Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 23, 2017
Webpage updated: April 13, 2021




See also "Co-operative Society Stores in Old Devonport".

By the end of the year of its Foundation, 1860, the Plymouth Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society was well established, with a shop at number 17 Kinterbury Street, where Mrs Esther Carter attended to the members' needs, and additional income coming through the kindly support of a butcher in the Plymouth Market and a baker whose identity remains unknown.

By the end of the second year of business, 1861, the members' capital had risen to 219 13s 11d and the sales had amounted to 936 9s 2d.  An average dividend of 1s 6d was declared and to crown it all another tea party was organised to celebrate.

Another such function was held at the end of 1862 as well so business must have been prospering despite the gentleman entrusted with the purchasing of goods disappearing with the sum of 1 12s 5d.  A new man was appointed to this important post at a wage of 1s 6d per week.

On August 8th 1864 the Society moved from 17 Kinterbury Street to number 3 Cornwall Street, close to Plymouth Market.  This was a large, eight-roomed house, in addition to the shop, and this enabled the Society to provide the Educational Department with a library and a reading-room.

In 1865 the Society came to an arrangement with a coal dealer by the name of Pilditch, by which they were paid 1d per hundredweight of coal purchased by a members.  This event constituted the commencement of the Fuel Department.

Some members formed the Plymouth Co-operative and Industrial Building Society in 1866.  This new venture started to build two properties at Sea View Terrace, Lipson, and they were contracted to construct a sewer at Stoke Hill to the Royal Military Hospital but although the quality of their workmanship was good their ability to estimate costs accurately and a lack of capital brought the Building Society to an abrupt end, with only one of the houses being completed and sold.

In November 1867 the Society opened a butchery stall in the Plymouth Market but this did not last long and the business was moved into a corner of the grocery shop in Cornwall Street. 

A house and shop at number 30 Neswick Street were taken in 1868 for the sale of groceries and bread.  A bake house was put at the rear of the premises but there were many complaints about the quality of the bread until a satisfactory baker was put in charge.

So the Plymouth Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society started the year of 1870 with one shop in Cornwall Street selling groceries, bread and meat and another branch in Neswick Street selling groceries and bread, the latter baked on the premises.  That same year the Society opened a bake house at Bretonside, next door to the King's Arms Hotel, and a Drapery Department at the Cornwall Street premises.  At first the drapery was opened for three days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays).

The Society's original premises in Neswick Street were condemned and replaced
by this branch at number 68 Neswick Street, of which Mr William P Brimblecombe was the manager in 1890.
From "Plymouth: A Handbook of the Forty-Second Annual Co-operative Congress, 1910".

In 1871 the Society purchased their first freehold premises, at 12/12 Bilbury Street, later known as 42 Treville Street.  It cost 675.  This then became the Society's registered office.

Numbers 42 and 43 Treville Street became the Society's first owned property and their first registered office.
Note the architecture of the premises next door at number 44.
From "Plymouth: A Handbook of the Forty-Second Annual Co-operative Congress, 1910".

On October 14th 1872 the Society took over a coal store in Vauxhall Street, for which it paid 40 per year.  A salesman was employed to run it and two men were taken on to carry the coal to the customers' houses.  Orders were taken at the three shops.

In those days most stores stayed open well into the evening.  In 1873 the Plymouth Co-op decided to close their stores at 5pm on Wednesdays, the beginnings of the "early closing day" tradition.  It met with a great deal of opposition from customers but this was ignored.  A request from the Master Bakers of the Town for a general increase in the price of bread meant with a similar response and the proposed price rise had to be abandoned.

A request in 1874 from members living in Devonport to have their bread delivered was turned down on the grounds that the cost of transport would exceed the value of the business.

Stonehouse received its first Co-op shop in the summer of 1875.  It was a significant year for another reason, too: the Society bought its first horse, and so inaugurated the "Traffic Department".  The nag did not survive long, though, as it turned out to be a pronounced kicker and was sold again at Tavistock Goose Fair.  In 1875 the Society made its first investment in the Co-operative Wholesale Society.  It acquired 131 shares at a cost of 1,000.  The Society also transferred its local insurance business to the Co-operative Insurance Society.

