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History of the Barrhead Co-operative Society Ltd.
Chapter V. 1881-91 . Continued Advance

Consolidation and Steady Advance—Grahamston Branch—Dovecothall Branch—Boot and Shoe Shop—First Barnes Street Property—Smoke-boards and Swees—Neilston Extensions ; Branch or Build ?—The Seven Years’ War—Main Street Branch—Tailoring—Dressmaking-— Fleshing-—Purchase of Bourock No. 2 Property—Succession of Foremen—Cross Arthurlie Property—George Street Property—Hardware Branch—Permanent Officials—Relief of Distress—Semi-Jubilee —Gas Company Shares—Annual Soirees Discontinued-—Directors Fees—Prominent Workers.

“Do the Duty that lies nearest thee—that which thou knowest to be a Duty ! The next Duty will already hecome clearer.”—Carlyle.

IF experiment and rapid progress were the features of the years 1871-81, we may declare the outstanding characteristics of the ensuing ten or fifteen years to have been consolidation of the powers and capacity of the Society, and steady advancement along the lines which experience had shown to be safe and sound. This, of course, is precisely what we might expect to happen. It is essentially in the nature of things that the first steps in the performance of a task such as co-operation had set itself to accomplish should seem great and wonderful, because of their new and original character, whereas later advances along the same lines should present rather the qualities of steadiness and surety.


Having proven its ability to organise and manage such undertakings as the bakery, the coal trade, the erection of houses for its members, and the handling of a branch department in Neilston, it was only to be expected that the growing desire for other branches and further building would demand satisfaction. We accordingly find the proposal for a branch at Grahamston (defeated in May 1880) revived in February of the following year. This time there is no opposition, and not a single dissenter to the instruction given to the committee for the opening of a branch grocery shop. The directors evidently lost no time in facing their commission, and within a month they had taken a lease of a shop in Cross Arthurlie, in a new property adjoining the bridge over the Iyevem. Arrangements were pushed quickly forward, and on the 14th of April 1881 the Shop was opened for business.


It will be recalled that the original motion for a branch at Grahamston included also a clause demanding a branch at Dovecothall. As in defeat, so also in acceptance they were not divided, and before the end of the year 1881 the Dovecothall branch is arranged for and opened. Grahamston achieves a fair measure of success almost at once, but Dovecothall takes longer to settle down into a satisfactory condition, and its slowness in this respect is ascribed chiefly to unsuitable and rat-infested premises.


When the Society opened (in April 1882) a separate branch for the sale of boots and shoes, it realised what had been one of its very early hopes. A small stock of boots and shoes, mostly for house wear or of a light make, had been held in the grocery shop, along with some drapery goods, almost from the beginnings of the Society. In 1868, when the drapery goods were housed in a distinct department, boots and shoes naturally went with them, and this arrangement continued in force for many years. In May 1880 the directors recommeuded the alteration of a house in the central property, so as to permit of the formation of a boot and shoe department; but this proposal, it will be remembered, was one of the many innocents cruelly murdered by a callous membership at the memorable meeting already spoken of. Like the Grahamston and Dovecothall proposals, it was, however, destined to a speedy resurrection ; and at the quarterly meeting in February 1882 it was unanimously agreed that a part of the central shop should be partitioned off for this purpose. Mr Benjamin Gray, a former member of committee, was appointed salesman and cobbler, and under his management the shop was duly opened.


The next advance which falls to be noted is the erection of the first Barnes Street tenement. The board had agreed to recommend this to the members in July 1881, but on second thoughts it withdrew the recommendation. A year later, in August 1882, the subject was laid before the members, and power was granted to the board to proceed with one or two tenements as they thought advisable. The directors inclined to the side of moderation, and instructed the preparation of plans for one tenement. When these were submitted, the cost was declared to be much too high, and they were returned to the architect for adjustment on more economical lines. To those who have reached middle life or are over it, the year of grace 1882 seems comparatively near in point of time ; but how much our domestic arrangements have altered in that period is vividly suggested by a phrase in the minute-book to the effect that the building committee be instructed to put in “ smoke-boards and swees." The; builder who now put in these at one time universal adjuncts of a Scottish home would be regarded as a survival from an ancient period. The Barnes Street (No. 1) property was completed and ready for occupancy in May 1883.


