We drove past the shop where Mrs P was a Saturday girl on the cheese counter (remember the days when they sold food?). What remains is a cavernous white elephant on a High Street crippled by closures.
Now the sales vultures have finished picking over the carcass, the detritus of the shopping giant has started to appear on eBay.
Staff T-shirts, customer service badges, rolls of “Sold By Woolworths” tape, even plastic
shopping bags have been posted for sale by entrepreneurial types. Or is it disenfranchised staff?
Clearly a new field of collecting has emerged. Anything bearing the firm’s name will one day have a value … if you’re prepared to wait that long.
At the time of writing this, the Barclay brothers, owners of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, had announced that they had “saved” the iconic brand name and were taking elements of the business online. So like I said, farewell then Woolworths.
What Frank Winfield Woolworth, the firm’s founder, would have thought of it we can only speculate about, but it was he who started the collecting trend. Except his stuff has been collectable for years.
The best known is pictured here. Homemaker pottery was once made for the masses and sold cheaply by Woolies both in the U.S. and UK.
Now, 50-odd years later, the stylish black and white Homemaker is the dinner and tea ware of choice for the minimalist homes of today’s smart young collectors.
Prices were truly affordable
It was designed for the Stoke-on Trent potters Ridgway by a virtually unknown Staffordshire student.
Seemingly random images of domestic objects like carving knives and forks, G-plan style furniture and trendy lamps placed on a white background surrounded by equally random wavy lines might sound weird but the designs are as much a hit today as they were when they were introduced in the 1950s.
Woolies capitalised on demand and sets flew off the shelves. Prices were truly affordable.
Plates cost the princely sum of 6d (2 and a halfpence) apiece, while a soup terrine – probably the most expensive piece in the range – cost 12/6 (62 and a half pence).
If you’re lucky, you might find a plate at under a tenner these days, while the auction estimate on the part tea/dinner service consisting of four 10-inch plates, four 9-inch plates, two 7-inch plates, five saucers, four 6-inch bowls, five 7-inch bowls and a teapot is £300 to 500. That terrine is worth around £100.
The Ridgway’s story is a complicated one. Briefly, Job Ridgway trained at potteries in Swansea and Leeds before returning to his native Staffordshire where in 1802 he founded a pottery in Shelton, Hanley.
His two sons, John and William, joined the company in 1808 and took over on their father’s death in 1813.
The two brothers parted company in 1830, John remaining in Shelton where he produced fine porcelain, while his brother began production of earthenwares at the nearby Bell Works.
William’s son, Edward, continued his father’s work and founded the Bedford Works in Shelton specialising in vitrified wares, tiles and a full range of earthenware tea and dinner sets including a century later the now coveted Homemaker range.
The student behind the Homemaker design was Enid Seeney who studied at Burslem School of Art.
Homemaker was the most popular
She served her apprenticeship at the Spode Copeland works, where she learned to draw designs and to paint and gild ceramics before joining Booth & Colcloughs in 1951, which by then was then part of the Ridgway group of potteries.
She left Ridgway’s on her marriage in 1957 but by then she had designed a number of patterns for the company, of which Homemaker was the most popular.
Interestingly, those seemingly random domestic objects featured in the Homemaker design were other classics of the period: the armchair was designed by Robin Day; the sofa by Sigvard Bernadotte and the sideboard by Bernard Russell.
Interestingly, it was Europe’s quality china and glass that first attracted Frank Woolworth to Britain.
Ceramics, notably blue and white willow pattern wares from the Staffordshire Potteries were popular with customers of his five and dime stores in the U.S. and in 1890, he visited the factories personally to cut out the wholesalers who were taking a big cut of his profits.
In addition to opening his first UK store in Liverpool in 1909, the port was also his first choice to ship millions of pieces of china to New York.
Other Woolies ware to watch for includes the blue and white so-called Fibre Pattern dinner ware which dates from the first quarter of the 20th century, particularly if it is marked on the back “Royal Woolworth”; anything decorated with the Bird’s pattern and the cream, green and orange Ivory China, both of which were popular in the 1930s.
Check out grandma’s kitchen cupboards!
*Images kindly supplied by www.pips-trip.co.uk