Co-operative Society Works
The York Equitable Industrial Society Limited was registered as a co-operative on January 7 1859, and commenced business on 16 March of that year. The idea of a co-operative enterprise in York arose out of a conversation on the Knavesmire in 1858. Mr John Barker and Mr Robert Rathmell were apparently on their way to the August races. Rothwell described how he had been reading “Self-Help; or, the History of Co-operation in Rochdale”. The two gentlemen agreed that the principles of the ‘Rochdale Pioneers’ could be beneficial to York. They decided to call a meeting, and it all developed from that. Mr Rathmell went on to be the Society’s president and treasurer.
Robert Rathmell (courtesy of his descendant Rachel Woods)
Their first shop was opened at 14 Market Street in March of that year. Despite ups and downs, the business expanded over the next 40 years, and central premises were acquired at 28 and 29 Market Street. In 1883 the Society agreed to join the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Branches were established at Holgate and then at other locations. On 3 May 1899 new central premises, a coal wharf and associated facilities were opened at Clementhorpe. The site, covering some 3,074 square yards, were acquired at a cost of £1,600.
Logo of the York Equitable taken from the Jubilee History. (Photo by John Stevens, May 2018)
The first stage of development included the coal depot, stables and horsekeeper’s house, at a cost of around £4,000. Messrs. Penty & Son were appointed as architects. Future plans included a slaughterhouse, and this required a license from the City Corporation. This was initially refused, on the basis that the Corporation wanted to build its own public slaughterhouse, but the idea was later abandoned by the Society anyway.
The premises were officially opened by Mr Charles Marshall, then Vice President of the Society. The Jubilee History of the Society described the premises as follows: “The building comprises horse-keeper’s house, wagon sheds, stabling, sick box, washing box, harness room, hay and corn stores, workshop, covered yard, coal depot, office, and a landing stage or wharf immediately adjoining the River Ouse. An unbuilt space remains for future and necessary extensions. The buildings are spacious, well-built, and thoroughly adapted to their requirements.”
Mr. Charles Marshall, Vice President (Source: Jubilee History of the Society. Photo by John Stevens, May 2018).
The directors thought that their investment in the new premises would enable a doubling of throughput in all departments. For example, the coal business had been growing rapidly, and the new depot could store 16,000 tons – twice the previous capacity at their Peasholme Green Bridge site. They were also very keen to show that the new premises would enable them to take excellent care of their horses. “The Committee [of the Society] prided themselves in looking well after their servants, and they also felt it to be their duty to do their best for their animals.” Mr Marshall expressed the opinion that “the buildings spoke of what Co-operation amongst working men could accomplish.“ While the directors adjourned to the De Grey Rooms for a well-earned refreshment, hundreds of local residents toured the new premises.
In 1900 the directors agreed to erect further buildings at Clementhorpe. These comprised additional coal sheds, stables, and bacon washing and drying premises. In 1901 the bacon business was transferred from Holgate. “The new building was splendidly equipped with special and up-to-date appliances for drying, washing, rolling, lard rendering, smoking &c., the fan and hoist being worked by electricity. It is not claiming too much to state that this is one of the best-equipped buildings in the provinces for this business.”
The same year, the capacity of the stables was doubled. A magnificent covered yard was built, with a completely glazed roof. The yard was surfaced in concrete, providing excellent storage for wagons and vans, and with a useful weighing machine. A hay chopping machine, with dust extractor, was installed in the hay loft, and served by an electric crane. An oat crusher was also installed nearby. Mr George Sawdon was the “efficient and capable” horse-keeper, with a “well-stocked medicine chest.”
At the same time, the coal depot was occupied. Each kind of coal had its own bunker with a 3,000 ton capacity. A travelling crane could fill the bunkers from above, and it ran the whole length of the building. It was not all plain sailing, however. The City Corporation objected to coal being carried across the roadway, and changing water levels sometimes made unloading from ships problematic. So, floods were an issue then, too.
In 1903 the Society opened a bakery. The President, J. Nicholson, presided over the ceremony on 14th January, which was performed by Councillor W. H. Shaw. The President told the large audience that “The building was fitted up with the most modern machinery and ovens, with room for additional ones if required, and they would be able to test the products before leaving, as the samples would be distributed.” Mr F. Penty, the architect, presented Councillor Shaw with a silver key. 2,500 people visited the premises that afternoon.
