The Economic and Industrial Society led to the formation
of the Sheerness and Economical Cooperative Society
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Similar building in Sheerness High St
There is another very similar building to the heritage centre situated
97 Sheerness High St. and now occupied by a financial services firm.
This building too is of considerable local interest because it is the
oldest surviving shop of the Cooperative Movement in the world.
The cooperative movement was started in 1816 when a small group
of dockyard office employees upset with the high prices of the local
shopkeepers banded together to supply for themselves some of the
basic foodstuffs. They formed themselves into a trading society with
clearly defined objectives; “The Society established this twenty
first day of November in the Year One Thousand Eight Hundred
and Sixteen, by the officers and Workmen of His Majesty’s Dock Yard,
Ordnance and New Work,at Sheerness in the Isle of Sheppey, in the
County of Kent for obtaining for themselves and families, a supply
of Wheaten Bread and Flour,and Butcher’s Meat, shall henceforth be
nominated the Economical Society”The bread, meat and later fresh water provided by the society for its members were sold from carts that were pushed round the town. The call for a society providing more than the limited range offered by the Economical Society
led to a meeting being held at Sheerness on 14th October 1849 where shares of five shillings each were
floated for the formation of new society. Funds were also raised by borrowing £451.00 from local lodges
and friendly societies. Customer loyalty was encouraged by the rule “that members not purchasing the
Society’s goods receive no dividend from the profits”. In January 1850, a stock of groceries was acquired and shipped down the Medway by barge. At the pier the goods were transferred into a waiting carriers dray and a procession of members preceded by a band and under the banner “We have subdued our
enemies” marched to the shop in the High St. The Economical Society and the Cooperative Society had long
worked together and in 1919 they formally merged to form the Sheerness Economical Coop Ltd. Rochdale’s
society did not start until 1844 therefore Sheerness should be regarded as the place where the Cooperative
movement truly started. Unfortunately, the local coop no longer bears the name of the “Sheerness Coop” Many
of our visitors will still remember the large number of food clothing and shoe shops trading under the name of
the local coop as well as milkmen and bakery deliverymen. You will be interested to see in the kitchen of Sheerness Heritage Centre an old mangle used for squeezing water out of clothes. If you look carefully, you will find that it
was specially made for the Sheerness Cooperative Society. It must be almost certain that the residents of this
building must have made some of their food purchases at the similar wooden building in the High St. The Coop
grew into a very large local concern, with a bakery, dairy, shoe shop, gent’s outfitters, ladies wear shop, café, tobacconists and grocery shops in Sheerness High St., Bluetown High St. Richmond St, Minster, and Queenborough. However as the Sheerness and District Cooperative Society flourished from its early connection with the
dockyard so it declined from the time of the closure of the dockyard until now when it comprises a very small
part of the retail trade of Sheerness and Sheppey .The Sheerness society was swallowed up by the Royal Arsenal Cooperative Society and subsequently by the Wholesale Cooperative Society
Above is the report of the Sheerness Cooperative Provision Society for the year ending
31st December 1850 See Economical Society pics in date order Nos. 13,14,15 to enlarge and read
Coop bakers pre 1913
There is a cornerstone on the flour mill reading, "Pioneers of Co-operative Production -
this stone was laid by Mr. W.J. Penney, president, on the 8th of May, 1875". It was the foundation stone of the first steam powered flour mill on the Isle of Sheppey (near the
corner of Broad Street and Railway Road). According to "Co-operative Centenary
1816-1916: History of the Sheerness Economical Society Ltd.", prepared by W. Henry
Brown (1918), the inauguration of the mill was a great occasion: "There was a tea to
which the members and dealers (non-members) were invited. The band of the 13th Kent Artillery Volunteers played stirring music as the crowd gathered."
Economical Society bread van. Driver is Bert Tucker. It is possible that he knew
Bert Dummott who was a delivery driver between the wars
Coop motor van Model T Ford 1921 driven by Alfred Coultrip who learned to drive
during 1st World War. They might all have known each other
Corner of Alma St and Richmond St.The building in foreground left was a Coop butcher and grocery shop. The entrance was in Richmond St It has been closed for many years and no one seems to know why. The Tubb family lived on the left hand side of Alma St about halfway down.
Twigg, Herbert James Thomas, 1900-1957
Born at Sheerness Kent, he became an engineering apprentice in Sheerness Dockyard from 1915-1922.His co-operative career commenced in 1919 when he became a member of the first education committee of Sheerness Economical Co-operative Society. He spent two years at the Co-operative College, obtaining the co-operative honours diploma, the diploma in co-operative secretaryship and a variety of prizes. After a short time with the Co-operative Wholesale Society audit department in London, he moved to Manchester and the Co-operative Bank, gaining more prizes in banking examinations. In 1931 he joined the Co-operative Union as assistant labour adviser before moving to Plymouth Co-operative Society as general secretary and chief executive officer in 1941. He served the co-operative movement nationally, and the city of Plymouth locally for the rest of his life. He was a prolific writer on co-operative subjects, writing textbooks as well as contributing to various co-operative journals
This building was completed on August 18th 1891
and burned down Tuesday 11th September 1923
Sheerness Cooperative Society
building in High St suffers huge fire
Extracts from the Sheerness Times September 1923
"THE GREAT FIRE AT DAWN ON TUESDAY
Cooperative Central Premises Wiped Out
DEVASTATION AND HAVOC
The huge central premises of the Sheerness Economical Cooperative Society, situated in the High St., were gutted during the early hours of Tuesday (11th) morning by the worst fire that has occurred in the town for fifty years. At one
time there were grave fears for all the shop premises opposite, and the
Wellington Hotel adjoining, together with the Tartars Head and Miss Grout's confectionary shop.
