52/53 Cornmarket Street, Oxford OX1 3HW
A Woolies in Oxford I hear you say? Yes there was, a long time ago. It first opened at 8 Cornmarket Street in May 1925 in the former Roebuck Inn. It was so popular that they had to find bigger premises. Below is the store in 1930, with H Samuel next door.
It has now been a Boots for decades – they were next door and expanded into the ex-Woolworths premises.
A bit of drama happened when bosses found a suitable building to move to and bought the Clarenden Hotel in 1930 (which had been in Oxford since the 1600s). They planned to demolish it and battled for years with the Oxford Authorities to get approval. It all had to go on hold while the war took place, but it was back on in 1950. Many designs were turned down.
“Publicly they cited fears that such a large shop would encourage more traffic in a highly congested area. Privately they let slip that they felt that a larger Woolworth would lower the tone and would be ill-suited to the dreaming spires.” Quote from the Woolworths Museum
Scottish architect Sir William Holford took over, with a mission to create a ‘Woolworths Worthy of Oxford’. After 27 years (!) what finally got approved was a huge new store with the front made of local Clipson Stone, Bladon Stone and Grey Slate. It had bright new displays with new ranges next to the old faithfuls, as well as a deluxe cafeteria, offices upstairs, a spectacular roof garden and a multi-storey car park. Pretty extravagant for a Woolies. Here is an original ad for the opening day on 18th October 1957:
Below are customers taking a sneak peek through the windows of the new store before it opened.
And here is the building with it’s Clipson Stone, Bladon Stone and Grey Slate:
Source (above 2 photos): http://www.woolworthsmuseum.co.uk/1950s-hugeq.htm
Now after all that hard work getting this store built, it closed down. It was only open for 26 years – it took longer than that to get building approval. When Kingfisher took the company over, they closed the store in 1983 – locals were shocked. There was never a Woolworths in Oxford ever again, the nearest one being in Cowley.
Today the building is the Clarendon Shopping Centre and Gap, very nice and shiny inside too. And Woolworths lives on with it’s ornate ‘W’ inscription at the right entrance.