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!
One of the many curious things about the relationship between the CWS and the (at one time) thousands of local co-operative societies relates to the CWS Architects’ Department. Local co-op societies could use it rather than the array of (normally) locally-based architects and the societies’ own building departments to provide plans for new stores and whatever else was required. But even though the CWS architects were available from the very late 19th century onward, by no means all local societies used them, much (one guesses from editorials in some of the CWS publications) to the annoyance of the central department. But look, for instance, at this photo of the Doncaster co-op emporium and offices, built 1938-40 right in the town centre and still in use (partly at least) as a shop today, although not as a co-op. The design, all curvy modernist streamlined lines, moderne even, was by the local architectural practice T H Johnson & Son. Why look further afield when you can get something this good locally? In addition, local architects, especially earlier in the 20th century, were often members of the local co-operative society themselves. The Derby central emporium, designed by Sidney Bailey in 1938 but only completed after the war, is another good modernist example produced locally. The CWS architects did some great stuff too, but it is easy to see why a specific local society would want to keep up its long-term relationship with its ‘own’ (as they were often referred to) architect.