Welwyn Department Stores: A short History

Eilish Coates

Welwyn Department Stores

Department stores. Today we all know and love them, and if asked to name our nearest, we could do so in the blink of an eye. However, in the late 1920s/ 1930s this task would not have been so easy for the everyday shopper, and the idea of a department store would have been extremely new and foreign to the residents of Welwyn Garden City.

Located on Bridge Road, Welwyn Garden City, John Lewis is now a local ‘Landmark’ and favourite and is singly the largest store in the Town Centre. It was not however, always John Lewis. Completed in 1939 on the outbreak of war, Welwyn Department stores were built by the Garden City Company to dazzle and excite everyday shoppers whose experiences would have been unlike the exciting newness offered by the new Welwyn Department stores. The store was the largest in the county at the time of its build and had its very own car park and apartment lots situation on its roof, making it even thrilling and modern in its design.

“Just popping to the stores” became a familiar phrase of the residents of Welwyn Garden City, as it was the place to go for quite literally, anything you desired and became the local ‘place to be seen’. However, this one shop idea became resented by many local business who feared it would drive their customers away. The store was not merely a place for shopping but also a social centre where people could meet, have refreshments and even use as a venue for local dances. The store contained a sports club, a laundrette, food hall and the list goes on, so its no surprise that the store was thriving right up until 1983, when it was announced that the John Lewis Partnership would be acquiring the store.

Unlike many famous department stores, the building remains very much untouched architecturally and still contains many original features. Pictures of the original 1920’s store and the modern 1939 build can be found at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies. The sight of the original 1920’s store now lies where the current Rosanne House Office building stands and the 1939 building still stands proudly as a mark of Welwyn Garden City history.

This page was added on 19/01/2017.

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  • In the 30s my grandparents, who lived in the Quadrangle, came home one day to find my father playing with a large Hornby train set–he’d learned the family account number and used it for the purchase! Needless to say the toy was returned and the sales staff got a severe telling off for permitting the sale!
    I have very clear memories of The Stores in the 60s, particularly for some reason the little brass balls fixed to the handrails on the main staircase to stop kids sliding down and the cloakroom–a real cloakroom where you could leave your coats and bags (and a small tip for the staff).

    By Jonathan Kinghorn (04/03/2021)
  • I went there every week, lived in the book department. There were stairs up to the children’s shelves and I think my mother bought me every title! She had her hair cut on Thursdays by Karl, and I loved the smell of the florist with grey marble floor, by one of the entrances. There was an attendant in the car park. Good old days. Also remember going to a party there in the 60s, with a schoolfriend. Her father was James Gulliver who owned Fine Fare. Did they take over the department store? Years later he became my chairman! Small world

    By Nikki Greenleaf (21/10/2020)
  • I bought my first record there in 1963…I wanna hold your hand by the Beatles!!
    The young shop assistant made up the difference between my saved 6s 6d and the 6s 8d cost….!

    By Eric Morgan (04/01/2020)
  • I used to clean the floors after school in the mid 60s!!

    By Ian Adamson (07/09/2019)
  • Does anyone know what happened to Gerry
    Hamilton who was Managing
    Director in the late seventies , I had worked with him in the time he worked for ?Debenhams , a great Man

    By John Morley (13/09/2018)
  • i remember going their in the early 70s was a lovely place then john lewis took it over lost its charm and uniqueness anyone got any photos?

    By jason (04/08/2018)