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Co-operative Stores

The Northern Co-operative Society (Norco) opened for business in a small shop in the Gallowgate in 1861, and in 1905 the layer and larger premises became their HQ. By 1920, their name had been changed to the Northern Co-Operative Society. The building covered an extensive area between the Gallowgate and Loch Street, The Loch Street entrance to the Arcade which gave access through the building and to the Gallowgate. The 'Coopie' provided many people with all their requirements supplying clothes, shoes, groceries, milk, meat and coal. When the NCS opened their new HQ in Norco House in 1970, the building was vacated and stood empty until it was demolished as part of the redevelopment of the area for the Bon-Accord Centre. 

The Northern Co-operative Society 1861 - 1993 modelled and developed by 2 committees of Aberdeen residents was very successful and endeared itself to the thrifty nature of the population during hard times.  Major grocery and provision stores were opened throughout the City and spread to the outer housing estates in the 50's.  Competition from major specialist Supermarkets and “an over-ambitious building and development programme” forced them into liquidation after 132 years of customer loyalty.  

Their services included Furniture, Clothing, Haberdashery, Wines & Spirits, Shoes, Butchery, Dairy Products, Milk Delivery, Fishmongers, Bakeries, Chemists and Undertaking - all your needs in fact for daily living or dying.  Here a typical Co-op provisions store interior with 'wee loon' doing 'ma's messages' with faithfully remembered shareholders number - 56098.  

This appealed greatly to the traditional Aberdeen Thrift inherent in the community and the daily bread was known as a ‘Thrift’ loaf.

The Divi - 51 Gallowgate - Northern Co-operative Society

Working class families, struggling with high priced, low quality food in their local shops, pooled scarce resources to purchase in bulk a few basic items and sold these on to members.  In 1861 a group of men, including Gallowgate Bookseller William Lindsay, discussed the practicalities of setting up a modest co-operative shop in Aberdeen. The existence of several other small co-operative and friendly societies in Aberdeen probably explains the Northern element of its name.  The men met in Dr Browns Kirk in Belmont Street, with James Valentine in the chair, and agreed the company’s almost 90 articles relating to dividends (divi), accounts and the like. With the guidance of advocates Kennedy & Fraser, the new company was registered under the Joint Stock Companies Act 1856-57 as the Northern Co-operative Company Limited.

The public ‘warmly received’ the company’s speakers at a public meeting in the Court House. Encouraged, the committee signed a one-year lease on a shop at 51 Gallowgate, at £18 annual rent, to sell groceries and provisions.

The Northern Co-op Company (Limited) newly formed for the purpose of trading in provisions and other household necessaries, are in want of a manager to conduct their business in Aberdeen. The qualification, one experienced in purchasing in the wholesale markets and managing a retail trade; also a knowledge of bookkeeping by double entry; a guarantee will be required and to a competent person the salary will be liberal. Looking for ‘moral character’, ‘local man be preferred’.

Central to the concept of co-operative was the dividend which had a variable value based on profitability. The divi began as tokens issued against purchases, but the difficulty was that the tokens were essentially cash, able to buy goods directly or transferred or sold to non-members. So the Climax check system was introduced: the small paper tokens we remember which carried the precious Co-opie number forever ingrained into many a memory (56098).  Clearly a nightmare to administer with so many daily minor purchases. At divi time long queues would build up at the much-loved arcade on Loch Street to receive the cash built up over the previous 12 months and could amount to 12.5% of purchase values.

At one time it seemed everyone shopped at the Co-op. Doorstep deliveries of milk from its Dairy, first from a fleet of horse-drawn wagons and later milk floats; coal shipped into town on its own steamers; clothing and millinery of every description, affordable with the accumulated divi; confectionary; chemists’ and tobacconists’ goods; furniture; a major baker which delivered rolls in time for breakfast; shoe shops featuring from 1929 the Pedoscope which cost a whopping £180, to ensure well-fitting footwear; well ran butchers’ shops.

Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, also Pedoscopes, were X-ray fluoroscope machines installed in shoe stores from the 1920s until about the 1950s (by which time they were prohibited due to radiation risks).   In reality, the shoe-fitting fluoroscope was little more than a curiopsity to attract potential customers because essentially the same fit could be obtained by simple measurements.  A typical unit, like the Adrian Machine shown here, consisted of a vertical wooden cabinet with an opening near the bottom into which the feet were placed. When you looked through one of the three viewing ports on the top of the cabinet (e.g., one for the child being fitted, one for the child's parent, and the third for the shoe salesman or saleswoman), you would see a fluorescent image of the bones of the feet and the outline of the shoes.

