Woolworths and 50s’ festive shopping

My Christmas memories are inextricably linked with Woolworths. While Woolworths featured largely in our lives all year in the 1950s, at Christmas it was always first port of call.

Wooden floors echoed and large wooden counters towered above the heads of toddlers. At the start of December, a central section of counters was cleared, making way for Christmas goods. Festooned with paper chains and fold-out paper decorations, the counter was readily located. Individual sheets of wrapping paper were laid full length in trays. Labels, ribbon and Sellotape were displayed alongside, making sure nothing was forgotten. Christmas cards, which were also sold singly, were tipped into trays. Initially the envelopes were attached but as Christmas neared, choosing your cards required a matching exercise to secure a suitable envelope.


Tree decorations glittered enticingly. These glass baubles were tipped into trays, which quickly became littered with shattered pieces. Such fragile items often required replacement and choosing could be so difficult. Did you go for the simple brightly shining balls or the more subtle lustre effect ones, often with painted designs? New strings of tinsel were purchased if an angel or fairy costume were needed for a school production.

Early on, we had no lights on our tree but once acquired we knew we could rely on Woolworths to provide spare bulbs, purchased individually in the required colour, of course.

Our paper chains we usually fashioned from strips of coloured paper looped together or cut strips of crepe paper, either stretched at the edges and twisted to form streamers or folded back and forth creating a box-shaped chain.

Woolies supplied all that was needed, including glue.

Glitter, gold and silver paint and false berries all helped those with a creative flair to fashion their own unique Christmas decorations.


The array of loose sweets was augmented by the colourful Quality Street selections and boxes of chocolates, jelly orange and lemon slices, sugared almonds, and Turkish Delight, flavoured with lemon and rose water and dusted with icing sugar, appeared. Toffees, from Sharps and Bluebird, were sold loose but also supplied in decorative tins for gifts.

Elsewhere in store, paper goods counters carried doilies and cake cases with Christmas motifs, and foil cake boards in various sizes. Colourful cake frills, miniature candles and plaster figures of robins, Father Christmas, post boxes and snowmen all helped make your Christmas cake unique.

The plaster figures were of varying scales so the robin towered over the model church, while our Father Christmas, whose once nodding head was now glued, could peer over the tops of the trees.

Once the truth about Christmas presents had been revealed I naturally wanted to give gifts, too. Woolworths sold items in small quantities.

For my aunt and mother, a single Bronnley bath cube was chosen, while a tube of balsa cement for aircraft modelling would serve my brother, with a Kit-Kat bar for my father.

Each cost the princely sum of sixpence and for a further sixpence I bought wrapping paper and card of silver string to secure the parcels.