Oral History: Cooperative Movement – Margaret Tweedy

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Interview transcript: Margaret Tweedy

Date and place of birth: April 1937, Newcastle upon Tyne

Interviewer: Elizabeth Burn

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives

Italics used for editorial voice of interviewer.

E: Thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed, but first you could tell me your name and just where you were born.

M: My name’s Margaret Tweedy. I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. I was born in 74 Delaval Road in the front room. (Scotswood area of Newcastle)

E: What date?

M: 27th April. 1937.

E: So it was before the war?

M: Yes…when I was about nine we moved upstairs to number 76. When I was 20 I was married, moved down 59 Shafto Street, lived there for 10 years then moved up to 61 Shafto Street and I’ve been there ever since..(we both laugh).

E: So when did you first get involved with the Coop?

M: Well, doing me mother’s shopping on a Saturday. I had to take 2 bags and the ration book, I was about 10 year old.

E: So, this will be after the war by then,

M: Yes. Up the street to Delaval Road Coop, go round all the counters, get the groceries, whatever she wanted…and I was always told when I got to the bakery counter ‘if anything nice, get it’ and I think that’s how I learnt to make some decisions on my own. I would bring that shopping back, seeing I was just a small child, I’ve never been very tall, so it was carrying 2 heavy shopping bags. I had to collect the potato basket and another bag and go back up the road and go to the fruit and veg, get a half a stone or a stone of potatoes, veg for the Sunday dinner, whatever fruit we could get…

E: Did you have any brothers or sisters?

M: Yes, but I was the eldest…me brother was 3 years younger than me and when I was 10 me sister was born.

E: …Did you remember the Dividend?

M: Yes, I remember the Dividend and …murder was on if I forgot the number (laughs). It’s imprinted 50743!

E: What happened when you told them the number?

M: Well they would write it down on the cheque, fill in how much you paid, well how much your bill came to, you would give them the money, they would take a shuttle thing out of the tube, put the cheques in, put the money in, seal it up, put it back in the tube, pull the thing and it would go shooting up into the office and then if there was any change to … you had to wait for the cheque, you mustn’t forget the cheque – when that came back they would hand over the… receipts…and the change. And you’d have to go to the next counter…there were 4 separate counters and you had to do that all the way around and tell your number, same at the fruit shop, same at the butchers.

E: And when did you get the Dividend? Did you get it at the end…

M: It was every 3 months…Me mam always had the cheques, she would add them up religiously every week, all the way through the 3 months and then she’d be told how much she had …she used to check it to make sure it was right and then you had to go down to Newgate Street

E: That was the main Co-op?

M: Yes. I remember being in the queue with her up what we call Darn Crook there, now it’s St. Andrew’s Street, and having to walk all the way down and up to the 3rd floor of the General Office to get the money (laughs) and queue all the way up the stairs!

E: And did you have a card?

M: Yes.

E: And do you remember the Coop tokens, did you have those?

M: Milk tokens she did …

E: So you know the Co-op from doing the shopping?

M: And of course, me father always talked about the Coop. He told us the history.

E: What did he say about it?

M: He said that it was set up by working people to help working people to have decent food and to also educate people so that they could make themselves better in life and educate their families and that…he was all for the Coop movement and when I was …about 12 (or) 13 , it must have been about 12, he became a Coop coal man, delivering the coal…he’d been in the pits when he was young and he and his father got black-listed from the pit owners because they’d dared to start a union.…so none of the pit owners would hire them…so he got a horse and cart and sold fruit and veg to people in the big houses, but he lost that because the people in the big houses wouldn’t pay their bills!

E: So once he became a coal man for the Coop, what did he do after becoming a coalman?

M: He went on to the council as a grounds man…did a lot of work up in Paddy Freeman’s (local park) used to do the cricket pitches and that…

E: So he was a really good example to you of a working man…?

M: Oh yes, he’d turn his hand to anything…

E: Despite being blacklisted…so you therefore knew the Coop was about more than just shopping?

