Blantyre Co-operative Society
The Co-operative Society has long played a vital part in Blantyre’s commerce since the 1880’s. It was such a monumental part of everyday life in in this town that it’s worth touching upon their history further.
Although the Co-op, as an enterprise has roots as far back as 1844, I discovered in this research that Blantyre’s first co-operative was actually opened at Stonefield Road, near the junction of Glasgow Road in the 1860’s, but it failed (most likely due to lack of population). It did not take off and was gone by 1870.
Blantyre’s Co-operative tried again and was opened on 7th September 1883 at 142 Station Road. It provided reasonable prices for all sorts of commodities including clothes, fire fuel and food. It introduced huge competition into Blantyre at a time when population was expanding rapidly. As miners and their families flocked to Blantyre, they found choice in either becoming a co-op member and the loyalty payments that brought, or sticking to what they knew at all the other local shops. For many people it was a rigid choice and one they stuck to for a long time. Incentives and loyalty dividends were a big attraction.
In late 1883, they also opened a shop at Henderson’s Building to the east side of Glasgow Road, rented from William Henderson and occupied it until around 1920. They also rented two central shops at nearby Avon Buildings, a property they would eventually own completely. It all expanded as the Co-op prospered until they had occupancy of much of the building, in which eventually there were the Office, a Hall, Central Grocery, dept., a Dressmaking and Millinery dept., a Gent’s Outfitters, a Fleshing dept., Ante-Rooms and a Boardroom. Silent films were shown in the Henderson’s Building hall from 1903.
The Co-op or ‘Co-operative Wholesale Society’ (to give it its full name) had a slow start and Mr. George Pate audited the first balance sheet on January 3rd, 1884. Profits were surprisingly good but larger memberships were needed. During his subsequent years from 1885 to 1891 he served as secretary to the society and took more than a keen interest in the early stages and in particular how he could attract the growing population.
In 1891, Glasgow Road was going through a transformation. New sandstone buildings were being constructed in quality tenements with shops on the ground floor. The Society expanded, building their first dedicated and owned premises on Glasgow Road not far from the top of Station Road. Later this new premises became known as Co-op Two, as slowly and surely the smaller premises at Station Road was relegated and was saved from fire in 1931. Part of the Co-op 2 building is still there today, a long 3 storey building above the current funeral parlour. However, most of it stood where the new Glen Travel relocated shop now stands. With the expansion more goods and services were sold and separate departments like clothing or shoes, took off with people employed to act as traveling salespeople, amongst them John Duncan, grandfather of the writer, who sold boots.
On Wednesday 1st March 1900, the annual soiree and concert under the auspices of Blantyre Co-operative Society was held in the Masonic Hall, Stonefield. Mr. Thomas Gray, president, occupied the chair. There was a large attendance. Mr. Daniel H Gerard was present and delivered an address. The programme of the concert was sustained by Miss. Clara A Butler, Miss Alice Golding, Master William C McPhie, Mr. R.C McGill and Mr. Robert Steven, the accompanist. The Children’s Gala Day was instituted in 1900. Penny Savings Banking commenced in 1901 and an early form of hire purchase was available.
Years of Prosperity
The large Co-op buildings flourished and membership grew rapidly. By 1903 High Blantyre Main Street had a major co-op building to rival those of Low Blantyre. The High Blantyre Building dates to 1903 as confirmed by the 1903 date stamped on to the cast iron rainwater collection boxes, salvaged in the 1990’s and now used as planters at the nearby Priestfield Hall.
Around them grew a supporting network of smaller outlets. Individual Co-op owned Bakeries, grocers, chemists and a funeral parlour were amongst services offered. Some of these outlets were located in Broompark Road, in Dixons Rows, Auchinraith and scattered all along Glasgow Road.
Further expansion came again in 1909 when the co-op entered negotiations to acquire the site of the old Police Station at the corner of Herbertson Street and Glasgow Road. They eventually acquired the police site next to the Avon Buildings and in 1915 demolished the old police building to make way for their new Central premises. A little earlier in 1914 plans were drawn up for a new Co-op building.
At a meeting on 13th July 1916, the Co-operative considered plans of installing a new cinematograph within their new proposed hall. The Cinematograph would run for about 14 years before the ‘talkies’ put it out of the game (the Co-op couldn’t get silent films any more to fit the machine).
One of the managers in the 1920’s was Mr. George Muir. Longest serving Co-op manager appears to be Thomas Carrigan who managed Glasgow Road Co-op society for 33 years retiring in June 1927.
