Context 165 - August 2020

38 C O N T E X T 1 6 5 : A U G U S T 2 0 2 0 The CWS also had to cater for a substan- tial increase in demand. Much new building occurred in the 1930s, with factories often con- structed on a greater scale than their predeces- sors. CWS factories and farms could be found throughout England, from a farm at Lowick in Northumberland to a canning factory at Lowestoft in Suffolk – the most easterly point of the British Isles – to a dairy in Penryn, Cornwall. Architecturally, the pick of the factories was the innovative industrial modernist tea ware- house (1930, demolished) on the Manchester Ship Canal at Ordsall in Salford, designed by WA Johnson, CWS chief architect. Little remains of the inter-war CWS factories. In con- trast, significant inter-war branch buildings are extant in London, Manchester and Newcastle, as well as the monumental Northampton depot (1938–40). The post-war world The CWS performed a crucial role during the second world war, producing huge quanti- ties of military equipment while remaining the largest single supplier of food in the country. The retail societies cobbled together makeshift shopping premises in the face of a vast amount of damage, with 1,100 stores around Britain hit during 1944 alone. Afterwards, getting back to business was slow and frustrating, particularly for societies caught part-way through moderni- sation schemes. Self-service shopping was a significant innovation, pioneered by the London Co-operative Society in 1942 and fully intro- duced by Portsmouth’s society from 1948. In the first decade after the war, while rationing was still in force, co-ops did fairly well and managed to maintain their share of trade. However, local societies were increasingly stocking non-CWS branded goods and by 1956 many CWS facto- ries were only working at half capacity. Store numbers continued to rise, eventually peaking at around 28,000 in the early 1960s, when several impressive department stores were erected. Sheffield’s Grade-II-listed Castle House (1960–4, CWS architects GS Hay with JR Tucker) was one of the most unusual, with its black granite facade. A combination of reduced road haulage costs and increasing private car ownership suggested that larger, out-of-town stores were likely to be more profitable. Some retail societies persisted with improvements to their town centre stores, but had cause for regret as shoppers stayed away; Darlington’s central premises (1961–5) lasted only 21 years before demolition. In 1972 the first co-op superstore opened – hypermarket-sized Birkenhead – and eight more were under construction; the CWS was hoping to see at least 20 in action by 1975. The CWS had already collaborated on designing a prototype regional distribution centre (RDC) at Birtley (1968–9) near Gateshead. This massive steel-clad structure was the forerunner of the wave of large single-storey buildings (LSSBs or big sheds, later megasheds) that sprang up from the early 1970s. By 1976 the CWS had opened eight RDCs, which were responsible for over a third of total co-op grocery sales; but, as ever, many societies insisted on keeping their own supply arrangements. Convenience stores enjoyed a resurgence in popularity during the 1980s. These small outlets became the focus of the Co-op Group, an umbrella organisation created in 2001. By 2019 there were around 3,600 co-op stores in England, about 2,500 run directly by the Co-op Group plus around 1,100 belonging to independent regional and local societies, like Tamworth Co-operative Society, with its major town centre presence. Many independent societies use the Co-op logo, but others prefer to retain their traditional visual identity. It is difficult to estimate how many purpose- built old co-op stores survive in England. Some are altered almost beyond recognition, and discoveries remain to be made, but the total may be close to 3,000. From beehive mosaics to massive warehouses, co-op architecture is still a significant presence in our townscapes. Newcastle upon Tyne’s CWS depot was built in two stages: the plainer section (far left) in 1893 and the elaborate frontage in 1895–9. Lynn Pearson, an independent scholar, is author of England’s Co-operative Movement: an architectural history, to be published in autumn 2020 by Liverpool University Press for Historic England. Norwich Co-operative Society’s ornate machine bakery (1914) was designed by local architect Edward Thomas Boardman (1861–1950).