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The Co-op in Hartlepool

Between 1862 and 1873, there were five separate Co-ops in the town, two in old Hartlepool and three in West Hartlepool and this obviously was counterproductive. In 1882, following a meeting in the Raglan hotel, the Hartlepools Co-operative Society was formed with Thomas Tweddle as chairman. Tweddle went on to become known in the Co-operative Societies nationally as the president of the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) in 1915.

In 1883, the first shop was opened in Charles Street, West Hartlepool and advertised that "goods would be sold at the same prices as those of respectable traders in the town". Sales and profits were good and the Society opened two more  shops in 1883. In 1890 it purchased land in South Whitby Street on which to build a Central Stores which opened in 1892.

By 1900, the Society owned 19 premises from shops to a building department, a bakery and stables. A dairy and meat factory followed and then the Society provided dyeing, dry cleaning, photographic, shoe repair and later undertaking services.

The Society bought Owton Fens Farm in 1901 and was in the farming business there for 50 years, purchasing Brierton Farm in 1943 and Owton Grange Farm in 1949. The farming business stopped in 1951 although the Society's Fresian cattle were given certificates of excellence.

A 1912 advert for Hartlepools Co-op Society said that membership was one shilling and the dividend or "divi" was 2 shillings and 3 pence in the pound. There were at that time branches throughout the Hartlepools, Seaton Carew and Graythorp. In 1912 there were 20,482 members.

In October 1915 new Central Stores were opened in the large building still seen today on the corner of Park Road and Stockton Street although it is no longer a Co-op. At the time the building was described as "the finest block of business buildings in the town". It had "an imposing tower and arcade, a Board Room panelled in oak with a fine modelled ceiling and a comfortably furnished ladies' rest room."

Soon after opening, the grand Central Stores building was commissioned by the military in World War 1 and the Commanding Officer was asked by the Committee to put up notices prohibiting soldiers striking matches on the tiles of their new building.

As new estates were built around the town, new Co-op stores were built and in 1955, the large Co-op Chemist building was opened on the corner of York Road and Victoria Road. 

In the 1960s, shopping habits were changing nationally. Dividend  Stamps replaced the "divi" numbers and new departments were introduced. 

When Hartlepool Middleton Grange Shopping Centre was planned there were many discussions about the future of the Central Stores as it was outside  the area included in the new plans. A site in the new centre was offered but rejected by the Society and the main store remained where it was. By 1969, profits, as in other small societies, were not great and Society members agreed to join the North Eastern Co-op Group in June 1970.

By 1996, the building had become The Venue nightclub and eventually the upper floors were converted into flats, ' Park Towers',  which they are today . The ground floor now houses offices.

Notes taken from 'The People's Store' which is a history of North Eastern Co-ops by Jim Lamb.


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