After the final defeat, in 1880, of the proposal to separate Neilston from the parent stem, we hear nothing of the position of the shop in the village until the quarterly meeting in August 1881, when a motion to give the committee power to build was defeated. This formed the starting-point for a war which raged intermittently for several years, and was not concluded until 1888, when building was commenced. During that long period the active members of the Society were divided into two strongly partisan groups—those who favoured and those who opposed building in the village. The pages of the minute-books for these years literally teem with motions and counter-motions on the subject. The shop first taken had now been occupied for nine years, and as it' was inadequate to meet the increased trade, a new one had to be rented. By the year 1884, a continuous agitation on the subject had sufficiently impressed the members as to cause them to grant the committee power to look out for a still more suitable shop, or to procure ground for building. Two months later this is changed to a suggestion from the general meeting that the board should retain the present shop and rent another as a branch establishment at or near Holehouse.


No definite action is taken, and again, in January 1885, the members are tested on the question of “ building ” or “ branching.” This time victory rests with the “builders,” by 38 votes to 29. The “ branchers,” however, refuse to " take it lying down,” and at the following board meeting a largely signed protest is lodged against the feuing of ground for building purposes. The directors —rendered timid, doubtless, by the keen division amongst the members—decide to take no action until after the quarterly meeting in February. Those who-can recall the activities of that time and the fighting spirit then abroad in the Society will know what pulling of strings and beating of drums would precede the quarterly meeting. At the meeting itself the chairman—Mr John Naim—must have been in sore straits to see his way through the maze of motions, amendments, and counteramendments with which he was assailed. Finally, he got them straightened out into the plain issue “ build ” or “ branch,” and now the “ branchers ” had their day of triumph with 91 votes against 40 for their opponents. The now familiar “Are we downhearted ? ” had not yet become a popular battle-cry, but the “ builders ” were evidently full of its spirit, for they at once retorted with a requisition to the board, signed by Neilston members, and urging that there should, be no branching for grocery, but only for boots and drapery. Again the directors proved themselves weaklings in the face of the storm. They replied that they could not over-ride the decision of the members, but that they would delay action until after next quarterly meeting in May. How much excitement there was, and how high the feeling of the moment ran, may be guessed from one fact, reported to the committee. It was stated that a mass meeting had been held in the village to discuss the question, and that it had been called by the town bellman in the name of the Society; but the president, on being challenged, disclaimed all knowledge of the meeting or of those who had authorised it!


This game of battledore and shuttlecock continued over the next two years; but finally, in the end of 1885, it was agreed to rent a shop from Mr Patrick Crilly, for the purpose of establishing a branch for the sale of boots, drapery, and hardware. For the time being, the honours of the fray rested with those who opposed the building scheme; but in February 1888 building became an admitted necessity. Ground was secured for this purpose, and on the first. Saturday of June 1889 a grand open-air demonstration was held to celebrate the completion of the premises. This closed one of the most protracted and most sternly fought conflicts in the history of the Society. Perhaps it may be of interest if we add that the opposing leaders in this long struggle were Mr Robert Murray and Mr Robert Campbell—the former for branching, and the latter for building. Both of them with the gift of expression, both eager Radicals in politics and ardent co-operators by conviction—these two men yet appeared to approach many questions from entirely different standpoints. As a result, we find them often opposed to each other; and for years at this time the most frequently recurring entry in the minutes is to the effect that " Mr Campbell combated the statements of Mr Murray,” or that “ Mr Murray challenged the conclusions of Mr Campbell.” In face of this, it is always refreshing to find that, should a motion be made for the granting of money to relieve distress, or for the purpose of extending the boundaries of co-operative activity, the two antagonists are at once side by side in its defence and support.


