Until 1872 all of the miners of Northumberland, Cumberland and Durham were employed under the hated Bond system whereby they contracted their lives away each year (or each month from 1844 to 1864) to a 'Master' in return for a 'bounty' and little else of substance. (source: Durham Records Office)
The Bond system also severely restricted where and how they could purchase goods and services necessary to look after their families. It was not uncommon for the overseers to own the establishments that they were restricted to use and get credit to buy from.
Strike action was often used to try and break the Bond system, nearly all failed with the miners being starved into submission, and in many cases, the imprisonment of those who took strike action.
In 1834 the Friendly Societies Act was enacted by Parliament allowing the formation of Societies for "any purpose which is not illegal" and 2 years later another Act which allowed for "frugal investment of the savings" of members for the purchase of food, clothing, tools etc. These Acts of Parliament were the first real chink in escaping the "Bond System". (source Hansard 1846)
So What is a Cooperative Society
“autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” (Source: International Co-operative Society)
The Early Years
Co-operative societies, a revolution in the independence of the worker, first show up in Rochdale when the original pioneers opened a little shop in Toad Lane in December 1844. From there, and encouraged by early acts of Parliament, the idea of workers co-operatives grew. (Source: Rochdale Pioneers Museum)
Leadgate Industrial and Provident Society came into being in the Spring of 1870 and their first minuted meeting took place on the 11th April 1870. At that meeting officials were appointed, and the Society was launched.
The Search for Suitable Premises
The search for a suitable store came to fruition when Mr Clough, the landlord of the Golden Lion Hotel on Front Street, a staunch supporter of the movement, offered them the use of one of the rooms in the hotel.
By 1871, thanks to the success of the Society, the original store in the Golden Lion was too small for the needs of commerce and thus started several relocations, first to Matthew Hardy's shop and then into the premises that was later to become the Sportsman's Arms Public House.
This early postcard from the collection of George Nairn, shows the location of what now is the cottages on Front Street and were the Co-Op moved after the Golden Lion became too small for their growing needs.
From he postcard it is not possible to read the writing on the shop front, however it may well be one of the first images of their shop. the delivery boys and carts etc certainly would suggest that the shop here had a significant clientele, again consistant with the Co-Op model.
This most likely is another of the Co-Operative shops on front street which later became the Sportsmans Arms when the Co-Op out grew the premises
Over the next few years the store moved several times but continued to grow. The search for a larger store continued and the committee took the decision to build on some land that had been purchased from the Consett Iron Company. The works were completed and the new store, located on the west end of the town, opened its doors in December 1893.
Company Growth and Development
The facsimile below shows that by September 1870, despite its relatively small time of trading (22 weeks), the Society had the potential to become a viable concern that could meet the needs of its members.
The company was prospering throughout the 1870's and throughout that time it attracted many members including some from other areas of the South Durham coal fields.
By June 1876 the Society had grown, there were now 346 members and the share capital amounted to £3,443 with sales for the quarter of £3, 412.
In late 1886 it was decided to open a branch shop at Allendale Cottages Medomsley to meet the needs of their members in that area. At first it was established by coverting two cottages to make the temporary store and the search for land to build a store was not easy. Finally, land was appropriated and the new store was opened for business on the 22nd April 1911. Sadly this store was built on land which sat on the coal seam of Hamsterly Mine and when in 1917 the Coal and Iron Company decided to extract coal from the seam which was barely 7 feet below the store. Once this work commenced it was not long before the effects of the mining operation began to appear in the store and despite the long time spent in establishing it, the store was abandoned by the end of 1917. In a further blow, under the terms of the original lease, they were unable to claim for any loss.
Further expansion continued in the early 20th Century to include two more branches in Chopwell and Blackhill and a smaller store in Pont