The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Iconic building: The magnificent Co-op building in Northgate as we all remember it.
Iconic building: The magnificent Co-op building in Northgate as we all remember it.

THE old Co-op building in Northgate has at last been restored and next year it will become home to students from Dewsbury College.

Many people in Dewsbury still remember the building when it was one of the biggest department stores in the district.

Everything could be obtained under one roof and the store even had its own cinema, “The Pioneers”, and its own pub, “The Duke of Leeds”.

Also its own restaurant, pharmacy, dentists, opticians, undertakers and every home service imaginable.

On the second floor was the Industrial Hall which seated 1,500, a library containing 4,000 volumes and a gallery to seat an orchestra and a choir of 250.

The Co-operative movement in Dewsbury started from humble beginnings in a cottage in Batley Carr in 1874, founded by a handful of working men.

They followed the example of a group of men in Rochdale who had bought their own groceries in bulk and sold them to the poor at the lowest price possible.

The profits were shared with those who had made a purchase, and by becoming their own shopkeepers, they had begun to improve the lives of the poor.

The men in Batley Carr decided to imitate the men of Rochdale, and they opened their first shop in the home of William Iveson, who, with his wife, ran it for six months without taking any pay.

Stocking the shop in King Street, cost £5 3s 6d, just about all the money the new society possessed.

They also started their own bank for the working man to allow him to put aside any small saving he could make.

Another object was to provide a first class library and reading rooms where the working man could educate himself.

The Co-operative movement in Dewsbury flourished and over the years became the biggest business enterprise in the district. By 1888 they had 23 branches with 150 salesmen and that first weekly profit of £5 had now risen to £158,000 with 6,000 members each receiving a dividend of 2/7d in the pound.

The movement grew so quickly that the decision was taken in 1878 for a new headquarters to be built.

They chose the best site in Dewsbury at that time – Northgate – on a piece of land where Dewsbury’s first cottage hospital had been built.

After the foundation stone was laid a public tea was later held in the Albert Hall in Bradford Road, a spacious building which was filled to capacity.

There was an educational and social side within the Co-operative movement and soon the Dewsbury Co-op had its own youth club and drama society.

Later its own cinema, and many in Dewsbury will still remember the plush double seats on the back row of the balcony reserved for courting couples.

The Co-op was quick to adopt modern ways of thinking and was the first cinema in the country to install an electric lift.

It was also the first cinema in Dewsbury to show a film in Cinemascope – a Biblical story entitled The Robe.

Goods in the early days were delivered by hand-carts, later to be followed by horse-drawn vehicles and pedal cycles. In 1952, the last horse-drawn vehicle was withdrawn from service.

In the 1950s they bought a fleet of modern vans to provide customers now living on housing estates in outlying districts with a mobile selling service.

When the Dewsbury Co-op celebrated its centenary in 1957, it had nearly 22,000 members with a turnover of one million pound a year.

The good days were not to last as loyal customers began shopping in large supermarkets opening up outside the area.

The directors considered demolishing their Northgate headquarters and building Dewsbury’s first supermarket, and they nearly succeeded.

Once it became known this iconic building, once described as the finest piece of architecture in the district, might be pulled down, a certain young man went into action.

He rushed to get it listed and succeeded, thus ensuring this iconic building would stay where it was forever.

But stiff competition from other sources led to the Co-op closing and the building eventually going into decline and becoming an eyesore.

Thankfully, it has been restored to its former glory and soon new life will be injected into it.

The building which cost £37,000 to build has cost millions to restore and refurbish, and it now lives on to tell another story.

Those early pioneers from Batley Carr would be gratified I’m sure to know it still survives.

While writing this, I began wondering how many readers still remember their Co-op membership number.

I do and so does my husband.

We may have forgotten most things from the past, but our Co-op number? Never.