Devonport got its first Co-op grocery in 1877 and this was quickly followed by the opening of a grocery branch in Waterloo Street, Plymouth.  The Drapery Department in Cornwall Street was expanding so fast that in 1877 it was moved into its own shop at number 16 Cornwall Street, where it was joined by millinery and tailoring.  A larger grocery was opened at number 15 Cornwall Street.  The old premises at number 3 Cornwall Street were turned over to a butchery with the upper floors being used for a library, reading-room and class-rooms.  Another acquisition that year was the Old Lion Brewery in Green Street, Plymouth, which was at the rear of the registered office in Treville Street.  With the  addition of adjoining properties in Vennel Street, this became the Central Grocery Warehouse and Bakery and later the Boot Factory.  The Phoenix Coal Store at Sutton Harbour was also purchased in 1878.

In 1880 a Building Department was started with 2,000 capital.

A boot shop was opened in Morice Town in 1881 and numbers 16 and 17 Frankfort Street, Plymouth, were purchased.  The Society also purchased its first ship, a former South Devon Shipping Company schooner named "Plymouth", in 1881.  She was intended for used in the coal trade but caused the Society a great many problems so was disposed of not long afterwards.

During 1882 the Society acquired number 44 Treville Street for 525, knocked it down and rebuilt it to the designs of Mr H J Snell.  It was reopened in January 1883 as a grocery branch.  They also opened their first dairy branch in Treville Street, for which they advertised for farmers to supply milk and butter.

On the right of this picture is number 44 Treville Street, which the Society rebuilt in 1882.
They then knocked down numbers 42 and 43 and rebuilt them in the same style.
The centre entrance was in fact a passageway through to the rear of the premises.
From "Plymouth: A Handbook of the Forty-Second Annual Co-operative Congress, 1910".

In 1885 the Society celebrated its 25th anniversary with a tea, public meeting and concert, all held in the Saint George's Hall at East Stonehouse, and the first move was made across the Hamoaze to Torpoint, where a grocery was opened.

The Co-operative Congress was held in Plymouth in 1886.  Over 700 delegates from all over the country gathered at Friary Station for a procession to Plymouth Hoe.  This included the first Co-operative lifeboat, which after it was launched was stationed at Ilfracombe in north Devon.  It is not clear how much business they transacted as on one day they went for a cruise to the Eddystone Lighthouse and up the River Tamar and on the next they went by train to Penzance.

During 1887 the Society purchased the Eagle Stores on North Quay, Sutton Harbour, for a coal depot; and opened a grocery in Armada Street, Plymouth, to replace the one in Waterloo Street.  It also celebrated Queen Victoria's Jubilee with a children's party in the grounds of Saltram House, as guests of Lord Morley, the 4,000 children and their parents being taken as far as Marsh Mills Station by special trains.

The following year the Society leased its first farm, Poole Farm, in the parish of Eggbuckland, an event that was not without its opposition.

1889 was a very busy year, with the opening of two premises on Mutley Plain; a butchery and a dairy at Ford; and a butchery in Neswick Street. 

The premises at Mutley Plain were brand new, having been designed by Mr Snell, the well-known architect, and erected on the site formerly occupied by Lewis Jones's Cottages by Mr T May, of Cobourg Street, Plymouth, for the owner, Mr J G Ellis, of Colling's Park, Compton.  Of the five shops numbers 1 and 2 were purchased by the Society and number 1 became grocery and bread shops with a boot and shoe store on the first floor.  Number 2 became butchery and dairy shops and the large room on the first floor was used as a general showroom.  The butchery had walls lined from floor to ceiling with Caprera marble and tiled pavements were laid down in the main entranced and the passage ways.  The walls of the dairy, which had front and rear entrances, were tiled to a height of eight feet and the cathedral glass windows coupled with the Boyle ventilation system in the roof would ensure a constant temperature would be maintained.

