Remembering Littlewoods Stores

Plymouth 2000 - Copy

Littlewoods fascia, Plymouth, 2000.

For much of the 20th century, the Moores family operated a number of highly profitable businesses under the ‘Littlewoods’ name, including football pools and mail-order catalogues. The most visible aspect of their lucrative empire, however, was the chain of Littlewoods high street stores. Architecturally, few of these buildings were as handsome as the stores of rivals such as Marks & Spencer, C&A, or even British Home Stores. Commercially, they never inspired the same affection as Woolworth. Yet Littlewoods was strong presence in British shopping centres for a good 65 years, and its closure in 2002 seemed to mark the passing of a retail era.

Littlewoods Pools was founded by John Moores (1896-1993; knighted 1980) in Liverpool in 1923. The business adopted the name of one of Moores’ original partners, Colin Henry Littlewood. In 1932 it expanded to include mail-order retailing, organised through local clubs. The subsidiary Littlewoods Mail Order Stores Ltd was formed in 1937, and the first outlet opened on Waterloo Road in Blackpool.

Littlewoods stores were similar to British Home Stores (BHS), selling a variety of low-cost (3d. to 2s. 11d.) clothing and household goods. Blackpool was followed by a number of other prime locations, including Oxford Street in central London, Brixton, Birmingham and Manchester. Littlewoods – like Woolworth – seems to have specifically targeted popular seaside towns, including Morecambe and Ramsgate as well as Blackpool.

Morecambe (1)

The former Littlewoods in Morecambe, photographed in 2002. c.R. Baxter

By 1939 there were 24 stores. A number of these were purpose-built for Littlewoods to designs by J. S. Quilter & Son. John Salmon Quilter (1841-1907) was, in fact, long dead, but his architectural practice had been continued by his son Cecil Molyneux Quilter (1879-1951). Quilter specialised in commercial architecture, notably public houses. He designed a new Blackpool store for Littlewoods, on the corner of Church Street and Corporation Street, which was faced in Empire stone. He also designed a store in Chester, and may have been responsible for the one in Morecambe. This faience-clad art deco building is the best surviving example of a pre-war Littlewoods store – indeed, it may be the best surviving Littlewoods of all time – even preserving ‘diamond L’ motifs on the entrance lobby floors. These clearly copied Woolworth’s ‘diamond W’.

Morecambe corrected

Lobby floor, Morecambe, in 2002. c.R. Baxter

Food departments were introduced into Littlewoods stores after the war, and as soon as it became feasible the company resumed its expansion policy. By 1956 there were 55 stores plus 12 ‘Jemima Shops’, specialising in blouses and lingerie.

Hull 2000

Hull in 2000

Annual reports were published at length in the national press from the mid-1950s through to the mid-1960s, providing details of Littlewoods’ development programme at that time. In 1956, for example, new stores opened in Banbury, Torquay, Islington, Lancaster, Crawley, Dumbarton and – actually a rebuild – Watford. The company maintained: ‘we retain the services of one of the leading designers to make sure that our stores are not only gay and attractive but efficient places in which to do the household shopping. In addition, we are always studying store practice in America and on the Continent, and are always ready to introduce new ideas if we believe that they will give our customer better service’ (quoted from The Times, 16 May 1956, 22). Unfortunately, the ‘leading designers’ were not identified.


Former Littlewoods building on Oxford Street, London, in 1999

Shrewbury jlp01_08_066410 - smaller

The Shrewsbury store under construction. c. Historic England, John Laing Collection

After Quilter’s death, Littlewoods seems to have depended on its in-house architects. By the early 1960s the company was experimenting with curtain walling, notably on Oxford Street, London, where a new building designed by in-house architect D. M. C. Roddick (with consulting engineer Septimus Willis) opened on 15 March 1962. The store occupied the lower floors, while the upper-floor offices were offered to let. The white-on-blue Littlewoods lettering on the fascia was in the blocky ‘Egyptian’ fashion of the time. In other cities, where lettable office space played no part in schemes, the company’s preference was for minimal windows – reduced to thin horizontal strips or, by the end of the 1960s, done away with altogether. Regardless of façade treatment, stores had steel frames – as can be seen in a John Laing photograph showing the Shrewsbury store under construction in 1964. Tragically, a labourer was killed by falling concrete floor slab during the construction of this building.

