NEWSLETTER - 26th NOVEMBER 1996
A while ago I was given some literature on the early history of the co-operative Movement in Mexborough and I thought it would be a good idea this month to cover this part of our town's history.
THE EARLY HISTORY OF MEXBOROUGH CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY
Long dark wood counters, the ring of silvered tills, cylinders of metal which flew overhead on cables to hidden cashiers offices, angled pieces of plastic known as cheques, blue bags which held sugar, men in white smocks with razor sharp brains better than any calculator, the overall smell of cheese, butter, and bacon, the "divi" which came in so handy to many a hard pressed housewife, and a certain number emblazoned on your heart forever.
Whatever your memories of the co-op it will be remembered by generations as an institution where personal service was unsurpassed and quality goods could be obtained at reasonable prices.
The ten shops which were to be found in every built up area of Mexborough with their own particular brand of atmosphere became so much a part of the everyday lives of every family in this town that they can never be replaced by the large supermarkets.
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution mill owners would build factories and some then surrounded them with houses built for their workers, among the houses would also be shops which sold low quality, sometimes even contaminated, goods at exorbitant prices, all the profits of which went back to the industrialist as owner of the shop. By the early 19th century this was beginning to become a scandal and many people were against it, one of these being a man called Robert Owen.
Robert Owen (1771 - 1858) was a cotton mill owner from New Lanark in Scotland who believed that it was his duty to look after his workers and in 1813 set up the first Co-operative Society which was a group of people who co-operated in business. By 1832 there were 500 Co-operative movements but unfortunately none of them lasted more than a couple of years. Then in 1844 28 Lancashire flannel-weavers set up the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers by each putting £1 into the fund and with this money they rented a store in Toad Lane Rochdale where they bought good quality goods from local merchants and sold them at a fair price. The shop soon began to make a profit which was handed back to the shoppers in proportion to the amount of money they had spent, this share out of profits was known as a dividend or "divi" as it was called.
Many other groups began to follow the example of the Rochdale pioneers and this is the story of one of them, the Mexborough Co-operative Society.
On the 4th. February 1861 nine working men met together at the home of James Simpson and decided to form a Society which was to be called the Mexborough Working Men's Industrial Society, the aims of which were to supply (at first to themselves) the necessary things of life. They paid their entrance fee of 1/- (5p) and a subscription to a share account, this made a total collected that night of 11/6 (57p). The following meeting was held on the 11th February when two more members joined and £1 4s ((£1 20) was collected. The following week five more joined, paying into the share account a further £3 16s (£3 80). Their next meeting was on the 20th February when another member entered the Society, making seventeen members in all. An audit of the accounts was held and they found they had a sum of £6 12s 6d (£6 62) in their share account. A committee was chosen and a
Mr. Thomas Vickers was elected to be the first secretary, a post he held for no less than four years.
The Society held several more meetings and with the membership standing at twenty and a capital of just £9 8s 7d (£9 43) it was decided to begin business, trading at the house of Mr. James Simpson. The members, besides being pioneers in the Co-operative movement, were also pioneers in women's rights and elected Ann Simpson the wife of James as their first storekeeper.
As the Society hadn't much money several of the members went to a local miller and bought 30 stones of flour and 6 stones of sharps (this is a similar substance to bran) which was brought back to their new shop in Mr. Simpson's home in their wheelbarrows.
For the first eight weeks they only sold flour and meal and then on the ninth they discovered a local grocer who would sell them groceries at a 5% discount and so the selling of groceries began. However, tea and sugar proved to be more difficult to obtain and it wasn't until they had been in business for sixteen weeks that they had their first delivery of these items which were obtained from Phillips & Co of London and at last they were able to supply all the ordinary necessities of life.
After they had been in business for six months they decided to pay Ann Simpson a salary of £1 and this was to include rent and candles. It was at this time too that an audit of accounts was taken. It was found that £127 10s 11d (£127 55) had been received from goods sold and that the share capital was only £32 4s 7d (£32 23) 2/4 was missing. At this one of the major shareholders left which was a big blow to the Society. Undeterred they struggled on taking a shop on High Street (at this time High Street also included Main Street)
Gradually their profits began to increase from £2,000 per quarter until in the 1890s it was £32,000 per year. With an increase in profits came an increase of membership
and by this period it stood at 1,200. Three new branches were opened, in butchery, confectionery, and tailoring, plus a slaughter house, and a large bakery (possibly the one which is now occupied by Coltron on Church Street) which had double-decker Geen Ovens.
By 1903 land had been purchased in the middle of Mexborough on which to build a large and grand new central store, but then suddenly in 1904 the Mexborough Cooperative Society went into liquidation. But why, when it was doing so well? Could it have been the after effects of the year long miners strike known locally as the "Bag Muck Strike" which caused so much devastation to this area between 1902 and 1903?.
To discover more about our Co-operative movement I thought I would also consult copies of the directories on Mexborough and found an excellent list of past managers etc, besides the first manageress, Ann Simpson. These are as follows:-
1877 -Manager Alfred Hewitt, address High Street (someone once told
1880 me that the first Co-op in Mexborough was situated on the corner of Main St., and Hartley St., but I have been unable to verify this).
1897 President Mr. T. Cooper, Treasurer Mr. A Barron, Secretary Mr. J. Gothwaite, Auditors Messes. W. Hudson and J.W. Epworth, Overall Manager Mr. C.E. Shaw, Branch Manager (Doncaster Rd.,) Mr. H. Shaw, Committee Messes. T. Cooper, J. Storer, T. Jackson, H. Jenkinson, T. D. Turner, George Marshall, W. Parker, and Thomas Hancock.
1899 Manager Mr. Richard Lindley, 167 & 169 High St.,
1903 Over all Manager Mr. F. H. Harrop, Manager of No. 1 Branch Main St., Herbert S haw, Manager of No. 2 Branch Doncaster Rd., Fred Storer, Manager of No.3 Branch Roman Terrace and the Wath Branch Mr. A. Dryden. Please note that
by 1903 they had gone back to their old name of Mexborough Working
Men's Industrial Society and on this date were not listed as Mexborough Co -operative Society.
1912 By this time the Mexborough Co-operative Society had gone into liquidation and been taken over by the Barnsley British Co-operative Society.
Information obtained from:-
Souvenir of the Co-operative Congress
Doncaster 1903. Obtained from the Co-operative Archives, Hanover Street, Manchester
Directories of Mexborough 1877 - 1912 Work Out Social and Economic History.
If you wish to consult any of the above documents please do not hesitate to ask.
J. R. Ashby
Copyright. This newsletter may not be reproduced in part or in its entirety without the permission of J. R. Ashby.