Fine Fare

Welwyn Garden's own supermarket chain

By Roger Filler

Although long gone now as a major name on the High Street, during the 1960s,70s and indeed into the 1980s, Fine Fare was one the country’s major supermarket chains and always had a close association with Welwyn Garden City. Founded in 1951, Fine Fare was an offshoot of its parent company Welwyn Department Stores, and  in that year 10 small stores were opened, half in the Garden City and half in the surrounding area.

Take over

After purchasing Welwyn Bakery in Bridge Road, Canadian tycoon Garfield Weston bought the fledgling supermarket chain, through his company Associated British Foods in 1963. By 1970 it had over 1,000 retail outlets, half of them supermarkets, administered from Gate House on the corner of Howardsgate and Fretherne Road. The chain was sold in the mid 1980s to the Dee Corporation,  becoming Gateway and then Somerfield.

Headway

Another connection with WGC is through Welwyn Builders. This company, set up in the early 1920s, built many of the early homes in town and at one time had a workforce of over 1,000. They were taken over by Fine Fare in 1948 when Welwyn Garden City was wound up via the New Towns Act, and eventually became Headway, the shop fitting for Fine Fare.

Did you work for Fine Fare? Perhaps you spent some time at Gate House or were an employee of Headway Construction. Why not log on and share your memories with us.

This page was added on 20/06/2009.

Comments about this page

  • I worked in Fine Fare in Frethern Road back in the early 1970’s. At first I worked as an evening shelf stacker with my mum, Muriel Albins, and then I worked Saturdays and school holidays on the Deli Bar – I loved that job! The only person I really remember was Kevin Walters in the butchery department – after walking to work with him every Saturday morning we found out we were related. Kevin’s Mum and my dad were cousins – small world.
    My name was Trina Albins.

    By Trina Balharrie (nee Albins) (25/09/2018)
  • I worked for Fine Fare first time from April 1959 to November 1962 as Miss Albury and Mrs Newman (I married in 1961) in the Fine Fare department store on Howardsgate.   I had my base on the tills where I scanned through the items, collected the money and gave change and also helped to bag the customer’s purchases.    I left when we moved away.

    I returned to work for Fine Fare in February 1982 and was a store assistant which also meant I had to do the tills and also labelling on the shelves, as well as stocking them.   I worked there for 5 months before transferring to work in the Welwyn Stores’ food hall until they closed in July 1983. 

    By Peggy Newman (16/07/2016)
  • Such irony! I am a British woman who has lived in the US, in Florida for 52 years, where my family immigrated when I was 18. I began my work life at the Midland Bank in Welwyn Garden City located on Howardsgate at the age of 16. Garfield Weston, the owner of Fine Fare, banked with us and whenever he was scheduled to come to the bank to consult with the manager, we staff members were made to run around cleaning up the place in preparation for his visit. All of this has come to mind as I read in a Canadian interior design magazine, today, that the very wealthy Weston family has founded a community for the super-rich in Florida called “Windsor.” My wage at the bank was pathetic, and I certainly could not afford to live in “Windsor” despite a lifetime of work in banking and accounting. I live on the West coast of Florida. I guess, as the old French saying goes, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” – “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” I understand the Weston family also now owns Selfridges.

    By Gail Morris (26/04/2016)
  • I worked for Fine Fare from 1960 till 1973 and done my apprentice at my home branch of Chepstow. I then left and done some relief work at branches at Abergavenny and Bewdley. I then managed a store in Wellington until it closed and was replaced by one of the new bigger supermarket division. I then moved on to Redditch and stayed there until I left the company in 1973 to work for birds eye. The hours were long and hard at Fine Fare and it was hard work.

    By John Phillips (05/04/2016)
  • My first job was for Fine Fare, who took ovet the Food Hall in Welwyn Stores for two years, and I joined working as a till checker in 1951, the year the chain was created.  It was me who was what they call a cashier now, and I helped pack the customers shopping which is something shop staff don’t do anymore.  I got paid £2/5/- every week and I worked in the Food Hall until August 1953 when I got transferred to working in the Fine Fare area of Peartree Stores.  I worked as a stock assistant and I got paid £4/14/- every month. I then married a fellow stock assistant who worked elsewhere for Fine Fare called Dale Campbell in December 1954, and then I left when we moved to western St Albans. 

