branches.[38]

Woolworths tried the large out-of-town store or hypermarket format in the 1960s with the Woolco stores.[39] While some of these stores were closed, the majority were sold to the Dee Corporation in the early 1980s and reopened as Gateway hypermarkets, later being taken over by Asda.[40]

One of Woolworths' flagship stores, on Briggate in Leeds, suffered a major fire in 1969. The store, which opened in 1913, was spread over four floors and sustained extensive damage, requiring a total refit. The store was not open to the public at the time and the building was evacuated, avoiding fatalities, although some staff suffered minor injuries. It took several hours for the fire to be fully extinguished.[41]

Split from owner and after[edit]

In 1982, the British Woolworths and its sister chain B&Q were acquired by Paternoster Stores Ltd, the forerunner of Kingfisher plc. Woolworths Group plc was formed by the demerger of Kingfisher's general merchandise business,[42] and began trading as a listed company on the London Stock Exchange on 28 August 2003, using the symbol WLW.

In October 1984, the Woolworths stores in the Republic of Ireland were closed. In August 1996, market research was undertaken by Woolworths investigating opportunities to re-enter the Republic of Ireland market. About 32 potential locations were identified that could support a Woolworths store. However, the project did not proceed beyond the market research phase.

In January 2024, it was announced that Woolworths may make a return 15 years after it closed, when the German company announced its expansion throughout Europe and the UK was one of its high priorites and this looks more likely, following the closure of Wilko just a year earlier in the UK.[43][44]

Woolworths store in Johnstone, April 1989

During the 1980s, management rationalised merchandise lines into clearly defined categories: entertainment, home, children (toys and clothing) and confectionery. Many Woolworths branches were downsized during this time. Older branches in major cities were sometimes almost as large as the major department stores nearby. In 1987, for example, Woolworths left its five-floor branch on Briggate in Leeds (now occupied by House of Fraser), which it had occupied since 1913, and kept only its smaller single-level branch in the Merrion Centre. This was in an area of the city centre which had less pedestrian traffic, of shoppers who were generally on a lower budget.[45]

Woolworths did have several smaller outlets during the 1990s which sold music and confectionery. Smaller outlets with a similar format were also tried at the Sheffield Meadowhall Shopping Centre, but closed in 2003; the Manchester Music and Video store was superseded by a larger MVC store, owned by Woolworths Group.

In the late 1990s, the management extended the Woolworths brand into other retail formats and alternative channels to accelerate growth by taking advantage of changing retail trends. Some larger-format stores were opened under the Big W brand, similar to Wal-Mart in the US. Although it was successful at the beginning, the format failed to catch on; the original plan had relied upon leveraging the involvement of other Kingfisher group retailers, but following the de-merger this was no longer possible.[46] Following a period of losses, Woolworths confirmed in 2004 it would abandon the Big W concept.[47] The group sold seven of the 21 Big W stores in 2005 to Tesco and Asda.[48] The gross internal floor area of the remaining sites was reduced to an optimum trading size of around 40,000 to 50,000 square feet (4,600 m2). Following this, they were rebranded as Woolworths Out of Town stores.[46]

Later years[edit]

The newly independent Woolworths faced severe competitive and financial pressures. The market for physical copies of music, one of Woolworths' main money spinners, shrank in the early 21st century; specialist music chains such as Our Price collapsed. The major supermarket chains expanded into many of Woolworths' product areas, and the fast-expanding Wilkinson challenged it directly on the high street.

Woolworths did not generally follow the trend started in the 1980s of opening stores at out-of-town relocations. One of its few out-of-town stores opened at Dudley's Merry Hill Shopping Centre in 1989, but this closed within a few years due to disappointing trade.

Woolworths became well known for its "pick 'n' mix" sweet selections.

In an attempt to raise the group's corporate profile under the chairmanship of Gerald Corbett, Woolworths sponsored a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2004. Designed by a group of graduate students from Pickard School of Garden Design, the contemporary-formal style garden was awarded a silver medal.

