Gransnet forums


LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 26-May-16 11:54:19

The wonder of Woolies

Elaine Everest remembers her Saturday job at Woolworths - the first step on her way to being an adult - with fondness. Did you have a Saturday job?

Elaine Everest

The wonder of Woolies

Posted on: Thu 26-May-16 11:54:19


Lead photo

Did you have a Saturday job?

Mention Woolworths and people often reply, 'Pick n Mix' but for me it is early mornings catching a train to my first job, and Saturdays spent dusting plastic buckets and toilet rolls.

I was a Saturday girl at a branch of Woolies in Dartford, Kent. Back in the late sixties, schoolgirls could not start work until they were fifteen years and three months of age.

I was thrilled to be recommended to apply for a Saturday job by our assistant head teacher and sailed though the interview with 100% in the arithmetic test. The reason for the test was that in 1969 Woolworths tills did not add up purchases. Instead staff had to use a notepad and pencil that were attached to the waistband of our overalls by a piece of string. Once customers had selected their purchases we would carefully add up the items and ask the customer for the money. When a note was proffered we would have to hold it high over our head and call out, 'ten shillings' or 'one pound' before counting the correct change into the customers hand. Goods purchased would be wrapped in brown paper bags and with a ready smile we'd thank the customer.

Our day was ruled by bells. The early shop openings; tea breaks; lunch hour; and end of the trading day would be heralded by bells. Staff religiously worked their day by the sound.

We were never allowed to be idle, so when customers were few and far between we had to use a feather duster and dust the products on the high mahogany counters. For me that meant dusting orange buckets and washing up bowls along with boxes of toilet paper – the kind children used as tracing paper. To this day I can smell that paper!

Our day was ruled by bells. The early shop openings; tea breaks; lunch hour; and end of the trading day would be heralded by bells. Staff religiously worked their day by the sound.

A special time for me was collecting my brown pay packet at the end of the day. I earned one pound and had thruppence (old money) deducted for my National Insurance stamp. This money replaced my pocket money. Coming from a working class family and wanting to not only 'stay on a year' at school but planning to head to college to study accounts, I had to help pay my way.

In the late sixties our fathers would tax allowance when children reached the age of sixteen and children were not allowed to be idle. It was expected that we worked on Saturdays and also in school holidays. 'Working the week' was quite an honour and would mean we were just over five pounds better off after working hard for five and a half days.

Oh what those few shilling could be spent on each week. I was encouraged to save but would also spend money on fabric and patterns to make the latest fashions and also put money by at a local boutique for a maxi coat. How I loved that long brown tweed coat and wore it proudly with a purple floppy brimmed hat and long hand-knitted scarf. I was certainly the 'bees knees' in my trendy gear!

For me, Woolworths meant a step into adulthood and being a grown up.

Elaine's new book, The Woolworths Girls, is published by Pan Macmillan and is available from Amazon.

By Elaine Everest

Twitter: @ElaineEverest

Stansgran Thu 26-May-16 12:34:42

I still miss Woolies

Indinana Thu 26-May-16 13:06:23

I worked as a 'Saturday girl' in Woolworths in 1966. I earned £1 a day - riches indeed. I worked on the lingerie counter , which sold items that were nothing short of hilarious to a 16 year old - huge cotton bloomers, men's long johns, complete with button fly, brassieres like hammocks in germoline pink cotton.
I do remember having to hold up and call out when 10/- and £1 notes were given in payment, but I don't recall wearing a notepad and pencil dangling from my waistband. I think we had notepads next to each till.
And oh yes, I remember the bells for tea and lunch breaks! I can still remember going up the back stairs to the staff canteen - long trestle tables and benches full of laughing girls, happy to be released for a few glorious minutes. Some of them would just have a cuppa and a cigarette, because there wasn't time to eat and smoke if it was just a tea break. And yes, smoking was allowed in the canteen - the tables had little stamped tin ashtrays along their length!
I think we had to wear a uniform, but can't remember clearly - I have a vague recollection of a pale green overall, like a dress, buttoned up at the front. Anyone else remember them?

Kittye Thu 26-May-16 16:57:04

indi the "germoline pink" brassiere made my laugh! Indeed they were exactly that colour grin

Auntieflo Thu 26-May-16 20:34:37

I'm sure I remember the metal containers, set at an angle, with biscuits in them. Dad used to like the broken ones, as you got quite a lot.

Maggie725 Thu 26-May-16 22:57:43

I also did a Saturday job in Woolworths. I started on the electric counter, with another girl and an older lady.
Trouble was, the light bulbs were shining hot just above my head - so on the way home on the bus I had a terrific nosebleed. The bus conductress was sympathetic, and gave me her hanky. I also went on the sweets counter. to make a bit of money to go on holiday with schoolfriends, and the parents of 1 of them.