The foregoing note on what we have called “ the seven years’ war ” has brought us forward from 1881 to 1888, and we must hark back again to 1885, when the committee sought to obtain power for the opening of a branch about the middle of Main Street, “so as to relieve the pressure, both at Dovecothall and on the Central.” On the 16th of March a sub-committee, which had been appointed to look out for premises, reported in favour of a shop belonging to Mr William Taylor, and at that time occupied by a private grocer. This was the shop now occupied by the Main Street fleshing department. The shop was accordingly taken, and business started in May 1885. At first the premises were not regarded as very satisfactory, and before the end of the year the board recommended the purchase of a tenement in the vicinity with what was thought a more suitable shop. This proposal, however, the members almost unanimously negatived, on the ground that they objected to any more money being sunk in property meantime. In the circumstances the directors thought the best thing to do was to take a seven years’ lease of the shop they had so recently entered, and this was accordingly done.


The spasmodic efforts at tailoring and the makeshift arrangements made from time to time had never given satisfaction to the members, and at last, in March 1886, it was decided to fit up a workshop in the new property in Cross Arthurlie Street, and appoint a foreman tailor. Within twelve months of the establishment of this branch the trade had grown so considerably that the workroom had to be enlarged to accommodate the additional hands employed. For a year or two thereafter the business appears to have gone on satisfactorily, if slowly; but by 1890 certain troubles, which had been gathering with the foreman (Mr R. Pollock), reached a head. The complaints recorded against him included disdbedience to the orders of the directors, carelessness in his work, and the giving of unauthorised credit. On these grounds he was dismissed from his position of authority, but was offered, strangely enough, a place at the working board. This he accepted, and a rather curious situation was created. The directors sent for one of the workmen (Mr Goudie), and asked him to become foreman. This he declined ; but the directors were insistent, and at last he agreed “ reluctantly,” the minute-book states, “ to do so.” Ten days later he appeared before the committee, and begged to be relieved of the duties they had imposed upon him. There was nothing for it but to comply with the request, and the committee tried to put as good a face on the situation as possible by “ ordering ” the deposed foreman back to his former position. Such a situation was, of course, too strained to last, and a fortnight later the first foreman was dismissed; but the committee insisted that he should go round the members to whom he had given' credit, and collect the outstanding sums before they would pay him his security money. This does not appear to have been a very successful effort, and some time later it was decided to pay over the security rather than be troubled any further with the matter. With the appointment of a new foreman things went on smoothly and successfully for a considerable time. At a much later date—namely, in 1899—the present foreman, Mr Morrison, entered upon the duties which he has successfully performed ever since.


Unlike tailoring and other branches with which we have been dealing, dressmaking was a section of business which the earlier committees do not seem to have thought • of taking up at all. The first recorded suggestion in this way was made by Mr William Braidwood in October 1887, and at the November-quarterly meeting power was given to the board to begin dressmaking in the following spring, should they think fit to do so. The committee was commendably prompt in its attention to this decision, and by February 1888 a dressmaker had been appointed, and the business was started. Within a month a second hand and two learners were engaged; but it is apparent that the committee were by no means favourable to the usual rule of this trade—namely, that learners should work for the first six months without


wages. They circularised other societies on the subject, and at a later meeting agreed that the wages of learners for the first six months should be 2s. 6d. per week. This is a rule which is still observed by the Society. At first a fair measure of support was accorded to the new venture, but later on we hear a good deal of complaint on the score of neglect by the members. In the winter of 1890 much dissatisfaction had been generated in regard to the position of this branch, and in January 1891 a special general meeting was called to discuss the subject. Mr John Martin contended that the loss in the department and its failure to secure the loyal support of the members was due to the mismanagement of the person in charge, and not to any special difficulty in running such a branch. Mr R. Murray argued that it was impossible, in the present stage of co-operation, to make dressmaking pay, and advised that the branch be closed. Messrs Braidwood, Campbell, and Gavin Mackinlay saw no insuperable difficulty in attaining success ; and Mr Campbell, in particular, emphasised the appearance of weakness which would result if they dropped the effort. A motion remitting the subject back to committee, and with power to add millinery if they thought this would help the dressmaking, was finally carried. At the quarterly meeting in February, and at two subsequent monthly meetings, the debate was continued along the same lines ; and eventually those who alleged mismanagement as the cause of the meagre support carried their point, and secured the dismissal of the head-dressmaker. As in the case of tailoring, so in that of dressmaking, the appointment of a new chief brought with it a period of quiet progress.


