Wilkinson’s was one of the first stores in Leicester to offer ‘self-service’ to customers. It now has hundreds of stores all over the country – but it all started in Charnwood Street in 1930 when James Kemsey Wilkinson and his fiance Mary Cooper opened a small ironmongery store at 151. JK, as he was known to family and friends, was only 24 at the time, but since leaving home at the age of 16 had already worked for an architectural ironmongers in Birmingham, and later for Pochin’s ironmongers in Leicester. According to the company history, JK and Mary were married at 8 am on 22 October 1934 at St Peter’s church in Highfields, and were back in the shop by 11 am!
A second store was opened in Wigston Magna in 1932, and few years later the original shop moved to 159 Charnwood Street, where it remained until just before the street was demolished. By then Wilkinson’s had 28 stores around the country with an annual turnover of £2.4 million – but many people still remember the Charnwood Street shop with pots and pans hanging outside, along with the canes that children used for ‘gratering’ or ‘pavement fishing’, to pick up coins that had been dropped down the metal grates along the street. Arthur Beyless recalled that the shop always smelt of paraffin and firelighters. It had a wooden floor with a counter at the far end, and went right through to Occupation Road at the back. John Warner’s father ran a wholesale business in Charnwood Street which ‘created a long standing friendship and co-operation with Wilkinsons wholesale business, to the extent of sharing petrol coupons to fetch what pots and pans were available during or just after the war from Stoke on Trent’. Do you have any memories of your own that you’d like to share?
[The information above comes from the Wilkinson company history at http://www.wilko.co.uk/_pdfs/history.pdf; the Leicester Mercury, 15 April 2003, 30 December 2010, 5 March & 6 April 2011; and from Mr John Warner].