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The 'pioneer' stores opened before World War I


Map showing the location of the 44 Woolworth stores opened across the British Isles before the Great War.  Adapted from "The Woolworth Atlas of the World" (1914).  Click the map for a full-size version in its own window. Map showing the location of the 44 Woolworth stores opened across the British Isles before the Great War.  Adapted from "The Woolworth Atlas of the World" (1914).  Click the map for a full-size version in its own window.

The forty-four British 'pioneer' stores opened before the Great War were revered by the Company for more than 70 years. They were hand-picked by the man whose name appeared above the door. He considered them to be the prime locations and deemed them his flagships. They were given priority for investment, even at the expense of store openings. As soon as policy allowed in the 1920s, the Directors sought to buy the freeholds and to expand into neighbouring properties. During the twentieth century a handful of new flagships were added as the firm got richer, including London's Oxford Street and Kensington High Street, Birmingham's Bull Ring and New Street, Spurriergate in York, Eastgate in Chester and Oxford's Cornmarket.

Many of the prime locations were sold in the early 1980s as new owners sought to release the capital values that had accumulated. Kingfisher used the real estate to build B&Q more rapidly than it could have grown on its own.

After opening six stores along the line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and tackling the London metropolitan area, attention had turned to achieving full geographic coverage across the British Isles. Special teams targeted openings in Ireland and a drive west into Wales and North into Scotland during 1913 and 1914. Further stores were also opened in the London area. On this page the branches that became the company's heart.


The F. W. Woolworth store in Castle Street, Bristol, which opened in 1911


Above: the Woolworths store in Castle Street Bristol, which opened in 1911. Note the complete lack of traffic in this busy thoroughfare. Castle Street was largely destroyed early in the Blitz. The City Centre was remodelled after the war. Woolworth re-opened in Broadmead.

Below: the first Irish Woolworths in Dublin's fashionable Grafton Street, which opened on 23 April 1914. Frank Woolworth was one of a number of executives at the New York headquarters who claimed Irish ancestry. They were particularly proud of this opening, along with another in High Street, Belfast in the industrialised north of the island, which opened on 6 November 1915.


Grafton Street, Dublin - the first Irish branch of F. W. Woolworth & Co. Limited


An early Scottish Woolworths - Argyle Street, Glasgow, which opened in 1914
Left: An early Scottish store pictured in 1913 in Argyle Street, Glasgow.

Unusually the fascia has the "NOTHING IN THESE STORES OVER 6D" in the centre. "WOOLWORTHS STORES" also appears in a semi-circle above the parapet wall.

The adaptations were required by the landlord.


Store Manager George Wales outside the store that he opened for Woolworth's in Hare Street, Woolwich, London in 1911. (Copyright picture with special thanks to  Linda Michael)

Right: Easter displays at the popular store in Hare Street, Woolwich, in April 1911.

The Store Manager, George Wales, pioneered the location, and went on to open further London branches in Rye Lane, Peckham in July 1912, and in King Street, Hammersmith in October 1914.

Wales was a patriot and enlisted for service after the outbreak of the Great War. He died in the Battle of Cambrai, France on 22 November 1917 at the age of just thirty-three years. Memorial.


A postcard of the tram centre in Swindon. The location of Woolworths has been written on by the sender in 1914

Right: the person who sent the postcard of the Tram Centre Swindon (a view down Regent Street in the Wiltshire town), has kindly marked the location of Woolworths along with Boots the Cash Chemists and the Town Hall.

The store was repeatedly extended. It appears again in our 1930s, 1950s and 1990s exhibits. Swindon remained a company favourite, with a wide frontage in Regent Street and a further entrance in Edgeware Road, until the demise of the store-based company in January 2009. The town was home to the main national distribution centre for the chain in the Dorcan Industrial Estate, Faraday Road from 1973 until 2009.


By the outbreak of World War I there were forty-four branches of Woolworths right across the British Isles - known later to Managers as the 'Pioneer stores'. The outbreak of war left the company very short of Managers and Learners, but there was no shortage of builders or property. As a result, after a blip, the pace of openings actually increased in 1915. By 1921 there were a hundred Woolworths stores, with plans for many more.