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History of the Barrhead Co-operative Society Ltd.
Chapter IV. 1871-81 . Rapid Progress

Erection of First Property—Second Property—Drapery—The Bread Question—Erection of Bakery—Stables—Neilston Branch—Neilston Worries—Proposed Branch Uplawmoor—Experiments in Tailoring —The Coal Trade;—Proposed Fire Brigade—-A Remarkable Meeting —A Changed Outlook-—Prominent Workers in this Decade.

“And from the discontent of man
The world’s best progress springs."
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

WITH the beginning of the second decade of its history the Society started upon a period of rapid expansion and development. Although the shops at the corner of Bank Street had been gutted out and then specially fitted and furnished to suit the Society’s requirements, when it entered upon its occupancy there in 1864, it was soon discovered that the premises were far too small for the steadily growing trade.


As early as 1866 the committee began looking out for property which it might purchase or for a suitable feu whereon it might build. In the following year (1867) an unsuccessful effort was made to purchase an old property in Main Street almost directly opposite the Free Church. At this time the Society would willingly have become purchaser of the property it then occupied, but as a- back entrance was desired from Bank Street, and it was found impossible to secure this at a reasonable price, the idea of purchase had to be abandoned. In the minutes of the three following years the subject crops up periodically, and several abortive attempts-are made to secure property. Finally in 1870 it is reported that an old building at Bourock is for sale.1 It is agreed by the directors to offer up to 250 for thils building, and at a public sale the Society was the successful bidder at 200. This old building stood on the part of the site now1 occupied by the central grocery shop. Adjoining this, and included in the purchase, was an empty plot of ground, and in November of the same year (1870) it was decided to build on this vacant ground, and a special committee was appointed to devise a suitable building scheme. Plans were accordingly prepared and approved by the members, and in April 1871 the erection of this first building, which forms the older section of the central premises, was begun. The honour of laying the memorial-stone was entrusted to Mr Robert Stark, and this was publicly and ceremoniously performed at a great demonstration on the 20th October, when various historical records and reports of the Society were deposited within the stone. It is characteristic of the men and of the period that the minutes should contain an entry to the effect that “ on this occasion each workman engaged at the building shall be allowed a founding pint.” It was their first building, and they were determined that all the proper and conventional honours should be observed.


The old property which had been purchased along with this feu was allowed to stand for a number of years. It seems to have been a source of frequent trouble, for it required a great deal of repair and some of the tenants could hardly be induced to pay rent. Indeed, it is noted that one tenant would neither pay rent nor “ flit,” and he was only induced to take the latter course upon the Society threatening to put in the sheriff-officer and “distrain” his furniture for rent. By November 1877 it was formally agreed at a general meeting of members to pull down this old building, and on its site erect shops and dwelling-houses. In January of the following year plans were prepared and were adopted by the members, who further instructed the committee to proceed as soon as they thought desirable. These plans provided for a tenement of three storeys, with shops on the ground flat and offices immediately above; but the committee of that time seems to have been timorous, and took fright at the size of the undertaking, strongly recommending the members to proceed with a building of two storeys only. A special meeting was called to consider the board’s recommendation; but the members showed themselves wiser, or at least bolder, than the directors, and by a large majority decided that the original three-storey plan should be adhered to. Building was accordingly proceeded with, and on the 25th March 1879 the Society’s grocery business was removed from the old premises at Bank Street to the new central shops at Bourock. A few evenings later a grand public soiree was held in honour of the event.



As we noted at the close of the preceding chapter, it was found necessary in 1868 to remove the greatly increased drapery stock from amongst the groceries, and house this in a separate branch next door to the grocery shop. The stocking of drapery goods began almost as soon as the Society started business, but only small stocks were held, and it took close on eight years for the trade to reach a point at which a separate drapery department was felt to be a necessity. The new effort was not an immediate success, and for some time it is evident that many of the members doubted if they had been wise to launch out in this direction. There was no going back, however, and with the erection of their own property in 1871, and the provision there of a larger and better shop, the drapery department became a more satisfactory part of the Society’s business. It may be noted that up till the erection of the main part of the central premises the first property was always called "Drapery Building.”


