It’s taken a while, but the co-op architecture book is now complete and with the publisher, Liverpool University Press, who will publish it under the Historic England imprint sometime in 2020 hopefully. The whole project has lasted about five fascinating years, travelling around looking at co-op buildings and delving into archives. Thanks to all the staff at the many libraries and archives visited, especially the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester, with whom I shared the joys of working while the surrounding co-op estate was being renovated! Never a day without scaffolding….. These two pics, art deco Tamworth and brutalist Aberdeen, show just how varied co-op architecture can be. Can’t wait to see the proofs.
Just getting my head up from writing for a quick progress report – the book is now two-thirds written, so not too long to go. Then I have to write the captions! Enjoyed a trip to sunny Manchester to see the Co-op Quarter looking good, now refurbishment heading towards completion. What makes the area stand out is not simply the height of the buildings, there are many others in the city of a similar or greater height, but their density on the ground; the roads between are very narrow.
This is one of a set of 28 cigarette cards issued by the CWS around 1914-16 on the theme of CWS buildings and works. The quality of the images is obviously not great, but the fact that they are in colour is really useful architecturally. The series didn’t have a proper title, and the individual cards weren’t numbered, but I gather a collectors’ handbook has given them numbers. I’ve seen 25 out of the 28 as follows: 1 Tralee, 2 Crumpsall, 3 Leicester, 4 Bristol, 5 Leeds, 6 Dudley, 8 Manchester HQ, 9 Luton, 10 Desborough, 12 Avonmouth, 13 Dunston (flour mill), 14 Silvertown (flour mill), 15 Manchester (Sun Mill), 16 Huthwaite, 18 Middleton, 20 Newcastle, 22 Longsight, 23 Dunston (soap works), 24 Irlam, 25 Silvertown (soap works), 26 London (tea), 27 Manchester (tobacco), 28 Bury. I also know that there are cards for Pelaw (see pic) and Keighley, but I don’t know their numbers. So if anyone knows what numbers 7, 11, 17, 19 and 21 are, it would be great to hear from you!
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!
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!
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….).
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….