Family History Federation

Co-operative Congress Souvenir – Plymouth 1910

A handbook of the 42nd Annual Co-operative Congress, held in the Guildhall Plymouth, Whitsuntide, 1910 by J. C. Gray.

A facsimile of the original book.

Includes 90 photos of people, places and Co-operative shops, mainly in Plymouth. This report of the forty-second Congress is illustrated with photographs of various objects and portraits of delegates, photos of the shops in the Three Towns, many with staff standing outside. Photos of houses, warehouses, stables and dairies built by the Movement.

Contains a lengthy history of the three towns, Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse. A history of the Co-operative movement in Devon, Cornwall & Somerset. Chapters on the Co-operative Union, the Women’s Co-operative Guild in the South Western Section, and the Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd, Bristol.

Illustrated with black & white photographs throughout. Back section has local business adverts.


Plymouth Co-op

It was Christmas Day, 1859 when John Slade, John Shovel and Charles Goodanew met to set about forming the Plymouth Mutual Co-operative Society. The first formal meeting was held in the tiny back room of Goodanew’s shop. Plymouth had a growing population and sanitation was poor. Charles had already lost four of his nine children and the new co-operative concept of providing quality food at fair prices fitted his determination to improve local living standards. The first shop opened in Catte Street on 2nd February 1860. By September the Co-operative Society moved to bigger premises in Kinterbury Street and within a year more than a hundred members had joined. By 1864 the shop moved again to Cornwall Street complete with library and education department.

By 1880 the annual turnover was nearly £100,000 with 5,000 members getting a ‘divi’ of 2s 4d. The Society had become a major trader in the area. In June 1886, Plymouth hosted the annual Co-operative Congress. A second lifeboat built with donations from co-op stores was launched to be stationed at Illfracombe. The Congress came to Plymouth again in 1910 with 1,600 delegates. By then the local Society had grown with 106 stores, 1,147 staff and 37,184 members.

In 1880 there were nine societies in Devon: Barnstaple, Bideford, Buckfastleigh, Devonport Coal, Exeter, Newton Abbot, North Tawton, Plymouth and Tiverton. Cornwall had ten societies.

The Co-operative became part of the lifeblood of society. It established an extensive infrastructure of farms and wholesale suppliers. Co-ops served almost every occasion from retail to funerals, from baking to banking.

Almost every town and village had a co-operative store but some struggled without enough trade. Enthusiasm and co-operative principles were not enough and some failed through lack of management skills. By the 1960s the growing super-markets forced many small stores to close or merge.


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