Katharine Wootton

From Woolworths to C&A – the shops we've loved and lost

Katharine Wootton
From Woolworths to C&A – the shops we've loved and lost

How times have changed when it comes to the shops on our high street! Walk around any town or city centre now and chances are it’s completely unrecognisable from the place it was in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. The shops we depended on and adored as children, window-shopping teenagers, or harassed new mums are now sadly gone, replaced by big modern stores that just don’t feel the same as those much-loved shops of yesteryear. 

But things could be about to change as former Woolworths brand director, Tony Page, recently announced that Woolies – as we affectionately called it – could be about to return to our towns. 

The latest is that Mr Page is trying to buy back the Woolworths name from Shop Direct, who have owned the brand since it went into administration in 2009 and ran the store online until 2015.  

While this new incarnation of Woolies is unlikely to be exactly as it was before, it would be lovely to have a store we have such fond memories of back on our high streets. 

Perhaps once again we’ll start repeating that old catchphrase of, “Woolies will have it!” whenever we needed anything. And surely a comeback would not be complete without a revival of the famous pick ‘n’ mix self-service counter – that supreme tool of bribery many an addled mum relied on to get children to behave on a trip to the shops (while eating one or two herself, of course!) 

But what about the other shops of the past we miss from our weekly shop? How many of the following do you remember? 

A trip down memory high street…

For those dedicated followers of fashion, the Sixties brought a wave of hip new boutiques. There was Chelsea Girl and Richard Shops to cater for our love of miniskirts and Etam for those who wanted to be ‘in’ with the latest style. Younger girls could visit Etam’s Tammy Girl department.

For the more budget-conscious, C&A was the store of choice, boasting quality, cut-price clothes for those who found M&S a bit pricey. Everyone joked that C&A stood for Coats and ‘Ats but it was actually named after the store’s German founders, Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer. Although C&A’s UK stores closed in 2000, the brand still thrives in Europe. To complete the outfit, you needed a trip to Freeman, Hardy, Willis, for a new shoes. The chain had been around since the 1870s until it ceased trading in the mid-Nineties. 

For our cosmetic requirements, Timothy Whites was often the place to buy Pond’s night cream, Evening in Paris spritz and Sunsilk shampoo. 

Our appearance taken care of, it was time to turn our attention to the home. For electrical gadgets or a gas cooker, we’d call in at the local gas and electricity board who had showrooms on the high street where you could pay your utility bills, or buy a bag of shillings for the meter. 

At a time when few people owned a TV,  a set could be rented from Rumbelows. For anything else home-related, your local department store or the trusty Co-op or BHS would probably have it. Some department stores even had ‘cash railways’, where a pneumatic tube would transport your pennies from the shop floor to the cashier before your change came back down
the chute. 

If we needed to pick something up for dinner Dewhurst the butcher was a popular choice, while supermarket chain Fine Fare sold everything from prawn cocktail to cherry trifle.