M: Oh yes, I knew it was about fairness.

E: And do you think your friends knew as well?                                            6mins.

M; I don’t know, we sort of didn’t talk about it as children. I wasn’t in a youth club or anything like that….I had to help my mam because she wasn’t in good health at the time.

Summary of work details and life details: 1952- 1989   (6-12 mins)

Margaret left school at 15 and got a job in Carricks Bakery, selling in the shop. She was there for a month, then she started working in the General Office of the Co-op, sorting out the orders-Margaret wanted to work for the Co-op and she also wanted to do ‘something better’ than working in a shop. She became a stock clerk and then moved to checking the bills. She worked in the Co-op offices for ten and a half years.

When Margaret got married at the age of twenty (1957) she had to write to the Co-op and ask for permission to stay on at work as the general policy was not to employ married women; once she became pregnant she was asked to leave (1963) as the Co-op did not employ married women with children! Margaret had a son and three years later a daughter. She then found a part-time job when her daughter was 4 that fitted in with her family commitments, at a local primary school working in the school kitchens serving school meals. She worked there for 28 and a half years.

Margaret cared for her father-in-law for twenty years, and also for her mother once her father died. When her own husband died suddenly in 1989 Margaret’s children were grown up and Margaret decided to join the Co-operators Guild.

12 mins.

M:I joined the Guild then (1989) …Whickham View… me mam and Auntie Minny were there already so I just went with then, cause I said ‘Andrew’s married, Susan’s got a life..’, yer know, ‘I’ve got to go out and find something else for me to do’.

E: And were there many women there, when you went along for the first time?

M: Oh, there was quite a few, there were twenty odd of us.

E: And were they all different ages?

M: Yes…some a bit older than me mam…

E: And how old were you?

M: I was 52… I was in the Guild

E: And that was all women?

M: No, men were allowed, but it was all women then

E: Was it a Woman’s Guild or not?

M: No it was The National Guild of Co-operators, it was for anybody over the age of 16 they can join.

E: And what’s the difference between that and the Woman’s Guild?

M: We let men in…

E: ….Do you think there should be 2 groups or should there just be one?

M: Well, I’ve always been in this one, I’ve never been in the Woman’s Guild, so I’m not quite sure about that one…

E: Are their many men in the Guild now?

M: We’ve got 3…not that they come all the time, but they come.

E: So you basically joined that one cause your mam and Aunty Minny was in it?

M: Yes, and I started going to what we called the ‘Mission’ up in Benwell Village, to the dances on a Monday Night…and trying to get into doing different things, because me husband was never a dancer, and I’d been in the Guild a few months and they had the AGM and they wanted me to go onto the ‘table’ and I said ‘oh no, I haven’t been in the Guild very long, I’ve got to learn what it’s about first before I do that’… so I sort of went on for another year and they persuaded me to be Assistant Secretary

E: So ‘the table’ was where the people sat who managed?

M: Yes, your Chair, your Secretary, your Assistant Secretary, Vice Chair and Treasurer…So I became an Assistant Secretary, I said ‘ that’s fine I can learn on the job’…6 months later didn’t the Secretary die suddenly, so all of a sudden I was Secretary! And I’ve been that ever since in Whickham View Guild.                                                                           15        mins

E: And how many people do you have going now?

M: Well, we have a regular sort of thing of about 10 of us…but there’s a few that have their names on the register, they pay their dues and come occasionally..

E: What’s the dues? How much do you have to pay now?

M: We have to pay £5 (a year) to the National Guild; we pay 50p to the District Guild and because we’re in Denton Residents Hall, we have to pay £1 membership…and then it’s 50p a week subs.

E: So it’s quite low?

M: Yes, we try to keep it low…

E: So did you have to start going to Conferences when you were the Secretary?

