Many people who are new to Corsham may not realise that there was a Co-operative stores in the town previously. It occupied the buildings that we now recognise as 51/53/55 High Street, a Veterinary surgery Walter/Macfadden, (notice the ‘Beehive ’sign in the gable to the front), the Pizza Parlour (VLR ) and Theodora’s flower shop.
It was the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers who were responsible for the formation of the Co-operative Society in 1844. As the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, a group of 28 weavers and other artisans in England decided to band together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. They designed the now famous “Rochdale Principles” and over a period of four months they struggled to pool together one “Pound sterling” per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital. On December 21, 1844, they opened their store with a very sparse selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods. The English CWS and Co-operative Group “The Co- operative Group” formed gradually over 140 years from the merger of many independent retail societies, and their wholesale societies and federations. In 1863, twenty years after the “Rochdale Pioneers” opened their co- operative, the North of England Co-operative Society was launched by 300 individual co-ops across Yorkshire and Lancashire. and by 1872, it had become known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS).
But what of the Co-operative stores in Corsham?
Local knowledge has failed to reveal exactly when the Corsham stores might have opened at 53-55 High Street, although we understand that the Co-operative bought this land to build these shops in 1906, and the shops were certainly there just before WWII. A local lady, Nellie Thomas, remembers that it sold haberdashery, clothes, and it had a butchers and a grocery department. In fact ‘you could go in one end and come out the other with almost everything you wanted’. A bit like the supermarkets of today! Another local lady, Mary Lodge, worked there between 1945 and 1951. One feature of the store was the ‘piped cash register’, the sort of machine where your payment was put into a container, which then travelled up the wall, along the ceiling to the upper floor, where someone was waiting to open it, issue change and a receipt, and send it back down to the counter.
It seems that this was Corsham’s first superstore, and of course you received a dividend payment with something like 1d in the £ returned to you, which you could save perhaps until Christmas when more groceries etc were needed. Now we have examples like Sainsbury’s and Nectar cards! Nothing is new is it?
This was not the only Co-op Store, though. There was also one at the junction of Post Office Lane and High Street, where the Jaipur Indian restaurant now stands. This is also remembered as a Co-op furniture store and Auction House. It later became known as Oatley’s furniture store.
The store in the High Street finally closed down sometime between 1953-55. Now we have a new Co-operative supermarket to the town.