| 12.8°C Belfast

Heroes of the High Street: Wadsworth owner Fred on nearly 100 years of history at the seaside department store

'I have a member of staff who's been here 40 years... that's around 10 years less than me'

Close

Fred Wadsworth of Wadsworth of Newcastle inside the department store on Main Street

Fred Wadsworth of Wadsworth of Newcastle inside the department store on Main Street

An old photograph of models wearing clothes from Wadsworth

An old photograph of models wearing clothes from Wadsworth

Fred Wadsworth of Wadsworth of Newcastle

Fred Wadsworth of Wadsworth of Newcastle

Fred Wadsworth of Wadsworth of Newcastle inside the department store on Main Street

Fred Wadsworth (73) is the owner of Wadsworth of Newcastle, a department store founded by his uncle which specialises in clothing which has been a fixture of the popular Co Down seaside town for almost 100 years.

Q. Fred, tell me about Wadsworth of Newcastle and how and when it began.

A. My namesake Fred Wadsworth was the founder of the business. We're Fermanagh people, originally from just outside Enniskillen, and my uncle was the founder of what's here now and his name was Fred Wadsworth as well.

And he left Fermanagh and started out in Rathfriland first of all in 1930 and traded there for a few years and then he opened a branch in Newcastle and kept the two shops going until after the Second World War, and closed Rathfriland and concentrated on Newcastle from then on.

Q. So presumably it was your late uncle Fred who was the family member who dominated the early history of the business?

A. Yes he was one who started it all and he died in 1964 at the age of 58 and I took over at the age of 20 in 1968. I was a minor when he passed away and so my aunt May Wadsworth ran the business for the following four years after his death, before I then took over in 1968.

My uncle Fred was in the trade. In fact, he worked in Young's of Lisburn, that is no longer but was a very popular shop in Lisburn in the early days, and then he went to Austin's of Derry and he worked there for a while.

He left school at 14 or 15 and he had done his apprenticeship and all the rest and he eventually opened up in Rathfriland.

Rathfriland in the very early days was the county town, and all the farmers went to sell their cattle and do their bit, it would have been the hub in its early days, and obviously the appeal changed as the years went on. And then Newcastle attracted him from the tourist scene perspective.

Close

Fred Wadsworth, the founder of Wadsworth of Newcastle

Fred Wadsworth, the founder of Wadsworth of Newcastle

Fred Wadsworth, the founder of Wadsworth of Newcastle

Q. Tell me about the present generation, and perhaps the next generation who might take over?

A. I have a nephew here, but there's no guarantee that he's going to take over. I'd like to think something would happen and it will continue. We're 90 years trading in June of this year.

Q. Have you many long-serving members of staff?

A. I have one lady who has been here 40 years, she's around 10 years behind me because I'm 52 years here. That lady is Mrs Slammon, she's our buyer for the fashion department and she would be in charge of all the ladies end of things. I have 13 staff in all and I value their loyalty very much.

Close

Current staff members Caroline Valentine, Olivia Olszewska and Gosia King

Current staff members Caroline Valentine, Olivia Olszewska and Gosia King

Current staff members Caroline Valentine, Olivia Olszewska and Gosia King

Q. Where do your customers come from?

A. Being a seaside resort we'd have people travelling to us from all over the north really, people from all over the province. Not so much from the south as they would tend to go to places like Newry, although you would see more when it's a holiday or a bank holiday. We also have loyal local customers.

Q. How do you guarantee good performance from staff?

A. We try to look after them and gain their loyalty, which is important, in much the same way we also look after our customers.

Q. What has changed over the years as regards the stock?

A. Every season we have to upgrade with the times as it changes, we're constantly looking at new brands and new ranges. We specialise in ladies fashion, accessories, shoes, menswear and have a household department with bedding etc.

Q. Do you think the founder of Wadsworth would be proud of its long survival?

A. I wouldn't know about that! Yes of course there is still a sense of pride and we are very fortunate in the sense that our customers are still coming to us and keeping us here, that's the main thing.

Close

Staff at the store in 1957

Staff at the store in 1957

Staff at the store in 1957

Q. How have you had to change to keep up with the times?

A. We constantly keep changing, which you have to as the years goes on, which really applies in the ranges that we stock.

Q. Have you generations of shoppers, too?

A.. That is something that would be very strong, yes, very much so, down through the years. It's become now that the young ones will do their own thing but as they get older you do notice them coming back to us.

Q. What is the future for Wadsworth of Newcastle?

A. We'll just keep trading. We'll just keep doing what we have always done.

Q. Why do you think your business has survived for so long?

A. Well, I think we're fortunate that we're in Newcastle and Newcastle itself has a good attraction to it as a seaside resort and with all the amenities that are here too, it brings a lot of people to the town.

The council have done a great job too, they've upgraded the new promenade and that has added to the town's look, as well as the street widening and the footpaths have all been done up.

That reflects on the town, there's no empty shops in the town either.

We are fortunate and out of season, as we are as we speak now, I would say that the hotels, both the Burrendale and the Slieve Donard, are busy, they always do deals and that attracts people and brings customers to the town as well.

Q. Have you invested in the store recently?

A. We haven't down any refurbishment recently, no, but it's like everything else as well, we keep checking on that as we go along.

You just go with the flow and if it needs done, it needs done.

Close

Wadsworth of Newcastle

Wadsworth of Newcastle

Wadsworth of Newcastle

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph