by J R Ashby
Pictured in 1928: Some of the Original staff of Woolworth's,
L-R Miss Corlett, Miss Ward, Miss Nicholson, Miss Pryor, Miss Gill,
Miss Beaumont, Miss Hall, Miss Wigglesworth, Miss Immerson and Miss
Franklin Winfield Woolworth was born on 13th April 1852, the
son of a potato farmer, in Rodman, near New York.
In 1873 he
began work in a shop where he was expected to work for three months
at no cost to his employer, who stated 'why should I pay you for
teaching you the business?' It was at this shop where he quickly
discovered that by reducing items to five cents they sold well.
He borrowed $300 and opened his first shop, where everything was
five cents, but this failed.
But he was convinced that he could
be successful and with his brother, Charles Sumner Woolworth, and
his original employer into partnership, he established his second
store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in April 1879, and expanding his
merchandise to include items at ten cents.
It was an instant
success and they began to expand until by 1911 the F.W.Woolworth
Company was incorporated, uniting 586 stores.
Frank, as he was
affectionately known, had a great affection for England and believed
that his shops, known all over America as the 'five and ten' store,
would work in this country.
He visited the U.K. and wrote in his
diary 'I believe a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live
Yankee, would be a sensation here'.
Flying the banner, 3d & 6d
Store, in 1909 he opened his first store in this country at Church
But at first customers were reluctant to go through its doors as
previously they had walked into a shop, bought something, and then
walked out. Whereas with this strange new American store, items were
laid out on counters, and they were encouraged to pick things up and
This reluctance was overcome by opening cafes
within the store where pots of tea were offered free of change to
shoppers for the first year.
The new Liverpool shop sold
everything for the Edwardian Household, it was the time of mass
production and thus this enabled him to sell china and glassware at
lower prices than his British competitors, customers could find
everything from children's clothing and toys to haberdashery and
The British people found they loved this new way of
shopping and by the mid-1920's a new Woolworth's shop was being
opened in this country every seventeen days.
Mexborough was not
to be outdone in this and on Friday 3rd August 1928 we find, in the
South Yorkshire Times, a quarter page advertisement informing us of
the opening of a new store in Mexborough and an article covering its
The site, at 42, High Street, had previously been
occupied by a gents' outfitter, by the name of Richard Brown & Sons
Over this was situated part of the old 'Times' buildings
and workshops were to be found to the rear, and work began, on the
construction of the new Woolworth's by the demolition of these
premises in the spring of 1928.
But the construction of the new
store was fraught with difficulties from its commencement and the
South Yorkshire Times describes its construction as 'a minor miracle
When digging the foundations, and the site where the boiler house
was to be situated, a four foot seam of coal was struck plus an
expanse of clay.
This caused the area of the site between High
Street and Garden Street to be excavated to a depth of twenty-four
feet, removing 6,000 tons of clay, the seam of coal was also removed
and to ensure the stability of the surrounding buildings, and Garden
Street, a six feet wide retaining wall was constructed, and all
property had to be en-shored and under-pinned to a depth of thirty
The South Yorkshire Times goes on to tell us that:
Mr.J.Ross, of Woolworth's Construction Dept. oversaw the whole
enterprise; Mr.B.C.Donaldson, who was the firm's architect, was
responsible for the plans, and supervision was by Mr.G.Wilson.
It goes on to state that all labour was local.
well together and because of this and, despite all the problems they
had, the store was constructed, and opened for business in no lease
than seventeen weeks.
Mr.Robert Hull, of Manchester, who was the
first Manager, must have been exceedingly proud of his new shop.
The floors were covered in pitch pine and the counters, of which
there was 358 feet, were made of Mahogany, here for the first time
customers were to experience not just the customary counters to be
found around the walls, but also, what was referred to as 'Islands'.
The walls were panelled in display boards and mirrors, with ceilings
covered in Steleonite.
this is pressed steel made to resemble
There was also the luxury of electric light fitted
The whole finished interior must have given the
store a bright and airy atmosphere, unlike most shops of the day
which seemed to favour dark oppressive internal features.
article goes on to tell us that Mr.Hull was to oversee a staff of no
fewer than sixty girls, who ran the thirty-two departments which
made up the store.