The year 1877 is a notable one in the records of the Society, for not only did it witness the decision to proceed with the second part of the central building, but in the earlier part of the same year it had also been agreed to go on with the erection of a bakery. It has already been mentioned that the Society had arranged almost from its opening day to supply members with bread. The intervening years had seen many changes, and during that time many different bakers had been on the Society’s list. As we have already pointed out, the system of purchasing from private bakers and retailing the bread to members was not only in many respects unsatisfactory, but it appears also to have , been very unprofitable, only meagre discounts being allowed. As early as 1865 it was proposed that the Society should bake its own bread. The minutes of the following years seem to indicate, strangely enough, chat the members were ripe and ready for action in this matter, but the successive directors were either too timid, or foresaw much more clearly than their constituents did the difficulties in the way of such a venture. In 1866, in 1867, and once again in 1868, general meetings were tested on the subject, and on each occasion a majority is obtained for the proposal. Still the committee hung back, and were apparently too fearful to take the necessary action. In the agitation for a united co-operative baking society in 1868-9, Barrhead, as we shall see later, played a prominent part, and with the establishment of the Baking Society the bread problem was for the time being solved.


By the year 1875 the old demand for a bakery of their own was revived, and at a special meeting, in June 1876, power was given to the committee to purchase or to erect premises for. baking purposes. This resolution was confirmed in November, and Messrs L,ochhead, M'Cowatt, and Johnstone were appointed a special committee to look after premises or ground. This committee, after looking about for some time, finally determined that the best thing to do was to build on the as yet empty feu at Bourock. This was strongly opposed by the directors, and the trouble between the latter and the bakery committee became so serious that a special general meeting had to be called to settle the question at issue and to decree that the bakery committee must be subject to the board. The, committee was, accordingly forced to look elsewhere than to the Bourock site. Eventually a feu was secured from Mr Bams Graham, in Cross Arthurlie. Terms were concluded by the end of May 1877, and on the 2nd July , offers for building and fittingrup the bakery were accepted. , At the end, of that, year the bakery , building: committee had completed its labours, and on Saturday, 22nd December 1877, the bakery was handed over to the. directors. Work was started on the evening of Sunday, 23rd December, a fact which seemingly troubled the consciences of some of the members,, for: a motion was made, but defeated, to the effect that the start should be delayed till, Monday evening. ,

The feu thus secured in Barnes Street was considerably larger, than was necessary for the Society’s immediate purposes, and in 1879 an offer was made by a Glasgow architect for part of the vacant ground. Some of the members favoured acceptance of this offer, but wiser counsels prevailed, and the offer was refused.


The erection of the bakery, and the consequently increasing need for the use of horses, naturally created a demand for better and more convenient stable accommodation. In 1878 the. erection of the stables at the bakery was determined upon, and the work was completed in April 1879.


In tracing the growth of the Society’s property we •have gone somewhat beyond the period at which the first branch shop was opened. Following upon the erection of the first part of the central buildings in 1871, the next step in the line of extension was the establishment of the branch at Neilston. This was first suggested in 1871, and at that time it was agreed to have a lecture in the village from Mr Borrowman, of Glasgow, with a view to seeing whether enough members would be found to warrant the starting of A new society or the planting of a branch from Barrhead. We hear nothing about the direct outcome of this lecture, but what we may take to have been one of its more or less indirect results follows in December, when a deputation from Neilston waited upon the directors, and besought them to open a branch. A fortnight later a special general meeting was called to discuss the proposal. The members were divided in their opinions as to the advisability of the step, but finally, by a majority, it was agreed to open a branch as desired. Meantime, the Neilston petitioners and their friends were asked to join the Society, and the committee was instructed to begin delivering goods in -the village three times a week until the branch could be opened. Two months later (February 1872) a shop was taken from Mr Matthew Waddell, on a six years’ lease, at a rent of 12 per year. The new shopman who was appointed received the large wage of 1 per week, and was asked to put down 30 of security. On the 5th of July 1872 the shop was opened for business, and on the evening of that day, to quote the pronouncement of the minute-book, “ a soiree was held to honour the opening of the shop in connection with co-operation in the village from which the parish takes its name.”

Left—Second Tenement, Erected 1S95. Right—First Tenement, Erected 1S33.


