The Woolworths Museum

1950s Do-It-Yourself and Home Repair

This 1950s wall feature of Woolworth tools could be mistaken for a pre-war view. The prices are the only clue, as the display principles from 1935 were still in use!


In the early 1950s Britain was still rebuilding after World War II and skills were at a premium. With a shortage of workmen, enterprising customers started to do some jobs themselves. Traditionally Woolworth stores had stocked tools for tradesmen but started to adapt to sell to the general public. Initially Store Managers were encouraged to extend the selection of tools, paints and polises that they offered and to use the skills that they had learnt during their training before the War. Displays were larger than in earlier years, but continued to follow the same principles that the firm had used for generations.


By 1953 new fixtures were used to add shelves above some of the personal service counters. The extensions allowed the range to be broadened to incoporate larger products like economy bags of sand and cement, and display headers for the exclusive Ezeglide Curtain Tracks, crafted for the company by Harrison Drape'.


Sales grew rapidly. In 1953 new fixtures were used to make the displays taller. This made room for the range to grow three-fold. The new lines included large padlocks, curtain track, hinges and a wider selection of tools. For the first time it was practical to offer large items like the Sand and Cement.


A gondola island of paint and polish in the foreground with thinners to the centre of the gondola and cleaning materials in the distance


As the decade continued, purpose-built gondola islands were added in the largest stores. For years the chain had sold oil-based wall paint called distemper along with gloss in white and magnolia only. The Buyer recognised a trend for more style around the home and for paint that was easier to use. He worked with the long serving supplier, Donald Macpherson and Company, to develop new emulsion and non-drip gloss, which was introduced in a full spectrum of colours. The exclusive range was marketed as 'Household Brand Paint' and quickly became a best seller. By 1960 it was the market-leader, complementing the stores' selection of brushes, turpentine and sandpaper.


A full island of electric lamps was displayed in the larger Woolworth stores by the mid 50s.  Tiered shelving was used to get plenty of bulbs on sale.


In the 1930s stores sold as many gas mantles as light bulbs. At the start of the 1950s each store allocated a single shelf to bulbs. As the decade continued the range expanded. By 1957 the largest stores had a whole island for lighting, including bulbs and a wide selection of lampshades, which were displayed on a lighting canopy above the counter.


Lighting and lampshades in the 1950s. What a difference a decade makes - the plain shades of 1950s have been complemented with a wide variety of hanging light fittings by 1959. The lighting canopies were a regular feature in stores in the 1960s and 1970s before being phased out in the 1980s

The two pictures above show the pace of change in the Fifties range of lampshades. The picture on the left shows an example of the simple wire frames that were used to display shades at the beginning of the decade, and the relatively plain designs that were offered. The picture on the right, which was taken in 1959, shows a purpose-built lighting canopy. This allowed the company to stock a variety of room centre hanging ceiling lights above the display of shades and bulbs. The canopy was one of the proudest exhibits of "the future" at the Company's Golden Jubilee celebrations and was tested in the stores in Leeds and Coventry. The units were rapidly rolled out and formed a key feature of all Woolworth stores in the 1960s and 1970s before being phased out in the 1980s.


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