Oral History: Cooperative Movement – Vox Pop at Woodhorn (Ashington)

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DATE: 9 June 2012



Well, I can remember going down the street to the main…’cos there were three Co-ops in Bedlington – there was the draper’s, the grocery and then there was the butchery and everything. And you had to go upstairs and I can remember the queue on with my mother’s dividend with her number. I mean, she knew her number even up to when she died, she could remember the number. And going for the dividend, I can remember that. And I can remember going to the one near us, for groceries, and everything getting packed – the loose butter and the sugar and everything into blue bags, I can remember all that. Bacon on the big slicer – oh, I can remember the Co-op well.

(Interviewer: And did you go on using it, as you grew up?)

Yes, right until it closed. But as I say, there isn’t… I think the nearest Co-op… I don’t know where the nearest Co-op is… it’s closed at Ashington as well, I think, and Blyth. Yes, I’ve fond memories of the Co-op.



I remember the Ashington branch. As a child I was at the Co-op grocery department every day except Sunday because we didn’t have fridges then and you got your food fresh every day. I can also remember having discs for the milk that you put out for the milkman. The sugar came in blue paper bags; I remember the butter as well, it was all weighed and put into paper. And it was a way of social life as well, because across from where I lived was a big ballroom and there used to be dances on there, so it was a…. And my mother worked in the Co-op for many many years, in the ladies’ fashion department. So it was a big part of my life and I remember it with great affection.



Well, I remember the Co-op in Ashington on Fifth Avenue which was built right beside the entrance to Hirst Park. When I was little I used to go there with my mother and she would get her shopping there. When that closed we actually went to the Co-op that was on Seventh Avenue because in the colliery rows in Ashington, all the avenues used to have a Co-op at the end of most of these places. Either that or a corner shop. So the Co-op had a bit of a monopoly in Ashington. But the thing I remember about the Co-op is specifically in the early 70s it was really important for my mam to get the dividend, especially when my dad was on strike, because he worked as a miner in Ashington Colliery. And so the dividend was a really good way to actually save money, so that if they went on strike, they would have a little bit of money put back so they could buy food.



The Co-op in Morpeth. And it was always the furthest shop away from where we lived and I was always told specifically to remember the number and I had to go to the Co-op. I couldn’t go anywhere else, because of the divi. And I know she relied on that quite a bit. Econofreeze, that used to be the building. It’s now Econofreeze in Morpeth, it’s on the corner of Copper Chare. And I think the thing I remember most about it is the great big barrels of butter. They used to cut it and pat it down. I was just fascinated by it. And it was always the same man… always seemed to be the same man working for it.

(Interviewer: What about the number? What was the number?)




It was Shotton Colliery in Durham and it was the centre of everything where we lived. And it was the same people that worked there year in year out. And, you know, gossip, information, everything was there. I just remember going down on Tuesday to pay the bill and I had a long bill. A guy used to come to take the order and then on a Tuesday you used to go down to pay it and you stood in the office and someone used to do all this….leafing through it…. it was very clever…. and then took the money and gave you a little tear-off slip when the bill was paid. But it was everything because there was hardly any other shops.

(Interviewer: And what about the dividend?)

Oh yes, that was quite exciting, yes, the divi. I don’t know how much my mother used to get but she used to look forward to it. Yes, that was quite exciting as well. I never found out how much it was – probably wasn’t very much, but it was something that was…you, know, I remember her talking about the divi. And you used to go….the place where you got your clothes was called the mantles department. I can remember being taken to the mantles to be dressed, whatever. And they always used to have brown paper and I used to be fascinated how they used to do the parcels and fasten it up with string… just sort of sitting as a kid and watching – how clever they were. And the men’s department. And everything could be taken out on ‘appro’, which meant you could take it away, try it on and bring it back. ‘Appro’ – that was the word.



I remember my mother’s cheque number was fifty six- eighty three and my grandmother’s was forty five- twenty eight. They used the Amble branch and every time that I had to go shopping for them it was quite important that I remember to say the cheque number at the till when you paid.



So my experience is a later one – nothing to do with childhood because my mother wasn’t a member of the Co-op, but I came to live in Ashington in 1996, and the Co-op was the shop in Ashington for furniture and electrical appliances and everything. And when I moved into my current house, a lot of my furniture came from there. My friend was the manager of the Co-op Bank there and I was in and out every day, and it was a really nice place to shop. Everybody was very friendly and although they didn’t have a huge range, you could usually get what you wanted there. And I think it was a great sadness when it closed. It took away the heart of Ashington as a shopping centre and I think it was sad.



I used to go to the Co-op in Blyth and I remember going with my grandma for the shopping and buying butter. And it was in a barrel and they used to cut it up. And everything we bought we used to have to get the little chitty, cos she got her dividend at the end of the year, you know. I still remember her number – it was one nine two two. And I also, I lived at Seaton Delaval and I remember the Co-op bakery being at Seaton Delaval behind the Front Street. And I remember as a child coming from school – my Aunt Sally worked there and I used to go and she used to ‘sly’ me scones and buns – whatever they’d been baking through the day – I would have something as a treat.