In 1889 the Society also accepted the tender of 17,617 from Mr A R Debnam for the construction of the first block of the proposed Central Premises.

Only one shop was opened in 1890, a butchery in Saint Jude's Road.  Number 14 Frankfort Street was purchased for the sum of 2,520.

Number 15 Frankfort Street was purchased in 1891 at a cost of 2,680 and this completed the site of the new Central Premises.

The most significant event in the history of the Society was the opening of the first part if their massive Central Premises in Frankfort Street, which took place on February 21st 1894.  It gives some idea of the size of the enterprise eat this point that 11 bread vans, 3 milk floats, 16 hand milk barrows, 3 grocery vans, 5 oil wagons and 8 coal wagons made up the procession from Friary Station through Treville Street to Frankfort Street, all accompanied by the Plymouth and Devonport Town Bands.

During 1895 nothing of any significance happened but the following year saw the destruction of the bakery in Vennel Street, which caused a considerable loss of trade.  Luckily it was found that ere were several baker's ovens laying idle throughout the Town and these were quickly secured and put into working order.  Only one new shop was opened in Plymouth that year, a grocery in Salisbury Road, Saint Jude's.

The bakery in Vennel Street was completely rebuilt and considerably enlarged  during 1897 and the most modern machinery was installed.

Twenty-three acres of land at Laira was purchased in 1898 for a housing estate and as a consequence the Works Department came into being.  A site in Embankment Road was also purchased for new stores and a store at Tamar Wharf, Morice Town, was acquired for the expansion of the Fuel Department.

On September 27th 1899 the second block of the Central Premises was opened.  This was constructed by the Society's own work force, at a cost of 15,000.  The new shops in Embankment Road were opened on December 17th 1899.  The year also saw the founding of the Plymouth Printers Ltd, an off-shoot of the Society.

Two more grocery stores were opened in 1900, one at Compton in January and the twentieth one at Millbay in the March.  The Society opened its own abattoir in East Stonehouse that year, with Mr C Vaughan and Mr W J Gilbert slaughtering the first two bullocks.

On the first day of January 1902 the first sod was cut by Mr C Vaughan on three acres of the Laira Building Estate.  This was to be an estate of four-roomed houses.  As the demand for houses in that area was low, the remaining 20 acres of the Estate was to be used as market gardens to supply the Greengrocery Department.  Houses were also in the process of being erected on the Pounds Estate at Peverell.  In September 1902 came the opening of a new boot shop in Courtenay Street (part of the Central Premises) and the twenty-fourth grocery shop in York Street, Plymouth.  The lease on Poole Farm was renewed in October 1902.

Greengrocery delivery vans, supplying customers on a door-to-door basis, started in April 1903 and this service quickly expanded.  In June 1903 Hareston Farm, 149 acres, was purchased.  The Pounds grocery and butchery shops were opened on October 7th 1903.  Also on that day Mr H Marsh laid the memorial stone of the new grocery warehouse at North Quay, Sutton Harbour, and Mr W J Lapthorn laid the foundation stone of the new model bakery in Beauchamp Road at Pennycross.  It was a big day, with the members passing from one event to the next in a big procession and the Co-operative Wholesale Society and other smaller local Societies were represented as well.

On Sunday November 1st 1903 the father of the Society, Mr Charles Goodanew, passed away at the age of 90.

The year ended with the opening of a butchery at Millbay.

A firewood factory was started at Devonport in January 1904 and in February the Society opened its twentieth butchery in Treville Street.  In September 1904 three new shops were opened at Millbrook, Cornwall: a grocery by Mr McHardy; a butchery by Mr Gard; and a dairy by Mr W H Watkins. 

Butchery number 22 was opened at 19 York Street, Plymouth, in March 1905 and this was followed by the opening of the grocery warehouse on North Quay.  The expansion at Millbrook the previous year was followed in 1904 with the opening of drapery and general store.