Bristol 1999

Bristol in 1999

Plymouth 2000

Plymouth in 2000.


Plymouth in 2016

As Littlewoods’ taste for blind façades – plain, textured or panelled – implies, sales floors relied heavily on artificial lighting and ventilation. Readily-available evidence for interiors is sparse but the up-to-date restaurant in the Stockton-on-Tees store of 1959 served to illustrate press advertisements for ‘Pel’ tubular steel furniture for a number of years. New store openings in 1960 included Basildon, Kirby, Oldham and the Glasgow ‘superstore’, regarded as ‘one of the largest single-floor chain stores in the country’.

Leicester 1 - Copy

Littlewoods, Leicester, in the mid-1970s

Stevenage 1998 (2)

Stevenage in 1998.

By 1965 the number of Littlewoods stores had risen to 70, and by 1984 to 108. Significant developments in this period included Leicester (1968), Gloucester (1968), Wolverhampton (Wulfrun Centre, 1969), Watford (extension 1970), Bath (Southgate Centre, 1972), Glasgow (extension to Argyle Street, enlarging store to 90,000 sq.ft.), Exeter (1973), Bradford (1976; 75,000 sq.ft.) and Peterborough (Queensway Centre, 1982). By the mid-1980s, Littlewoods was moving from town centres to out-of-town shopping centres. Moores’ long-term aim, to establish a chain of 120 Littlewoods stores, was achieved by 1990.

Lincoln 2000

Lincoln in 2000.

At the age of 81 Sir John Moores stepped down as Chairman in 1977. His son Peter took over briefly, but Sir John resumed control between 1980 and 1982. The main initiative of the later 1980s was Index Catalogue Stores. In 2005, when this loss-making chain folded, there were 66 freestanding shops and 93 inside Littlewoods stores. 33 shops were sold to rival catalogue retailer Argos.

Family disagreements about business strategy in the wake of the founder’s death in 1993 prompted unsuccessful takeover bids for the company. The outcome was a complete separation of ownership from day-to-day management, which was placed in the hands of a new Chairman, James Ross, and Chief Executive, Barry Gibson. Events in the late 1990s seem to highlight the absence of a consistent strategy. First of all, in 1997 a planned expansion programme was abandoned in order to develop the home shopping division. Then a deal to sell all 135 stores to Kingfisher fell through, but 19 large stores were sold to Marks & Spencer for £200 million. According to some commentators, this marked the start of Marks & Spencer’s much-publicised troubles. In 1999 Littlewoods began to (retail-speak alert!) update the store environment of 35 premises in the first phase of a £120 million investment programme which would affect every store (now numbering 112) within three years.

Hereford 2000 (1)

Hereford in 2000.

Meanwhile the introduction of the National Lottery in 1994 had thoroughly undermined the pools business, which was sold for £161.8 million – a fraction of its pre-Lottery value – in 2000.

When the decision was taken by the Moores family to sell all remaining 119 Littlewoods stores in 2002, they initially intended to retain the more profitable home shopping operation with its successful website. However, they accepted an offer of £750 million for the entire enterprise from the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Ritz Hotel, the Scotsman newspaper and numerous other businesses. Subsequently the stores closed – many were sold to Primark – and the Littlewoods name vanished from the high street after 65 years. Littlewoods home shopping is now part of the Barclays’ Shop Direct Group, a business initially formed through the merger of Littlewoods and Kays Catalogues and later joined (until 2015) by Woolworths.

This entry was posted in Littlewoods. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Remembering Littlewoods Stores

  1. Pingback: Art Deco & Art Nouveau Trail in Morecambe & Heysham. Twenty buildings Blog | Lake District Malarkey

  2. Zoe says:

    Memories especially seeing the Hitchens name once again! Thank you. Worked at Littlewoods store in Chapel Market Islington London N1 in the early 1980’s and it closed then Hitchens took over to sell remaining stock. Got redundancy money twice too… Those were the days when markets were markets. Cant replicate those sounds or atmosphere in shopping cities like Westfield!


  3. David N Parkinson says:

    Do you know who would have the Archive of the Littlewoods Group as i am researching some areas of land on which the Littlewoods store occupied and the extension built to the side and back of the original store.



