back to Another 'Grand Tour' index

Another 'Grand Tour' of the Potteries
- David Proudlove & Steve Birks -

buildings in Burslem

next: Burslem -The Chelsea Works
previous: Burslem -The Old Post Office
contents: index of buildings in Burslem

No 14 -  Burslem 
Burslem & District Co-operative Society Ltd

[ location map




“Cooperate…(also co-operate); 1. (often foll. by with) work or act together; 2. (of things) concur in producing an effect”
The Oxford Modern English Dictionary


The recent demise of Jessops and the on-going struggle to save HMV – which will mean the closure of dozens of stores around the country – has once more cast the spotlight on the battle to save our High Streets and town centres, and has pushed the fight into the mainstream. 

This is not a new phenomenon: the plight of our towns, particularly the towns of North Staffordshire, has been wrestled with on the pages of for a number of years now. 

However, it is only when household names begin to fail that the majority start to sit up and take note. But the presence of the familiar Usual Suspects is not a sign of local economic vibrancy.


Whilst Jessops and HMV are big names that can (or could be) found in most towns and cities throughout the country, there are other regional and sub-regional names that are also starting to disappear. 

One such local example is Leek-based Britannia Building Society, which in recent times has become part of the Co-operative Group. It was recently announced that branches of Britannia are to be re-branded as part of the coming together with the Co-operative, and so another local brand is on its way to being consigned to history.

No more rule Britannia?


The Co-operative Group is one of the nation’s giants, a name as recognisable as any, with its fingers in many pies. You can buy a loaf of bread from them. You can bank with them. You can travel with them. You can even be laid to rest by them. 

Everybody knows the co-op, and they have been a reliable and reassuring presence in our communities for many years. You know where you are with the co-op.


The reliable and reassuring Co-op


The cooperative movement was born in Britain and France during the nineteenth century (though the demutualised Shore Porters Society claims to be amongst the first cooperatives, being established in Aberdeen in 1498), as increased mechanisation following the Industrial Revolution threatened the livelihoods of many workers.

The first documented consumer cooperative was established in 1769, when local workers in Fenwick, East Ayrshire sold a sackful of oats at a discount, thus forming the Fenwick Weavers’ Society.

By the early 1800s there were hundreds of cooperatives or cooperative societies, and though a good many were initially a success, by 1840, many more had failed. From those early days, only the Lockhurst Lane Industrial Co-operative Society (founded in 1832, and now the Heart of England Co-operative Society), and the Galashiels and Hawick Co-operative Societies (from c1839, now merged with the Co-operative Group) are still trading.

The cooperative movement as we know it today dates from 1844, when the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers established the ‘Rochdale Principles’, which have underpinned the development and growth of the modern version of the movement. The ‘Rochdale Pioneers’ was a group of thirty textile workers that came together as increasing mechanisation forced skilled workers into poverty. 


They established a store to sell food that they could not afford. Learning lessons from earlier failed cooperatives, they developed their ‘Rochdale Principles’, and raised one pound per head, and on 21st December 1844, opened their store offering a small selection of basic goods including butter, sugar and flour. Within three months they were able to expand their offer to include tea and tobacco, and soon gained a reputation for supplying high-quality goods.

The Co-operative Group as we know it has formed gradually over 140 years through the merger of many independent retail societies. In 1863, the North of England Co-operative Society was established by 300 individual co-ops throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire, and by 1872 was known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS).


As the twentieth century was drawing to a close, CWS’s share of the market had gone into a dramatic decline, leading many to question the co-operative model, and they sold their factories to Andrew Regan, who then returned with a £1.2billion bid for CWS in 1997. 

Regan’s bid led to allegations of serious fraud, and following a prolonged battle, his bid to take control of CWS was seen off, and two CWS executives jailed, though Regan himself was cleared of all charges.


Following Labour’s election victory in 1997, Tony Blair established the Co-operative Commission which made a series of major recommendations for the movement, and in 2000, CWS merged with the UK’s second largest society, Co-operative Retail Services.




The influence of the cooperative movement has been felt in the Potteries, and one of the earliest co-op traders in the city was a Burslem-based potter, James Colclough, who opened Stoke-on-Trent’s first co-operative store on Newcastle Street in the Mother Town, a store which simply sold bread.

In the late 1800s, a manager at Royal Doulton – James Stanway – encouraged colleague Fred Hayward to attend the meetings of the young Burslem-based co-op, and in 1902, Hayward became the company’s (unpaid) part-time secretary, and he helped what became known as the Burslem and District Industrial Co-operative Society become the most successful mutual commercial enterprise that the Potteries has ever known. 

Fred Hayward was knighted, and until his retirement in 1935, he remained at the top of the movement in North Staffordshire. The organisation’s heyday was during the 1950s and 60s, when they had main stores in Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Longton and Blurton, but eventually they followed the path of many other local co-op’s and became part of the Co-operative Group.


1957 advert for the Burslem and District Industrial Co-Operative Society

1957 advert for the Burslem and District Industrial Co-Operative Society

One of the society’s main stores was to be found on Queen Street in Burslem, the organisation’s birthplace. The Co-op Emporium dates from the 1930s, a fine Art Deco mini-department store, its impressive corner entrance, steel framed windows and strong vertical emphasis mirroring other Art Deco buildings throughout the Potteries from the same era, such as the former Sentinel Buildings on Trinity Street in Hanley. 


The building has much in common with Lewis’s Department Store – also in Hanley – a chrome and glass Art Deco masterpiece, which introduced a European innovation to Potteries’ shopping habits being the first store in the city to use an arcade. Lewis’s opened its doors in 1934, but the much-loved building lasted just thirty years, before being demolished following the opening of a new Lewis’s store on the opposite corner, thus demonstrating that the obsession with the wrecking ball in the Potteries is not a recent development.



