Oral History: Cooperative Voices

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Voices from the CWS

An oral history 1942 – 2014

2013 marked the 150th Anniversary of the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) which provided the goods and services for the Co-operative Societies.  We wanted to contribute to the celebrations. The North East has played an important part in the history of the Co-operative Movement and so we set out to record the histories of the ordinary people who worked in the factories, warehouses and offices of the CWS.

Between September 2013 and March 2014 we recruited and recorded the stories of 35 people who had worked for the CWS at Blandford Street, the factories at Pelaw on Tyne, Birtley Tinplates and Associated Co-operative Creameries.  To provide background information on the relationship between the CWS and the Co-operative Societies we also interviewed employees of the Newcastle, Ryhope and Tweedside societies.

The oldest CWS interviewee had started working during the Second World War and one is still an employee of the Cooperative Group having been an employee for more than 60 years. We talked to a printer, a tailor, a chemist, an accountant, clerical staff, machine operators, canteen assistants, a bank clerk, bookbinder’s assistants, a manager, sewing machinists and a funeral director. Their experiences and length of service varied greatly. Some gave detailed accounts of their work while others stressed their friendships and social lives.
At the outset many doubted that their memories were important but in fact each one added to a rich picture of the working lives of CWS employees in the second part of the Twentieth Century. We had no idea that our interviews would yield such lively detail of the working lives and the processes involved in creating the products on sale in the Co-op shops. The twentieth century was a time of great personal, social and economic change in the North East and we hope through this collection to have captured some of those changes.

Our thanks go to Cooperative membership who provided funding for this project and to the North East Labour History Society which supported the project throughout its duration.

Oral History Contributors

Birtley Cooperative Voices
Doris Hutchinson – Birtley Tinplates 1943 – 1945
Eileen Sewell – Birtley Tinplates 1941 – 1950
Joe Smith – Birtley Tinplates 1944 – 1951
Mary Sowler – Birtley Tinplates  1948 – 1956
Olive Peacock – Birtley Tinplates  1941 – 1945

Pelaw Cooperative Voices
Allan & Joyce Jackson – Pelaw Drysaltery  1951 – 1968
Anne Avalos – Pelaw Printing  1971 – 1974
Ann Skelton – Pelaw various  1964 – 1970
Connie Forster – Pelaw Drugs and Drysaltery  1951 – 1954
Eleanor Moore – Pelaw Shirts and Tailoring  1956 -1961
Ethel Schofield – Pelaw Printing  1962 – 1969
Jim Carroll – Pelaw Shirts  1966 – 2006
Jim Emmerson – Pelaw Tailoring 1957-1970
Keith Miller – Pelaw Printing 1970 – 1981
Margaret Mckale – Leather Goods Newcastle  and Cabinet Works Pelaw   1942 – 1949
Marie McNichol (for Mary Level) – Pelaw Quilting  1960 -1972
Rachel Parkin – Pelaw Tailoring 1953-1958
Mary Thompson – Pelaw Drugs & Drysaltery  1944 – 1947  Pelaw Quilting  1956 – 1967
Teresa Hood – Pelaw various  1962 – 1971

Blandford Street Cooperative Voices
Joan Cain – Blandford Street 1951 – 1960
Margaret Tweedy – Blandford Street  1952 – 1963
Mildred Geddes – Blandford Street  1945 – 1957
Norma Henderson – Blandford Street Bank  1957 – 1963

Other Cooperative Voices
Jean Page – Ryhope Society  1943 – 1949
Jenny Liddle – Ryhope Society  1953 – 1960
John Hush – Tweedside/Co-op Funeralcare  1947 – 2014
Margaret Creaby – Waterloo House  1970
Russell Porteous – Associated Co-operative  Creameries 1974 – 2005
Teresa Pagan – Pelaw/Newcastle Society  1960’s

Peter Brabban, John Charlton, John Creaby, Margaret Creaby, Kath Connolly, Maureen Dickson, Maria Goulding, Mike Greatbatch, Howarth Harvey, Olive Maddison, Judith McSwaine, Janet Medcalf, Elaine Pope, Terry Welsh