In the same year that saw the abdication of King Edward VIII, the first TV interview, the Spitfire took its maiden flight and Jesse Owens dashed to Olympic Gold, Marks & Spencer opened its first store in Wrexham.
And on the momentous opening day in July 1936 waiting to greet the very first customers at the brand new Hope Street premises was an 18-year-old sales assistant named Em Hughes.
Now a sprightly 98, Em – her name is short for Emlyne – has just been along to the new M&S store in the Eagles Meadow shopping centre to help celebrate the clothing and food chain’s 80 years of trading in the town.
Em, who is still a regular customer, was a VIP guest at the anniversary festivities which she launched by cutting a specially baked cake to share with present-day staff and other former M&S employees in Wrexham.
She also gave the seal of approval to a fascinating collection of old photographs and other memorabilia depicting how the original store looked in times past.
Widow Em, who has her own home in Ruabon near Wrexham, recalled that her association with M&S began with a successful job interview a couple of months before the new store opened for business.
She said: “I left school at the age of 14 to start work as a sales assistant at the old Woolworths store in the town centre.
“I’d been there for a few years when I heard that M&S was opening in Hope Street and as the wage was a bit better than the £1 a week I was getting at Woolworths I decided to apply for it.
“I remember going for the interview with other people at the doctors’ surgery in Belmont Road and was lucky enough to get the job.
“I started work as a sales assistant in the lingerie department six weeks before the store opened because we had lots of work to do to get the place ready in time.
“Although I remember the first day I can’t bring to mind who performed the opening ceremony but what I do recall is that, not long afterwards, a Rolls Royce pulled up outside the store and a very smart man wearing a bowler hat got out, came inside and started to talking to myself and my colleagues.
“He was very nice and polite and we were told that it was Mr Israel Sieff, the vice chairman of Marks & Spencer.”
After spending some time in lingerie sales Em moved to work in various other departments of the store, including toiletries.
“We had items like soap selling for one, two or three old pence and we had to keep them in order of their colours,” she said.
“I also worked in the department selling gramophones and records and the thing that stands out in my memory is that we used to have a man coming in specially to sing some of the songs on the records to promote them. That was very interesting.
“The bosses back then were always very strict with you but the staff were well looked after and I enjoyed my time working there.
“I suppose I could be the only one left who was there on the day the store opened 80 years ago but I hope I’m not.
“My daughter brings me back to shop at the new store in Eagles Meadow quite a lot. Things are very different now than they were in my day but I love having a good talk to the present staff about the old times and other things.”
Em worked at the old Wrexham store for two years before leaving to marry her late husband, Tegwyn Hughes, and concentrate on raising a family of a son, Ray Hughes, and two daughters, Mem Love and Jean Audrey Speare.
She also has two grandsons and three great-grandchildren including two girls and a boy.
Clothing section manager Ceri Roberts, who helped arrange the 80th anniversary celebration at the store said: “Because Em and her daughter Mem come in so regularly and chat to us we discovered that she was one of the original staff team and knew we just had to have her at the star guest as she’s such a wonderful lady.
“On the day we also had a number of other former staff members to help us mark the occasion and Em had a good talk with them all, sharing experiences, before we gave her a guided tour of the store.
“We had pictures of the old store on display and did lots of research about how M&S started in Wrexham all those years ago.
“We discovered that it opened on July 17 in 1936 and had a frontage on Hope Street of 68 feet with a sales area of 10,000 square feet.
“An extension was added to the rear of the building in 1977 which increased the sales area to 18,600 square feet.
“We moved to the new Eagles Meadow store when it opened in October 2008 and here we have a total sales area of 35,000 square feet.”
Store manager Deborah Hitchen said: “It was fantastic having Em with us to share her earliest memories of M&S being in Wrexham.
“Apart from the celebration we had with Em, we also planned a party for current staff at a local hotel to raise a glass to our 80th anniversary.
“It was also a way of marking the success we’ve enjoyed at Eagles Meadow over the past eight years and our great customer and colleague base which gives the store a real family atmosphere.”
Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley said: “M&S has been an important high street favourite with shoppers for eight decades and they are one of our main anchor stores at Eagles Meadow.
“It was wonderful that Em was able to join the anniversary celebrations and that she is still a regular customer.”