At about 5 a.m. the flames leapt to the skies in such a manner as to liken the whole
block of buildings to an inferno of flaring merchandise.The glare from the flames
could be seen for miles, and in some streets it was quite easy to read a newspaper
by the light from the fire. Thick clouds of smoke rolled over the town carrying the
burnt debris in all directions. . Some of this floated as far away as the Well Marsh
and other parts of the town. The fire began in or around the boot department, by all accounts, through some unknown cause; at least it appears it was first seen there,
in the nature of a flare up instantly and the window collapsing into the street..
Long before this the fire must have been raging very fiercely inside, for it spread
with great rapidity to all parts of the premises.
First officer Burden of the Sheerness Fire Brigade raised the alarm by phoning
the other firemen and
Capt. W. Nokes was soon
Picture from Sheerness Times
on the scene. He at once comprehended the magnitude of the conflagration and immediately gave a call to the other Brigades in the district. Meanwhile someone had informed the Surveyor (Mr F.R. Gray) who very speedily got to work
in cooperating with Capt. Nokes,Supt.Hoare
KCC of Sittingbourne and Inspector Hazelden ,
of Sheerness, in closing down the High St from
the Clock to near the Labour Exchange. The
gas service was attended to by endeavouring to
limit the supply, and notices were posted on the Bridges warning the public that the High St was closed at the points mentioned above.
The water supply was good although the combined demands of the various engines could not be met by ordinary means. A higher pressure than normal was maintained through the great care exercised by Mr. Newman, the turncock , in controlling the feed to the vicinity of the fire.
Arrival of the Brigades
The Sheerness Fire Brigade was quickly on the scene, and placing the engine near a hydrant in the Broadway between the Clock Tower and the Conservative Club soon had two lengths of hose playing on the font of the building.. It was immediately realised that further assistance would be essential and the stations in the vicinity were communicated with.
The Dockyard Brigade were given orders to stand by shortly before 5.25 and within a few minutes were given instructions to proceed to the scen of the outbreak under the directions of Station Sergeant Haynes. It was deemed advisable to take up a station near Nokes' Garage and so they proceeded down Granville Rd and reached the upper part of the High St via St Georges Ave.When turning into the Avenue the engine could not negotiated the sharp bend comfortably, the vehicle crashing into and removing a portion of the kerb on the opposite side of the road, with the result that two policemenwho were riding on the picture Sheerness Times Guardian
engine narrowly escaped serious injury. P.C Bird
was thrown to the pavement with great force and it appears marvellous that the fall was not attended with any very serious results. As it was he was picked up and taken unconcious into one of the houses in the road. After a time he regained conciousness and later in the day was able to assist in fighting the fire.. PC Wood also fell from the engine at the same time as P.C Bird and sustained an injury to his knee. (That occurrance is rather significant, in view of certain statements made in the columns of the 'Sheerness Times' about nine months agao. On the corner in question, a grocer's shop has recently been erecte, and the design of the building provided for a rounded form of corner. After the shop had been erected we suggested that it would be beneficial if the Councilcould see their way clear to arrange the footpathto be of a semi-circular form at that perticular place. We pointed out at the same timethat it would be mch easier for trafficmake the corner if it was rounded. There is little doubt that the occurrence on Tuesday morningwould not have taken place if the if the footpath had been as suggested, and it still appears most desirable to make an alteration lest in the future a similar thing occurs.)
It was 5.40 a.m when the Dockyard engine was connected to a hydrant near "The Crown" and fed a hose which was played on the front of the building making a total of three attacking the conflagration from the High Street.. Although the streams of water poured incessantly into the building the fire was not checked to any great extent as it had established a firm hold. The Furnishings and Boot departments were burnt up very quickly, and occasionally one was able to hear a dull muffled form of explosions probably from oil drums or barrels of other inflammable material bursting as the fire gradually gained ground.
The next Brigade to arrive on the scene was the Queenborough contigent, who had received the call at 5.40 a.m. The horse drawn steamer , in charge of Captain W.S. Fenton, assisted by Lieut. Hancock, was was driven to Sheerness by Mr. S.T. Payne, and the distance was covered in a very short space of time, only 25 minutes being taken for the journey.. The firemen came via Westminster and stopped at the Moat, but they nly stayed at the Bridges a few minutes and moved on to a hydrant near the Victoria Working Men's Club. At 6.10 a.m or withinhalf an hour of receiving the call they had a hose playing on to the rear of the building.