During 1929, discussions commenced about the possibility of amalgamation with Stonefield Independent Co-op. A news report in November 1929 tells, “Co-operators in the Blantyre district are waiting for the next move in the deadlock which has taken place in connection with the proposed amalgamation between Blantyre Cooperative Society and Stonefield Independent Co-operative Society, also in Blantyre. A recent meeting of the members of the former society ended in an uproar, and two directors of the S.C.W.S., who were on the platform, were forced to leave the meeting. The attitude taken up by the committee of the Blantyre Society in their matter of the proposed amalgamation has raised some resentment, and interesting developments are expected shortly.”
By 1930, the Co-op ownership was expansive. That year, the Society owned 2 houses in Auchinraith Road. A property named Ayton Cottage at number 31 and neighbouring number 33. They also owned a coal yard, garage and petrol tank at 126 Auchinraith Road in 1930.
Glasgow Road was a street where the Co-operative owned many properties. Amongst them in 1930, on Glasgow Road a drapery shop at number 105, a butchers shop at 107, a grocers shop at 109, a house at number 113, a dairy shop at number 115, a fish shop at 117, a shop at 119, a hardware shop at 121, a boot shop at number 123, a fruit shop at 125 and a bread shop at 127.
Their property ownership was also apparent at High Blantyre with the 3 storey tenements at Main Street. These still exist today and have addresses 309 to 319 Main Street, the co-op logo carved into the upper stonework. At those address there were several shops located on the lower floor. The Co-op Grocery at number 309, the bread shops at 313, butchers at 315 and a dairy shop at 317. Numbers 311 and 319 were houses according to the 1930 valuation roll. Directly across the road at 254 on the lower floor was their drapery shop, which is now Kathy’s. The same address also had a store, now Snips. The Co also owned 252, which was a house.
Also in 1930, the Co-op owned a tailors shop and workroom at 111 Glasgow Road as well as the Blantyre Co-operative Society Bakery at Auchinraith and stables. They also owned a workshop for boot repairs at 3 Jackson Street that same year.
The Co-op also owned shops in the lower floor of former properties 102 and 104 Broompark Road. This was at Broompark Road near Larkfield Bing, in approximately the location of the current Blantyre Carrigans Restaurant. They also owned 2 houses at number 3 at the former Jackson Street and another house at number 5. The Co-op were also leasing a shop at 88 and 90 Station Road, renting from Charles McIntyre. At Stonefield Road, the society occupied a shop at number 23 on the eastern side and a butchers shop with machinery at number 29.
Nearby, at the junction of Calder Street, at number 33 Stonefield Road, they owned a licensed store, which they leased out to David Gibson & Sons. At Herbertson Street, the Co-Op owned and occupied the Hall and Rooms at number 6, (which was let out at £100 rent a year) the lesser hall, office and boardroom at number 4 and a shop, millinery, petrol pump and tank also at number 4. Their gents department store was at number 2 Herbertson Street. They also owned part of the land at Basket and Auchentibber at this time and had former interests at Calderwood glen. You’ll probably gather where we’re heading with this. The Co-op was everywhere in Blantyre!
Co-op Tokens & Checks
Various Co-ops may have introduced their own tokens at different times for their own purposes. For instance, you might find some Societies produced bread tokens while others distributed tokens for milk or coal.
Initially, these checks were integral to the payment of the dividend, the checks being your evidence or receipts of purchases, but latterly in the 1950’s and 60’s, they were used as cash, having the same monetary value as the coins in circulation at the time. Gordon Cook local historian comments on this as follows, “I would suggest when the carbon copy slips were first issued, giving a copy to the customer while retaining a copy for the Co-op Office in Herbertson Street. After this one would pay with a mixture of cash and checks, and likewise change could be given in the same manner, i.e. 3d cash and a 1d check.”
Gordon continued, “You might notice from the photograph that these checks were issued and then re-issued at a later date to replace those that became too worn, got lost, or were stolen (which happened often).
The first time these checks appeared in Blantyre was Thursday 14th January 1897, and they were made of celluloid. They were introduced for the benefit of the butcher, who was seemingly being hindered by having to write a check slip for every customer. The butcher’s van (horse and cart) was commissioned in Blantyre around July 1892, so he had been writing out lines for 5 years before he got the new celluloid checks. The Independent Co-op in Blantyre also issued their own checks, same as the original Co-op’s but for the name Independent added.
