Unheralded arrival of Woolworths

Woolworths, George Street, 1932

The arrival of Woolworths in Luton in 1915 went virtually unheralded, not even an advert appeared for the opening of the bazaar-style store at 51 George Street on September 4th of that year.

The first intimation of the arrival of F. W. Woolworth had come in the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph on June 19th, 1915. But the company name was not mentioned.

In a tribute to "the passing of Gates's," the long-established grocery and ironmongery firm that had previously occupied the site until the retirement of proprietor William Lee Gates, it was reported: "We hear that extensive building additions are being made at the rear of the old ironmongery shop, and that when these are completed, together with a big alteration in the front appearance of the building, it is to be opened by a large American store firm who have branches in many of the big cities of England, their speciality being a huge range of goods at popular fixed prices."

William Gates had succeeded his father Henry in the business. A report in the Bedfordshire Advertiser (June 18th, 1915) said the blinds at the shop had descended for the last time about a fortnight earlier. Until about 1885, the business had been located across the street where the Mark and Spencer store would open on March 21st, 1906. The picture, below, was taken in 1912.

The picture above was not taken until 1932 when tram tracks were being removed from George Street but it shows the original F. W. Woolworth store and the adjoining Chambers jewellery store, near George Street West, that together occupied the previous Gates shop premises. In June the following year the Woolworth store moved to the opposite side of George Street, where it remained until transferring to the Arndale Centre in November 1973 and finally closed down in March 2008.

M&S, Luton, c1913

Gates shop