Plus: References to branches which are now East of the M60 motorway
This year and the last haven’t been a good one for retailers. This week has already seen the demise of Clintons Cards. In the last six months, we have seen Game close branches, news of fewer new Wetherspoon pubs opening the North of England and Greggs reporting a drop in sales. The rise of internet shopping may well be making a tangible affect on the retail trade as online shopping offers more convenience and choice.
Today, our streets are less diverse than they were 15 years ago. If you go back 25 to 30 years ago, they were even more diverse than in 1997. The chain stores had less than a national presence in 1982 compared with today’s high street. There was also regional chains with a clearly defined presence in certain parts of the United Kingdom.
For the purpose of this post, East of the M60 will take you on a stroll towards The Lost Precinct. The dark brown Austin Allegro is waiting outside your deck access Bison built flat.
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A is for Agri Electrics:
A North West England and North Wales chain of electrical shops. Often associated with sister company Edwin P. Lees, their cut price adverts would often be set in one of their showrooms. In the early 1980s, the budget didn’t even stretch to live action. Viewers in Granadaland would often be treated to a static screen with the dulcet tones of Jim Pope or anyone else able to do voiceover in Quay Street for their 15 seconds of fame.
B is for Brentford Nylons:
Lovers of sweat and static advertised by Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman offered most 1970s families cheap bed linen made from all your favourite synthetic materials (well, nylon and polyester). Manchester’s branch was situated in Piccadilly Plaza where the city’s Tourist Information Centre is now based. Following a rebranding as Brentfords in the 1980s, the chain disappeared for good in 1995.
C is for Cavendish Woodhouse:
Founded in 1945, Great Universal Stores acquired a chain of furniture stores known as Cavendish or Woodhouse, then in consolidated form as Cavendish Woodhouse, with 350 stores by 1983. Some of the stores became branches of Times Furnishing. There was a branch in Oldham on Mumps Bridge, a short walk from the bus station and Yelloway’s coach station.
D is for Do it All:
Launched in 1979, WHSmith’s do-it-yourself chain majored in being a formidable rival to B&Q and Focus. Expansion began with the acquisition of Fine Fare’s ‘Fix and Fit’ stores, as was the case with Hyde’s branch. Voiced by David Jason, its adverts exuded economy and chirpiness, often featuring three men and a white van (a riposte to the Kwik-Fit ads without the tyres and blue overalls). Following acquisition by Boots, it was later sold by Boots in 1998 to Focus, with stores briefly known as Focus Do it All. Today, Focus are no more, following an ill-fated acquisition of Wickes (later sold to Travis Perkins).
E is for Escom:
The German company was formed in 1986 by Manfred Schmitt as the computing arm of his music company. They expanded in the UK by means of acquiring the Calculus chain of computer stores and Rumbelows’ electrical stores. In 1995, they purchased Commodore International following the computer company’s bankruptcy the previous year. Rather than retail competition, it was rapid growth which led to its implosion and the end of retail sales in July 1996. Commodore International was sold to Tulip with the spun off Amiga Technologies transferring to Gateway. Oldham’s Escom branch was a former Calculus store situated in the Spindles Shopping Centre.
F is for Fine Fare:
Fine Fare expanded by means of cheap and cheerful town centre stores. With the company becoming a basket case, Garfield Weston took over as MD in the early 1970s, took it towards the hypermarket revolution and the rest was Bless Me Father. The one in Hyde was opened in 1976 by Derek Nimmo (of the aforementioned religious comedy fame) and boasted a café, petrol station and a newspaper vending machine (for the sole purpose of the Manchester Evening News). Expansion of the chain continued with some diversification towards DIY (the Fix and Fit stores, later sold to the then WHSmith owned Do It All in 1986). As part of the Dee Corporation, the Fine Fare name was discontinued in 1988, with all stores becoming Gateway supermarkets.
G is for Gwat Everyone Wants:
Founded by Gerald Weisfeld in Glasgow (1971), the store chain crossed the southern half of Hadrian’s Wall following a takeover in 1990. Its stores, more than anything, were a downmarket alternative to Kendal Milne and Co., with a mix of bargain basement clothes and footwear. Oldham’s branch opened in 1993, taking over the former C&A unit (that chain’s branch becoming one of Spindles’ anchor stores), with Manchester’s being based on Oldham Street.
