Dudley Co-operative Society Limited

Scope and Content

Records of Dudley Co-operative Society Limited. The records consist of balance sheets and minute books of the General Board, Superannuation Committee and other sub-committee meetings.

Administrative / Biographical History

Dudley Co-operative Society Limited was founded on 21st August 1872 and its first shop was opened shortly after this in October at 16a Salop Street, Eve Hill. The identity of the men who founded the Society is not clear, however Isaiah Evans, the President of the Society in 1882, is likely to be one of the founding members. By 1882, membership had grown to 154 and by 1884 the Society boasted three shops.

Ten years later, in 1892, the Society was being administered from premises at 19 New Street, its membership had grown to over five thousand, it had twelve grocery shops and was about to start baking it's own bread. However, in the summer of 1892 it hit a crisis and ended up in debt. The creditors realised that the Society's trade was healthy though and hoped if trade continued the Society could pay back its debts. Consequently, there was an overhaul of the Society and a new committee was elected. Confidence returned to the Society though and in a very short time it was finding it possible to both pay off the huge debt, and continue paying dividend to its members. By the end of the 1890s it was once again in a position to carry on expanding by opening new branches.

On 2nd March 1901 the Dudley Co-operative Society opened its new purpose-built branch in Lower Gornal. This was the Society's thirteenth branch and was the first to have a proper drapery department. The building cost £2400 to design and build and showed that the Society had recovered from the crisis of 1882, although there was £5000 of debts still to be paid. The premises of the Society soon after moved from New Street to Waddams Pool. Two years later the Society made its presence felt in the centre of the town for the first time with a branch opened in the High Street, which contained grocery, drapery and boot and shoe departments.

By 1914 the Dudley Society set out to serve a vast area stretching from Great Bridge and Dudley Port in the east across to Wombourne in the west. The Society prospered during the First World War and survived the bad time of the 1920s to begin expanding again from 1923. In 1924, the Society organised its first annual excursion which were to become a major local social institution in the 1930s.

During the 1930s, the Society was growing as a business and even more facilities were demanded, such as a new bakery, transport and butchery departments. In December 1939, the Society built its central Emporium - a large departmental store reflecting the Society's importance as a large local retailer. This growth continued throughout the decades until the 1960s when it became clear that even though the income of the Society was rising, expenditure was rising faster. The Dudley Co-operative Society continued to open new branches until 15th February 1971 when the last new store to be built by the Society was opened in the Upper Gornal Precinct.

By the 1980s the Society was beginning to trade at an annual loss and this led to a merger with the Birmingham Co-operative Society in 1982, which in turn had become the Greater Midlands Co-operative Society. This merger led to the closure of many of Dudley's shops, including the Emporium. The Co-operative Society in Dudley merged and vanished almost overnight.

Source: The Co-op in Birmingham and the Black Country, by Ned Williams (1993)

Geographical Names