Interactive tour: F.W. Woolworth's Liverpool, 1923
Today the building is home to the acclaimed Liverpool One Shopping Centre
Woolworth's opened its first British store in Liverpool in November 1909. It was a big success. The three floor emporium was always packed with customers. It had famoulsy long queues. The firm explored many ways of extending or altering the building to make it more comfortable for shoppers, but could not find a way. In the early Twenties the Board decided a more radical solution was needed. They instructed their Property Department to find a new location in the same road. The new premises must be "smart and appropriate" to the City where the firm began.
The Chief Architect, William Priddle, liked a challenge. He developed a spectacular and larger-than-life scheme, and set about trying to persuade people that it was a good idea. He had heard of the Church of England's plan to resite Liverpool Cathedral to Hope Street. This would free a large site directly opposite the existing Woolworth store. He wanted to replace the Church with a Temple of his own!
The City of Liverpool had enjoyed great success during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Lancashire Cotton Mills still dominated the world and brought in raw materials and exported finished goods through the docks. During the same period the City had become the principal embarkation point for people sailing to New York. As a result Liverpool had become one of the largest seaports in the world. To the annoyance of Dubliners, some people even called it the 'second city of the Empire'.
The Woolworth Architect William Priddle devised a scheme in which the store chain would buy and clear the site and replace the Church with a huge Threepenny and Sixpenny Store and a block of retail properties which would also house the fashion retailer Montague Burton, (the "Tailor of Taste") and C&A Modes (known to locals as "Coats and 'ats"). Priddle promised a "finely appointed building, appropriate to the City's status". He prepared drawings to show what he meant.
Although controversial locally, the company offered a very generous price for the land. The proposal was accepted. Work started in Autumn 1922.
With remarkable vision Priddle had designed a much larger store than Woolworth could fill. Its first floor and basement would be built as empty shells and mothballed until they were needed. This followed a pattern already established in the USA, where City Centre stores had expanded over time. The Company's Board had approved a substantial budget befitting a national flagship store. This showed the reverence that the 140-strong chain had for the City where their story began.
Groundwork preparations were completed by the end of 1922. The foundations were laid in January 1923, as shown in the top picture on this web page. During the Spring a superstructure of girders was hauled into place by a giant crane, revealing the silhouette of the building. Armies of bricklayers and stone masons then added the outer shell around the beams throughout the early Summer. As soon as the shell of the ground floor had been enclosed, carpenters started work to install the finest mahogany floors and panelling. The fit-out was completed in record time. By 4 August the sales area was picture perfect and ready to open.
In keeping with a longstanding company tradition, the store opened for an "inspection only preview" on Friday afternoon, just as its predecessor over opposite had done fourteen years earlier. Trading began in earnest the following morning. The new store looked magnificent. Even with only the ground salesfloor in use it had doubled in size. What was more customers could see right across the store, unlike the previous 'L' shaped salesfloor.
The pictures below are interactive - click on a product or area of one of the pictures to open a close-up view. There are several different angles and enlargements to choose between.
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