  4. Les says:

    The photo of the Shrewsbury store in construction has the Lovatt sign on the scaffolding, John Laing constructed the adjoining Woolworth building


    • Hi Les. That’s correct. The photo comes from the fabulous John Laing Collection in the Historic England Archive (based in Swindon). The Laing Collection is a little-known source of wonderful images for anyone working on 1960s buildings. I used quite a few in my book about Woolworths.


  5. Stewart says:

    I worked in the Leicester store from 1984 to 1989 for most of that in The Foodhall managed by Mrs Taylor. I loved working here but deteriating health bought an end to my time here, which was a really happy time. Sadly after I left I saw the foodhall replaced by iceland which did’nt last long and The Restraunt saw its management transfered to a outsde company. The Store in Leicester became very out dated and shabby, in 2005 it closed down.


    • steven rees says:

      remember littlewoods leicester 1980’s was a teenager then great cafe and balcony am i right in thinking the food products were labeled “keynote” as this seemed a trend at the time like st michael winfield and so on?
      thankyou stewart


  6. Dolly Knockers says:

    I worked for Littlewoods for a number of years in the late 70’s/early 80’s, initially as a “Saturday boy” and later as a Display Dresser, full time. I was based in Hounslow store (103) and travelled to Kingston and Reading stores and then based at Hammersmith store and travelled to Brixton and Islington stores and when required supported West End and Marble Arch. I finished my time with the company based at Slough store and covered Harrow.

    Each store had its own personality but my favourite was probably Brixton. The store was being run down long before the Brixton Riots and the area that had been the food hall had been set aside to act as a clearance area for catalogue stock or stock brought in from other stores at the end of the season.

    The store had previously been a cinema and also acted as a music hall. The stores ground floor was sloped due to the rake of the stalls and the first floor, which housed the display room, cash office, staff canteen etc was on several levels which corresponded with the rake of the circle or balcony.

    After the riots it was decided that the window displays would be removed. I had to gather all the display equipment to be collected and redistributed to other stores. The third floor, which I had never been to before, had been used for storage and I had to collect a few old mannequins from there. As I went up the stairs I saw a framed menu on the wall from when the third floor had operated a restaurant or tea room……I wish I’d had the nerve to pinch it at the time!

    Does anyone have any more information about any of the stores I have mentioned above?


  7. KMT says:

    Hello to the Team at Building Our Past – A fantastic article about the Littlewoods’ Stores and how they came about. I wonder if either yourselves or anyone out there have any more information on the Littlewoods Store in Oxford Street.

    The reason why I’m asking – this year my parents-in-law will be celebrating their 60th Wedding Anniversary. They met in 1958 on a Young Ramblers Walk. My father-in-law knew that my mother-in-law worked behind the counters of Littlewoods in Oxford Street and sought her out where she worked. The rest is history!

    I’m getting together a memory box and was wondering if you might have come across anything else for the Littlewoods’ Store in Oxford Street. Old pictures of the store inside and out would be much appreciated. Or description of the style of the store etc.


    • Mervyn Porter, says:

      I was the assistant manager at the Oxford St Store ,from Sept 1958 to April 1959.
      The Store Manager was Chris Godding,and the area
      Superintendent was Mr Vivienne Hearne. There was a Trainee Manager , Mr Crouch,and a tall man called Ian ( a Scotsman) he ran the souvenir shop next to the store. The only sales girl i remember,
      was a Miss Green who was known as Buzz Green because of her hair style. I can visualise other members of staff,but afraid I can’t put names to them.
      Prior to my move to Oxford St, . I was assistant manager at the Islington Branch..sorry I can’t be of any further help. But I hope that you manage to get more info.


      • Andrew B says:

        When I worked at Hammersmith Store, in 1980/81, as a Display Dresser I had to travel to Brixton store and Islington Store. Islington store had no display to speak of as the windows had been incorporated into the sales floor and by 1981 it had become a clearance store for catalogue goods and end of range lines from other stores. The thing that was unique about this store then was that it traded seven days a week. Because there was a market in the street, Chapel Market, on the Sunday, the store was allowed to open and trade. At the time it seemed very strange……how times have changed!