Another victim of the wrecking ball: Lewis?s Art Deco masterpiece, Hanley

Another victim of the wrecking ball: Lewis’s Art Deco masterpiece, Hanley



The Co-op Emporium, Queen Street, Burslem

The Co-op Emporium, Queen Street, Burslem


the logo of the Burslem and District Industrial Society

the logo of the Burslem and District Industrial Society


Co-operation in Burslem - built in 1931

Co-operation in Burslem - built in 1931




Art Deco was the architectural style of choice for many retailers during the inter-war period. Burton – who hailed from Chesterfield – went on to open a number of stores on the High Streets of the Potteries, and as with Lewis’s and the Burslem and District Industrial Society, chose the ultra-modern Art Deco style, clearly to make a statement on behalf of their business. 

Even during the Morbid Age, image was everything.


Burton's Store, Tunstall High Street

Burton’s Store, Tunstall High Street

The Potteries had a host of fine Art Deco buildings. Many have been lost, reduced to rubble and replaced with disappointing and dreary buildings - for example the drab modern tat on Stafford Street that took the place of Lewis’s, and the Bird in Hand in Trent Vale – while others have been badly disfigured through the insertion of inappropriate corporate shop fronts, or ill thought-out extensions, such as the former Sentinel Buildings. 

The Co-op Emporium has also fell victim to poor alterations, and to add insult to injury, now stands empty and silent, overlooking the revamped Swan Square.

The development of architectural landmarks was quite common amongst the cooperative movement, as the images of various former co-op buildings below demonstrate.


Gateshead © panoramio
© panoramio

Longsight, Manchester ©
Longsight, Manchester 

Newcastle-upon-Tyne ©


Architectural legacy and social and environmental responsibility is something that the Co-operative Group still clearly takes seriously: they have recently completed the development of a new HQ – 1 Angel Square – part of a scheme to regenerate the north of Manchester City Centre. 1 Angel Square is home to 3,500 workers, and has serious green credentials: the building is one of very few to achieve a BREEAM rating of ‘Outstanding’, and has won the BCSC gold award for sustainability. 

The Co-operative Group have gone on to complete a sale and leaseback arrangement of 1 Angel Square, which has raised £142million for the group, which they intend to invest in improving services for its customers and members.


1 Angel Square, the new headquarters of the Co-operative Group, Manchester ©

1 Angel Square, the new headquarters of the Co-operative Group, Manchester 



In spite of advances and changes in society since the early 1800s, the cooperative movement is probably as relevant today as it was back then. The movement grew during a period where poverty was on the rise, and living standards were being squeezed. 

These are recurring themes in these austere times, where many hard-working people are being forced to choose between food and heat, and many others rely on food banks, whilst Barclays pays out £2billion in bonuses, and the rich enjoy a tax cut. So much for being all in it together.

There is also much that those concerned with regenerating our towns and cities can learn from the cooperative movement. The Rochdale Pioneers’ initial venture was barely viable, yet through pooling resources and efforts, and working to their ‘Rochdale Principles’, they thrived and grew. Could a similar approach be taken by small start-up businesses, sharing space on our High Streets for example, until their ventures are stable and growing, and are able to find homes of their own? 

Could this be an alternative town centre development model that could help nurture and grow small independent businesses, and provide the local vibrancy that the big chains cannot deliver? The underlying principle of the movement can be found in its name: cooperation. 

In order to win the fight for our High Streets, cooperation is vital between all concerned with the battle: planners, traders, politicians, engineers, architects, regulators, residents, landlords – all need to cooperate to achieve the common goal.


And what of the Co-op Emporium in the Mother Town? The building has sadly stood empty and silent for some time (though the ubiquitous JD Wetherspoon are rumoured to be interested), despite efforts to revive vacant properties throughout Burslem through various initiatives, and in that respect has much in common with thousands of town centre buildings around the country.

But here and there, there are glimmers of hope. Chapel Walk in Sheffield is the focus of regeneration efforts by the City Council and local businesses, who are working closely together in a joint effort to rejuvenate the area. The partnership secured £100,000 from the Government’s Portas Fund, which is being used to give Chapel Walk a revamp. 

At the heart of the project is ‘Bird’s Yard’, a new, funky emporium housed in a formerly rundown, vacant store. Bird’s Yard is full of independent traders, and it is hoped that it will help grow a new generation of vibrant city centre businesses. Sheffield City Councillor Leigh Bramall is a big fan of Bird’s Yard: “here young entrepreneurs will be able to take a unit of varying size to sell their goods. 

This could be as small as a single shelf or as large as a stand-alone space. This way we can take new retailers on a journey, helping them progress their idea right through to a stand-alone business. 

We hope this is something that will help local businesses grow and flourish – something that lasts for years to come helping boost the city’s economy and add valuable jobs for local people”. Our own local politicians and policy makers ought to make note. 


Bird?s Yard, Chapel Walk, Sheffield © reetsweet.blogspot
Bird’s Yard, Chapel Walk, Sheffield 
© reetsweet.blogspot

In an environment where it is estimated that a start-up business needs capital of around £100,000 to establish itself, such an approach could be a lifeline. 

This sounds like something that would also be a lifeline for the Co-op Emporium. It sounds like cooperation.


Dave Proudlove - February 2013




next: Burslem -The Chelsea Works
previous: Burslem -The Old Post Office
contents: index of buildings in Burslem




Related Pages

Art Deco in Stoke-on-Trent

Burslem and District Industrial Co-operative

Fred Hayward - Co-op unionist, the peoples' delegate

Index page for the Co-operative Society in Stoke-on-Trent