Farewell 3d and 6d, hello shortages and rationing
The end of an era in 1940
The outbreak of war forced prices upwards. The increases were fuelled by shortages as suppliers had to make items to support the war effort.
This gave the Woolworth Board a dilemma. Either they had to abandon some of the key ranges, or to drop the sixpenny price limit which had been the defining feature of the Company for more than thirty years. They reluctantly decided to put prices up, at least for the duration of the war.
The store in Hammersmith, West London, was among the first to get a new look, with no mention of the prices. They were replaced by the "Diamond W" motif at either side of the name. The layout matched the approach that had been used in North America and Germany since 1932.
It explained that the war had necessitated a rise in prices so that Woolworth's could offer a full range.
The first lines crept up by just a halfpenny (approx ¼p), as a test.
The sky did not fall, and as the year continued the increases became more pronounced.
Marvel Rubber Soles were the first product to go over sixpence. They went up by a halfpenny.
The rise allowed some items dropped in the Thirties to be stocked again. Before long there were items at seven and eight old pence, and rationed items like socks and vests rose to one shilling (twelve old pence, equivalent of 5p).
In 1944, after an absence an absence of four years, new stocks of tin saucepans were one shilling and sixpence (7½p); this was three times the maximum before the War.
Introducing a wider range of prices made life hard for the staff. They did not have the benefit of 'adding up' cash registers, and were expected to add up purchases in their heads or using a simple ready reckoner table, showing all the combinations of three and six pence.
The old British currency operated in base twelve, with twelve pennies to a shilling and two hundred and forty to a pound, making it much harder than decimal money!
From 1940 onwards the complexity was compounded by rationing. Clothing and food purchases required coupons. Every citizen had an allowance of garments of different types and of each major food group. There was a different coupon for each, which had to be handed over when making a purchase. Officially they were non-transferrable.
Stores had to confirm that the coupons were valid before cutting them out of the book and placing them in the till with the money. They were not supposed to accept the small pieces of paper loose.
The extra handling time for the coupons caused queues in-store, which some customers found frustrating. Most tolerated the hardship as a small sacrifice compared with serving the country in uniform.
Sometimes customers had coupons but the stores had no stock. But on other occasions stores had the stock but no shopper seemed to have a coupon. Some items were rationed, others quite similar were not. And officials from the Ministry always seems to have advice to offer, even when it was not really needed.
Here are some examples of the coupons needed buy clothes during the War
When news broke that sweets were to be rationed in 1942, there were long queues as people stocked up. The pictures, taken by Mr Bowen the Store Manager, show the rush at the Old Town Street, Plymouth store in Devon.
For a great website about the Woolworths Plymouth store during World War II (and much more), please take a look at Steve Johnson's excellent Cyber Heritage site at http://www.cyber-heritage.co.uk/history/fww.htm
Manufacturers like Cadbury's, Nestlé and Melba all continued to advertise during the war. The copy asked people to "think of the children", as stocks were very limited.The Ministry of Food controlled where stocks were sent, directing supplies to the areas suffering the worst bombardment.
Rationing got more severe when the war ended. Sweets only became readily available again in 1954, meaning there is a generation of grandparents and great grandparents who really value their sweets and chocolates today.
Fast links to related content in the Woolworths Museum
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