I grew up in Clydebank, near Glasgow, and the Clydebank Co-operative Society were big there, and they had, oh, when I was a child…well, the big store is still there today – that’s what the locals called it – a department store [and] we had Co-op shoe shops and at least another two decent-sized Co-op grocery shops.

(Interviewer: What was important about the Co-op, do you think?)

It was the place to go, it was the place everybody went for their shopping in those days. These were the days before supermarkets and my mum, my granny, always went to the Co-op and collected the stamps, of course.

(Interviewer: And what did they use the stamps for?)

I don’t know. I remember sticking them in the book – it was a big job for me to help stick them in the book. Can’t remember what they exchanged them for in the end.



We lived in Throckley and there was a co-op in Throckley and I remember as a child going with my mother and my brother on a Friday to go up to the co-op to help carry the shopping. We lived in a colliery house – my father was a miner, working at the Maria in Throckley. And I remember them cutting the butter up and patting it and putting it into paper, and weighing the sugar and putting it into bags. And having to stand in a different queue for every different type of commodity that you needed. So yes, I remember it very well. And we also used to have… I think my mother used to save the…. I can’t remember what it was called…. they used to save money.

(Interviewer: Dividend?)

Dividend! And she used to save the dividend and we were very fortunate – we used to go on holiday with that money, even as a child. The first place we ever went to was Cullercoats. So she saved the dividend, unless there was anything el;se happening. And of course you could get a ticket or something out and you used to go to the Co-operative Wholesalers to buy clothes. I remember it all very vivdly. So thankyou!



(Interviewer: What was your mother’s dividend number?)

Sister 1: My mother’s dividend number was eight three four three two, which we used for the coalman, the milkman… the Co-op itself. Of course you got… did you get stamps?

Sister 2: No, you got money back when you shopped. So every now and again you’d get a dividend back, you know. So she got money so it was quite good, because then she could buy food with it. You know, cos it was all rationed, so it was good for us.

(Interviewer: And where was this Co-op?)

Sister “: It was mainly in Timpley, because there was one in Timpley village, wasn’t there? Timpley, Cheshire, in the village. And it was there for a very long time. I think it was the late 60s, 70s, when it went, because Mrs Tuton [?] used to work there, didn’t she? I’m still in it but I have a card now, so of course I get bonus points on that. If there’s a number on it, don’t ask me what it is – I haven’t a clue!



I just remember years ago my mum used to work in the office…not work in the offices, but clean the offices, upstairs.

(Interviewer: Was this in Ashington?)

At the big Co-op, where you went all the way up the big stairs and all along. I just remember being – goodness, I might only have been about five – and being with her and these numerous desks with the big old black telephones ringing in there. Actually, it was quite dark… I think I was scared, probably it was night-time, that’s probably why, because the shop would have been all closed and everything. But that’s what I sort of remember of that, and just the awesome stairs. I can’t believe they’ve actually turned it into what it is and lost the historic side of it. And I think there was another place further down – Central Hall – and I can remember actually singing at Christmas time… school activities – schools of every area used to come at Christmas time and sing in there. I don’t know what it was – a competition. But yes, the Co-op… I don’t remember the dividend. I remember the milkman coming round and the orange juice, the little bottles of orange juice and stuff like that.

(Interviewer: What did your father do?)

My father actually worked for the council as a painter, a foreman painter, and he retired when he was 58 and everything. So yes, that much I remember.



 The Co-op was in the centre building. And to the left and the right… to the left was a fish shop, Butcher’s – not a butcher’s but that was the name of the occupant – to the right was a barber’s shop and to the right of him was Charlie’s. He was a general merchant. They were the three shops and the Co-op was in the middle. My mum’s cheque number was 6244, and when you went to get butter he had a big knife and he cut it off and put it on the scales and that’s what you got. Thank you.

(Interviewer: And was this Cowpen?)

This was Cowpen estate, Blyth, yes. We moved there when I was about seven and that must have been about 1957. Thank you.



C: Well, it was just Netherton

M: Netherton Colliery

C: And that was our certificate number: five – nothing – three. And that’s all I really know.

(Interviewer: Do you know what your mum did with the dividend money?)

C: Used to get groceries and that with it.

M: Aye, and clothes

C: Clothes

M: Go to Newcastle and to the big…

C: The wholesaler, we used to called it, the wholesaler, to get clothes

(Interviewer: Was that quite an important day, when you went to Newcastle?)

C: Yes, you used to get…

M: Yes

C: You got it every six months. You could ‘tick on’ [laughs] and then have it paid at the end of the six months. And then you went and got coats and whatever you wanted. At the wholesale. That would be…you had to get a note from the Co-op [laughs]

(Interviewer: [to Margaret] And you went to the same Co-op, did you?)

M: Scotlandgate, I went to

(Interviewer: And have you any memories of that?)

M: Well, just the same as what she says. It’s more or less all the same. I think it was 3645 or something

(Interviewer: And did your mum do an order for the Co-op?)

M: Yes. And there used to be a travelling shop came around. But the Co-op was just at the top of our street.

C: Well, we lived in Netherton and even when we moved to Bedlington, my mother still went to the Co-op at Netherton till it closed. And you used to get lovely….your food was nicer then, mind, wasn’t it Margaret? You know, the butter – just slabs of butter [Margaret laughs] and bacon, it was lovely. Aye, it was nice.