Kiley7 Fri 27-May-16 06:40:35

I also worked at Woolworths as a Sat girl, stacking shelves in Stamford Linconshire, my first step to Independance at age 15

Flossieturner Fri 27-May-16 07:19:49

There was nowhere as wonderful as Woollies. Every night when we came out of school we would wander around, looking at the make-up, the sweets and the biscuits.

I loved the exotic and glamorous soap counters. Cussons talcum powder and bath cubes, Imperial Leather soap. At Christmas they had 3 soaps in a box carved into the shape of flowers. I bought them for my mum but they were too nice to wash with. So stayed in their box on the shelf.

Christmas was the best time of all, looking at toys the chocolates and decorations. Such happy memories.

Jenty61 Fri 27-May-16 07:27:16

I worked in woolies in the early 60s in Worthing...worked on the soap counter for a while then onto the ice cream/ drinks the summer at lunch times we used to sit on the roof and sun bathe..( no helth and safety then lol)

cornergran Fri 27-May-16 07:56:52

Also a Saturday girl in Woolies. Biscuits first, including weighing out what felt like tons of those broken ones, then haberdashery. Goodness knows why I was moved there as all that measuring terrified me. I spent a long while literally counting buttons. I remember it being hard work and very scary as I was far from confident. Looking back I'm proud I did it, good lessons for life were learned and my confidence grew with encouragement from the very kind staff. I was enjoying by the time I left to work full time.

annsixty Fri 27-May-16 08:42:48

The girl who later became my SiL was a part time Woolies girl and I vaguely remember a tie in with a Norman Wisdom film called Trouble in Store. All the girls at her branch had photographs taken,all made up and standing behind a faked up counter, and when the film was shown the photographs were all displayed in the foyer of the cinema. This would have been in the 50's.
For myself I loved Woolworths and must have spent countless hours wandering the aisles. I was very sad when they closed and the local TV news showed the staff leaving for the last time,most of them in tears,it was very poignant.

suebrocklehurst Fri 27-May-16 09:39:54

I started as a Saturday girl in Woollies in Maidstone in 1971 aged 15. From a working class background, I had never known such riches as my pay at the end of the day! I remember working on the deli and cheese area. I think they put me there because I was good at Maths and could estimate 6oz of cheddar cheese! It was such a good experience and that first taste of independence which whetted my appetite for more!

Daddima Fri 27-May-16 10:10:16

I worked in a local drapery in 1967, and was paid 12/6. The other "Saturday girl" and I were always hoping Woolie's would be recruiting, as they paid 15/- !

jillyco Fri 27-May-16 10:15:43

I was a British Home Stores Saturday girl in 1971 when decimal currency was introduced and earned £1.50, I think. I too still remember the brown pay packets and also having to have my lunch break at 11.30 am. It made the afternoon seem very long!

spallam Fri 27-May-16 10:19:23

I was a 'Saturday girl' at Timothy Whites the chemist and I earned £1 per week plus discount off purchases. I loved it! It eventually became a 'Boots' chemist and by then I also did stand ins for staff holidays during the summer holidays. One of my best friends came to work there as well, so we really enjoyed it. Coffee breaks were spent going to the baker's opposite to get a warm sausage roll, which kept us going until lunch. Happy days!

kathyd Fri 27-May-16 10:45:01

I was a Saturday girl on sweets and received 10/-. The head teacher of my school was a snob and very disapproving.
She asked me if I couldn't have applied to Boots or House of Fraser saying, 'A grammar school girl shouldn't be working in Woolworths!' Needless to say, I took no notice and enjoyed my time at Woolies and picking up my little brown envelope at the end of the day.

GrandmaValerie Fri 27-May-16 10:46:58

Saturday girl and holiday extra at a small Woolworths in Hornchurch, Essex - pretty sure I started at 14 in the early 1960's (anyone else out there work in the same place?) but might be wrong. The first day my feet were red hot pain after standing all day, but the 13/11d in its little brown packet was riches. I used to cycle about 4 miles there early Saturday morning, then back at night, and still go out to various things in the evening. We could buy a good cooked lunch at those long tables in the upstairs canteen.

Like the others I remember having to add up purchases, but unlike them this could be my downfall on certain departments, and I was looked on with scorn on the screws, chain, nails other small bits of hardware counter when as a grammar school girl I had to ask for help with things like 17 items at a penny three farthings each. However, the fulltimers were kind girls in the main and sorted me out.

In younger years I bought lovely printed runners and chairbacks, with the embroidery silk, to make gifts for my grandmothers - do you remember the good value haberdashery counters? Still miss Woolies, but the old style stores with counters and assistants style.