Under new ownership, ‘what’ was spelt correctly, and maintained market share being owned by Poundstretcher’s parent company Brown and Jackson. By 2002, What Everyone Wants was sold to Tradegro, with the chain liquidated a month later. Manchester’s branch forms part of the Northern Quarter, subdivided into multiple units, with the Oldham branch now incorporating Home Bargains.
H is for Hillards:
Founded in Cleckheaton in 1885, the family business had a substantial base around the West Riding of Yorkshire. They were known as Lion Stores from 1900 and opened warehouse style stores in Wakefield, Leeds and Lincoln. Another first for them was the introduction of free buses; some early customers had their bus and tram fare paid for on visiting one of their shops.
They adopted the family name Hillards in 1972 following a share issue and saw continued expansion towards Derbyshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire. A hostile takeover battle saw the chain sold to TESCO in May 1987. By then, new stores had opened in Glossop and Oldham. Today, there is a lasting legacy of their 102 years of retailing by means of The Gay and Peter Hartley’s Hillards Charitable Trust, which offers donations for community projects for charitable bodies.
I is for Index:
Littlewoods’ rival to Argos. Whereas only Argos succeeded with the catalogue discount shop format (thanks also to a few well positioned former Green Shield Stamps Redemption Points), Woolworths and Littlewoods had a stab at that format. Littlewoods’ Index already had brand recognition from the mail order catalogue sector and opened, in the late 1980s their own answer to Argos. Some such as the one in Rochdale were relocated inside Littlewoods stores. Others were standalone units, such as the one in Spindles Shopping Centre, Oldham (close to the western entrance of Town Square Shopping Centre).
J is for John Collier:
A rival tailoring chain to Montague Burton. Founded as the Fifty Shilling Tailors, it offered cost conscious gentlemen a tailored suit at a competitive price. They were taken over by United Drapery Stores in 1958 and assumed the guise as one of Britain’s foremost retailers in that field. By 1983, Hanson plc purchased UDS and dropped John Collier like a hot potato to its management, who later sold John Collier on to their one time rivals, Burton. Ashton-under-Lyne’s store was located on the corner of Warrington Street and Stamford Street, closing in 1986.
K is for Kingdom of Leather:
Another staple of many a Christmas Day furniture advert festooned ad break. KoL entered liquidation and was sold to Natuzzi.
L is for Lo-Cost:
‘Fill a trolley full of value at Lo-Cost‘ trilled the Giorgio Moroder style soundtracked adverts of Argyll Foods’ discount chain. Lo-Cost was one of two discount chains operated by Allied Suppliers, prior to James Gulliver’s acquisition in 1982. A 1985 consolidation of Argyll Foods’ business saw the absorption of familiar names like Galbraiths, Templetons and Hintons into the Presto brand.
Some of the smaller stores closed with bigger ones becoming Prestos. Elsewhere, Liptons stores would either become Presto stores or Lo-Cost stores, with the latter being true of Stalybridge’s branch on Grosvenor Square. Today, the Stalybridge branch is now a Superdrug which, in 2015, became a branch of Savers.
M is for Mainstop:
Rose to prominence in the late 1970s, Mainstop’s supermarkets had a solid base in Northern England with market style fresh food counters and a record section. There was also cafés in the form of Bumpers Burger Bar, a knock-off Wimpy bar in laypersons’ terms. Such features caught the eye of Wm. Morrison plc who acquired the chain in 1981. These included branches in Gainsborough, Southport, and Darlington.
They were originally part of British American Tobacco whom at the time owned Argos and International Stores. Their big box International Supermarkets branches became Mainstop shops. The Mainstop logo was a multicoloured weaved hashtag rotated 45˚. The short lived chain also had a bespoke typeface. Both were designed by Terrance Conran of Habitat fame.
