A trip down memory lane with Lincolnshire Coop

Words by:
Alan Middleton
Featured in:
September 2012

The buying of coal was a real problem for working people in the nineteenth century.
It was difficult to know, just by looking at it, whether you were getting the quality of coal you had paid for; difficult to be sure you were getting the full eight stone to the cwt and people regularly stood at the end of the passage counting, to make sure they were getting the full twenty cwt bags to the ton. There was massive distrust of private coal merchants, so it is not surprising that Lincoln Coop got involved in the coal business early in their history. In 1866 arrangements were made with an agent and it was announced that three qualities were available. Prices included delivery, dividend was paid on all purchases and a new slogan came into use, quality and weight guaranteed. By 1872 the Society had its own coal depot at Holmes Yard. In 1873 the committee declared that arrangements had been made with some of the best collieries, to supply up to ten varieties of coal. In 1898 Lincoln Coop bought the Lincoln Coal and Coke Company on Canwick Road. From that point on the coal department grew rapidly and by the middle of the twentieth century the Society had depots all over Lincolnshire, mainly close to the rail network. As we moved into the second half of the twentieth century, coal usage started to decline as gas and electric fires became popular and working people began to have central heating. The coal operation started to be run down in the 1970s and was finally sold to British Coal in 1980.

Lincolnshire Coop has a long and varied history when it comes to feeding and entertaining its members.
It started in 1889 when a refreshment bar was opened on Silver Street alongside the library and reading room, a cup of tea and a pork pie cost 3d (just over 1p). the first move came in 1910 when a first class cafe was created in the basement on Silver Street. This was a big operation which became an important part of the Lincoln social scene. Many readers will have fond memories of children’s parties in the ‘Coop Cafe’. In 1949 the whole of the cafe business was moved to the top floor of the Hall at the bottom of Free School Lane. The room was used for lunches and teas in the day and became a dance hall in the evenings. In excess of 400 people regularly crowded into the ‘Coop Hall’ on Friday and Saturday evenings, dancing to bands like Tommy Worth or The Clubmen. Throughout the 50s and 60s this was the place for young people to be seen. Another sign of changing times is that, while soft drinks were available, alcohol was rarely on offer, since licences were very difficult to obtain. In the 1960s when the administrators vacated the ground floor, catering moved downstairs, was upgraded and was described as a ‘Banqueting Suite’. By the 1980s though, the pattern of entertainment and catering had changed significantly. A snack bar in Co-operative House was refurbished to restaurant standards and daytime trade transferred there, but functional catering ceased. The Society’s current catering offer is through a number of coffee shops around the county linked to the retail side of the business.

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