    My time at Fine Fare wasn’t over yet.  When my youngest started school in 1967 I insisted on having a career so I took work at Fine Fare’s head office on Fretherne Road.  I worked as a sales clerk first and then when it was discovered how far I travelled I was then requested to pass my driving test and they’d give me a company car. I took and passed first time in Sep 1968, and then they told me they’d give me a free bus pass and adjust my hours so it fitted with the 724 coach that went passed our home and stopped in WGC so there I went.  After three years as a sales assistant I was then asked if I wanted to become the deputy store manager of Peartree Stores, who had just been fully taken over by Fine Fare in April 1971, so I accepted and there I worked for 10 years before going to work at ICI.

    By Betty Campbell (Nee Freter) (19/02/2016)
  • At the time of the QEII Hospital opening in 1963, my workplace was at Fine Fare headquarters at Gate House on Fretherne Road. It was next to Sainsburys and the car park. I worked in the Payroll Section of the Sales Department and it was up on the 3rd floor; our office was ginormous! It was my responsibility to collect, assort and deliver the post and the woman who delivered it was Mrs Wells (I see her daughter has already posted here too). She wore a postwoman’s cloak and hat  – if only the GPO hired her!!

    When I first joined Fine Fare HQ in 1962, the chain had just moved into Gate House.  In the Payroll Section of Sales the managers when I was there was Mr Rolls and Cyril Hatcher, and then I resigned from my post in May 1971. The manager’s secretary was called Janice (she was one of the girls in town as a spinster!), and she had joined before me and left after me.  I was the accountant and bookkeeper.   Before I left I was instructed by Mr Hatcher to train the man replacing me, and it happened to be the secretary Janice’s son.

    Happy memories of the traffic congestion on the roads in the mornings back then   -  Mr Rolls drove a Morris.    About 10 cars in a row bumper to bumper was considered a jam.   I never drove as it was within walking distance from my home in Cranborne Gardens.   Work – started prompt and finished prompt.

    By Peter Myers (17/02/2016)
  • I worked as a trainee manager in the early 70’s, mainly at the Woodhall Store, but sometimes at HO and the training center. I remember myself and a compardra had to put together the training manuals for decimal conversion. Messed it up badly with pages upside down, a copy was sent to Gulliver, all hell to pay. We laughed, not a great start to my career. I left asap. Good fun.

    By Neil Aldridge (28/01/2016)
  • Hi i worked at gate house from 1978 till it closed … in the accounts dept ..great company to work for … and free travel in from stevenage… 

    By tony mullinsa (28/09/2015)
  • Fine Fare was one of the now defunct supermarket chains that had a shop at the Woodhall shops and all over the UK eventually. When I worked at Woodhall for a year (1956 to 1957), before starting work I had one bob on me and I went into the Fine Fare shop and buy a Vimto drink and then went into work. The Welwyn Bakery shop was replaced by Fine Fare in 1954 – they never replaced the shop and sold from their headquarters on Bridge Road East.

    Fine Fare was a chain all over England! My Uncle Harry’s son represented Manchester’s branch of Fine Fare in the 1970s before moving on to work for another company. Personally Fine Fare were a waste of time – in the Garden City we had all the shops we required, especially with Welwyn Department Stores being in the town.  

    By George Boston (17/09/2015)
  • My Dad, Cyril Hatcher, worked as the Payroll Manager for Fine Fare in Welwyn Garden City in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. We lived in a maisonette above the Borehamwood store. Sadly Dad died eight years ago.

    By Steve Hatcher (03/09/2015)
  • I worked at Fine Fare HQ in Welwyn Garden City, from 1963 to 1967, first in the print room and then as a telex operator. My boss was Ken ? It was a good company to work for. My mum Irene Wells was the post lady there too

    By Suzanne Figgs (15/08/2015)
  • I worked at Fine Fare Head Office in the payroll department from February 1980 to mid-1986 when I was made redundant.  It was a good company to work for and I was responsible for processing the wages & salaries for Scottish stores – I’ve lived in Scotland for the last 22 years and can still remember the store numbers of some of those I paid!  Not been back to WGC since 2011 as no family lives locally anymore and most of my friends have also moved out of the area.  Lived in WGC from November 1961 to August 1981 when I moved to Letchworth on getting married then back to WGC from December 1982 until we moved to Scotland in June 1993. 