Woolworths Group plc share price dropped gradually between 2006 and 2008

In the middle of 2006 the business launched an in-store collection service for items ordered on their website or in-store, to complement the already established in-store ordering system. In late September 2006, the Big Red Book was launched, to compete directly with the Argos catalogue.[49]

Woolworths launched the WorthIt! brand as a value range in 2007.[50] The first advertising campaign for the brand aired on 15 June 2007 and introduced the characters of Wooly the sheep and Worth the sheepdog.[51] Further advertising campaigns featured celebrities such as Rolf Harris, Jackie Chan[52] and Kelly Osbourne.[53] The brand covered a wide variety of products including confectionery, electricals, alcohol, jewellery, perfumes and clothing.

Woolworths had a strongly unionised workforce, with shop stewards such as Paul Thompson of Unite (formerly the Transport and General Workers' Union) particularly active in the north of the UK.

In July 2008, the board rejected a bid from Iceland founder Malcolm Walker to buy Woolworths' 819 stores for £50m. Walker's bid did not include Entertainment UK or the stake in 2 Entertain, and also avoided taking on Woolworths' debt and pension liabilities.[54]

On 12 August 2008, Woolworths Group announced the appointment of Steve Johnson, former chief executive officer of Focus DIY, to the post of chief executive.[55] He replaced Trevor Bish-Jones, who had left in June.[56] Woolworths scrapped its interim dividend in September 2008, after it announced a pre-tax loss of £99.7m for the six months to 2 August. At the same time, Johnson outlined a possible turnaround plan to sell 120 stores, axe a quarter of its products, reduce web operations and cut jobs.[57]

At that time, the retailer's largest shareholder was Iranian property developer Ardeshir Naghshineh, with a 10.2% stake. A consortium led by Icelandic investor Baugur, called Unity owned a 10% stake in Woolworths.[57] In October 2008 Sir Alan Sugar, founder of electronics firm Amstrad, increased his stake in Woolworths to around 4%.[57] Theo Paphitis, owner of stationery retailer Ryman, also stated his interest in the company.[58]

Administration and closure[edit]

From September 2008, the world entered into a severe financial crisis with reducing availability of credit and reduced consumer spending.

Queues form in Hounslow for the final sale

On 19 November 2008, The Times reported that the Woolworths' retail business was a target for restructuring specialist Hilco UK, who would buy the retail arm for a nominal £1;[59] this was confirmed the same day.[60][61] The deal would have left Woolworths Group with its profitable distribution and publishing businesses and a reduced debt load. Ardeshir Naghshineh criticised the plan, recommending instead that the company sell some of the stores to raise more funds.[62]

The group's banks, GMAC and Burdale, rejected the deal[63] and recalled their loans, forcing the group to place the retail business and Entertainment UK into administration. On 26 November 2008, the trading of shares in Woolworths PLC was suspended, and Neville Kahn, Dan Butters and Nick Dargan of Deloitte were appointed joint administrators.[9][64] When the company entered administration it had a debt of £385 million. The administrators announced that they were aiming to keep the company as a going concern over the crucial Christmas period, although analysts feared that any heavy discounting would create a domino effect and drag down other high street retailers. Deloitte later announced they had received "substantial interest" in Woolworths.[65]

When news of Woolworths' entry into administration was widely publicised, National Lottery operator Camelot immediately suspended Woolworths from selling their lottery tickets and scratch cards, as well as preventing claimants from redeeming prizes at the stores.[66]

On 5 December 2008, Woolworths recorded their greatest single day takings of £27 million, and axed 450 head office and support staff jobs.[67] A closing-down sale started on 11 December.

