Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,657 pages of information and 235,472 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.


From Graces Guide

Littlewoods is the name of a former retail and gambling empire founded in Liverpool, Merseyside, by Sir John Moores.

It was purchased by David and Frederick Barclay, and in 2004, was merged with Shop Direct to create the Littlewoods Shop Direct Group.

Littlewoods Pools remains a separate company however.

1896 John Moores was born of working-class origins, in Eccles, near Salford, Lancashire on 25 January. He was one of eight children - the eldest of four sons.

1910 He left school after attending primary school. At first he was a messenger boy at the Manchester Post Office but was soon accepted in a course at the Post Office School of Telegraphy.

1912 This enabled him to join the Commercial Cable Company as a junior operator. He was in the Navy in World War one as a wireless operator, being stationed at Aberdeen before serving elsewhere.

1919 Moores had always enjoyed dreaming up schemes to make money, possibly because of his poor background. When he came into cash, most of it was sent to his widowed mother, Louisa, a mill worker. His father, also called John, was a bricklayer, but he developed a drink problem and died in January 1919 at the age of 47. John Moores jnr was demobilised from the Navy soon afterwards.

Post WWI. After the war telegraphy took him away further as he carried on working for the Commercial cable company.

1920 He was posted to Waterville County Kerry, Ireland and found there was no public library, so he opened a store that sold books and stationery. He bulk imported books and called it the Waterville supply company. He also sold golf balls as there was a golf course but no sports shop.

1922 He was back in England. The cable company stationed him at Liverpool.

John Moores, Colin Henry Littlewood Askham and Bill Hughes were friends who had worked together as Post Office messenger boys in Manchester. It was whilst looking for a new money-making idea that John Moores came across John Jervis Barnard, a Birmingham man who had latched onto the public's growing passion for two things: football and betting. Moores had always been an avid football fan from when he was very young. In fact sports of all kinds had always interested him. He played amateur football himself until retiring at the age of 40.

Barnard had devised a 'football pool', where punters would bet on the outcome of football matches. The payouts to winners came from the 'pool' of money that was bet, less 10 per cent to cover "management costs". It had not been particularly successful. Moores got hold of a Barnard pools coupon, and the three Manchester friends decided they would do it better.

1923 They could not let their employers, the Commercial Cable Company, know what they were doing, or they would be sacked. No outside employment was allowed. That ruled out calling it the John Moores Football Pool, or anything like it. Colin Askham had been orphaned as a baby and been brought up by an aunt whose surname was Askham, but he had been born Colin Henry Littlewood. So the Littlewood Football Pool – as it was called originally – was started. Each of the three partners invested £50 of their own money into the venture, and with the help of a small, discreet and cheap printer they got to work. In 1923, £50 was a huge sum to invest in what – based on Barnard’s experience – was a precarious venture. A small office in Church Street, Liverpool, was rented and the first 4,000 coupons were distributed outside Manchester United's Old Trafford ground before one Saturday match that winter. Moores handed the coupons out himself, helped by some young boys eager to earn a few pennies.

It was not an instant success. Only 35 coupons came back. Bets totalled £4 7s 6d, and the 10 per cent deducted did not even cover the three men’s expenses. They needed to take the idea to another level, and quickly. So they decided to print 10,000 coupons, and took them to Hull, where they were handed out before a big game. This time, only one coupon was returned. Their venture was about to collapse almost as soon as it had begun. In the canteen of the Commercial Cable Company, the three partners had a hushed conversation. It was a crisis meeting.

They had kept pumping money into the fledgling business, but midway through the 1924-25 football season it was still losing money. The three young men were each £200 lighter in the pocket, with no prospect of things improving. Bill Hughes suggested they cut their losses and forget the whole thing. Colin Askham agreed. They could see why John Jervis Barnard's idea of a football pool had failed in Birmingham. They expected Moores to concur, but instead he said: "I'll pay each of you the £200 you’ve invested, if you'll sell me your shares". Encouraged by his wife, Moores kept faith and he paid Askham and Hughes £200 each. Moores later devised a security system to prevented cheating and eventually the pools took off, becoming one of the best-known names in Britain.

1932 Moores, by now a millionaire, was able to disengage himself sufficiently from the pools to start up Littlewoods Mail Order Store.

1937 This was followed by the opening of the first Littlewoods department store in Blackpool.

WWII. By the time the war started, there were 25 Littlewoods stores across the UK and over 50 by 1952.

1960 Moores gave up his chairmanship of the Pools business, and handed over the reins to his brother, Cecil, so he could become a director of Everton Football Club.

1977 Moores retired as chairman of Littlewoods in October and was succeeded by his son Peter.

1980 Profits fell (Moores remained on the board) so he resumed the chairmanship in October.

1982 He gave up this role again in May, and was made life president of the organisation. His family carried on running Littlewoods but a non-family member succeeded Moores as chairman.

1986 Moores himself remained on the board of directors until December, when he fully retired, because of age and also because his health had declined.

1993 On 25 September, Sir John Moores died at his home at Shireburn Road, Freshfields, Formby, where he had lived since 1930. He was cremated six days later at Southport.

Two months after his death his estate was valued as being worth more than 10 million pounds. The Littlewoods businesses were sold to the Barclay Brothers in October 2002.


1952 Colin Henry Littlewood Askham was John Moores' PA in the Little wood Mail Order organisation. CHLA was also on the Board of Everton Football Club until February 1960 when he resigned and his place was taken by John Moores. CHLA lived in a house provided by Littlewoods until his death in 1986.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • [1] Wikipedia on Littlewoods
  • [2] Wikipedia on Sir John Moores