The usual troubles and worries followed. The branch met with the customary failures and successes, but for some years the Neilston branch seems to have been regarded by many of the Barrhead members as something of a white elephant; and in 1875 a suggestion was made that Neilston should be separated from Barrhead and formed into a distinct society. Neilston members, however, showed no inclination to accept their proferred freedom, and in February 1876 Mr John C. Shaw gave notice of motion—“ That the Neilston branch be given up.” At the general meeting which followed, Mr Shaw’s motion was decisively defeated, and the directors were specially instructed “ to do everything they can to further the interests of the branch.” Four years later we have a revival of the same trouble and dissatisfaction. A series of low profits ends in the dismissal of the shopman, and again we have a motion (proposed this time by Mr Robert Murray)—" That we separate Neilston shop from the Barrhead business, and ask Neilston members to take it over for themselves.” At the quarterly meeting in May 1880 this motion was hotly debated, and an amendment, to the effect that the subject he over for three months for decision, and that the next quarterly meeting be held in Neilston, was carried by a majority. The next quarterly meeting was held in Neilston, in accordance with this decision, and at that meeting a motion that no separation should take place was carried without amendment. The "separatists” were either routed in argument, or converted from the error of their ways, or the Kirkhill Brae had proved too much for them; whatever the reason, they were silent at the Neilston meeting, and that is the last word we hear on that subject.


It is interesting to note that, after Neilston, the next branching proposal to crop up is one which even to this day the Society has not realised—namely, the opening of a shop in Uplawmoor. At a meeting of the directors, in July 1873, the secretary reported that Colonel Mure of Caldwell was anxious that a co-operative store should be opened at Uplawmoor. The directors spent some time considering the question, and the secretary, with Messrs Thomas Hodgson and Alexander Johnstone, were appointed to meet the Colonel, and get his views on the subject. Curiously enough, we hear no more of the proposed branch, the minutes being silent as to the result of that conference with the Colonel or, indeed, whether it took place at all. It is, of course, known to all that for the past few years the directors of the Society have been paying attention to that now steadily developing village. Propaganda meetings have been held there from time to time, one of these, in the winter of 1909-10, being addressed by Mr William Ferguson (then president of the Society), Mr Weir (managing-secretary), and others. The idea, mooted in 1873, that a branch of Barrhead Co-operative Society might be established there, has taken a long time to grow, but apparently it has not been wholly abandoned. In this year of commemoration might it be suggested, as a not unworthy memorial of the pioneers, that a jubilee branch of the Society should at last be planted in Uplawmoor?


In the beginning of 1872 the thoughts of the directors were turned towards tailoring. The subject was anxiously but hopefully discussed, and it was finally agreed that the experiment should be made. A room was accordingly fitted up in which, by November, a journeyman tailor— a Mr Cameron—was duly installed. Precise particulars are given of the prices to be charged for different classes of work; but the moment was seemingly unpropitious, for the minutes of the following quarterly meeting show that there was great diversity of opinion as to the wisdom of the step, and in September of the succeeding year (1873) the tailoring effort was given up. The subject was not revived again until 1879, when it was agreed to ask prices from two local tailors for making suits, etc., for members. The replies were not satisfactory, and in the closing month of that year a deputation was appointed to wait on Mr Douglas, tailor, “ and see if he will not allow 10 per cent, on all trade we may send his way.” The deputation would appear to have failed in its effort to induce Mr Douglas to part with the necessary percentage, for the next minute records that it was decided " to let each go where they have a mind to get their clothes made, as formerly.” At a later date a working arrangement was made with Mr Wylie, tailor, and this continued in operation for a considerable time ; but a good many years had yet to elapse before the Society could successfully enter upon tailoring for its members.