M: Well, at first I couldn’t do it because I was working…at school and they’d have their Conference a week before Easter… so I’d have to go maybe on a Saturday, cause they used to run a ‘day bus’ then, and do that…We had it at Scarborough a couple of times, we’ve had it at Whitby… but then they started coming up to Gilsland Spa which made it easier, because I could work me hours in the kitchen and still manage to get the bus…they used to hire their own bus at one time… then my daughter got married 3years after my husband died and I and was on my own with the dog.

E: And what sort of things did you discuss at the meetings? Was it social?

M: We have a programme that we try to stick to. The first Tuesday in the month is a business night. The next couple of weeks we do a bit of business but we try to get speakers or something like that

E: So it’s once a week?

M: Yes and on… the last Tuesday we usually have a social night, but now that we’re all getting older it’s getting a bit harder for the social nights…sometimes we might go for a meal to celebrate the Guild’s birthday or something like that

E: So what sort of speakers do you have?

M: Anybody and everybody…see we have a wide variety in the Guild they’re interested in a lot of different things…we had one speaker before Xmas, who was diver and he took photographs while he was doing his dives and most of them was in the Mediterranean around that way, you know

E: So it’s given people a chance to hear about things they don’t know?

M: Yes, he put the screen up and he put the film on….we’ve had one of the City Guides giving a talk on ‘Wicked and Worthy Women’ (we laugh) very entertaining! …We try and have some Co-op ones but sometimes it’s very hard to get them. We do keep the members up with Co-op events, we try to go to Co-op things, like Eileen and I always go to the AGM and the half year meeting and things like that…

E: And how did you get involved in that action you were talking about before?

M: Well it started in 2000 and the Council brought out this thing ‘Going for Growth’.

E: And what did that mean?                                                                             19. 54 mins.

M: It was demolishing all of the houses from Hodgkin Park, from Scotswood Road practically up Benwell Lane…going westwards down to Whickham View… down Delaval Road, along Armstrong Road, all the council houses…   right down to St Margaret’s Church …( mentions large parts of Scotswood where Margaret has always lived).                               

They were going to demolish EVERY THING! Church, I mean we’d already lost wer swimming pool, the baths there and the school and the library, the church was the only thing left! So we started protesting about it, we went to meetings…

E: And who were ‘we’?

M: (the protesters were) people in the neighbourhood, lots of people…at the time I had me mam living with me cause she was getting frailer, I’d had to leave work a couple of times to go home cause she wasn’t very well, which meant I lost money every time cause you get paid by the hour…they were talking about shifting one of us out of the kitchen, because there were two of us who did the same hours and I thought if they move me and I’m put further away- I’ve got my mam, how am I going to manage?…I thought something’s going to give here, and it hasn’t got to be me, so I retired. I’d already worked three and a half years over me age …which meant I could only do another eighteen months anyway…and seeing I had the mortgage to pay I had to work, so I left work and went to meetings. We went down to one at the library when it was still the library.

E: And who were organising the meetings?

M: Well, the local councillors’ cause they were fighting it

E: Were they Labour councillors?

M: Yes…and we went down to the library and of course the person who had organised ALL of this wanted to say ‘the people wanted in the area, wanted the whole area demolished’! She stood up and said practically that she could ‘pick everybody up that was lived in Scotswood and put them where she wanted to put them’!

E: And who was ‘she’ exactly?

M: Shona Alexander…she’d been employed especially by the council

E: Was it a Labour Council?

M: Yes…but she was from Scotland, apparently she’d done the same thing in Glasgow- so we told her to go back to Glasgow (laughs)… But any way the point was, that was her attitude and I think they got the fright of their lives because coming into Scotswood, they thought they were coming into an area where people was not working, they’d be poorly dressed, they wouldn’t be very educated.. (Scotswood is a working-class area)

E: So the stereotype (negative views of economically poor people)?

M: Yes, that’s what they thought!

E: Why do you think they thought that about Scotswood?

M: Because it had been a hard working area, had quite high unemployment, because Vickers (large local factory ) had cut a lot and all of those places had gone down you know- SO when people walked in smartly dressed and started asking intelligent questions and arguing back- they got the fright of their lives! They hadn’t expected it! But they were still going to go ahead, SO we decided that we’d have a protest march!

