Birmingham Co-operative Society

Scope and Content

Records of Birmingham Co-operative Society and the societies that merged into it including Alcester Co-operative Industrial Society, Halesowen and Hasbury Industrial Co-operative Society, Soho Co-operative Society, Ten Acres and Stirchley Co-operative Society, Birmingham Co-operative Chemists and Edwin Fletcher & Company. There are also records of Birmingham District Association Co-operative Union.

Administrative / Biographical History

Birmingham Industrial Co-operative Society was formed following a meeting on 21st June 1881 of 25 men at a coffee house in Great Francis Street, Duddeston. Most of the men were employees of the Midland Railway Company. They rented premises at 14 Great Francis Street and opened for the first time on 5th August 1881. The first Committee was made up of Messrs Beaumont, Jervis, Rigby, Beach, Bracey, Dallow, Henman, Holtham, Howitt, Hudson, Nichols, Roberts, Stark and Swingler. By the time the society held its first quarterly meeting in October 1881 they had 231 members.

In December 1881 they opened their first branch store at 17 Adderley Park Road and in January 1882 opened branches at 104 Coventry Road, Small Heath and 27 Cheetham Street, Nechells. By the summer of 1882 they had a bakery at 222 Great Francis Street. In 1884 they opened central premises at the corner of Great Francis Street and Newdigate Street. The Society suffered from the trade depression of the 1880s but began recovering in the 1890s. By 1914 the Society had nearly 27,000 members and 57 branch shops. In 1916 a new central premises was opened at High Street.

Following the First World War the Society acquired Blackgreaves Farm at Lea Martson and went into milk delivery. They also opened a Fish, Fruit and Grocery Department. In 1925 Birmingham Industrial Co-operative Society took over the failing Soho Co-operative Society and changed its name to Birmingham Co-operative Society. In 1927 the Society bought 98% of the shares in the drapery business of Edwin Fletcher & Co. This allowed the society to move into the buildings of this company, which were opposite the central premises at High Street, and expand into the adjacent premises. Between 1931 and 1939 the Society progressed rapidly and membership rose by 80,000.

The Society was greatly affected by the Second World War with 3000 employees going into the services, 22 vehicles being requisitioned and several buildings bomb damaged. Following the War many of the shops were changed to self-service and super-markets were opened. The Society continued to expand and in 1968 the Society took over Alcester Co-operative Society and the Halesowen & Hasbury Co-operative Society and in 1971 the Ten Acres & Stirchley Co-operative Society. Birmingham Co-operative Society opened its first superstore on 19th May 1970 at Castle Vale. In 1981 the Society changed its name to Greater Midlands Co-operative Society and in 1982 merged with Dudley Co-operative Society.

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

Geographical Names