1930s' shopping

PUBLISHED: 11:28 05 February 2009 | UPDATED: 13:54 06 May 2010

SIR, — The article (Herts Advertiser, January 8) reporting the closure of Woolworths in St Albans and also the letter from Mrs Elbourne, who worked at the store in 1948/52, highlights the career of the longest-serving employee, supervisor Lilian Ayton. I

SIR, - The article (Herts Advertiser, January 8) reporting the closure of Woolworths in St Albans and also the letter from Mrs Elbourne, who worked at the store in 1948/52, highlights the career of the longest-serving employee, supervisor Lilian Ayton.

I may be the oldest customer of the store, as I remember my father taking me up the town to the St Peter's Street shops most Saturday evenings when he first bought an Austin 10 car (registration JH 8293) in 1933. We used to park where the taxi rank is now situated or on St Peter's Street. We liked to walk around the market stalls but I always looked forward to visiting Woolworths as my father always bought the week's supply of sweets for our family. They were displayed loose in containers and one just asked the assistant behind the counter for a quarter or half pound of those selected. They were weighed up and tipped into a white paper bag and paid for across the counter, all of which had a separate cash register. Then we reached the toy counter and after looking at the selection displayed, I was usually bought a small toy made of tin, sometimes with a wind-up clockwork motor if it was a motor car or aeroplane, and often made in Germany or Japan. As the shop was full of customers, I had to hold on to my father's hand to avoid being separated, as I was only eight or nine years old. At that time, nothing cost more than sixpence and to be able to sell larger items, they were sold for sixpence each part.

I can remember Lilian Ayton from her early days as a counter assistant up to supervisor level. She served me many times and I can confirm that she was an excellent, caring and dedicated employee. No matter what day of the week, or what time of the day one entered the store, she was nearly always there, instructing staff to organise a display, or stacking shelves herself, as well as cashing customers out when other staff were not available. I watched over the years as three or four other long-serving supervisor employees retired but Lilian remained year after year.

I think it is unacceptable that such a loyal employee is made redundant at such short notice and due to the company's financial situation received no redundancy payment, particularly as she had given the company 40 years of continuous service and continued beyond the normal retirement age.

An article in the financial section of the Daily Mail dated January 20, 2009, reported that although the Woolworths retail shops had gone into administration, the DVD production company 2 entertain, where Woolworths have a 40 per cent stake, continues to trade, so why can they not pay a long-serving loyal employee some redundancy money? Perhaps someone may wish to donate a larger sum of money, such as a banker or stockbroker who has feelings of guilt for their past activities in causing great damage to our economy. They should be named and shamed into levelling out the financial playing field.

It will no doubt be realised that our regular weekly visits to the town had to stop in 1940 when war was declared on Germany and food, sweets and petrol rationing began. We were able to use the car when the basic petrol ration was available. This varied from none at all to a very small amount at the beginning of the war when the U-Boats were sinking our ships in the Atlantic, but as Allied forces gained supremacy over the enemy, the basic fuel allocation was increased and one could sometimes buy a fuel coupon from a lorry driver until commercial petrol was dyed red to stop the practice.

The police used to stop a car sometimes and take a drop of petrol from its tank to check the colour. If white the driver was in the clear but was prosecuted if it was red.

The same applies today to agricultural petrol which is coloured as it has little or no tax on it.

A. JOHN Sargent,

Cornwall Road, St Albans.

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