    By Jane Trinder (22/06/2015)
  • My wife worked for Fine Fare when we were married in 1959. She had worked since the age of 15, and remembered working at the cigarette counter and the bakery.

    By Thomas Connell (16/02/2015)
  • I  WORKED FOR FINE FARE IN POOLE FOR  ABOUT  9YEARS IN THE 1960  AND 1970s  AS A  PROVISIONS  MANAGER

    By JOHN BOLT (01/01/2015)
  • Hi my name is Andy Davies and I worked for fine fare back in the 70 s 

    great company to work for. 

    Can anyone remember what the name of the mansion was where the training for managers was held? 

     

    By Andy Davies (20/07/2014)
  • Hi, I worked for Fine Fare during the autumn of 1968,as breakfast chef/assistant chef,for the trainees,at Woolmer Green training centre,mostly low level management,what a great laugh that was,you could have based a sit com on it. there were four other staff,and a manager/” Warden” and and his fiendish wife.

    They lived in a separate dwelling next to the main house,which was set in roughly 20 acres of mixed woodland ,it had a pretty lake with a small island which, one could reach by leaky rowing boat,esp iffy when totally lunched out on finest quality red leb which at about £15 an ounce,meant TOTALLY lunched. The warden and the witch were a dysfunctional couple constantly trying to out do each other.for what ?to climb the promo ladder at fine fare?big deal!They would have had to get past Mr Loadsman (area manager) first ,short of killing him i could’nt see how,maybe the lake can figure in his demise,a limpet mine perhaps.The other members of staff were lovely,there was a smashing woman from Tewin ,she came in daily,to clean,and generally keep things tidy(cant remember her name),she smoked no. 6 fags,lots of em.The other three staff and myself  lived in.there was Phillip he was our driver stroke, handy man,(he could single handedly wreck almost anything), dope scorer,party organiser, when there were no courses running,imagine we had run of this beautiful house at down times and some weekends,when the Wilsons were away, Phil was a wild card he’d been in the merchant navy and was desperately trying to reign in his wilder side, heart of gold mind you.His younger brother Ward,they fought all the time,was head chef /kitchen manager.he loathed the Wilsons.Sure he tried to poison them once,a laconic young man with a huge appetite for water chillums.

    Then last, but certainly not least, Irene the chamber maid and part time fruit loop, we’d convince her in the down times that the island was tropical,she dress up as a chef, hat and all,and let us take her to the island,absolutely stoned,we would then hide and she’d have to find the mainland,considering she was blind in one eye that was no mean feat,MrLoadsman saw her one day on an impromtu visit”She Ok?” was all he asked.I fancied her like mad she was so pretty and a lovely soul,we got married the following year.I’ll tell more next time

    By Andy Britton (19/07/2014)
  • I worked at Woodhall and trained to be a store manager. I went on to work in Handside, Grovehill, Beaconsfield and Ashford. I eventually ended up with Shoppers Paradise at Ashford, Letchworth and Hilltop. They were a great Company to work for.

    By Graham Cartwright (04/04/2013)
  • I worked as a butcher at Fine Fare,  Woodhall, Handside, Hallgrove, Hatfield, Howardsgate, Hilltop in the 70s.

    By Ken Johnson (13/02/2013)
  • My Grandfather (Daniel Whittaker) worked at Fine Fare branch in Borehamwood, Shenley Road, He was the Manager for approx 12 months, Fine Fare brought the shop next door which was a hairdressers, they then turned it into one of the first Fine Fare self service grocery shops. He worked for Welwyn Stores from 1939 till 1950 when he then moved to Borehamwood to work for Fine Fare. The opening day was attended by my Grandfather and the Film star Dulcie Grey was invited to do the official opening in 1952. In 1953 Fine fare brought W Marshall a grocery shop in Waltham Abbey and my Grandfather moved there to manage the shop until 1955 approx.

    By Jackie Robbins (19/05/2012)
  • I worked as a security guard in welwyn bakeries in the late 1980s by then it was just offices for Gateway supermarkets . The place was huge inside with lots of hidden corridors and rooms most were not in use by this time . You could sense that the building had in the past been far more industrious . It was eventually demolished in the 1990s and is now the site of kwikfit tyres and exhausts .

    By matt scott (10/09/2010)

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