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Woolworths - end of an era

January 2009

Page added 10 July 2009

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Woolworths sign

It was a sad day for many when Woolworths in Exeter, along with all the other branches nationwide, closed during January 2009. Woolworths first opened at the top of Fore Street, in the old H C Lloyd & Son Ltd, tobacco, snuff, cigar and cigarette manufacturers, sometime after 1923. In 1934, they bought the shops of Garton and King, and Pinder and Tuckwell at 190 and 191 High Street, respectively. They rebuilt the front of the building and opened a store that would continue on the same site until 1976. They also had a store in Sidwell Street that closed in the 1980s. 

Woolworths sign

When the Guildhall Centre was built, Woolworths took a large site on the North Street side of the development with entrances from Waterbeer Street and Trickhay Street. Built on two levels, the top floor had a cafeteria and a third entrance onto the first floor of the shopping centre. On 28 November it was announced that the store was to close, and on 3 January 2009 the remainder of the stock had been sold and the store shut its doors for the last time. Everything had been for sale – display shelving for £10, fire exit signs for 50 pence and and even a stool with a built-in shoe size indicator used to fit thousands of pairs of children's' shoes over the years had a price tag of £5. Eight hundred shops were closed, and 30,000 lost their jobs.

Do you have a photo taken when Woollies closed in Exeter, a photo from an earlier era? – if you do, and would like it included on this page, please email it with details about when the photo was taken.


Lloyds Tobacco Factory, Woolworths first homeLloyd's Tobacco Factory, Fore Street, was located to the left of Chevalier House, one of the most historic buildings in the area. Woolworths occupied the cigarette factory for their first store in Exeter. In 1929, they applied to purchase Chevalier House, and have it demolished, to expand their store. The city council stepped in, and purchased the old house, which they converted into a pub. Woolworths decided to relocate to the High Street.

190 and 191 High StreetGarton and King, the ironmongers and foundry, had their showroom at 190 High Street. Pinder and Tuckwell occupied the adjacent 191. Woolworths persuaded both businesses to sell their properties to them and relocate elsewhere in the city.  

Woolworths in 1934After the two shop premises were amalgamated, and the front façade of Monks Park Stonework was installed by the Bath and Portland Stone Firms Ltd, the new Woolworths opened in 1934. This store would serve the citizens of Exeter with their island counters, and glass divided compartments, and of course, the first incarnation of pick 'n mix. For the 1960s schoolboy, the Airfix counter was heaven, the Spitfires and Lysanders in plastic bags costing 1/6 (7½p) and for a larger model such as the Mosquito bomber 2/6 (12½p). For elder siblings, there were the Woolworths own label Embassy records, with cover versions of the latest hits – anyone remember the Rocking' Berries!.

Woolworths in Sidwell StreetMany towns had two Woolworths, and Exeter was no exception. Sidwell Street had a smaller, but no less, perfectly formed store, where hair grips, alice bands and curlers could be purchased singly and carried away in a brown paper bag – or so I am told. Photo Express and Echo.

Woolworths Waterbeer Street entranceIn 1976, the old High Street store closed for the last time, and Woolworths moved into new premises in  the just completed Guildhall Centre. Gradually, as we passed Punk Rock, the New Romantics and entered the digital age, Woolworths changed, selling CDs, computers and toys. The island counters went and they became just another store. Competition from supermarkets and the internet was fierce, and Woollies could not survive the recession of 2008. On 17 October 2008, a fire broke out in the store causing panic among shoppers. The store closed for 48 hours, but this really was the beginning of the end.

Closing down noticesOn 28 November, Deloitte's announced that Woolworths had gone into administration and were closing all their shops. During January 2009, large closing down posters were put in the windows and on empty walls inside the store. 'All stock Reduced, Store Closing, Everything Must Go.'

Browsing for bargainsThere's still a range of children's clothing on the racks, as a couple of customers pay for their goods.

Shelves are emptyingA few toy lines are left on the shelving. And there are two Silver Cross toy prams, for the old fashioned little girl, who doesn't want to carry her dolly.

An empty storeLarge empty spaces appeared where display units were removed and the last of the stock sold.

No queues here...Despite the knock-down prices, there was no queue at this checkout. Adieu Woolworths - we knew you well.

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