From a very early period the supply of coal was a subject upon which the minds of the members had been seriously exercised. After many discussions the sale of coal was added in April 1867, and a sub-committee was appointed to supervise this department. At this time no effort was made to deal directly with the supply, the orders being simply left with the Society and passed on to one of the local agents with whom an agreement had been made. This method continued undisturbed for a number of years, but it is evident that the members had often great doubts as to its wisdom and usefulness. In the beginning of 1877 the directors were recommended by a quarterly meeting to take a depot for the direct supply of fuel, but this recommendation the directors seem to have quietly ignored. In the following year the members repeat their instruction, merely to have it treated in the same fashion; and it was not until December 1879, and then only after action had been clamoured for at successive meetings, that it was finally decided " to put a man at the ree, and start the coal trade on our own account at once.” The details of the scheme as recorded in the minute-book suggest a very humble start, for we find that Alexander Kilpatrick was offered sixpence a week for the use of his box, and John Purdie, who was appointed " our man at the ree,” was asked to state what price he would take " for the use of his shovel, barrow, and riddle.” The modem system of selling coal in cwt. bags was, at that time, entirely unknown in our district, the trade being practically all done in half or whole ton lots. At this date the Society possessed only two horses, and so the committee felt that they could not undertake the cartage of the coal, and this was, for a period, let to a local contractor.


At the monthly meeting following the establishment of the coal depot, there was a heated debate as to the propriety of extending the "menage” system to the purchase of coals. Vigorous protests were made against such extension, and it was proposed that the coal supply should be formed into a separate business and undertaken by a distinct society. At this time the idea of separation seems to have been “in the air,” for not only had it been proposed to separate Neilston branch from the Society, but the same thing had also been suggested in regard to the bakery. Fortunately, these ideas were entertained merely by a small minority, and the proposal to cast off the coal supply was like the others handsomely defeated. The general meetings immediately following show a continuance of divided opinion on the subject, but this gradually disappears, and the coal department becomes a permanent addition to the business of the Society.


In January 1880 the Society had its first experience of fire, when a quantity of hay was destroyed. One of the results of this was a resolution by the committee to procure fire-hose and form a fire brigade from amongst the members. The proposal was accepted at a general meeting, and in March 1880 volunteers were asked to join the brigade; but there is no evidence that the suggestion ever took shape, and when the next and more serious fire occurs at the bakery, in 1882, we hear of the work of the Paisley fire brigade, but there is no mention of any brigade belonging to the Society.


If the directors of this period were laggards in the matter of the coal supply there is plentiful evidence that in other matters their views were far in advance of those of the members. At meeting after meeting they brought forward proposals for extension and development, only to have their ideas flouted by the members. They made proposals for new grocery branches, for a bread shop, and for a boot and shoe shop, but these suggestions were all in turn rejected. In this respect one of the most remarkable general meetings of the Society was that of May 1880, when a whole budget of proposals by the board suffered indiscriminate slaughter. Thus Mr Robert Murray moved that we establish branches at Grahamston and Dovecothall—motion overwhelmingly defeated. Mr Crichton proposed that we create a boot and shoe department by altering a house in Drapery Building, but the directors were instructed “ to let the house as usual.” A motion from the committee that the time had now arrived for the appointment of a manager met with the same fate, and the proposed giving up of Neilston branch was also defeated. For all these motions the committee, as a body, or individual directors were responsible, so that it must have been a sorely chastened board which gathered together when that meeting was over.


In this retrospect of the second ten years’ history of the Barrhead Society it will be noted that a decided change has come over the aims, if not the spirit of the co-operators. In the earlier days the thoughts of the members seemed to run less on the supply of the immediate necessities of life as an end in itself and more on the great schemes of productive co-operation to which this humbler form of trading was to be but the prelude. During the first ten years, the acquirement of capital and the setting of it to the work of production seemed to be the chief if not the sole aim of the founders, and the dividends earned were regarded primarily as the material with which this was to be accomplished. But in the second decade we have practically no mention of this side of the movement at all, and we find members and directors alike settled down to the work of buying and selling; of providing as many articles of food, clothing, and fuel as possible ; and, at the same time, earning a dividend on as generous a scale as could be attained to. In other words, the earning of dividend has become an end in itself rather than a means towards conquering the whole field of productive and distributive labour. It is not our business in this book to consider whether this was a change for better or for worse. That is a task rather for the historian of the larger movement, and it is sufficient if we note here that this change in the outlook of co-operators did take place in Barrhead, just as other observers have noted a similar alteration in connection with other societies.


Throughout this period we miss many of the names which were familiar during the first years, and these are replaced by the names of such active workers as Messrs Alexander Crichton, Alexander Johnstone, James Williamson, Matthew Stewart, Robert Murray, James Peters, Angus Wyse, and William Braidwood.

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