Markfield Co-operative Society
The Co-operative shopping empire was started by the Rochdale Pioneers in the 1840’s. Like many villages, Markfield originally had its own Co-operative Society. The Markfield Society amalgamated with the Coalville Society and ultimately became part of the Leicestershire Co-operative Society. This merged in 2005 with others to become the Midlands Society, which in turn joined others in 2013 to become the Central England Society.
The Leicester Chronicle of 13th February 1869 refers to a co-operative store having recently opened in Markfield, reading: 'if carried on in the spirit shown in Wigston, Glen, Oadby and numerous other villages in the county, must prove successful.'
The Co-op is also noted in the Census. For example, in the 1891 Census, Matthew (E) Spence (aged 44) was a baker and salesman residing at the shop with his wife, 3 sons and 5 daughters. He is also in the baptism records of April 1889 as manager. In the 1901 Census, James Anderson (43) was recorded as secretary. His ancestor had come down from Scotland – reportedly near Atholl Forest. Also in the 1901 Census, Henry Read (age 24) was a salesman, living on site with his wife Rosa (21), both of whom were born in nearby Thornton.
In the Kelly’s & Wrights Directories of 1904 and 1916, the Markfield Co-op is listed as Industrial Cooperative Stores Ltd.
The Co-op was heralded for its biannual (twice a year) ‘divi’ (or dividend) payment, which gave villagers a keen incentive to shop there. When groceries were purchased the shopper was given a little paper check with the amount spent registered on it, with the more spent, the higher the 'divi' (just like the current day members' card). The eventual ‘divi’ payment was immensely important within a family budget. It was rarely seen as a little bit extra, but rather viewed as an essential part of the yearly plan to survive, being used to pay off debts rather than to buy any family treats. The Coop ‘divi’ was in fact an absolute lifeline for many villagers.
In her book about Markfield in the Second World War, 'Let us go forward together in Markfield 1939-1945', local historian Di Lockley writes 'There were four main grocers shops in the Main Street - Joyner's, Bown's, Millward's and the Co-op.....The green grocers' vehicles would have the war advertisement posters on the side of their wagons. The Co-op also took to the road with a cyclist collecting your order book. Your weekly provision would arrive by van in neat paper bags inside a cardboard box tidily wrapped up in paper and tied with string. Most of the Co-operative eager divi collectors went to the shop with a list ready in hand. You used to have to remember your Divi number....There were three stores in one - the grocers, the haberdashery and the butchers. It was all behind the counter......no self serve then. Imagine bacon slicers to cut the bacon and large slabs of butter and lard which were ready to have the pieces cut off. All the customers' goods were placed on the counter and then an assistant would just reckon it up in their head. The servers, who included Mr Conibear, Tom Mee and Katy Willars, could go from the food counter to the haberdashery counter.' Di also notes that the shop had chests of tea, sacks of sugar and blocks of salt to name but a few. Sugar was sold by being weighed out into ½ lb, 1 lb and 2lb strong blue paper bags with the end folding down to ensure there was no leakage. There were also the thick twists of tobacco, which came in coils that were cut into ½ oz or one-ounce lengths to be smoked in clay pipes.'
This photo was taken circa 1900. The Co-op occupied these premises until the new store opened to the right in 2014, incorporating the former George Inn. The 'departments' included drapery, hardware and butchery.
This excellent picture of a delivery cart is probably a little later, but almost certainly pre-dates WWI (1914):
This picture was taken around a hundred years later, in 2009:
Here is the former George Inn after becoming an Indian restaurant and before the 2014 Co-op redevelopment.
This share withdrawal certificate was signed by a Markfield resident (the name has been covered over for the website):
The Markfield Society merged with the Coalville Society in 1920, as shown by this notice of a special meeting. Note that the sheet was then overwritten with a subsequent amalgamation with the Ashby Society in 1921, presumably for the printer to set a new notice.