The supply of butchermeat to the members forms one of the longest sections of the Society’s story. The earlier arrangements with local butchers have already been mentioned. These arrangements underwent frequent alteration, but continued more or less in force until 1883, when a contract was entered into with a Glasgow firm for the supply of beef rumps, etc. These were sent out to the various grocery departments and retailed there. In the interval the subject of branching on their own account had been repeatedly discussed, and more than once definite instructions on the point had been given by the members. Finally, in November 1888, a committee, consisting of John Naim, Gavin Pinkerton, and John M'Corkindale, was appointed to look out for suitable premises. The committee recommended the purchase of the property at the head of Main Street, belonging to Mr John Clark, flesher ; but at the general meeting of the members in December sanction was refused, and it was remitted to the committee to rent a shop, and have it opened for business as soon as possible. After much discussion as to the relative merits of a Main Street and a Cross Arthurlie shop, the committee finally returned to their first love ; and in spite of the members’ decision not to purchase, they asked Mr Clark to name his price for his Main Street property.


It was a somewhat bold thing to do ; but notwithstanding their rebuff in December, the committee again came forward in February with a recommendation that Mr Clark’s property should be purchased at the price of, 1,150, and to this the members unanimously agreed. The shop was opened on Friday, 1st March 1889, and in June of the same year a killing-house was, after much opposition on the part of neighbouring proprietors, erected on ground in Barnes Street.


The fleshing department was opened during what may justly be regarded as the stormiest period of the decade now under review. It was just about this time that excitement was at its highest in regard to the tailoring and dressmaking departments. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the new branch involved in the same circle of disturbance. The profits are not up to expectations, the van service gives great trouble, the Wholesale Society’s supply of cattle does not please the foreman or the committee, and both committee and foreman are upbraided by general meetings for want of loyalty. The minutes of the period read like the records of a succession of battles. All the old fighters are there, dealing mighty blows at one another ; and, in addition, many of the newer men take a hand in the melee. The excitement culminates in the dismissal of the first foreman. His successor soon follows in the same way, and within a short period the same thing happens to a third, a fourth, and a fifth, until the appointment of the present foreman, Mr William Ross, in December 1891. From this point the excitement of the first years subsides, and the branch gradually settles down into the condition which it retains to-day.


In detailing the foregoing succession of new branches we have got somewhat beyond the time when the next step in building was determined upon. The Grahamston grocery branch had been opened less than three years when (in November 1884) it had become the feeling of members and committee alike that better premises were a necessity. Building was accordingly decided upon, and, from a number of sites offered, one at the comer of George Street and Cross Arthurlie Street was ultimately chosen. Plans were immediately prepared, and were approved at a special meeting on 1st May 1885, and the building was completed in the following year.


No time was lost in completing the block of tenements thus begun, for in June 1887 plans for the George Street property were accepted, and this section was finished in 1888, two years later than the first portion.


In the beginning of 1889 it was suggested that an empty shop in No. 2 Bourock property should be fitted up as a hardware department. This was confirmed at the quarterly meeting in August, and in November of the same year the branch was duly opened.


We have now touched upon the chief items which enter into the composition of the years 1881 to 1891, but there are one or two minor matters which are not devoid of interest. It was, for instance, during this period that

the Society first attained to the position of appointing permanent officials. From the beginning of the Society in 1861 up till 1882, the duties of the secretariate had been faithfully discharged by Mr Robert Stark in his spare time. His first small salary of 2 per year had been increased from time to time during that twenty-one years, and at last, after the matter had been thrashed out at several successive meetings, he was appointed permanent managing-secretary on 9th November 1882, at a salary of 80. The treasurer, like the secretary, had been a spare JLime official from the start of the Society, and this arrangement continued for close on five years after Mr Stark’s permanent appointment. At the quarterly meeting in February 1887 it was agreed, on the motion of Mr Gavin Pinkerton, that the office should become a full-time one, and Mr James Williamson, at that time treasurer, received the appointment.


