Webpage created: September 24, 2017.
Webpage updated: September 24, 2017
On Christmas Day, Sunday December 25th, in the year 1859, two gentlemen called upon their friend, Mr Charles Goodanew, at his home, number 14 Tin Street, Plymouth. Although a shoemaker by trade, 42-years-old Mr Goodanew also sold newspapers, periodicals, pens, inks and paper, all items devoted to the spread of knowledge. During their conversation, the prospects for working men came up for discussion and Mr Goodanew produced a book he had been reading entitled "The History of the Rochdale Pioneers" and began reading aloud passages from the book. It had been written by Mr George Jacob Holyoake, who with some of his friends had founded in Rochdale, Lancashire, a co-operative movement, whereby the men purchased foodstuff in bulk and sold it in smaller quantities to fellow members of the co-operative at a fair price.
One of his companions is said to have exclaimed: "I think there is a need for such a society in Plymouth, and I'll be one to try and do something like the 'Owd Pioneers'".
That small group of men reassembled in that same small room, measuring just 10 feet by 7, but were joined by seven others who were interested in hearing more about this idea. The men, in order of age, were: Mr John Shovel, mason; Mr John Slade, carpenter; Mr Charles Goodanew, shoemaker; Mr William Goodanew, shoemaker; Mr John Webb, shoemaker; Mr Thomas Reynolds, shoemaker; Mr Charles Shovel, carpenter; Mr Henry Dryden, printer; Mr Thomas Hillier, shoemaker; and Mr Thomas Abrahams, boot closer. Mr Slade was chosen as chairman so it is evident he was one of Mr Goodanew's friends who had called upon that Christmas Day. The decision to form a co-operative on the lines of that at Rochdale was taken at this meeting.
A few days later, on Tuesday January 3rd 1860, a further meeting was held in a workshop in Ebrington Street belonging to a Mr W Adamson. Eighteen men attended this meeting and all agreed to become members of this new Society, each man paying one shilling as an entrance fee. Mr Adamson was appointed as treasurer and Mr Charles Shovel was elected as chairman. Mr John Webb was chosen as secretary. The Plymouth Mutual Co-operative Society was born.
In addition to the entrance fee they also agreed to make a payment of 3d per week towards the share capital. Within a month they had raised £3 in capital and the decision was taken to spend some of it on purchasing such goods that could be readily sold at a profit. A room over a shop in Catte Street was rented from one of the members, Mr John Slade, at a weekly rental of 1s 10d and there, on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, they sold their wares, all carefully weighed out on a pair of borrowed scales. When the shop downstairs became vacant, the Society rented the whole of the premises for 3s 4d a week. The upstairs room was converted into a meeting room and library as the members were keen to promote the organisation as an educational facility as well as just a commercial business. It must be remembered that at that time there were few schools in Plymouth and the Board Schools were still a decade away.
Trade at the end of the first quarter was good but still disappointing. There were seventy-two members, whose payments had amounted to £26 15s 5d. The Society had paid out £70 16s 6d for groceries and sold £57 7s 11½d worth. The trading profit amounted to £5 18s 11½d.
But Mr John Slade, from whom they were renting their premises, started to come in for some criticism. He not only owned the premises but was Society treasurer. As such he held the key to his own shop. What was to prevent him from helping himself to the stock? A second lock was installed but this failed because often only one of the two key holders turned up to open the shop. It is said that there were even three locks at one time. At a crowded meeting of members feelings ran high and Mr Slade, facing exclusion from the Society, resigned instead. It was hoped by many that he would re-apply for membership when the fuss had died down but he did not and the Society lost the support of a valuable supporter.
Trade in the second quarter, ended June 30th 1860, increased to £142 1s 1d and had been supplemented by £2 11s 9d received from a butcher in the Plymouth Market who allowed the Society 5% on purchases made by its members. However, the profit was poor and the members felt that this was due to bad management so the Board of Directors were all replaced by new men. This turned out to be even more disastrous but now they began to realise that expenses were being made that had never been accounted for back at the start. The second Board of Directors kept their positions and immediately made some important changes.
While all this was going on, the Society's secretary, Mr John Webb, had been attempting to register the Society under the Industrial and Provident Societies Partnerships Act of 1852. The Registrar, Mr J Tidd Pratt, was a difficult bureaucrat, however, who had caused the Rochdale Pioneers some problems, too. Mr Webb is credited with describing him as: 'An autocrat from whose decision there was no appealing'. By October 1860 the problems were resolved but not before Mr Pratt had renamed the business The Plymouth Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society in order to comply with the regulations.
At the end of quarter 3 they took a house and shop at number 17 Kinterbury Street and engaged the wife of one of the members, Mrs Esther Carter, to serve in the shop every day. She was assisted in the evenings by her husband, David. This appointment was not without its problems, however, as one of the rules of the Society excluded members from holding office if they were also employed by the Society. On the other hand there were those who thought that getting two people to look after the shop for one wage was an excellent bargain and they both remained at their posts until the tenancy of the premises ended in 1864.
That first year of trading, 1860, ended with an arrangement being made with a baker to allow the Society commission on bread sold to members and this raised an additional sum of £2 18s 8½d in the final quarter. At the end of the year the Society membership had increased to 101 and turnover amounted to £681 14s 11½d. To celebrate this successful first year a tea party, followed by dancing and singing, was held in the Buckland Hall on December 26th 1860.