Rewind: Memories of Woolworth's on Hitchin High Street - amid tales of The Lavender Lady and Ghosts in the Pic n Mix

By Layth Yousif

30th Mar 2024 | Local News

Hitchin Nub News Rewind:

Welcome to Nub News' Rewind series where we feature a nostalgia piece.

For this Easter weekend we're asking: Who remembers 'Woollies' in Hitchin?

Woolworth's in Hitchin High Street

In case you're not familiar with the name, we are of course referring to Woolworth's, a much-loved national institution that used to be on every high street up and down the land, including Hitchin.

For those of us of a certain vintage, who can forget the store which contained everything you could ever want - or need.

A one-stop cornucopia

A one-stop cornucopia for the colourful and mesmerising Pic 'n' Mix sweets on offer, not to mention the latest music releases, including vinyl records - as well as covering all your stationery needs and clothes, toys, fancy dress outfits, kitchen equipment and even ironing boards.

No wonder so many of us mourned its passing in 2008 in our town.

Woolworth's history

The business was initially founded by Frank Winfield Woolworth and named the FW Woolworth Company, in Utica, New York, in February 1878.

Despite the first store not being a success, the persistent Woolworth opened a new store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in July 1879.

This time they were to revolutionise shopping and Main Street as the American's called their High Street.

Frank and his brother Charles saw their brand grow massively across the world after pioneering the 'five-and-dime' concept in becoming one of the largest retailers in the 20th century.

'Woolies' on Hitchin High Street

Woolworth's opened in Hitchin in 1931 at No7 High Street which was the site of part of The Cock Hotel.

This site was demolished in order to build a purpose-built store in the renowned Woolworths style featuring bays and a central area.

Woolworth's traded for 34 years before moving a few shops along to a bigger site that would fit its needs better.

In 1965 Woolworth's moved into No9 and No10 in Hitchin High Street - which had been the site of Perks & Llewellyn, the lavender growers, since 1823 after the company had grown and distilled lavender in Hitchin from the 1790s.

And on that site the store traded until 2008.

Woolworth's: The endgame

However, nothing lasts forever, and with the advent of online shopping and changes to the fabric of High Street's up and down the country, including Hitchin, our town's store finally closed in December 2008.

On your next trip to Hitchin Town centre take a close look at the shops on our High Street for you can still the original Woolworth's building - which is now Boots the Chemist.

While you're there why not take a look at the site of their store until 2008. You may recall it was divided into two in 2011, and became Poundland and Peacocks.

The Peacocks store closed down with the site now playing host to M&Co, while Poundland shut during the pandemic.

Ghosts

But that's not the end of the story. Not if you believe in ghosts and ghouls.

Because according to some, spirits patrolled the aisles of the Woolworths site - and perhaps still do.

Ghosts in the Pic and Mix...

According to the book 'Hitchin Through The Years', many members of staff and the public reported a very strong smell of lavender in the store.

As we all know, our area is renowned for lavender, with Perks & Llewellyn highly-acclaimed in their time. Of course, nowadays, you can visit fields of fresh lavender, at Hitchin Lavender.

However, there were also reports of a woman dressed in Victorian clothes mounting a non-existent staircase in the store.

Research established that there had been a staircase in the same place in Perk's & Llewellyn store during the 19th century - leading some to name the spirit 'The Lavender Lady'.

It was also alleged that two ladies in old fashioned clothes were seen to walk around the shop, including the Pic n Mix aisle, while the public did their shopping.

Ring ring...

A previous manager of the store shared a strange experience.

She was the last to leave and locked up and empty store. Later that night her phone rang.

When she answered there was nobody on the line, but she discovered the call was from the Hitchin shop.

On returning to the High Street store to check, she found there was absolutely nobody there...

.............

PS: Did you know part of the Perks & Llewellyn chemist shop is now on display at the brilliant North Hertfordshire Museum in Brand Street, Hitchin. You'll find the display in the Living in North Hertfordshire Gallery upstairs.

The remainder of the Perks & Llewellyn chemist shop is still on display in the atmospheric 17th century barn at Hitchin Lavender, two miles north of Hitchin in the village of Ickleford

[H2]HITCHIN NUB NEWS REWIND SERIES[H2]

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Rewind: The terrible night the Nazi war machine bombed Hitchin

Rewind: The night Bob Marley and The Wailers played in Hitchin

Rewind: Hitchin's long-lost Regal Theatre on BBC concert featuring Fun Boy Three from 1983 - were you there

Rewind: Frank Young VC: 'We will remember them' - the story of Hitchin's Victoria Cross

Rewind: On International Women's Day read about courageous Hitchin Suffragette Elizabeth Impey

Rewind: The day the Graf Zeppelin flew over Hitchin Town's Top Field

Rewind The Hitchin Riots: A very Middle Class affair

Rewind: The story of a cannonball from the English Civil War found in Hitchin

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Rewind: On this day in 1813 Hitchin icon Henry Bessemer was born - find out more

Rewind: Saved from a skip - an evocative black and white photograph on Nightingale Road from early 1900s

     

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