Woolworths in Croydon, shelves bare, on last day of Final Clearance Sale

On 17 December 2008, administrators announced that all 807 Woolworths stores would close by 5 January 2009 (later changed to 6 January), with 27,000 job losses.[68] Deloitte's Neville Kahn also said that it was unclear how much of Woolworths' debt would be paid. In the last few days of trading discounts of up to 90% were offered, and a number of stores sold all of their stock, many selling all of their fixtures and fittings too.[69]

The stores were closed in phases, and the final two closing days were moved back a day to try to sell more of the remaining stock and to ease logistics of closing.[70][71]

The Woolworths in Bangor, Gwynedd days before closing. It was replaced by a Boots store.
  • 207 stores closed on 27 December 2008
  • 37 closed on 29 December
  • 164 closed on 30 December
  • 200 closed on 3 January 2009
  • remaining stores (199) closed on 6 January 2009

The former chief executive of Kingfisher, Woolworths' former parent company, and Ardeshir Naghshineh, a major shareholder of Woolworths, criticised the closures.[72]

On 19 January 2009, the owner, Woolworths Group, announced its intention to also enter administration, as it could no longer pay its debts.[73] The application was heard by the High Court on 27 January, and Woolworths Group PLC entered administration.[74]

The trade unions complained of the collective redundancies and they started various legal actions before the UK tribunals based on the absence of proper consultation of the employee representatives. The UK Court of Appeal referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union which partially disagreed with the unions by an important decision of 30 April 2015.[75][76]

2020 hoax[edit]

In October 2020, an unverified Twitter account named @UKWoolworths announced that Woolworths UK was planning to relaunch. The announcement was reported by dozens of mainstream British websites, including MailOnline and the Daily Mirror.[77] Within hours the Very Group, the owner of the Woolworths brand, confirmed that the account was a hoax.[78] The stunt was perpetrated by a teenage student, Luke Castle, who claimed to have run it as an experiment "testing the brand loyalty of the British public".[79][78]

Aftermath of insolvency in the UK[edit]

Former stores[edit]

Woolworths in Keswick on its final day of trading in December 2008
The former Woolworths in Keswick, seen in December 2009, became a Mountain Warehouse

The administrators announced on 10 December 2008, that they were having difficulty selling the company as a going concern, and as a result some stores might close before the end of the month. Talks were still progressing to sell individual stores and leases to a number of retailers, said to include the supermarket chains Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, The Co-operative Group and Poundland.[80]

In December 2008, Woolworths executive Tony Page and former UBS banker Gareth Thomas were trying to raise around £30,000,000 to relaunch the brand after closure with a chain of 125 stores.[81][82] However, a deal could not be met in time. The government was also asked in a final attempt to make the deal but without success.

Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown noted that the government had considered saving Woolworths, but they concluded that it was a "financially unviable" business.[83]

The supermarket chain Iceland bought 51 of the stores on 9 January 2009 for an undisclosed sum.[84] Baugur, one of the major shareholders of Woolworths, partly owns Iceland, and Baugur UK itself entered administration in February.[85] A further five former stores in Wales were bought by The Original Factory Shop in April 2009.[86] Across the UK stores were sporadically replaced by other retailers such as Next,[87] Boyes,[88] Boots,[89] Primark,[90] TK Maxx,[91] Home Bargains,[92] and W H Smith.[93]

In August 2010, the BBC reported that over 300 (i.e., approximately 40%) of former Woolworths stores remained empty, and that the largest group now using former Woolworths stores were discount retailers - such as Poundland.[94] By January 2012, it was reported that there were still 105 empty former Woolworths stores, and a further 68 had been demolished.[95]


According to press reports on 17 February 2009, Tony Page and Gareth Thomas were planning to open a chain of shops adopting the Woolworths format, but under a different name.[96] A store opened under the Alworths name on 5 November 2009 in Didcot, on the site of a former Woolworths store, without the involvement of Page or Thomas.[97] By January 2011, 18 stores had been opened, although in April the company also entered administration and closed.[98]


Wellworths' logo from 2009–2010

The Woolworths store in Dorchester, Dorset was reopened as an independent business named Wellworths by the store manager Claire Robertson. The store was officially opened by BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans on 11 March 2009. It was later renamed Wellchester.