For some minutes the grave situation remained unchanged and the firemen were doing all in their power to prevent the outbreak spreading to other buildings in the immediate vicinity. By that time Inspector Hazelden had summoned all his forces to the scene and the public were not allowed to approach beyond the Britannia Hotel on one side or the International Tea Stores on the other side of the Cooperative premises.
A THUNDEROUS CRASH
A large number of people had gathered who had hastily dressed and hurried
to the scene. For some time they watched the fire-fighters with the greatest
interest. Gradually the interior of the building which was once the Boot and Furnishing Departments was completely destroyed and little remained in
position excepting the main front and side walls. Still, water was hurled
through apertures in the brick-work, and as the seconds passed it was
realised that the wall could not stand for any length of time. Those in
charge of the hose no doubt occupied a dangerous position and in the
peculiar light caused by the red glow of partly burnt materials and the
leaping flames before it was really daylight, they were closely watched
by the silent crowd.
Suddenly, in the stillness of the morning, which was only broken by
the cracking of the woodworkbeing destroyes by the fire, the splash and
the roar of the water from the hose and an occasional fall of brickwork,
a shout of alarm was heard. It was 6.20 a.m when the crowd glancing
skyward on hearing the signal of warning saw that the front wall was
collapsing in the middle. The uppermost portion after a final quiver
crashed to the ground, breaking the glass shelster erected in front of
the premises. The firemen had dropped their hoses and run for safety
and it was indeed fortunate that nobody was injured by the thunderous
As soon as the front wall commenced its downward plunge the main
side wall began to topple. Slowly at first but with great acceleration it fell ,
strking the roofs of the Tartars Head and Miss Grout's confectionary
premises with great force and doing tremendous damage. After the
cloud of dust had cleared up it was observed that a huge pile of bricks
and debris was all that was all that remained of the Furnishing and Boot Department. The roadway was also blocked but it was most remarkable
that only a few bricks were to be found on the pavement on the opposite
side of the road.
The firefighters immediately returned to theirhuge task and for some
minutes played on to the ruins. The hose which was fed by the Dockyard
engine occasionally was turned onto the buildings opposite, from which
small clouds of smoke were seen to be issuing.
About 6.45 a.m the Sittingbourne Brigade under Capt. Hedley Peters,
arrived at Sheerness.They proceeded to the Council Yard and after carrying
out a few minor repairs to the engine which was slightly damaged owing
to the rough nature of the roads, they assisted the Queenborough men at
the rear of the building. The hose was run directly from the Council Yard
to Trinity Place and the mainland firemen worked until shortly before noon
when they returned to Sittingbourne.
The hand manual of the sheerness Brigade was brought into ation as early as 5.20 a.m when volunteers were called for. They were immediately beside the pump and one hose was continuously fed by this means until 11.40 a.m. Thers is no doubt that supply of water did invaluable soon after the fire commenced and it was the only hose playing on the rear of the building until the arrival of the Queenborough men.
Those who assisted in operating the hand pump included the following; R King J Harris, A Bower, F. Cheeseman, W. Dowell, E.Susans, A. Shepherd, F. Hide, A.E. Waterman, C.Priest, W. Clement, A.care, G. Smith, G. Girt, E. Stockbridge, A. Sheehan, G. Young, F. Harden, G. Farrands, W. Belsey, W. Hancock, J. Bloxham, E. Murr, J. Burgess, W. Howting, C. Shepherd, J. Mears, F. Hudson, H. Garrett, E.Girt, W. Redpath, H. Hide, A.P. Jordan, H. paine, T. Bennett, etc.
The RAF (Eastchurch) Fire Brigade put in an appearance at 8.20a.m. The men were in the charge of F/Sgt Butcher but they onlystood by as they were not equipped with a pumping engine. Later in the morning,however, the servicemen assisted in subduing the outbreak.
OTHER PREMISES DAMAGED
Since commencing operations those in charge of the Dockyard appliance which was a six cylineder Dennis engine, found difficulty in obtaining an adequate supply of water.
The report in the Sheerness Times continues at great length for several pages with much detail, including telling the readers that Brigades from Sheerness, the Dockyard, Queenborough, Sittingbourne and RAF Eastchurch took part in putting the fire out..
There was also an interesting denial from the Sheerness and District Electric Supply Co (Limited) who said they
"wish to contradict the rumour that is current in the town that the Electicity supply to the Sheerness &District EconomicalCooperative Society's premises was in any way responsible for the outbreak of fire on Tuesday 11th inst. Upon examination immediately after the fireit was found that, in accordance with the Society's usual practise, the Electricity had been shut off at the main switches which control the supply to the whole of the buildings................
..........It was noted that when the building was opened in 1891 the person performing the opening ceremony was J.T. Mitchell of Rochdale, Chairman of the Cooperative Wholesale Society"
Editor's note; Did they try to persuade him that Sheerness beat Rochdale to it ???
The complete story can be found in Sheerness Library in the microfiche of Sheerness Times for September 1923
The Coop fire was where the bus is