One of the most notable features of this time was the readiness with which the Society responded to any appeal made to it on account of disaster or distress. To quite a number of mining accident and other funds it subscribed handsomely, and when in the winter of 1885-6 the district was passing through a period of hardship, a sum of 50 was, on the motion of Mr Angus Wyse, granted towards the relief of distress. A very different decision this from that of 1863, when the committee was rebuked by the members for voting 1 in similar circumstances, and it plainly indicates that if our modern co-operation has lost some of the ideals of its founders it has developed other and no less admirable characteristics to which perhaps the pioneers were strangers. In the winter of 1890-1 there was a repetition of unemployment and consequent misery in the district, and on this occasion Mr R. Murray proposed a grant of 85. Mr Robert Campbell bettered this by suggesting 100. His proposal was agreed to, and a representative committee was appointed to administer the fund.


The semi-jubilee of the Society fell just about the middle of this time, namely, in June 1886. A special committee was appointed to make arrangements for a, great open-air demonstration on Saturday, 29th May, to be followed by a free social meeting in the evening. In connection with this it is rather amusing to find that Mr Stark, in writing up his minutes, had apparently been at a loss as to the proper name for the celebration. When referring to it first, he somewhat ludicrously calls it “ the silver wedding of the Society,” but in later minutes he makes a closer but still more ludicrous shot at it as “the anti-jubilee of the Society!"


In 1886 a proposal was made by Mr Gavin Mackinlay which, if it had been taken up, might have proved a very good thing for the Society and the district. He suggested that the Society should aim at obtaining as large an interest as possible in Barrhead Gas Company, and as a beginning moved that 100 shares in that company be bought. This was agreed to by the members; but when, some months later, forty shares were offered to the committee they decided that the price was too high, and from that moment there is no further mention of the subject.


From the year 1862 right on till the very end of this period the Society’s annual soiree had been held almost without a break. In the years 1888, 1889, and 1890, however, opposition had been offered, but in spite of this it was decided on each occasion by a majority to proceed as in former years. In 1891 a great deal of additional opposition was offered, and it was agreed, on the motion of Mr Charles Cattanach, to “drop the annual soiree, as it was a great financial loss.”


Another of the advances made during this time was the decision to pay fees to the directors. From the commencement of the business the services of the directors had been given freely and ungrudgingly, and without fee or reward. Even stocktaking was at first carried through without payment, but latterly it had been agreed to pay the stocktakers two shillings for their services. In 1871 it was proposed to pay committeemen five shillings per quarter, but the members indignantly dismissed the proposal, and even the directors were by no means favourable to the suggestion. At intervals during the next eleven years the subject was mooted, but always the members would have none of it, and dismissed it by large majorities. The idea was not easily killed however, and at last, in November 1883, it was carried that directors be paid eight shillings per quarter, the president twenty shillings, and stocktakers ninepence per hour. These rates continued until August 1888, when by a small majority it was agreed to advance the fees of directors to twenty shillings per quarter and that of the president to twenty-five shillings.


Throughout the years 1881-91 a number of the prominent workers named at the close of the fourth chapter continued in active service. One of the most noteworthy of these was Mr Alexander Johnstone, who had been three times president, and who was presented with a testimonial from the members when in 1888 he resigned to begin a laundry business on his own account. It may be added that, at a later date, when the societies were busy raising money to start the Seaside Homes, Mr Johnstone, then in Pretoria, South Africa, proved his continued interest in the co-operative movement by sending a donation of 5 to the fund for the Homes. Amongst the newer names prominent in the minutes are those of Messrs John Naim, Robert Campbell, Gavin Mackinlay, Archibald Todd, Andrew Anderson, James Gilchrist, David Hutcheson, Anthony Gallocher, Peter Milligan, J ohn C. Shaw, William Birtwell, John Martin, Gavin Pinkerton, Charles Cattanach, and Peter Baird Grandison (auditor). Mention of the last named (now Bailie Grandison, and secretary of Messrs Shanks & Co. Ltd.) prompts us to a recognition of the fact that, whilst acting as assistant -secretary and as auditor, he did a great deal towards putting the bookkeeping of the Society on a systematic basis. It is a fact, we believe, that to this day some of the methods he introduced are still adhered to in the office.

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