Wellchester ceased trading in August 2012, after Robertson left to set up her own retail consultancy business.[99]


Woolworths.co.uk logo from 2009–2015

The Woolworths brand and domain was bought by Shop Direct Group, owned by Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, on 2 February 2009. The Times estimated that they would have paid between £5 million and £10 million for the brand.[100][101][102] Woolworths also launched an Easter egg website, called Woolies Wonderland, for Easter 2009.[103] The company announced it would relaunch Woolworths as an online retail store. The website was launched on 26 June 2009.[104] It has been closed since June 2015.



New Cross, London[edit]

Many branches of Woolworths suffered severe bomb damage and even destruction during the Luftwaffe attacks in the early part of the Second World War. However it was towards the end of the war that the largest civilian loss of life due to direct enemy fire in Britain during the conflict occurred when, at lunchtime on 25[105] November 1944, a German V-2 rocket fell on a packed Woolworths store in New Cross Road, killing 168 people (including 15 children), injuring 122 others and razing the building to the ground. The neighbouring London Co-operative Society store was also demolished in the attack.

The store was especially busy as news of a delivery of hard-to-obtain saucepans generated huge crowds, many of whom were queueing outside the store at the time of the rocket's impact.

Planning and economic restrictions after the war meant Woolworths did not build a replacement store on the site until 1960; this closed in 1984. It was reported that some employees there felt the building was haunted.[106]

Lewisham Council and Woolworths erected a plaque on the site commemorating those who died that day. There is now an Iceland store on the site.

Fire safety[edit]

During the period from 1971 to 1981 a series of fires occurred in Woolworths premises which brought into sharp focus the company's complacent attitude towards fire safety, a policy which culminated in a number of fatalities.

Central Warehouse, Rochdale[edit]

On 6 May 1971, a fire broke out at the main distribution depot at Rochdale, Lancashire. The site was split into three sections, along with an administration block that housed the company’s new mainframe computer system and all stock and accounting records. The fire soon spread owing to the failure of the sprinkler system; this led to administration staff frantically dis-assembling the computer and passing parts of it, along with stock cards and other records, out of windows onto waiting lorries.

Over 100 fire fighters attended the blaze and they managed to save two-thirds of the building with no loss of life. The resultant insurance payout of £3m was the highest of its kind in the north-west of England at that time.[107]

High Street, Colchester[edit]

On 2 October 1973, a fire broke out in the stockroom of the store at 40-50 High Street, Colchester. The blaze soon spread to the rest of the store and the building was totally destroyed. Although all customers and staff were evacuated, subsequent findings blamed a lack of a sprinkler system (which was not, and still is not, a legal requirement) and poor procedures in place for staff to deal with fires and evacuations.[107][108]

Central Manchester[edit]

Image taken a few days after the fire at Woolworths Manchester store

A fire erupted just after 1pm on 8 May 1979 at the Manchester store opposite Piccadilly Gardens, said at the time to be the largest Woolworths in Europe, with six floors plus two basement levels. The fire, which started in the second floor furnishing department, killed nine shoppers and one member of staff,[109] of whom three were found just six feet away from an exit with another three bodies nearby. Of the 12 calls made to the fire service that day, none came from the store itself. It is believed that the fire was started by a damaged electrical cable, which had furniture stacked in front of it.[110] An inquiry showed that, although the store's fire precautions met all legal requirements, the spread of the fire and the high number of casualties were in part due to the absence of measures such as a fire sprinkler system to stop the spread of the fire from the furniture department, and the use of polyurethane foam in the furnishings, a material which is highly inflammable and highly toxic, but cheap and, at that time, legal in furniture. This finding would have consequences for later safety legislation.

The second floor was gutted by the fire, while the third floor suffered severe smoke damage; the ground, first and second floors all received extensive water damage when the fire was extinguished. Due to the loss of life and devastation to the Manchester store, the Fire Research Station conducted a number of tests to develop sprinkler systems that could handle a similar large department store fire. However, there is still no legal requirement for United Kingdom retailers to have a sprinkler system in place, with many preferring to focus on evacuation procedures rather than fire containment. The catastrophe also resulted in modifications to the Fire Precautions Act and was among the factors that led to the ban on the use of polyurethane foam in home furnishings (a long-time concern of the fire service) forcing furniture manufacturers to develop new fabrics and materials for sofas and other items.