N is for Nationalised Industries (well, namely NORWEB and electrical showrooms):
If you’re under 20 years of age, there’s every chance that you may be unable to remember when electricity boards – and gas boards – used to have their own showrooms. This stems from an era when domestic gas or electrical appliances were new and exciting. Therefore, the local electrical boards and companies would show off their wares in sumptuous showrooms, and enable customers to pay their bills.
On nationalisation, our area’s electricity was supplied by the North Western Electricity Board – or NORWEB for short. They continued to have showrooms in prime positions up to 1996 (four years after privatisation), when their showrooms were sold to Scottish Power, who opted for out of town locations. Prior to 1998, NORWEB would have smaller units, in use as cash offices before Direct Debit and Post Office payments took over.
NORWEB’s original showroom in Ashton-under-Lyne occupied part of the present food section of its indoor market, before moving to a unit in Metrolands’ then new shopping precinct [today’s Ladysmith Shopping Centre]. Stalybridge’s was a modern showroom on three floors next door to a branch of the Trustee’s Savings Bank (now Lloyds TSB), after moving from Thorn House, Waterloo Road. The ground floor is occupied by Quality Save.
O is for Our Price:
A one time rival to Virgin and HMV. Our Price grew in the 1980s by having a slightly more specialist range of records compared with mainstream retailers such as Boots and Woolworths. It was second to the latter stores in sales of popular music. 1986 saw the company acquired by WHSmith, and consolidation of their Sound FX music shops into the Our Price banner.
However, it was a resurgent HMV which saw to that. Acquisition by Virgin saw the name eroded with ‘V Shop’ adopted for former Our Price stores. Then Virgin left the scene, became Zavvi and entered administration, swallowed up by… HMV, whom in recent times have had their fair share of problems. The name ‘Our Price’ was sold to Entertainment Direct. Instead of shops, the name is used for a charitable division, offering signed records and film stills for charity auctions.
P is for Presto:
One of the main chains of the Argyll Foods conglomerate. Launched in 1977 as part of Allied Suppliers, it already had great brand recognition in the North East of England and Scotland with the name derived from ‘Prestonpans’ prior to James Gulliver’s acquisition. In 1987, Argyll Foods acquired the UK arm of Safeway Stores from its American parent with some stores becoming Safeways between 1987 and 1988. The Presto name continued until 1996, fully integrated as Safeway, prior to Morrisons’ takeover in 2004.
Ashton-under-Lyne’s Presto store opened in 1981, on the ground floor of Tameside MBC’s offices. Car parking on Camp Street was shared with the supermarket chain on opening. At the entrance on the open market side, there was a café. In 1988, it became a Safeway before closing in 1992. September 1992 saw the unit taken over by Wilkinson, with the café continuing till 1994.
Q is for Queensway:
The furniture store chain formed in Norwich by Anthony Parish in 1967. Their stores, accompanied by aggressive TV advertising, popularised out-of-town shopping. Philip Harris took over from Parish, following the founder’s ill health and ran the business from 1977. Following another sale in 1988, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1992 subsequently taken over by Allied Carpets. Their Rochdale store later became a MFI before they followed Queensway into the great retail park in the sky.
R is for Rediffusion:
The retail arm of Rediffusion formed a small but significant part of its business. Rediffusion’s shops offered a range of televisions for sale or rental. In some areas, it was the company’s cable service which formed the bulk of its sales, though their chain expanded into non-cable areas.
Their Rediffusion Cablevision service enabled subscribers to watch the main three channels, a community channel and listen to Radio One, by means of a wall mounted dimmer style switch. Ashton-under-Lyne’s branch was situated on Mercian Way on today’s Ladysmith Shopping Centre. Its shops were sold to Granada who kept the Rediffusion name for a year.
S is for Shoppers’ Paradise:
The cheaper version of Fine Fare. In the early 1980s, some of the town centre Fine Fares became Shoppers’ Paradise stores, stocking most of the Fine Fare Yellow Label brand items. The one in Ashton-under-Lyne was formerly Coopers’ supermarket prior to becoming a Fine Fare. Then it became a Shoppers’ Paradise store until 1984. The end of that year saw it become Tameside’s first McDonalds, and a well patronised one at that 28 years on.
