Not as pretty as a postcard

This is Edmonton Green in north London, the shop in question originally being a fine store built for the local co-operative society in 1903. If you look only at first floor level upward, it remains almost exactly the same as it was on several colourful postcards issued at the time to mark its opening. It really must have been quite THE place to shop back then. The architect was Tom Yates of the CWS London branch Architects’ Department. Now, of course, all the old shopfronts have disappeared, but I suppose we should be thankful that the whole building has not gone the way of Edmonton’s town hall, which stood close by on Fore Street. All that remains is a clock, looking rather sorry for itself opposite a huge retail park!

Carnival time

Just a quick update on the progress of the co-operative architecture book. Having been buried in the various archives for about two years, I’ve now accumulated more than enough material for the book – but no doubt I shall be rushing back to Manchester, London or wherever when I come across some missing link. So organising starts today, and writing shortly after for completion spring next year – hopefully! The weather has been kind lately so most of the photography is done. In fact the weather has been rather like June 1921 when this carnival-related shot was taken, probably in Manchester. It shows a group, mostly children, carrying and wearing all sorts of adverts for CWS own-brand products. They must have been an entry in one of the carnival competitions. Talk about brand loyalty!

Talking Shops at Stirling’s Engine Shed

I’ll be in Stirling on 26 Feb for the Talking Shops seminar on shopfronts, part of the History of Scotland’s Shopfronts exhibition and related events at Historic Environment Scotland’s Engine Shed centre. I’m speaking on Shopping at the Co-op; looking forward to showing off some of my huge number of photos of Co-op shopfronts! This image is of a rather grand branch in Reading, built in 1901, even though the building says it was 1900 (clearly intended to confuse historians….).

Sunny East Ham

All around as I write is permafrost, so here’s a little sunshine from a few months ago to remind us that spring is, er, just around the corner. Maybe. Anyway, what has this urn to do with the co-op? Four of them stand in East Ham Park, a little way from the site of the 1928 London Co-operative Society department store which was quite the latest thing when built, with huge plate glass windows. The design was by the CWS chief London architect, Leonard Ekins, who would go on to design some unusual Dutch-style brick offices in the 1930s. Here, however, he stuck to respectable classical with a tall corner tower looking down on East Ham’s High Street. Possibly a challenge or homage to the stupendous Edwardian East Ham Town Hall which is close by. The four urns were placed near the top of the store’s tower and seem to be the only elements to survive the building’s demolition in the 1990s; really I’m surprised it lasted that long. The store was clad in terracotta or cast stone produced by Shaws of Darwen, who also provided the decorative bits and pieces. It’s good to have the chance to examine the material close up; one can see the combed texture, so it is probably a grey terracotta, but it feels very stone-like. It’s lovely that something survives from what must have been a very popular shop, at least initially. There is even a little plaque in the park to tell you what you are looking at. Delightful in the sunshine….

To Oakengates

To Oakengates – just beyond Telford in Shropshire – to see the old co-op, where the pretty mosaic panel was rediscovered during recent renovations. For anyone venturing further and into the delightful Ironbridge Gorge, the present co-op is housed in a splendid old red brick warehouse beside the Severn, great use for the building.

Hands of Friendship in York

The scaffolding has finally come off the former Co-op central premises in York, after what seems like years. And – once the rain had stopped – the building looked very smart, even down to the somewhat understated display of co-op symbolism. Once you get your eye in, it is easy to spot various hands of friendship and beehives, all high up on what I think must be a sandstone facade. Shortly off to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Library to delve into the Hathern Terracotta Company archives, to get more details on the many co-op facades the firm was responsible for between the wars.