The fire brought graphic images into the public consciousness (including footage of female office staff trapped behind barred windows on the top floor) due to the store's location next to the then studios of BBC Manchester (above the National Westminster Bank) and near to those of Granada Television, the offices of the Manchester Evening News and the northern offices of several national newspapers.

The disaster has become a significant object of study for academics interested in the behaviour of people in emergency situations, after research showed a number of customers (predominately in the public restaurant area) refused to leave despite the sounding of alarms, requests from staff and even the smell and visibility of smoke; some even continued to queue at an abandoned check-out.[111] The majority of those who perished were in this area.

The store was re-opened, but closed in 1986.[112] The site became an amusement arcade for many years, until the building owners evicted the tenants in favour of a building renovation to house a 157-room Travelodge hotel, a Morrisons convenience store, and Zizzi and Nando's restaurants.[113][114][115]


On 1 October 1979, the Woolworths store located in Worcester's High Street was severely damaged in a large fire. There were no casualties but the store remained closed for several months until it re-opened in 1980. It was later discovered that the fire was purposely started by a disgruntled staff member, and was worsened by the fact there was no sprinkler system in the store.

Wimbledon Broadway[edit]

In 1981, a fire was discovered in a storeroom at the store in Wimbledon. Better staff training as a result of the Manchester fire led to a successful evacuation, but the building was totally destroyed by the blaze. A firefighter was killed when he and two colleagues became trapped when the upper levels of the building collapsed.[107]

As a result of the damage caused to the reputation of the business by these events, the American parent owners decided to sell the British operation to Paternoster Stores, which was eventually renamed Kingfisher. The company actively promoted the use of smoke detectors after these fires, a policy which helped increase their usage and reduce their cost.[107]


As a result of the targeting of high-profile British businesses in Northern Ireland by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during The Troubles, a number of Woolworth stores suffered significant damage.

High Street, Belfast[edit]

Being the flagship Woolworths store in Northern Ireland, this suffered a series of incendiary attacks, with one such attack in 1972 gutting the store. Owing to telephoned warnings, no-one was killed in any of these attacks.[107]

Bangor, County Down[edit]

Woolworths' store at 18/22 Main Street, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland (Store No. 380) was targeted by terrorists on 30 March 1974 as part of co-ordinated incendiary bomb attack on the town centre.

At 5pm, a telephone warning was received that 15 incendiary devices had been placed in the town centre and were due to explode in 30 minutes. Immediate and successful efforts were made by the police to evacuate the commercial centre of the town, however there was inadequate time to prevent the devices from exploding. The Woolworths store was badly damaged after a device exploded on the sales floor. A policeman suffered concussion after he was blown off his feet by the blast from the device, and a female civilian was cut by flying debris.[116]

Other stores targeted in the attack included the town's Co-operative Department Store and FA Wellworth Department Store. The town's Woolworths store was demolished after the attack. A new 8,000 square feet (740 m2) store was built on the same site, which reopened in the mid 1970s.

The rebuilt store suffered minor damage after a 200 lb car bomb exploded a short distance away, near the town's FA Wellworth's store on the evening of 21 October 1992. Nobody was injured in the explosion, which occurred after most stores in the town centre had closed for the day. However, significant damage was caused to the entrance area of the Woolworths' store, with windows being blown out, the porch roof being destroyed and a small quantity of stock toward the front of the store being damaged. Additionally, minor structural damage was caused to the store's stockroom with two internal portioning walls adjacent to the generator room and fixtures store having to be rebuilt. The store recommenced trading on 23 October 1992.