The new model Bakery at Peverell started work in May 1906 and was officially opened by Mr Charles Vaughan.  Once again a large collection of Co-op vehicles was paraded around the Town in celebration.  The bakery was thrown open to public inspection after the ceremony and it is said that some102,000 people availed themselves of the opportunity to see for themselves how Co-op bread was manufactured.  The bakery at Vennel Street was closed down as a result and the old bread room and flour lofts were immediately fitted up as a boot warehouse.

On March 4th 1908  a very substantial warehouse for the Drapery Department was opened by Mr H Marsh in Frankfort Lane, behind the Central Premises.  The three-storey building was constructed by the Society's own Works Department.  In April 1908 the Works department were instructed to commence construction of a grocery, confectionery and restaurant in Courtenay Street.

Risdon's Flour Mill at the Great Western Docks, Millbay, came on the market in 1906.  This was already supplying the Plymouth Co-operative Society with flour so it seemed a natural progression for them to purchase it.  It had not long been rebuilt so it was very up-to-date and was bought at a very satisfactory price.  Another advantage was that the manager and staff became Co-op employees.

1908 also saw further expansion across the Hamoaze, this time at Torpoint.  On May 21st 1908 a store for the sale of drapery goods, boots, shoes and hardware was opened.  A butchery branch joined the grocery branch at Compton that year, too.

The Plymouth Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society Limited celebrated its Jubilee in 1909.  At the Central Premises in Courtenay Street the new restaurant was opened (on Saturday April 17th 1909) and the grocery moved to a new shop within the same block.  The vacated grocery became a new Jewellery and Fancy Goods Department.  A new hardware and drapery shop was opened at Ford and the Society purchased some land adjacent to the Model Bakery at Peverell upon which to erect some retail premises.

As a celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Plymouth Society was the host to the Co-operative Congress in 1910.  Jubilee Buildings, consisting of a grocery, butchery and dairy, were opened at Peverell Corner.  An approach to take-over the Plympton Co-operative Society was declined.

Developments at Peverell were again the highlight in 1911, when the Laundry in Langstone Road was opened.

There was no expansion of business in 1912 and 1913.  As early as 1912 comments were being made at Society meetings about the losses being made on the flour mill at Millbay and in 1914 this was finally closed.  The declaration of war on August 4th 1914 did have one immediate repercussion: all the Society's horses were requisitioned and had to be replaced with motor vehicles.  This brought about the appointment of a traffic manager in September 1914.

The Society's turnover passed the million pound mark in 1915, which presumably encouraged them to once again enter the shipping business by purchasing a steamer later known as the "Charles Goodanew".  This cost them 26,258.  In fact this had more to do with the sharp increase in the cost of getting coal to Plymouth from the North East of England because of the war risk to shipping.  However, the venture was profitable but short-lived as the Admiralty requisitioned the ship for war service.  The vessel was lost when she hit a mine off the coast of Aberdeen and lost with all hands.

In addition to the steamer, the Society also spent 45,000 on buying 1,500 acres of land.  Most, if not all, of this was at Caulston, Netton and Lambside Farms, near Noss Mayo.  Other events during 1915 were the opening of the Preserve Works (better known as the "jam factory") in Recreation Road, Peverell; the opening of grocery branches in Cattedown Road and Belgrave Road; and the opening of one confectionery and three bread shops.

During 1916 the Society bought a sausage factory in Waterloo Street, East Stonehouse; opened a grocery in Admiralty Street, also in East Stonehouse; and acquired the sites of the future Central Dairy in Radnor Place and Co-op Emporium in Fore Street, Devonport.  Two more farms, Preston and Scobbiscombe, were added to the Society's acreage and Whympstone and Membland Houses were both converted into holiday homes for members.

Two major events took place in 1916.  Firstly the members of the Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Employees (AUCE) held a strike and secondly the Plymouth Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society Limited ceased to exist, being replace by the simpler Plymouth Co-operative Society Limited, under which heading this history continues.