Spent most of last week taking photos of assorted old co-op buildings west of the Pennines, and enjoying incredibly sunny days; wonderful for photography. Saw some really splendid old co-ops, from Carlisle through Lancaster and Preston, Blackburn and Burnley, Hayfield and New Mills, and lots more. On the way back stopped in Todmorden, where many thanks to the lovely people at the Old Co-op Café, who let me in to take pics even though they were busy with rearranging their beautiful interior. Highly recommended! My favourite photo of the whole trip is this one from east Manchester, the Droylsden Co-op’s tenth branch, built in 1908. A passer-by stopped to tell me his auntie used to live in the building (unlisted), which seemingly is currently being renovated; let’s hope so.
This is the first of what I hope will be many blogs on the architecture of the co-operative movement; the image is a detail of the Unity Works in Wakefield, as it is known in its newly (mostly, work is ongoing) restored state. It was built by Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society from 1876 onward as Unity House, and came to include several shops and a splendidly large Great Hall with wonderful stained glass including pics of beehives. The wheatsheaf and the beehive constantly crop up in co-op imagery. Co-op buildings ranged from the better known shops and emporiums through warehouses and many factories to mills and much more. There’s still interest in these buildings now, especially the shops (just look on any photo sharing website), but the loss of most of the factories and warehouses has left the retail premises without the distribution network which supplied them. Fortunately there are many fine buildings still with us, not just in what might be called the co-op’s northern heartlands, but throughout the country. As for the Unity Works, lovely architecture aside it is well worth a visit, with a great café.