Derby Co-operative Provident Society

Scope and Content

This series consists of records created by Derby Co-operative provident Society and Mayfield Co-operative Society which merged to become part of Derby Society in 1930.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Derby Co-operative Provident Society was founded in 1850 by twelve men, all members of the Carpenters' and Joiners' Society: Thomas Rushton Brown, James Cooper, Thomas Whittle, Samuel Leam, James Walker, George Allen, Robert Riley, William Corner, John Aslin, William Johnson, Jonathan Henderson and Samuel Smith. However, the exact date of foundation is not clear and the earliest documentary evidence of the Society is a statement of sales from 1853 for £173. Jonathan Henderson, formerly secretary of the Carpenters' and Joiners' Society, is reputed to have been the first president of the Society, and Samuel Smith, the treasurer.

The first shop was opened in a hayloft in George Yard off Sadler Gate, for which members raised £2 to purchase a set of second-hand scales, weights, flour and groceries. It would seem the early years were difficult, and in 1855-1856 suggestions were made to dissolve the Society. Nevertheless, by the end of the following year, the Society had moved to another hayloft in Biggs' Yard, Victoria Street before finally settling in 1859 in Penny Bank Yard opposite the Assembly Room in Full Street where it was known as The Co-operative Association of Carpenters and Joiners.

From 1860, fortunes seemed to improve. The Society was opened to the public of Derby and women admitted as members. In the period between June and December there was an increase from 40 to 290 members, with 36, mostly railway workers, admitted in a single night. Two years later there were 1,385 members. The store was open every evening, from 7pm to 9.30pm, and Saturdays from 2pm to 10pm. Enlargement and improvement of the Full Street premises in 1861 was accompanied by an expansion into shoemaking and drapery, alongside the butchery and grocery departments. By 1862, overall sales had reached £22,000.

The first branch store was opened on 18 July 1861 in the Labour Hall, Park Street. It was the first freehold property owned by the Society, and was its first store located on a main public thoroughfare. Following the success of the Park Street store, a second store and warehouse was opened in the former Dove Inn, Nunn Street. Two further branches were opened in Bridge Street, in 1866 and Abbey Street in 1868.

In 1869 the Society purchased a plot of land in Albert Street for the erection of a new central premises. The first building of the new headquarters opened in 1871 and contained a draper's shop, shoe shop, grocery and meat shop, and a restaurant. Over the following twenty-six years four more buildings were added to the site, costing in total £27,392.

1875 marked the beginning of a particularly busy period in the Society's history. Minutes suggest the Society became involved in the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Co-operative Mining Society at Ripley, loaning the colliery £500. However, owing to a lack of capital the venture was wound up the following year. Around the same time, the decision was made to enter the jewellery trade. Items were sold at low profit by small weekly payments, but it is doubtful whether sales were ever considerable. 1875 also saw the beginning of plans for a federal corn mill at Leicester, similar to those at Rochdale, Halifax and Sowerby Bridge. The mill, known as the Midland Federal Corn Mill, was opened in 1877 at a cost of £12,000. Apart from the Leicester Society, the Derby Society was the biggest supporter, in terms of both finance and purchases. However relations between the Leicester and Derby Societies were troubled over proposals to install new machinery. In December 1887 the Society withdrew their support of the business, leaving Leicester with sole liability. The Society nevertheless continued to purchase flour from the mill.

The Society's periodical, The Monthly Record, was established in 1876. It was edited by Amos Scotton until 1892, who was reputed to have only been paid £15 for the whole period. The publication continued until 1946, when the Society's news was absorbed into the Home Magazine.

The period between 1895 and 1916 saw another boost in terms of membership, turnover and profit. The Society absorbed Little Eaton Co-operative Society in 1896, a similar society at Spondon in 1897 and the Melbourne Society in 1900. In 1894 the Society purchased a dairy at Spondon. Though sales in butter were initially good, they eventually began to fail and it was decided instead to concentrate on house to house delivery of milk. In the five years from 1895, membership increased from over 9,500 to 14, 425. In 1897, the Society paid as much dividend as 2s. 7 1/2 d. The closing decade of the nineteenth century also saw the inauguration of the Derby Society Branch of the Women's Guild in 1893. Derby had been host to the Co-operative Congress in 1884, and this was followed by the Women's Congress Guild on two occasions, in 1898 and 1920. 1898 also saw the establishment of the Educational Committee by Mr. E. Merchant.

New developments came in the twentieth century. In 1902 land was purchased in Wood Street to build a new warehouse to replace the old Albert Street site which had become inadequate. In the same year, the Board also decided to buy Olympia to be used as another warehouse and three further shops. By 1903 the Society had established three co-partnerships, namely the Derby Builders, the Derby Printers Ltd and the Progressive Umbrella Manufacturing Society Ltd. But like all societies, Derby felt the effects of the Great War. The military comandeered not only the Society's main hall, but also 40 out of the Society's 106 horses. By 1916, out of a total of 636 male employees, 312 had joined the forces.

1919 saw the first Co-operative political candidate for the Normanton Ward. Though the campaign was unsuccessful, in November that year the first co-operative member, Mr. A. J. Tapping, was elected to Derby Town Council.

In the decade between 1930 and 1940 the Society expanded and developed its retail departments with new shops and production premises. During this period Derby was at the forefront of the campaign against the taxation of co-operatives, organising protest meetings and distributing leaflets. Two societies merged with Derby at this time - the Mayfield Society in 1930, and the Milford Society in 1935.

During the Second World War membership of the Society rose rapidly, but it also suffered a shortage in non-rationed goods. Derby introduced its own general points scheme to deal with distribution, including a sugar card. In 1944, the Derby Society instituted what was probably the first inter-trading scheme in the country, which enabled members of societies in the Derby area to trade with each other and still receive dividend.

Following the war, membership and retail of the society continued to grow from 94,737 in 1951 to 107,895 in 1966, by which time the Society had four supermarkets. Four years later on 15 January 1970, the Society amalgamated with the Burton Co-operative Society. The merger was accepted by members of the Burton Society after a formal agreement was drawn up to preserve the N.U.C.O status of their officials, and their salaries.

Sources: Seventy -Five Years Co-operation in Derby, by W L Unsworth (1927); Centenary Story: 100 years of co-operation in Derby, by D Boydell (1950); Co-operative Directories (1951, 1957, 1966); NACO/3/4/12/2- Transfer of Engagments and Amalgamations of Co-operative Societies 1972-1974.