WOOLWORTHS was the name you would find on just about every high street, from villages to major cities.

Its collapse a decade ago was one of the biggest shocks of the recession that followed the worldwide financial crisis, and it led to the loss of 27,000 jobs nationwide.

Almost everyone had a fond memory of Woolworths, whether it was buying their first records there or filling up on pick ‘n’ mix sweets.

The FW Woolworth Company began trading in the US in 1878, but it was not until 1909 that it became a presence on the British high street. It started in Liverpool and expanded rapidly between the wars.

Bournemouth’s original Woolworths was destroyed by the 1943 bombing that also claimed the nearby Punshon Memorial Church and the Central Hotel.

Sylvia Winter, who worked there in the 1930s, recalled in 1992: “Woolworth’s was very popular. We worked from 8.30am to 7pm and 9pm on Saturdays and we did a tremendous trade.

“Everything was priced at 3d or 6d and if it was a do-it-yourself thing it would be 6d a part.”

From the 1950s, Woolworths expanded still more, and modernised. In 1955, the Echo reported on the opening of a “new self-service style” Woolworths at Westbourne – only the second of its kind in the country.

The paper noted: “The usual pattern of self-service stores will be followed – so that customers will pick up a wire basket just inside the store, wander round taking the goods they need, and leaving the store through the check-out points, where goods will be paid for in total.”

In the 1960s, Woolworths introduced huge out-of-town stores, called Woolco. One opened at the Hampshire Centre (now Castlepoint) in 1968. It lasted until the 1980s, when the majority of Woolcos became Gateway hypermarkets and were later taken over by Asda.

Bournemouth’s Woolworths, in the Square, was put up for sale in 1981 and was bought by Boots for £5million. A Woolworths spokesman said: “It makes a profit but not a sufficient profit for its asset value.” Woolworths was supposed to have been part of the final phase of Poole’s Arndale Centre in 1982, but the company withdrew from the scheme and remained in the old High Street.

For generations, Woolworths remained the place to go for everyday essentials and little luxuries, spawning the brand names Winfield (for everything from kitchenware to stationery), Chad Valley (toys) and Ladybird (children’s clothes). It was also heavily reliant on music sales on records, tapes and CDs, and on the boom in VHS tape sales and later DVDs.

But new trends in shopping took their toll, with online competitors growing rapidly and the popularity of CDs dropping. Cut loose from the Kingfisher Group that had owned it, the independent Woolworths Group struggled.

In September 2008, Woolworths announced six-month pre-tax losses of almost £100m. The business was by now in full-on crisis. A restructuring specialist sought to buy the shops for £1, but the company’s banks rejected the offer and recalled their loans.

The company went into administration that November. The administrators said they would keep the business trading over Christmas, but 450 head office and support jobs were axed on December 5 – the same day the chain recorded its biggest single day’s takings, at £27m.

Simon King worked in the Blandford branch of Woolworths after leaving sixth form in 2005 and picked up more responsibilities, transferring to the Wimborne store and staying there until it closed.

“I had absolutely no clue that things weren’t looking great for the business. I had to join conference calls during the short time I was at Wimborne before the company went under, and I don’t recall anything being mentioned on any of those, prior to the news breaking that the company may be in trouble,” he says.

“I was actually running the evening shift the night the news broke. My memory is a little hazy as to how the news got to us in store but I do remember getting straight on the phone to the area manager, only for him to tell me he didn’t know what was happening either.”

The closing-down sales drew large queues. At the Winton branch, mum Leanne Davies of Southbourne said: “Woolworths is part of history and I think it’s a real shame that it’s going to close. My auntie, who is now 80, worked in Woolies for years and my brother also had his first job in the Boscombe branch.” Lynne Jennings from Muscliff said: “It is horrible to see Woolworths like this. The shelves are almost empty.”

At the Poole store, Heather Pretty said: “It’s a national institution. It’s almost like someone has died because you’ve grown up with it and it’s always been there.”

Simon King remembers the business’s last days well. “Obviously there were a lot of jokes about ‘Where will I get my pick ‘n’ mix now?’, but I think for the town stores a lot of the public were genuinely disappointed that the company was closing down.”

Some were not so sympathetic. “I remember the morning when the first sale had been initiated – it was only an ‘up to 50 per cent off’ sale but there was a huge queue at the door in the morning. But most of these people entered the shop and turned around and left again when they realised the ‘good stuff’ was only 10 per cent off,” he said.

Winton’s Woolworths closed on December 27, with Parkstone and Christchurch following two days later. Dorset’s other branches closed between then and January 5.

Mr King has a message for shoppers at any other failing stores.

“If I could get people to realise one thing from this experience, it would be that whilst we all love a bargain, please remember that in these cases people are losing their job,” he says.

“They’ve got enough to deal with at this time. Please don’t start an argument with them over a slightly damaged box or because the thing you want is out of stock. Please show some empathy.”