The Co-operative Society has played a vital part in Blantyre’s commerce since the end of the 1800’s. Although the Co-op has roots as far back as 1844, Blantyre’s first co-operative was opened in 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.
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 August or September 1885, they opened a shop in August or September 1883 in Henderson’s Building to the east side of Glasgow Road, rented from a Mr John Crow. It all expanded as the Co-op prospered till 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 this hall at Hendersons Building from 1903.
In 1891, Glasgow Road was going through a transformation. New sandstone buildings were being constructed in long lasting tenements with shops on the ground floor. The Society expanded, building their premises on Glasgow Road. Later this new premises became known as Co-op Two, as slowly and surely the smaller premises at Station Road were relegated. Part of the building is still there today, a long 3 storey building above the current funeral parlour. However, most of it stood where the current Clydesdale Bank 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 my great grandfather and grandfather, who sold boots.
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 site known as Avons Buildings and in Summer 1915 demolished them entirely, to make way for their new Central premises. 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 ‘Memorial Stone’ of the new Herbertson Street Hall and offices was laid on Saturday 6th November 1915 and construction lasted throughout 2016 and into 2017. It officially opened in early February 1917 with 2 weeks of evening celebrations, which were free for all members. The Cinematograph ran 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).
This “state of the art” building had loads of office space as well as community halls, which proved to be very popular. The General manager was Mr George Muir. A womens guild was established around the same time offering bulk buy discounts. (It was quite common at the time for the female of the family to do the shopping!). I’m lucky enough to have the construction plans for this particular co-op, which are very interesting. As a construction manager however, I see the wall details are flawed and would have quickly led to dampness. The building was expanded in the 1940s.
The large C0-op buildings flourished and membership grew rapidly. By 1912 High Blantyre Main Street had a major co-op building to rival those of Low Blantyre. 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 and scattered all along Glasgow Road.
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.
Gerry Kelly recently told us on our social media webpage that this wonderful picture belonging to his wife, Nancy Kelly is associated with the Co-op. Her granny Agnes Craig is pictured in the middle, one of the woman standing in a large crowd outside the Glasgow Road Co-op. It is Summer 1954. Pictured is Daniel Morrison, general manager with a microphone announcing to local Blantyre women that food rationing would now end and wider varieties of foods would now be available. With rationing in place since the war started, this was welcome news for everybody in the UK. (Sidenote, the man is NOT Gordon Jackson the actor as some may have you believe, nor is he opening the store, although i will say he does strike more than a passing resemblance to the actor)
A few other interesting facts about our local Co-op. Blantyre’s late 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.
Longest serving C0-op manager I could trace appears to be Thomas Carrigan who managed Glasgow Road Co-op society for 33 years retiring in June 1927.
A few years later on 31st August 1933, fifteen year old Joseph McCudden of School Lane, Blantyre walked into the Main Street branch of the C0-op, produced a revolver and held up the shop and it’s 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.
Today, the brand of Co-op still exists in the town to a small extent, but in nowhere near the vital lifeline it was last century.