If you have fond memories of shopping or working in Woolworths, The Woolworths Girls, by Elaine Everest, will be right up your street.
Here the novelist tells us exactly why Woolworths will always be important to her.
I’ve always looked back on my first proper job at Woolworths with fondness. Perhaps it was the freedom I felt of finally receiving a pay packet at the end of the week rather than rely on pocket money from my parents. Perhaps it was being able to pay for my own clothes and have savings, albeit from a Saturday job where I earned nineteen shillings and nine pennies after thruppence had been deducted for my National Insurance stamp. Whatever the reason 1969 was a memorable year for me as I made tentative steps into the grown up world of clocking on and having a job. The short train journey to Dartford, Kent each week, with fellow school chums, where we chatted about boys, records, and clothes was our first independent step to becoming adults. We still attended school, took exams with many of us moved on to further education, to study for a career, but those days spent working for F W Woolworths will stay with me forever.
Each one of us had to sit an arithmetic test before we were added to the company payroll. No fancy tills that listed a customer’s purchases and told us how much change to give. No, we had to list each item onto a notepad attached to the belt of our overall and add up the total purchases. Change was counted back into the customer’s hand and the items packed into brown paper bags. When we weren’t serving we were dusting our counters and looking busy. The sound of bells ruled our working day. Whether it was to tell us to get onto the shop floor as the main doors were opening, tea breaks, lunch hour or time to go home, those bells informed us what to do and when.
When I married at the age of eighteen and moved to nearby Erith I was reminded of another Woolworths in that town. This was the Woolies where my sister and I went shopping as children with Mum. Once old enough we were allowed to walk through the cinder path from Slade Green and shop by ourselves after our dancing lessons. Lavender water, a small diary, an apron and a pretty candle were items we packed into a stocking one Christmas for Mum while Dad received handkerchiefs. My first bra, tights and make up were also purchased in that store along with books and pens when returning to school after long hot summers.
That first house in Erith that I purchase with my husband had been built in 1903 and had survived two world wars. Elderly neighbours told me tales of how they lived through WW2 and showed me the crooked wall in our hall – the victim of a land mine going off in the docks by the Thames nearby. I would often wonder what it must have been like to live in Alexandra Road at that time. No wonder then that when I was planning my latest family saga I decided to set it in a town I loved, in a shop that had special memories for me and had my characters live in the same street where I had lived for twenty happy years. That is why The Woolworths Girls will always hold a special place in my heart.
The Woolworths Girls, by Elaine Everest, is published 5th May by Pan Macmillan, price £6.99 in paperback original.