Woolworths was for many years a leader in the UK music industry. In the 1950s and well into the 1960s, Woolworths issued recordings available only via its stores on its own label Embassy Records, produced and manufactured by Oriole Records. These releases were double-sided singles featuring two cover versions of current hit singles sold at a much cheaper price. This venture was very successful at the time, but was eventually killed off when other record companies started to issue compilation albums. However, Woolworths remained in the music business selling a wide range of singles and albums, and remained the UK's biggest music retailer well into the 1990s. Even successful nationwide music specialists stores such as Virgin Megastores and HMV did not overtake Woolworths during this time. They later suffered from strong competition in this field from the large supermarket chains Tesco and Asda.


In the early days many Woolworths stores had cafés. However, as the years went on and many larger stores were either closed or downscaled, fewer stores had cafés. When the stores finally ceased trading in 2008/9, only around 10% of the stores had cafés. These were usually located at the back of the stores or, when a store had a second sales floor, they were located either in the basement or upstairs on the first floor. They sold the usual range of hot and cold drinks, with hot food available, including breakfasts and lunch-time meals.


Entertainment UK[edit]

Entertainment UK (EUK) was founded as Record Merchandisers Limited in 1966 by EMI Records to distribute music to non-specialist retailers. It later became a joint venture between a number of record companies. Woolworths became Entertainment UK's largest customer and in 1986 Record Merchandisers Limited was acquired by Kingfisher plc. Record Merchandisers was renamed Entertainment UK in 1988.

EUK became the property of Woolworths Group plc after the de-merger from Kingfisher in 2001. In 2006, Woolworths Group acquired Total Home Entertainment Distribution Limited (THE) and combined it with EUK.[117] In November 2007 the company acquired the book wholesaler and distributor Bertram Books.[118]

EUK was the main supplier of Zavvi under an exclusive supply deal.[119] As a result of EUK entering into administration, on 24 December the music retailer was also forced into administration as it was unable to source stock on favourable terms direct from suppliers.[120] Zavvi later closed entirely.

Streets Online[edit]

Streets Online, founded in 1996 by Stephen Cole, was one of the pioneers of online retailing in the UK. The company was the name behind the online bookseller Alphabetstreet and music site Audiostreet. 85% of the company was bought out by the Kingfisher Group in 2000 for £15.7 million,[121] and then became part of the Woolworths Group with its de-merger in 2001. It then became responsible for the web operations of MVC and Tesco. When Kingfisher bought this 85%, the remaining 15% was owned by Sky New Media Ventures (part of BSkyB).[122] In 2003 the company headquarters was moved to the EUK site in Hayes.[123]

2 Entertain[edit]

2 Entertain was established in September 2004 as a joint venture between the Woolworths Group, and BBC Worldwide. It combined the group's former video and music publishing and television and video production business, VCI, with BBC Worldwide's video publishing business (which was called BBC Video). After negotiations with Woolworth Group's administrators, BBC Worldwide purchased Woolworths' 40% stake in 2 Entertain in March 2010 for £17 million, taking full ownership of the company and would eventually be renamed BBC Studios Home Entertainment (although 2 Entertain is still the legal name of the company).[124]



The Winfield brand was launched by Woolworths in 1963 and continued until the 1980s. Goods sold under the brand included household cleaners, groceries, kitchenware, perfumes and other ranges such as fishing tackle.[125]

Chad Valley[edit]

Chad Valley was launched in 1991 to create an own label range of merchandise. The Chad Valley brand name, which has been in existence since 1860, is used on a range of toys and games suitable for children under 8 years old. Home Retail Group, then the parent company of Argos and Homebase, purchased the brand for £5 million on 20 January 2009.[126] Chad Valley first appeared exclusively in the Autumn/Winter 2009 Argos catalogue.


Ladybird was a brand of children's wear for children aged 0–10 years which was sold exclusively in Woolworths stores. Before the collapse of the Woolworths chain it was ranked third overall in the childrenswear market, with a market share of 5%. Woolworths purchased rights to the Ladybird brand in 1984, purchasing it outright from Coats Viyella in 2001. The brand has a history which dates back to a trading partnership beginning in 1934 between the original firm Adolf Pasold & Son[127] and Woolworths. On 1 February 2009, Shop Direct Group purchased the brand and whole rights from the administrators.[128]


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External links[edit]