The Wonder of Woolies

As 2013 rapidly edges to a close I’m reminded that in the Spring of 2014 I shall reach a milestone birthday and able to have a bus pass. Whilst I will also no longer have to pay for my medications I need to take that have enabled me to reach this grand old age, I am not able to collect my state pension yet, thanks to our wonderful government changing the goalposts on retirement, and I must wait another 5 years before I receive any payments. I am normally a calm and forgiving person but this has really angered me for the simple reason I have been paying into the system since I first started full-time work at the age of 15, and have been working in one job or another ever since. Even more annoying is the fact that had I been born just one day earlier, I would have been okay, but no, it seems I am to be “robbed” of 5 years entitlement thanks to the cut-off date the government has imposed. One flaming day! Okay, rant over, that’s not what this post is about.  Let’s get on to the real thing.

No, what I really was reminded of was my very first proper “paid” job all those years ago. When I was 14, I started a Saturday job as a Woolie’s girl, working in our local Woolworth’s store in Hounslow (for our overseas readers Hounslow is where Heathrow Airport is located). I was still at school so by law could only be employed for a few hours a week but those hours on a Saturday afternoon suited well. It meant I could still go to my dancing classes in the morning and after, walk the 2 miles to the High Street and then be on my feet serving all afternoon before walking home.

Hounslow Woolworth just before it closed down

Hounslow Woolworth just before it closed down in 2008

The store was huge, at the time boasted the largest glass frontage shop in the country (whether this meant the largest Woolie’s or not, I’m not sure) but there were many entrances at the front, and two from the rear for its customers. It was also one of the few in the country at the time to have a customer cafe. The facade had been modernized several times since.

As a teenage in the 1960s, you can imagine the counter I wanted to work on was the most popular: make-up, with its stock of Minors, Rimmel, Max Factor, Coty (which was manufactured locally) etc,  beautiful powder compacts and everything a teenager in London during the Swinging Sixties would want to wear. Other popular counters were the records, and the sweet stand. This was the time of the good old days when each counter (actually a stand of four in a square) had at least one assistant and a till (cash register) – no hunting around and queuing at the Pay Here point as we have today in most big stores. 

Typical store layout at the time

Typical store layout at the time

But no, I was given the hardware counter at the back of the store, along with the furniture stand and the lampshade counter. Big sigh of disappointment as there I was, selling rubber things that fitted over taps to stop them splashing, potato peelers and bean cutters and other kitchen implements, cutlery, washers, plugs, chains – you get the idea. The furniture stand had chairs and stools, rugs, bookshelves and small tables; and the lampshades, well, lampshades and lightbulbs. Most of my time with these latter stands I was running up and down the stairs and occasionally using the lift (hate lifts since once becoming stuck in one) fetching stock as the display items and furniture couldn’t be sold and there was no space to store anything on the shop floor. I enjoyed the work, the staff friendly, and I was never bored.

One day, to my utter delight, I was asked if I minded manning the record counter. Did I mind? I didn’t need asking twice but it was nearly my undoing. You can imagine the joy of this young, vibrant teenager being allowed to play records all afternoon, have plenty of fellow teens gathered around me, chatting, especially the boys. At the time, my favourite record was Goin’ Up the Country by Canned Heat, and I am afraid I played it over and over and over again. I can’t remember how long it was before the manager came over and told me that if he heard that record one more time that afternoon, I would be sacked! I didn’t and I wasn’t. I still love that song and still play it often.

Catch the song  here:

I left Woolworth’s when I left school the following year and took up my first full time job working at Heathrow Airport, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Woolie’s girl in my green nylon overall. It helped me get over my nerves of talking to people, it helped with my maths as I was never good at it at school and back then, tills didn’t work out the change for you or do the adding up – you had to work it all out for yourself. It was also good training for going out into the “real” world of work and becoming a responsible adult.  

What was your first proper job? Do tell.

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13 responses to “The Wonder of Woolies

  1. Hi Kit – I agree the whole ‘pension age’ thing is infuriating. I try just to celebrate not really needing the bus pass just yet. As for the record counter – you must have been one popular teenager! AliB
    (WordPress okay for you, then!)

    • Hi Ali – Touch wood, no problems with WordPress (so far!) Happy, carefree days of youth seem so far away. Can’t believe how quick Father Time is ticking. Celebrations will be low key. As for pension fiasco, I try not to let it get to me. Serves them right if I live to 100! Then will really party! 🙂

  2. Oh my gosh it’s been decades since I’ve thought of the Woolsworth store. I think if I’ve thought of it at all that it was a strictly American chain. Boy did this post bring back memories. I love this era and have even thought about setting a story in it.

    My first job was at a movie theater. I wasn’t old enough so lied about my age. Of course I couldn’t drive so had to have a ride to town. I started out as an usher and hated it except after the movie started I got to stand by the wall with a little flashlight and I could watch the movie. I worked my way up to the candy counter and liked that job better. Like you I had to count out change and it helped when I hit the real world.

    Loved this blog, I usually read it with morning coffee so it’s a great way to start the day.

    • Woolworths was an institution here in the UK, Lavada, and many of us were sad to see its demise a few years ago. I would have loved to work in a movie theatre, it must have been a lot of fun, and all those films to watch for free. Glad you enjoyed the blog. x 🙂

  3. What a nice memory. I love the record playing over and over. We used to go to Woolworth’s and have milkshakes. Loved sitting at the counter when I was a kid.

    My first real job was working in the historical district’s Christmas Cottage. It was wonderful.

  4. Valerie J. Patterson

    Nice memory for you, Kit. I can picture a harried manager coming over to “talk” to you about the record playing. 😛

    My first job was at a florist. Loved it. Everything was so pretty and wonderfully scented.

  5. Hi Valerie. Now, there’s a job I could really adore – working with flowers and plants in a florist. Wonderful! 🙂

  6. A lovely trip down memory lane, Kit, for I was a Woolies girl, too. I did Saturday mornings and they plunked me in hardware. I seemed to be stacking boxes from what I remember, but it was worth it when the small brown envelope arrived with my very own wages in it. Happy days!

  7. Ha ha, snap, Tricia. I remember those little brown envelopes well. Getting a pay packet really made one feel grown up, didn’t it. Happy days indeed! :).

  8. I grew up with Woolworth’s. I remember times, after school, I’d go in and sit at the fountain and order a toasted tuna fish sandwich and fries. Nothing better. We haven’t had a Woolies around here in years, but we got all excited on a trip abroad a few years ago when, in Belfast, N. Ireland, I think, we saw an open Woolworth’s. It was one of the highlights of our trip. Lol. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Kit.

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