IT was the biggest thing to happen in Bournemouth shopping for generations.

The Hampshire Centre opened on October 29, 1968, on the giant site at Castle Lane West where Castlepoint stands today.

It aimed to bring large-scale, American-style shopping to the area.

The Evening Echo, which ran a large advertising supplement, noted: “'Out of town’ is very much in”.

After years of debate, the Hampshire Centre (so named because Bournemouth was part of Hampshire until 1974) was ready. It would be nine months before neighbouring Poole took its own step forward in shopping, with the opening of its Arndale Centre.

The biggest shop at the Bournemouth site was Woolco, a giant version of Woolworths.There were already 67 Woolcos in the US and Canada and the Bournemouth store covered nearly 2.5 acres.

With 40 departments and more than 200 sales assistants, it was the biggest out-of-town department store in Britain, the Echo reported.

The shop could easily contain a football field.

The Echo said: “Britain’s first Woolco store was opened near Leicester last autumn and many shoppers have forsaken the overcrowded city streets, with their parking problems, for the spacious out-of-town Woolco, where customers can shop at leisure, have a a cup of coffee with their friends, and know their cars are parked only yards from the main doors.”

Among the special offers that day were car coats and top coats (£5 7s 6d), wool worsted suits for £10 and Harris tweed sports jackets for £5 19s 6d).

Other tenants at the Hampshire Centre included the food store Williamson and Treadgolds, which had started trading in Bournemouth Arcade in 1882; Barclays and National Provincial banks; and a dozen small shops including Rosees Fashions, Millets, Currys, Meesons and George Oliver (Footwear).

There were snack bars, restaurants and a petrol station, and the centre opened until 8pm Tuesday to Friday and 6pm on Saturday, although it was closed all day on Monday.

On the opening day, the Echo told how “shoppers will be able to drive in, park without difficulty, buy everything from the weekend joint to a £3,500 diamond and platinum ring, and drive out again”.

The official opening was performed by TV’s Oxo couple Katie and Philip, aka Mary Holland and Richard Clarke.

The mayor of Bournemouth, Alderman Michael Green, said of the centre: “Its progress will be watched with very close attention, not only locally but nationally, not only by the trading community but by the whole of the general public.”

Like its successor Castlepoint, the Hampshire Centre had been built against the wishes of Bournemouth council.

The council had refused planning permission and the issue went to a public inquiry, which found in favour of the developer in January 1964. Parkstone company Cooper & Rowe was given the vast job of building the centre.

Supporters argued that it made sense to deliver hundreds of tons of retail goods to areas that had adequate roads, rather than to high streets.

Popular as it was in its early days, some of the units at the centre became vacant by the mid-1970s, and the western end of the site was eventually rebuilt to house Sainsbury’s and several other shops.

Woolco closed in 1986, giving way to Gateway and then Asda, with B&Q joining in the late 1980s.

In the 1990s, plans were laid to replace the centre. The subsequent debate repeated many of the arguments of 30 years earlier, with opponents concerned about traffic on Castle Lane and the effect on the town centre.

Once again, Bournemouth council lost at a public inquiry, and it eventually backed the centre.

In 2001, work began on demolishing the Hampshire Centre – ready for a new chapter in the town's retail history.