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Mystery of Norwich Woolworths picture solved

PUBLISHED: 12:34 29 March 2011

Archant

With your help, the mystery of the ‘girls on the roof’ has been solved. Derek James reports.

They were the proud girls, plus a couple of chaps, from Woolworths prepared to do their bit for the war effort in Norwich at the start of the Second World War.

Mystery had surrounded this picture which turned up in a bundle of old postcards the other week, but we soon found out who they were.

Several people, including Joan Rix and Jean Harrison (Steward), got in touch to say how pleased they were to see the photograph featuring their colleagues from all those years ago.

They had assembled on the roof of the store in Rampant Horse Street – you can just see the Castle in the background – in their tin hats and rubber boots for the photographer.

Little did they realise that within a couple of years the landmark city centre store would be blown to bits, just after being rebuilt before the start of the war.

Those in the picture include the famous supervisor Dorothy Myhill along with Sylvia Gunn, Miss Munford, Peggy Sewell, Sylvia Dann, Eileen Alden and Doreen Plumstead. And one of the chaps is believed to be Derek Roper.

Poor old Woolies was one of the unluckiest city shops in the city during the year.

It had been due to reopen following a big extension for Christmas 1939, but war was declared.

Rather than abandon the project, workmen forged ahead, finding it almost impossible to get supplies, but it was finally reopened in September of 1940.

At the time, Woolworths was a leading player on the Norwich shopping scene, people loved it, and the fact that it opened during the war was an extraordinary achievement.

Then, in April of 1942, it was blown to pieces along with Curls (now Debenhams) opposite, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of the city.

Woolworths was finally rebuilt and it opened again in 1950, employing about 300 people. It offered a brave new world, which included weird and wonderful moving stairs.

And I’ll bet many of you remember that first floor cafeteria, a great meeting place for boys and girls.

And there was more to Woolies then pick ‘n’ mix. The shop sold an extraordinary range of goods.

It closed in 1988, causing an outcry. It moved round the corner to the old Sainbury’s site at St Stephen’s before heading to Riverside and then into oblivion.

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