Memories of the transition from Welwyn Stores to John Lewis
Remembering the `Harrods` of Hertfordshire
By Roger Filler
I joined John Lewis just after it had taken over Welwyn Department Stores, (WDS) says Diane Oldham. “I worked as a kitchen planner and in those days everything was original blueprints that we had to take to the printers, a world away from today where computers can do in seconds what took us hours then. I remember well my first mobile phone – It weighed a ton, but we thought it very state of the art.
Vince Guagenti worked for Welwyn Depatment Stores and saw, first hand, the transformation from the old store to the new. “It was very hard for some of the long-standing employees to come to terms with their new bosses and the John Lewis way of working. Standards were tightened up, and as we now owned the business. We wanted to make everything as good as it could be.
Steve Smith worked in maintenance at WDS. “Part of my responsibility covered Peartree Stores, Headway Construction, and some garages in Parkway that we maintained. We also looked after the maintenance of the flats above the store, which, of course, are still there. I first heard that we were being taken over in a meeting in the Parkway Restaurant (now The Place To Eat) and it was a big surprise to everybody. One of the first changes in Maintenance was that we had to wear shirts and ties, your belt had to match your shoes and we had to wear dark socks when the fashion at the time was for white socks. I was often told off! As a music fan I was saddened when the record department was pulled out, in what is now the Nursery department.
Another person who found the dress code difficult to come to terms with was Mark Sears. “However, even allowing for the strict Business Dress limitations, the fashion of time manifested itself in the form of big hair and turned up collars for female Partners (as John Lewis call their employees), and double-breasted suits on the men. Walking around the store at the time, they looked like they were either off to a fancy-dress party as either Lady Diana or Phil Collins.
“Welwyn Department Stores liked to be thought of as Hertfordshire’s Harrods”, recalls Michael Burn. “I can remember several promotions including the “Strawberry Fayre”, “It’s Fun to be 40” and the “Jelly Beans”. At the time they seemed right, but certainly raise a smile when I look back at them now,” Michael also remembers when the Stores featured a real “Bull in a China Shop”. We were told the bull liked mints, and all the staff fed him these, with the result that he became very flatulent, so I doubt whether we sold much china on that day.
Stock taking empty boxes
Eileen Davey recalls her time with WDS with affection, but remembers how old-fashioned they were. In WDS nothing was ever thrown away or written off, which sounds good but while stock taking I was entering pre-war items and was told to record it even though it was empty! In WDS we didn’t have strict business dress so its introduction was welcomed by me as it saved having to decide what to wear each morning and staff were easily identified by customers.
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