In the late 1960s I really needed a Saturday job.
I couldn’t get one at Woolworths but had more success at WH Smith.
I hoped to work in the record department but the manager decided I was better suited to the toy department.
For over a year I donned my blue nylon overall, fixed a smile on my face and prepared to help the under tens part with their pocket money and birthday money. At the end of the day it was time to line up at the manager’s office and collect the pay: 18/6 in cash in a little brown envelope which made it all worth while.
Amazingly, the WH Smith story starts in 1792 when a Henry Walton Smith opened a small news vendor’s shop in Grosvenor Street, London.
To put this in context, this was only three years after the start of the French Revolution and Queen Victoria hadn’t even been born.
Smith died within a few months of opening the shop and his wife kept it going until their two sons were old enough to take over the business. William Henry Smith developed the business and in 1846 his son, also named William Henry, joined him
and the name was changed to WH Smith & Son.
In 1848 the first railway station outlet was opened at Euston
with many more shops opening rapidly as the railways expanded. By the mid-nineteenth century WHS had become the main retailer and distributor of newspapers in Britain. On the outbreak of WW1 the business had expanded so much there were 4000 employees recruited into the British Forces and the Smith family had been apppointed to the peerage.
WHS continued to expand throughout the twentieth century and to the present.
There is a fascinating history on the company’s website which details the expansion.
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