Retailers are hoping that a last-minute rush will avert a bloodbath on the high street this Christmas as figures released yesterday showed that the number of shoppers remained well down on last year.

The grim news came as Whittard of Chelsea, the upmarket tea chain, stood on the brink of administration last night. The 122-year-old chain, which is backed by Landsbanki, the collapsed Icelandic bank, called in Ernst & Young as standby administrator after Landsbanki cut its funding lines, it is understood.

Desperate retailers are trusting that poor trading will be offset by the two extra shopping days they have before Christmas Day this year.

The Times, Daily Telegraph