Anan Fri 27-May-16 10:52:08

I started as a Saturday girl at Woollies in Leeds in the late 50's. I was on the hair counter and remember carefully taking the delicate hairnets off their round cardboard holder. I loved the independence and the brown envelope at the end of the day. I seem to remember I earned about 9 shillings and sixpence. I remember feeling irritated that the Saturday boys earned considerably more. Also we had to queue up each break to collect our purses which left very little time for a break as we also had to queue up to give in our purses at the end of the break. We also had our bags searched when we left at the end of the day.
I left and immediately got a Saturday job at a small independent book shop. I loved it there. We had the first consignment of the "lady Chatterley" Penguin editions just after the ban was lifted. I remember piles of them on the floor and streams of customers buying them. One woman asked me if we had a copy of "that Lady Chatterbox's lover" Yes Happy days!

youngagain Fri 27-May-16 11:08:31

I had a Saturday job in Woolworths in Bridgend, Mid-Glamorgan (as it was then). I remember we had to be 15 years and 3 months old before we could be considered for a job. Our pay for the Saturday was 19 shillings and 3 pence, but the 3 pence was deducted for the insurance stamp. I worked on various counters, biscuits, toys and even on the side counters of the store which contained groceries. The manager came up to my counter one day and said 'I want you'. Oh no, now what have I done!! 'Yes, sir?' 'Have you tried your GCE Maths exam yet?' 'Yes, sir, our class did the maths exam a year earlier than usual.' 'Did you pass it?' 'Yes, sir.' 'Then would you be interested in working in the office? 'Yes, sir. Thank you sir.' My job in the office was to count the cash and balance it with the individual tills in the store. I used to go around emptying the tills and then taking the money back to the office and making sure the tills and money balanced. On a couple of occasions I had to go to a till and count the money there and then: e.g. if a customer said they had given the assistant a £10 note but the assistant thought it was a £5 note then the money was checked to see if an error had been made. 19 shillings seemed quite a lot then but would be 95p in todays money. I do miss those days! smile

Nanjoy Fri 27-May-16 11:24:42

Like many I had a Saturday job at woolies in Coventry city center in the mid 60's I worked on the butter counter, very busy but the experience gained was well worth it, mental arithmetic no calculators back then.. A £1.00 for a Saturday a lot of money in those days and my spending money stopped at home.
I recall one Saturday an older lady who I served said your hair will never turn grey with auburn hair, oh how I wish I could tell his wrong she was.
The yellow nylon belted overalls I remember very well, asking colleagues to check change when given a pound note and on the odd occasion a fiver. Those were the days, "the wonder of woollies". Oh how I miss the store.

missdeke Fri 27-May-16 12:25:50

I worked at Woollies in Leyton on Saturdays in 1963, pay was 18/- less 3d for NI. I was on the Easter Egg counter and we were allowed to eat the broken ones, I also did the pick n mix counter and loved those cheapo choc buttons with 100s and 1000s on them. We could buy lunch for 9d in the canteen; we had to add up all the purchases in our heads-there were no notebooks for us!
At Christmas we were given overtime after school for a few hours, the extra money came in handy for presents, and I was on the Christmas card counter so really busy. I mourned the day Woollies died sad.

clifford111 Fri 27-May-16 13:37:50

my saturday job was working on the dodgems at belle vue and occasionally working in the kitchens at belle vue

WooliesGirl Fri 27-May-16 13:53:19

Such wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing and I hope you enjoy reading The Woolworths Girls xx

hildajenniJ Fri 27-May-16 14:24:01

I worked in Woolworths in Carlisle from 1968-69. When I started there, the pay for us Saturday girls was 19/6d. After working there for a few months we had a pay rise and earned £1.01d. I loved working at Woolies and my regular counter was loose sweets. I did get moved around though, Bar lines was okay and I quite liked ice cream and roasted peanuts. I soon got the hang of putting the correct amount of ice cream into the cone. I didn't care for greetings cards, as you worked on them by yourself. I loathed having to work upstairs. Broken biscuits was awful. Our direct superior was an older lady called Miss Potts. I was rather afraid of her as she was stern and rather intimidating. She must have liked me though, as she recommended me for a full time position when the spring school term ended. I'm afraid I had higher aspirations though, and went off to Secretarial school, which I absolutely hated. I should have stayed at Woolworths.

Sheilasue Fri 27-May-16 14:57:47

Never had a Saturday job, left school at 15 and went straight into a full time job.My daughter did stayed on at school till she was 18 and had a couple of jobs one in Sainsburys as a cashier on a Wednesday and Saturday in primark