The Woodlesford branch of the Leeds Industrial Co-operative Society opened for business in March 1900 in an imposing new building on Aberford Road described as “an ornament to the village.” At first there were two shops with separate entrances – a butcher’s and a grocery. A drapery was added when an extension was built in 1925. Before the new branch supporters of the co-operative movement from Oulton and Woodlesford had to travel to Rothwell to do their shopping where the first L.I.C.S. store opened in 1874.
Built from local stone the Woodlesford co-op was completed in less than a year by Hunslet based contractor William Simpkiss. The foundation stone had been laid during an evening ceremony on Wednesday 21 June 1899 watched by a crowd of villagers and attended by leading lights of the society. Leeds councillor and president of the society, James Tetley, conducted the event and the stone was officially laid by a director, Walter Backhouse Collinson, a foreman pattern maker in a textile engineering works.
A “time capsule” was placed under the stone including copies of that day’s newspapers, a financial statement, and a number of the society’s checks or tokens which were given to customers for each purchase and which they exchanged for a cash “divi” of the society’s profits at the end of each year. By then the Leeds society, which formed in Holbeck in 1847, was the largest in the country with 45,000 members.
On Saturday 17 March 1900, two days after the Woodlesford co-op started trading, an official opening ceremony was held followed by a tea and speeches at the Harold Hall in Oulton. The newly elected president of the society, Joshua Cawthra Gration, a brass founder who lived in the Hyde Park area of Leeds, extolled the virtues of “co-operation” and said that by putting together their small capital the working classes had become a powerful organisation.
Somerset born, James Maundrill, 36, who had previously run the co-op store in Carlton, became the grocery department’s first manager. He told the Rothwell Times that it was “the best fitted shop in the district.” Since the opening sales had been satisfactory and business “promised to be good.” He was there until at least 1908 after which he moved to manage the co-op in Pudsey.
The butcher’s was in the smaller part of the building and was put under the charge of “presiding genius,” 27 year old Herbert Sheldon who had previously worked in Rothwell. “He looks as genial and ready to oblige in his new position as ever he did. We congratulate him on his success in obtaining the position of manager in such a beautiful shop,” said the paper. A few months later Herbert married Sarah Louise Cheeseborough, the daughter of a Methley boat builder, and the couple went on to run the Midland Hotel until he died in 1930.
Robert Jewitt joined the grocery department as a flour boy in 1904 shortly after he left school. Born in Bradford he was the son of William Henry Jewitt who had moved his family to Woodlesford in the 1890s when he became the foreman horse keeper at Bentley’s brewery. Apart from 4 years spent in the army in the First World War Robert was with the co-op all his working life. After running several other stores in the Leeds area, including ten years at the one on Haigh Road in Rothwell, he returned to manage the grocery department at Woodlesford in 1951 and on his retirement from there in 1956 he had completed 52 years service.
In 1912 Robert married miner’s daughter Elsie Toft and they lived at first just round the corner to the co-op at 44 Eshald Place next door to his parents. They moved to North Lane in about 1933 and he became the local agent for the society’s funeral service keeping a wooden coffin shaped “laying out” board at his house which could be accessed night and day if a person died suddenly. Members of the family remember that, covered with a cloth, it doubled as a seat for the children at family parties!
The full report of the opening of Woodlesford co-op from the Rothwell Times is reproduced below. It was re-printed in the society’s monthly magazine, the Leeds Co-operative Record, in July 1900.
OPENING OF NEW GROCERY STORE AND BUTCHER’S SHOP AT WOODLESFORD.
Rothwell Times. Saturday 23 March 1900.
The Leeds Co-operative Society are ever pushing forward, building new places and improving old ones. They have now got a strong hold in this district, and are very likely to be still further successful. There are stores at Rothwell, Lofthouse, Carlton (a new and improved one is soon to be erected), and now a beautiful new establishment at Woodlesford.
The Co-operative Store at Woodlesford is situated on the north side of the Midland Hotel, on the main road and within easy reach of Oulton, New Woodlesford, and Woodlesford. The building is an ornament to the village, being certainly the most inviting and imposing block of buildings in the district. Standing well back from the footpath, a good space is left in front of the windows, which both in the grocery and butchering departments, are very large and of plate glass, which set off splendidly the provisions therein displayed for sale.
The shop is entered by swing doors and going into the grocery store we find it even more attractive than the outside, replete with every convenience for the quick despatch of customers’ needs. A more perfectly equipped village shop cannot be imagined, and many of the Rothwell co-operative adherents look with envious eyes at the new store. The sale room of the grocery department is spacious, lofty, well-lighted, and very convenient, fitted with drawers and shelves, just perfectly adapted to what is expected of them. Everything is easily kept in good order, and anything that is wanted seems handy.
The flour, meal, and potato sale room is perhaps the best part about the store, for anything calculated to give the customer and attendant less trouble cannot be imagined. On one side of the room are ranged metal shoots with suitable receptacles for the receipt of different kinds of flour and meal from the keeping rooms above. In one corner we find another shoot for potatoes, and in the opposite corner a hoist. By these arrangements, although nothing is really kept in the room yet everything is handy when required.
There is a good yard at the back, which is walled off, and contains pulleys for hoisting flour from the drays to the keeping room on the second floor, and a trap door door lowering goods into the cellars. The second storey is also well equipped and is now stocked with all kinds of commodities being principally used for things which require keeping dry. There are also large cellars in which are kept the moist goods.
Turning to the butcher’s shop adjoining, we find the meat is displayed before the window on a wide and white deal. The counter runs north and south and is also deal. The shop itself is lined from roof to floor with white glazed bricks which give it a very clean and cool appearance. Running round the shop is an iron bar from which are suspended large hooks and pulleys, by which means the larger pieces of meat can readily be transferred to any part of the shop. At the back is a small room for washing. The trade has been brisk during the time the shop has been open, and we believe there is a good future before it.
In celebration of the opening of the store, a public tea and meeting were held on Saturday March 17th, in the Harold Hall, Oulton. There was an excellent attendance at the tea, which was of good substantial quality and was much enjoyed. After the tables were cleared a public meeting was held, and a grand concert was given by the Leeds Co-operative Choral Society.
The chairman, J.C. Gration, president of the Society, congratulated the Woodlesford people on the splendid store they had got, a store of which they might well be proud. He said they believed that co-operation was one of those levers which would eventually emancipate the working classes from the position of misery some of them were in today to a higher and nobler position.
If they tried as a single unit to alter the condition of things by which they were surrounded, he was afraid they would not be able to do much in these days of limited and competitive companies, who were trying to swallow up everything. But by co-operation and the putting together of their small capitals the working classes had become a powerful organisation.
In the Leeds Society they had no less than 45,000 members, with a share capital of £600,000 doing a trade of £1,333,221 a year, and making a profit of £194,595. Co-operation had no desire to confiscate what other people possessed, but with the advance of education and knowledge, and by coming in contact with the commercial world they learned that in the past the working classes had not received proper remuneration for their labour, which was the foundation and hope for their country. He appealed to those present not to rest satisfied with simply making their purchases at the store, but to try and induce others to join the ranks of the co-operative army and thus spread the benefits of the movement.