Chester-le-Street Co-operative Wholesale Society

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. When it was first started in 1862, premises in North Burns were used. They operated under the aegis that co-operation allowed the worker to become his own shopkeeper, 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 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 shopman 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.

Waldridge Branch

By 1869 business was so strong that the Society purchased land and property on Front Street and a new Co-Op building was built.

In 1932 a severe fire destroyed the building on Front Street and was replaced by the building we see today. It closed as a department store in 2007 and the lower floor separated into individual retail units and the upper floor into apartments.

The Co-Op supermarket situated, at the rear of the store was opened in 1991 and sold to Morrison’s in 2009. With that the presence of a Co-Op on the Front Street had disappeared after 147 years.

1932 Fire