Chester-le-Street Heritage Group

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Chester-le-Street Co-operative Wholesale Society

The Co-op which was situated at the bottom of Front Street, close to the market place is the second location for the Society.

Originally when it was first started in 1862, premises in North Burns were used. The Society when first formed by a group of eight pioneers, was supported by the 1852 Industrial and Provident Societies Act. This was the basis through which many countrywide co-op societies grew.

They operated under the aegis that co-operation allowed the worker to become his own shop-keeper, merchant, banker and collector of wealth.

Chester-le-Street at this time was growing rapidly and much work was being provided by larger organisations such as Murray’s Engineering Works. Even so, it took a few years for interest in the venture to develop. By 1863 there were 23 members and business was transacted from the back room of one of the members homes.

In 1862 several purchases were made including 7 pounds of tea, a few stones of sugar, a box of blacking and a small cask of soda. The capital made was rolled over and by the end of the first quarter business amounted to £37. By the end of 1863 the 23 members had increased turnover to £442 and profits were £47.

The Society met with animosity during the early years, particularly from other retailers who were fearful for their own futures. Attempts were made to undermine the strength of the Society, but the membership continued to grow giving faith to the original pioneers.

The original Co-op premises were rented for £3 per year and by 1865 business had grown so much that a regular shop-man and a cart-man to carry out deliveries were in full-time employment.

The first branch store was opened in the mid 1860’s at Waldridge to support the growing population there.

By 1869 business was so strong that the Society purchased land and property on the present site of the Co-op to allow a new build to take place.

The original Co-operative Store premises on North Burns

The first Co-operative Department Store premises on the Front Street.