The other tokens are fairly self explanatory, if a child was sent with a token for a pint of milk, he certainly wouldn’t be tempted to spend it in the sweet shop, and of course the mother couldn’t put it in the gas meter, so milk was assured at the end of the week It was about 1930 before Blantyre caught up with other Societies and began selling milk in bottles. Coal was historically brought from Cambuslang to Blantyre in the early 1800s, but the Co-op in Blantyre didn’t enter into this side of business until the winter of 1909.
So having first served a young lad named Alexander McCluskey in late August 1883, after almost 90 years of trading and about 75 years of handling checks, it all came to an end on Tuesday 25th July 1972, when the Society was officially wound up.”
Mergers, crimes & other events
At the end of February 1931, negotiations between 4 large Co-operative societies in the area completely failed on coming to a decision to merge each into one large society. Hamilton Central, Burnbank, Stonefield and Blantyre were involved with 3 parties unable to agree to the demands of one particular party. Deadlock was reached and a decision to continue as normal was reached.
Stonefield Independent Co-operative Society merged with Blantyre Co-operative Society on 29th April 1932.
A year later on 31st August 1933, fifteen year old Joseph McCudden of School Lane, Blantyre walked into the Main Street branch of the Co-op, produced a revolver and held up the shop and its customers. During a frightening couple of minutes, the general manager Robert Marshall Robb was assaulted, but not shot. Overpowered on his way out, Joseph was apprehended quickly with nothing stolen and no doubt a hefty sentence following. Indeed, there are many small stories of thefts throughout the decades from these shops, which must have seemed attractive and plentiful targets for people when times were hard.
On 31st December 1935, two men were charged after a raid by detectives on their houses at High Blantyre, which led to an appearance at Hamilton J.P. Court. The two men had decided to stock up for their festive holiday a little earlier than planned, and in a manner most illegal. Mr. David Cunningham, labourer, 10 Cemetery Road, High Blantyre, and Alexander Campbell Anderson, labourer, 8 Cemetery Road, High Blantyre, a neighbour, both of whom were charged with having, between 6 p.m. on December 2 and 5 a.m. on December 3, while acting in concert, broken into the shop of the Blantyre Co-Operative Society at 102-104 Broompark Road, High Blantyre, and stolen three hams, 20 lb. of cheese, three tins of pressed beef, two bottles of sauce, bottle of sweets, and tokens to the value of £83 10s. At the request of the Fiscal, the accused, without being asked to plead, were remanded in custody pending further inquiries.
In the 1952 Statistical Account of Blantyre it is commented “The Blantyre Co-operative society has a very large membership, has commodious premises in Station Road, Glasgow Road, Auchinraith Road (corrected to Herbertson Street) and Main Street.
The staff had to be impeccably turned out. The male assistants had to wear starched collars on their shirts (removable collars) – a clean one every day and two on a Saturday, presumably because they were so busy on a Saturday and the collars got dirtier. All work aprons had to be immaculate at all times and shop assistants’ hands had to be scrubbed frequently. There was sawdust on the floor prior to the Co-op becoming self-service, which also was swept and replaced at frequent intervals. Counters adorned the shops all around the walls and there was usually a partially filled butter barrel in the middle of the shop in High Blantyre. In the Main Street premises, also were huge cheeses with a large cheese-wire cutter. The staff members were so accomplished at judging weight that they’d cut it, weigh it, and rarely had to take a bit off or add to it.
A few other interesting facts about our local Co-op shops. The late local historian, Jimmy Cornfield as a boy of 14 found work at his local Low Blantyre Co-op store as a messenger boy. Like others of his age the job led to a higher position with a trade to be learned. In Jimmy’s case apprentice cobbler, before leaving for his time in the army.
During the 1930’s, Mr. George Hunter worked for the Co-op as a delivery driver still with horse and cart, but by 1940’s and 1950’s he had an electric float.
In 1953, the Women’s guild celebrated their 50th Anniversary of receiving bulk buy discounts, with a party. The newspaper reported, “Fifty years old and still going strong” – and that was obviously so at the Jubilee Party at Blantyre Central Co-operative women’s guild. Cutting the cake were Mrs T. McDonagh the president, Mr Gordon Clark who handed over the cake on behalf of the management, Mrs Sarah Peat a founder member and Mrs M. Mundell vice president. “
The Society was finally integrated into the S.CW.S Retail Group in 1972 and “lost” its named identity then. In 1978 the Co-op tried unsuccessfully to be the new superstore in Blantyre, losing out to ASDA. Today, the brand of Co-op still exists in the town to a small extent, but nowhere near the extent and vital lifeline it was in previous Centuries.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
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