 

For many older Aberdonians affection for the old Co-opie ran deep, as did their love of the Loch Street Arcade with its rounded windows and High level walkway illuminated by a full length sky light ran clear through to the Gallowgate endIt had had become the group’s headquarters and flagship shopping area, until it was replaced by the ridiculed tiered monstrosity of Norco House in George Street

 

 

The arcade fell victim to another misbegotten Council Improvement, running as usual counter to the townsfolk or popular opinion, and for a brief time became a storage area for the Art Gallery & Museums, home to archaeologists and odd stray cats and light induced weeds and vandals rubbish, before being finally demolished. ~ Lorna Dey


The Co-op Arcade

Then made Derelict Northern Co-operative Society Arcade, Loch Street, Aberdeen an ambitious covered shopping development in its time ran from the Gallowgate through to Loch Street - well lit and protected from the elements shoppers would collect their Co-op Dividend at the end of each financial year and clad themselves resplendent or even re-fit the kids out for school with their shareholder dividends.  Every purchase made in the co-op would be faithfully recorded and every child new by heart the family co-op number and never forgot it for the rest of their lives e.g. - 56098.  Albeit every shop in this arcade was a Co-op shop the range was extensive and even ex-dividend purchases created a further dividend opportunity.  This would often be as much as 12.5% OF PURCHASE VALUE  and my mother used to total up pounds worth of receipts tied up with wool ends to give her an idea of how much 'divi' she was accumulating. 

Later in her life when she became a Corporate Plc shareholder in the State Industry Sell Off's she surprised me one day by demanding 'Far's ml' Divi'.  - She clearly understood corporate financial practice thanks to the Co-op.

 

The Northern Co-operative Society (Norco) opened for business in a small shop in the Gallowgate in 1861, and in 1905 these larger premises became their HQ. By 1920, their name had been changed to the Northern Co-Operative Society. The building covered an extensive area between the Gallowgate and Loch Street, and this photo shows the Loch Street entrance to the Arcade which gave access through the building and to the Gallowgate. The 'Coopie' provided many people with all their requirements supplying clothes, shoes, groceries, milk, meat and coal. When the NCS opened their new HQ in Norco House in 1970, this building was vacated and stood empty until it was demolished as part of the redevelopment of the area for the Bon-Accord Centre.


Pneumatic Tubes (Cash Railways) - Co-op Arcade, Loch Street . "Cash whizzed around the ceilings in Lampson tubes, like rattling steam trains." (Aberdeen Evening Express, 28 Jun 2000, p.17).  "The one on the right side was Pneumatic and the returning cylinder would be ejected from the brass tube into a square wire basket. The other Lamson Wire Line Carriers system on the left side of the Arcade was in the Co-opie Shoe Department and that one was an earlier system - it consisted of your money being whisked away on a cable that stretched up to the cashiers in a separate room up in the top corner in a mezzanine.  It rolled on wheels suspended from a 'clothes-line' setup... I seem to recall that they pulled down a lever and it shot away up there like an arrow." (Jim Rae) The Co-op Arcade was bulldozed in the late 1980s.

At the Gallowgate end there were Wrought Iron gates and flight of steps running up to street level

The system ensured no cash pilferage, opportunist robbery, temptation or error by a distracted Salesman.

Loch Street with St Pauls Street Church and School, the Co-op headquarters and Arcade.


Old Co-op Meal Mill at Berryden and assembled Bakers

The actual demise of the Society came suddenly, surprising both shoppers and staff alike. The first public signs that the company was failing appeared in April 1992 when the Chief Executive announced his resignation in the wake of a massive trading deficit of some £7.4 million. In a desperate attempt to save the situation, the Directors sold off the Dairy and five pharmacies, and employees were asked to accept a pay freeze.

However, this was not enough and in April 1993, Norco was forced to sell its flagship, the Berryden Superstore to the Scottish Co-operative, raising £15 million. In a final attempt to try to salvage the company, Directors turned to the Cooperative Wholesale Society and asked to be merged with it but the request was turned down. So on 17 June 1993, Norco was put into liquidation effectively ending 130 years of independent co-operative trading in Aberdeen.

Betty started work at the Co-op Bake House in Berryden Road before the end of 1940.  She initially filled pans with dough, but then worked for nearly 2 years packing biscuits.  Betty and her sister, Chrissie, were at their Aunt’s shop in Jamaica Street in the evening of 21st April 1943, when the heaviest wartime raid on Aberdeen suddenly started.  They sheltered under the shop counter, while bombs landed all around them: in George Street, Bedford Road, Causewayend and Berryden Road, but luckily none in Jamaica Street.  Bombs also landed in the Gordon Barracks at the Bridge of Don, killing 27 soldiers.  That evening a total of 25 Dornier 217s of Kampfgruppe 2, flying from Stavanger, dropped bombs in and around Aberdeen, killing a total of 98 civilians.

                            Old Corn Mill prior to re-development                          Co-op Dairy Water Tower Berryden 1928.

The Coal Department of  Northern Co-operative Co., operated SS Thrift the Aberdeen Collier -

Stop and Shop at the Co-op Shop - Gracie Fields

General Shopping
Union Street and St Nicholas Street/George Street were full of interesting, up-market shops: grocer Andrew Collie & Co. Ltd. at the corner of Union Street and Bon Accord Street Watt & Grant’s department store; McMillan’s toy shop, under the Trinity Hall; Big Woolworth’s, with rear staircase leading on to the Green; Falconer’s, Isaac Benzie’s, the Equitable, the hand­some and elegant old Northern Co-op building in Loch Street; the Rubber Shop in George Street.  By Appointment - Chivas Bros in King Street;


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Last modified: 01/09/2013