T is for Toy and Hobby:
Toy and Hobby was a required destination among Children of the 1980s like myself. Toy and Hobby’s stores were brightly coloured inside with green rubber flooring and predated the invasion of Toys R Us by being a rather buzzy place, with high shelves full of Sylvanian Families and Lego Technic sets. My nearest one was in Oldham overlooking the Town Square Bus Station, assuming that guise till TJ Hughes occupied its former unit.
U is for UCP Tripe Shops:
A feature of many a Northern street, United Cattle Products’ shops and restaurants offered its shoppers a nutritious and low calorie food derived from a cow’s stomach. Towards the 1950s, some of its restaurants had an exterior inspired by Art Deco architecture. The Manchester one on Market Street (opposite the Arndale Centre) was a modernist structure which became a Schuh store then latterly a temporary art gallery and was pretty striking in its day boasting four floors. East of the M60, there was also branches in Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham and Hyde among UCP’s 146 shops.
Tripe was bleached prior to sale in two bases, with the main one in Levenshulme. Their second base was Arnold and Hough’s in Ashton-under-Lyne. Today, this forms part of Grampian Foods’ processing plant, hitherto Dalehead Foods and Dixons.
V is for Virgin Megastores:
In the early 1980s, a Virgin Megastore would often be a dependable source for finding more far out records than the usual chart stuff. In the 1990s, they expanded, covering provincial areas, taking Our Price with them off WHSmith and went global. By 2007, they ceded control of its UK and Ireland stores, with a management buy out, under the name of Zavvi. The following year saw Zavvi’s demise, owing to problems with their distributor Entertainment UK (which was also a factor of Woolworths’ demise). Their smaller stores were closed with the former Virgin Megastores remaining open as branches of HMV.
W is for Woolworths:
It is hard to imagine a shopping street without a Woolworths store these days, following the demise of its bricks and mortar business. In our area east of the M60 motorway, they had a sizeable presence with smaller branches in Shaw, Stalybridge (till 1974), Hyde and Glossop as well as in our major town centres. The main depot too was East of the M60 in Castleton, next door to the Dunlop factory off Sudden roundabout.
F.W. Woolworth did fixed price retailing years before Poundland did. In the 1960s, it became synonymous with the Embassy Records label where soundalike musicians would sing the latest hits of the day. In the 1970s, the purchase of the Ladybird label saw it corner the market in children’s clothing. By the 1980s, bargain basement video films (for the price of a blank cassette) and pick ‘n’ mix consolidated its position.
By 2008, its uniqueness was eroded by superstore chains doing what Woolworths did for years, though only better. Therefore, the convenience of free parking offered by its imitators saw to its demise – even though Woolworths did have a dalliance with out of town retailing through its Woolco stores and The Big W. Today, Woolworths only exists as an online retailer. Ashton-under-Lyne’s branch in The Arcades (opened October 1994) remains partially empty with only the ground floor occupied by Poundland. B&M Bargains has the Rochdale store, with Poundstretcher taking over Hyde’s branch. Oldham’s is now Sports Direct.
X is for Xception:
A bargain basement store chain in the Mark One/What Everyone Wants mould. Manchester’s branch was seen in the northern section of the Arndale Centre prior to refurbishment. It subsequently became a Poundland after lasting barely more than a year. Previous occupants included Parker and Franks, another discounter.
Y is for Your Home Stores:
A small regional chain based around Greater Manchester, selling discounted crockery. Most items were either overstocks or slight seconds. The Ashton-under-Lyne store was on Mercian Way, opposite Timpsons’ key cutting shop.
Z is for Zodiac Toys:
A rival to Toy and Hobby which expanded through acquisition. Owned by the Maynards group (of their wine gums and loose moose ad fame), most of its units were located in new purpose built shopping centres with the same High Shelves and Pester Power friendly layout. East of the M60 motorway, there were branches in Rochdale and Stockport. Manchester’s was situated in the Arndale Centre. The Zodiac Toys business collapsed in 1990.
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Spent up? Able to delve deeper into our lost precinct?
If you have any recollections of working for any of the 26 retailers, or shopping in any of them, feel free to comment away. As usual, feel free to add some more to our list.
S.V., 18 May 2012.
Updated on the 17 March 2017.