NEARLY half a century has passed since one of the biggest fires in Colchester history.

It was on October 2, 1973, that flames engulfed retail favourite Woolworths.

The firm had been trading in the town since 1914, occupying its base in High Street since 1965.

However, things changed forever after the building was destroyed by a huge fire, which broke out in a pile of cushions on a linen counter during the lunchtime rush.

It caused a devastating £2.5 million of damage and the flames were so huge that police originally believed a bomb had exploded.

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Nearly 200 firefighters from all over Essex and Suffolk battled for 12 hours to stop the fire spreading along the High Street.

However, there was little they could do to save the shop.


A £4 million rebuilding programme began and the store reopened on October 1975 with a new butchers and bakery.

Economic troubles succeeded where fire had failed, though, and it closed again in January 1985, with the loss of 70 jobs.


It was finally brought back to Colchester by popular demand in 1998, to Culver Square.

However, Woolies, as it was commonly known, went into administration in late 2008.

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Faced with £385 million of debt, the chain closed 815 stores nationwide including Halstead, Dovercourt and Clacton.

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