Those nice people at the Isle of Man Victorian Society have invited me over to Douglas on Saturday 26 October 2019 to give a talk in the Manx Museum about Co-op Architecture. Time yet to be confirmed, details to follow. Hoping to see the view from Snaefell on the trip too!
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.
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 cool piece of lettering comes from a former butcher’s in Retford, put up by the local co-operative society in 1912. Not sure where the white faience comes from but it could have been the Hathern works. The whole shop is an almost complete (externally) branch, and the butcher’s even has some tiling – white with brown trim – surviving inside. If you are changing trains at Retford station, the branch is a minute or two north-east. Writing going well, one-fifth of book completed.
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….
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.
Here in glorious sunny Lewisham the frontage of the recently revamped 1930s Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society building Tower House is looking spiffing. Delightful ceramic details abound, with the little trucks even bearing RACS lettering. The ground floor is not yet complete – the building is going to be apartments – but the upper floors of the exterior show the RACS at its architectural best. Even the little ventilators come in the form of RACS letters.
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.
I’ve seen quite a few architectural representations of wheatsheaves – one of several symbols of co-operation – lately, mostly on Victorian and Edwardian co-op stores. So when I came across this version, on a 1935 co-op emporium in Long Eaton, Derbyshire (now functioning as a carpet warehouse, and still with a 1963 co-op open staircase inside), I thought it was simply an art deco wheatsheaf. But now I see similar items on other co-op stores referred to as a lotus, an iconic symbol used in art deco architecture. Seems to me it could be either; maybe the architect was keeping up with the times and art deco-ing the wheatsheaf, or perhaps indeed it is a lotus, and thus nothing to do with the co-op movement’s symbolism. Other examples welcome! And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter!
To London again this week for the British Library and yet more issues of Co-operative News, an invaluable source both for shop openings and general discussions – about advertising for instance – in the co-op movement. For a bit of light relief I went along to the Bow Road in Poplar, to photograph a 1919 Stratford Co-operative and Industrial Society store; it still functions as a supermarket, although not a co-op. It has a rather splendid beehive on its pediment, so well detailed that the individual bees and the hive’s structure are clearly visible. It’s near the Bow Church DLR station (and not far from Bow Road tube). If you happen to visit, don’t miss the former Poplar Town Hall (1937-8) just across the road, a smashing modernist building with sculptures in socialist realist style of various building labourers, and also mosaics above the councillors’ entrance. But you must cross the road to see the best bit, as there is a lovely mosaic design of the Thames and docklands beneath the entrance canopy, presumably to inspire the members as they looked up when entering the building!