Mr. J. Nicholson, President (Source: Jubilee History of the Society. Photo by John Stevens, May 2018)
The Co-operative movement in York had significant economic and social impacts. At peak it had over 10,000 members. The Society organised a wide variety of education and leisure activities for its members, and often included local residents. It tried to maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and good working conditions, it supported sick and retired members, and always emphasised the importance of product quality.
To put events in York in context, by 1863 there were 332 registered co-operative societies across the Country, and 251 of these had been established since the publication of Holyoake’s book in 1857. In 1863, too, the North of England Co-operative Society was launched by 300 individual co-operatives across Yorkshire and Lancashire. By 1872, it had become known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS).
In 1908, the Clementhorpe bacon factory produced hams and bacon to the value of £7,300. The bakery supplied 482,096 loaves of bread and 1,161,056 pastries. The stables housed 30 horses. A 5-ton steam motor rulley was used for loading flour and other heavy goods.
This photo shows the Co-op in full operation, with the large covered coal depot on the left. Boats are lined up ready to disgorge their cargo (Source: Jubilee History. Photo by John Stevens, May 2018).
The bacon factory, bakery and stable yard (Clockwise from top left). (Sources: Hugh Murray and Jubilee History)
Kelly’s Directory of 1913 describes the Society’s activities in York, as follows:
“York Equitable Industrial Society Limited (James T. Bamforth, sec.; Alfred Richardson, general manager); registered office, 22 Railway street (telephone No. 309); Central stores (all departments), 10, 12, 14, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 & 28 Railway street & 19, 21 & 23 Tanner row; coal wharf, stables, bakery & bacon factory, Terry’s avenue, Clementhorpe; grocery & provision branches, 40 Holgate road; Groves; Clifton green; Bright street; Monckton terrace, 101 Poppleton road; 4 Acomb road; Leeman road; Heslington road; Newbro’ street; Nunnery lane; 72 Layerthorpe; 62 Balmoral terrace; Vyner street; George street; 64 Marygate; 45 Lawrence street; Alma terrace & Lowther street; butchering branches at Cemetery road; Leeman road; 40 Holgate road; Newbro’ street; 4 Clement street; Bright street; Acomb; 62 Balmoral terrace; Vyner street & 101 Poppleton road; general branches at Acomb; Haxby; New Earswick; Bishopthorpe & Strensall.”
(Co-op delivery teams. Source: Hugh Murray, date unknown).
Where people are poor and hungry there is always a temptation to help oneself. On 22 February 1923 the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail reported how 38 year-old Harry Glover, a foreman baker, had been escorted in chains to the police station on a charge of stealing from the Co-op Society’s bakery. Glover, of Colenso Street, had dived into the river in an attempt to evade justice.
Work continued up to and throughout the Second World War. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of 26 March 1945 advertised for a bread baker and table hand for the bakery at the Co-operative Society. The posts were for night workers.
In 1968 “News of the closure of York Co-operative Society bakery at Clementhorpe had come as a shock to many of York’s residents. The decision had come soon after the closure of the society’s chemists in Boroughbridge Road and Bishopthorpe Road. The York Bakery had been operating for over 40 years, making up to 18,000 loaves and a large amount of confectionery each week for Co-op branches in York and surrounding areas, which included Tadcaster and Thirsk.”
The Co-op in an advanced state of dilapidation. (Photo by Rob Stay, 1984)
Much of the Co-op site is now occupied by Waterfront House and its parking/access area. Co-op Cottage, where the horse-keeper once lived, remains – now called Riverside Cottage. The construction of Waterfront House involved a major conversion of the old warehouse into apartments, some available as holiday lets. The bakery name is preserved in the north-east corner stone of the building. Duke’s Wharf apartment block now occupies the site of the Co-op Coal Depot and house-boats are moored along the original wharf.
This is Waterfront House looking south at the gable end. This was once the main warehouse of the Co-operative Society. The ‘Bakery’ stone, set into the left corner, reads: “Bakery. These premises were opened on 14 January 1903 by Counc. W. H. Shaw Director.” (Photos by John Stevens, April 2018)
This is Riverside House on Clementhorpe. At one time it guarded the entrance to the Co-operative Society complex and was occupied by the horse keeper. (Photo by John Stevens, April 2018)
This is what the Co-op coal wharf looks like today. It provides car parking space for the residents of the houseboats and adjoining flats. (Photo by John Stevens, September 2018)
 Jubilee History of the York Equitable Industrial Society Limited, CWS Printing Works, Longsight,1909.
 An old Yorkshire word for a flat four-wheeled wagon used for conveying goods.
 York Press Archive.