Messrs F.W.Woolworth's & Co.Ltd., were
renowned for being in the forefront of employee care and their
Mexborough Branch was no exception as we find that both a rest room
and the services of a matron had been provide for their staff,
something which was almost unheard of for that time.
Baxter, Sales Organiser for their Midlands area, arranged the grand
opening and inspection by the general public.
This was to be at
2.30p.m. on Friday 3rd.August 1928, for which palm trees had been
shipped in, I presume by rail, plus a full orchestra had been
obtained, which was to play certain selected pieces.
was only six years old when F.W.Woolworth's opened its door.
it must have been such a momentous event in both his life, and the
life of our town that sixty years later, before his death, he could
still remember the banner 'Nothing in the Store Over 6d' also the
excitement and buzz felt by the crowds that day.
the queues down the High Street to go in, and when they eventually
got through the doors, even though he held onto his mother's hand so
tightly, he was swept along by the crowd's momentum, so much that
she had to lift him up to ensure his safety.
The narrowness of
Mexborough High Street had long been a danger to traffic and
pedestrians alike and since the 1930's there had been various plans
to make it safer.
By the early 1960 it began to be rumoured that
this would soon come to fruition and in the interest of expansion
F.W.Woolworth's obtained the property, above and behind, formerly
occupied by the South Yorkshire Times.
In 1966 the newspaper
moved out, with much media coverage, to their new, purpose built
premises The White Rose printing site, on Station Road.
February 1968 it was announced to the world that the whole of
central Mexborough was to be redeveloped and a new By-Pass created
on its south side.
In 1974 the skyline of Mexborough was to
change forever and by April of that year the south east side of High
Street, had been demolished and the following year the new Hillards
Supermarket (now Tesco) was opened.
It was soon after this that
demolition, by Bramall & Ogden took place of: the buildings which
had been used by South Yorkshire Times above and behind Woolworths;
and the well loved Blake's Drapery Store, which was then situated
next to the existing Woolworth's, thus enabling the construction of
a new, larger Woolworth's store to be started.
It was at that
time that an incident occurred, I believe, which some of us will
When, during demolition, tons of scaffolding and
rubble crashed onto the High Street.
One driver was nearly hit
by the debris and dozens of people fled.
The street was
immediately blocked off and an investigation was undertaken by the
Government's Factory Inspectors.
How sad I feel my father must
have felt, after witnessing the euphoria of its opening, to see the
depressing sight my son and I saw just after Christmas.
Nov.2008, Woolworths went into administration and it was announced
that the branch at Mexborough would close on 29th Dec.09 and it was
on this day that my son and I went for a last look, and how
depressing it was to see the staff stripping the shop of all its
stock and placing it into boxes for dispatch.
A sad end to 80
years of business which for a time left a void in the heart of the
But let us not end on a sad note as on 29th Jan.2009 the
building was taken over by B&M Retailing who, like Woolworths before
it, sells everything for the house and family, at reasonable prices.
Who says the spirit of the 'five and ten' store is over? I for one
wish them all the luck in the world and hope they will be in
Mexborough as long as their predecessor.
By your Chairperson/Researcher J.
R. Ashby Information
Obtained from: The History of the South Yorkshire Times by Rex L.
Parkin South Yorkshire Times 03/08/1928, 27/04/1974, 15/09/1978,
Mexborough Town Centre Map. Consultants Report Copyright.
This newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety,
without the permission of J.R. Ashby.
News From the Local History Room
On Saturday 7th March 2009 your society gave a display at the Unity
in the Community Event, which was organized by the Don. Fed. Of
TARAs, at Doncaster Race Course. There were demonstrations on:
juggling; Irish, Street, and Bollywood Dancing; nail and face
painting; mounted police horses; the fire service; and many others.
It was a beautiful day and I feel everyone enjoyed themselves. The
next event your society will attend will be: 10a.m. - 4p.m.
Saturday 25th April 2009 Doncaster & District Family History
Society, Spring Fair, Doncaster School for the Deaf. This will be
followed by 10a.m.- 4p.m. Friday 1st May 2009 Mexborough Resource
Centre, Dolcliffe Road, Mexborough. Later this month will be our
AGM, held in the Meeting Hall of Mexborough Library. Please keep
your eyes on the media for the day and date.
(Copyright: this newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its
entirety without the permission of Mexborough & District Heritage