E: Who went?

M: It was everyone, they had babies in pushchairs with them… we went down to the Civic Centre.

E: And had you ever been on a protest before?                                                   24mins.

M: Never, I mean I’d been to union meetings and things like that and protested at union meetings….but never a public protest, so I thought ‘I’m fighting for my area, I’m fighting for my home… I don’t know where I’m going to live. I’ve got my mam to accommodate.’

So I went and the Leader of the council wouldn’t come out and meet us- so everybody was yelling at him- but he was a coward!

E: And did the press get a hold of this?

M: Oh yes, it was in the press …and we fought for a long time. And of course, I was still working at the time. Local people got up what they call the ‘Scotswood Village Residents’ thing and started fighting it….they did keep some of the houses on my side of the street…but the council houses on the lower part of Armstrong Road all came down…we couldn’t stop them with council houses and such, so they started with the council estates…and empty places that they’d managed to get compulsory purchase on…started about 2001…(describes other streets that were demolished)

E: But if you hadn’t campaigned they would have knocked all of it down?

M: Oh yes! …What annoyed me was I rang the council cause it was said there was part of Scotswood Village coming down, and part staying. No addresses! So I rang up to find …where it was and he said ‘yours is alright and I said I know that Pretoria Street’s in bad condition’ and I said ‘What about Robert Street?’ I says ‘They’re beautiful houses’ I says ‘I know a lot of them are empty’… I says ‘You know you could knock the flats into one and make beautiful Town Houses and sell them’.

E: And what did he say?

M: Well he says ‘we want to build houses so people can see the river, so they’re not looking at the back of somebody else’s house’. I says ‘How the heck do you think we’ve lived all these years?’ They were just trotting out anything that came into their head!….I still go to the Scotswood Village AGMs, they’re still going on…but with my position in the Guild I’ve a lot of work going on.

E: And what’s your position in the Guild now?

M: From becoming Secretary, after me mother died, I said ‘well I can go to District meetings now.’ Cause they wanted someone to represent the Guild at District meetings, cause I’m not sort of tied now. I went there and I was there just a few months and the Secretary said ‘You know we’ve been doing it rota-wise for Guilds to be District President?’ And she says ‘It’s your turn next year’…me mam died 2002…so …it was the beginning of the year…and of course, when I was made President she says ‘I think we should make you President for life’ I said Oh no…you should have an election…so everyone agrees’. I said ‘make it three years’ and I’m still there yet!

E: How many years is that?

M: That’ll be ten!

E: So is there a lot of work involved?

M: Well I have to take the meetings and that, Eileen’s the Secretary so, but I do the appointment for the dates and things like that and I do a lot of contacting with the other Guilds.

After Margaret had been District President, she went to represent the District Guild at the National Council and was on for about 8 years before becoming National President. I concluded by asking Margaret why she thought the Guild was no longer growing:

M: I think the problem is women have got so much to do these days. They’re having to work full-time, bring up their families, ferry them around perhaps to different places- they haven’t time to go out and …get involved and things like that.

And of course we lost a lot of commitment when the Co-op stopped paying dividends- younger people thought … ‘well I’m not tied in going to the Co-op anymore’… (in the 70s)

Margaret also described how the Guild is now predominately made up of women and why:

M: I think women have got a lot of organising skills that men don’t appreciate…I mean, if somebody had said to me, when my husband was alive, that I would stand up in front of a crowd of people and speak, I’d have never believed them!…I’d have said you’re talking out your hat! I didn’t have the confidence…

…After I’d been in the Guild for three or four years I got put up for the area committee and that’s I where I got the confidence, because I was going into more places with a lot more people I didn’t know and I also got Co-operative training. I went to the College – the Values and Principles…at Loughborough…paid for by the Co-op…I had to do quite a few courses to get my Certificate in Co-operation…                                                                             37mins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                     Interview with Margaret Tweedy carried out in friend’s home by Dr E Burn, 20/1/2012.