Former Woolies girls look back on their time at the Sutton store

Ex Woolworths staff meet to talk about old times.''l-r Alison Parsons, Carol Collier, Marie Booth, Jackie Dunn, Enid Townsend.
Ex Woolworths staff meet to talk about old times.''l-r Alison Parsons, Carol Collier, Marie Booth, Jackie Dunn, Enid Townsend.

When the well-known retailer Woolworths went into administration a few years ago, hordes of people poured into the shops eager to grab whatever they could at a rock bottom price.

Although the firm continues to trade online, the fondly-remembered stores have now disappeared from our high streets.

The scenes of chaos that ensued just before the shops’ closure were a far cry from the neat, mahogany counters kept by the girls who worked at the Sutton branch in the 1960s and ‘70s.

At that time, the shop was based on Outram Street and according to the shop’s former workers, who met in Skegby last Thursday to reminisce about their time there, it sold ‘virtually everything’ from paint and washing powder to broken biscuits and cakes, as well as make-up, jewellery, records and more.

However, none of the items were individually priced and without the smart tills we have today, the staff members had to add up the totals themselves.

“Nothing was priced - you had to know all the prices,” remembers Enid Townsend who lives in Kirkby.

And Carol Collier, who now lives in Doncaster, said: “I started as a Saturday girl on the Christmas cards. You had to know where they had been taken from then you had to take the envelopes for them.”

The girls remember the shop manager, Mr Collis, running a tight ship because of his belief that ‘the customer always came first’ and this meant that no-one was ever allowed to be left waiting to be served.

Although he was not from Sutton originally, he grew to love the town - once he had mastered the local dialect.

Former shop worker Marie Booth, from Skegby, says: “He had come from Birmingham and he used to go to the Conservative Club in Sutton. People would say to him, ‘ayeup duck’ and he used to ask, ‘how do they know me?’

“But he said that it was the best place he had ever been.”

And of course, there was always the threat of the surprise visit from the Woolworths inspector.

Said Enid: “You never knew when the inspector was going to come - and I got reported twice! We were stood there talking and we got told off. But the inspector came a fortnight later and we were still stood there talking.”

Over the years, the girls enjoyed trips to Bridlington, Christmas celebrations and listening to the sounds of Elvis and Billy Fury on the radio.

Not that they were allowed to listen to the radio on the shop floor.

“The only time we were allowed it on was when Winston Churchill died,” said Carol.

Marie’s mother worked in the staff kitchen and the girls were provided with a hot meal, a sweet and a cup of tea at dinner time each day.

The girls were also given a day off on their birthday and at Christmas they received a bonus. Marie said: “You used to get a Christmas bonus in one envelope and then they would tax you with the other!”

In the early 1970s the shop moved to the new premises in the new Idlewells shopping centre which is where it remained until its closure.

“I don’t think we liked it as much as the old place but it was nice and clean,” said Carol.