by Thomas Smith
The fact that Asda is a Yorkshire creation is not particularly well known. What is even less well known is that its origins lie in the Wakefield five towns area.
Asda, the colossal supermarket chain now owned by the American company Walmart, has its roots in two local West Yorkshire families, the Asquiths and the Stockdales.
The Asquith family were Knottingley based butchers in the 1920’s; their sons, Peter and Fred Asquith, the soon-to-become co-founders of Asda, opened their first store in Pontefract in 1958. Allegedly, this first store was located on Pontefract’s Horse Fair (approximately where the British Heart Foundation Furniture & Electrical shop currently stands). Though this initial store was not yet operating under the Asda name, it was the first in line of a handful of stores to be set up by the two brothers in Pontefract and the surrounding towns and villages of Castleford, Edlington, and South Elmsall.
At the same period in which the Asquith family were operating, the Stockdale family were in business as dairy farmers in the West Riding area (now formally part of West Yorkshire). In 1949 Arthur Stockdale became managing director of Associated Dairies and Farm Stores Ltd.
In what was to be a successful partnership, on the 3rd of May 1965 the Asquith brothers merged their butchery and supermarket business with the Stockdale-run Associated Dairies, and a new company was formed: Asda – a combination of Asquith and Dairies. Following this merger stores opened in Wakefield and Leeds. By 1967 Asda was also operating stores in the town of Billingham, Teesside (which is, amazingly, still in operation).
Today, with its headquarters in Leeds, Asda can be seen as still heeding its Yorkshire roots. In 2006, Peter Asquith, then 79 years of age, opened the Pontefract Asda on Halfpenny Lane by cutting a 15ft piece of liquorice at the inaugural ceremony. Speaking to the local newspaper, the Pontefract and Castleford Express, Peter Asquith said “We are really excited at the prospect of bringing Asda back to where everything started. I’ve always lived within 20 miles of Pontefract, and the town is still very important to me.”
In 1999 Asda was subject to a £6.7 billion takeover by American retail corporation Walmart. As well as selling the same manner of goods as its founding families did over half a century ago, Asda now also offers a huge range of additional goods and services.
In 2011, Pontefract Civic Society facilitated the errection of a blue plaque, which is now situated on the site of the former Asquith supermarket on Horsefair, to commemorate the comapny’s links to the town.
So, next time you step foot in an Asda store in the Wakefield five towns area, remember that it’s more local thank you think.
Reproduced by kind permission of Pontefract Heritage Group. www.pontefractheritagegroup.org.uk
This article was featured in Issue 5 – June 2019.