  8. John E Southerst says:

    i worked in the Ramsgate store in 1959 when the Hennessy pub was next door which eventually burned down…What a great place that was! A man named Mr. Worrall was the manager of Littlewoods and a Mrs. Dabin the Assistant manager.Started working in the stockroom before graduating to the sales floor. First experience in retail – learned a lot. Quit in 1960 and emigrated to British Columbia….best move I ever made!


  9. Robert Connolly says:

    I worked I the Birmingham store from 1982 to 1990. During my time I saw many changes to the layout of the store – particularly the introduction of Point Of Sale (POS) tills and ‘soft walkways’ within the departments. This was later adopted by all other leading department stores. I vividly remember that the store was closed for 2 weeks in early 1984 for a total refurbishment and this saw the introduction of the orange signage, orange tiled walkways, beige carpets and more upmarket merchandise.

    I briefly met Sir John Moores during a visit he made to the store in 1982. He had another relative, Lady Granchester, who also visited the store – I can’t remember now how she was related to him, but we all thought that she was a dead ringer for Margaret Thatcher!.

    I have fond memories of the people who worked in this store during the time I was there. I worked my way up from Sales Assistant in food to Department Manager in menswear – I was ‘made up’ as it was referred to at the time. I remember that the senior staff had their own table in the canteen
    (it was all very Are You Being Served). Also, when I first started work there I could not get over the amount of stairs involved when going from the sales floor to the canteen. One of 1960s state-of the-art features of the store was that it had a staff car park on the roof which was accessed by a car lift.

    I have many good memories of working there – particularly the social aspects and I even played for the store football team for a short while. Oh, and not forgetting, Littlewoods sponsored The Milk Cup ( AKA The Littlewoods Cup) this was during the late 1980s and 1990s.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Peter Bond says:

    Very interesting history of Littlewoods. I was hired as a junior trainee in 1960 and sent to Portsmouth. I was 18 and paid six pounds a week! Posted to Gosport, then Crawley, Slough, Brixton, Birmingham 11, Liverpool and brad new store Shrewsbury in 1960 as assistant manager at age 22. I wonder what happened to all the floormen and trainees I knew? I left LW is 1965 to go to the USA where I still am today. Send News if you have it. Peter Bond at


  11. laura gillies says:

    my mother worked as a security officer in the Edinburgh Littlewoods shop In Princes Street around the late 1960’s and i would love to hear from anyone she worked with who remembers her.


  12. laura gillies says:

    my mother worked as a security officer in the Edinburgh Littlewoods shop In Princes Street around the late 1960’s and i would love to hear from anyone she worked with who remembers her.


  13. terry says:

    I worked on the building of chesterfield shop for almost 2 years as a bonus surveyor, does anyone remember me


  14. 1987 says:

    I used to remember going to the branch in Woolwich in the 90s as a child.
    Does anyone have any pictures of the inside / restaurant?
    Would be great to see it.


  15. DAVID TEBBUTT says:

    I joined Littlewoods as Management Trainee in Manchester 9 in 1963 and progressed through Oxford St.3, Bedminster 36, Gillingham 19, Morecambe 18, Glasgow 27 to become Store Manager in Ellesmere Port 67 (1967-71), Inverness 90 (1971-74) and Derby 4 (1974-76) before transferring to Head Office, Old Hall St., (1976-82). I met many wonderful people and had some hilarious experiences.
    I would welcome any news from contemporaries in these locations. I am now retired and living in the Cotswolds.


  16. Louise Larkin says:

    Hi David
    I would like to discuss your time at the Ellesmere Port in particular. Could you please contact me for a chat? I hope to hear from you soon. Louise


    • DAVID TEBBUTT says:

      Hello, Louise – thanks for your post. I am happy to give full details of my time as Manager of the Ellesmere Port branch of Liitlwwods from Sept 1967 to February 1971. Do you know the Ellesmere Port store?


  17. John Thomlinson says:

    I lived in Erdington, Birmingham for several years and we had a Littlewoods Store on the High Street in the village. I actually bought a striped jumper from the store around 1979-80’s and I am still wearing it at home on a chilly night. I can’t remember the price of it but I wonder if this is a length-of-service record?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s