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History of the Barrhead Co-operative Society Ltd.
Chapter VIII. Barrhead’s Contribution to the General Movement

Nulli Secundus—First Efforts to Found a Wholesale—The Third Attempt —Success—“Our Society”—A Centre of Co-operative Propaganda—The U.C.B.S1—“More Than Any Other in Scotland”—Farming Association—Bo’ness Pottery—Tweed Mills—Seamill Home—Inland Home—Laundry Association-—An Earlier Proposal—Proposed Productive Fund.

“Men my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new;
That which they have done hut earnest of the things that they shall do."
> —Tennyson.


IN collecting the material for this book, the writer was early struck with the importance of the part which Barrhead had played in the growth of the Scottish co-operative movement. It was not merely the indirect value of the steady and prosperous development of its own organisation as an integral part of the whole, but directly as an inciting cause and guiding force in the establishment and growth of the various co-operative efforts, which, at different times, demanded something more than local support. Itself but a small Society, and serving a comparatively trifling population, it yet played a notable part in shaping the destinies of co-operation in Scotland. Indeed, we make bold to say that, in respect to the greatness of its work and the number of notable pioneer workers it' produced, Barrhead can claim a position of honour which may be equalled but will not be surpassed by any society in the country. In dealing with the information available for this section, two methods of treatment suggested themselves. The material might have been woven into the main texture of the Society’s story, and, used in that way, would doubtless have added further interest to the preceding chapters; but the subject seemed important enough, and the details interesting enough, to warrant the formation of a separate and distinct section. This was the method finally decided upon, and we trust the result will justify this manner of handling the theme.


Almost from the first moment of its birth, Barrhead Society showed itself possessed of a spirit of willingness to join with its brothers in the greater co-operative movement beyond its own territorial boundaries. Launched in June 1861, it was ready in November of the same year to take its part in the proposed formation of a wholesale society for Scotland, and on the second of that month two committeemen—John Bell and Thomas M'Cowatt—were appointed to attend a meeting called to consider the question. This effort was fruitless, or apparently so. But one Barrhead man at least was determined not to let the idea die, and when, in 1863, Mr John MTnnes issued from Barrhead the first Northern co-operative newspaper (The Scottish Co-operator), one of the earliest duties to which he set his hand was the creation and nourishment of an agitation for a wholesale society. In the issue of his paper for December 1863 there is a suggestion for a conference on this subject; and in the issue for January 1864 a letter writer proposes that a district meeting, compri'sing Barrhead, Thornlie-bank, Pollokshaws, and Paisley societies, should be held. Finally, as a result of this agitation of the question, a joint meeting is held, at which Barrhead is duly represented, and a committee, chiefly of the Glasgow delegates, is appointed to consider the subject and report. Of this second attempt, as of the first, there was no practical outcome, the proper moment—or more probably the right man—not having yet arrived. Fully a year later (in June 1865), an indignant correspondent writes to the Scottish Co-operator demanding information as to the committee “ appointed twelve months ago,” and “ of which,” he says, “ nothing has yet been heard.” In a footnote to this letter, the editor (Mr M'Innes) says: " Communications on this subject have of late been very numerous and from all quarters, but we are sorry that we cannot throw any light on the matter. The question of a wholesale depot was first commenced by correspondence in our columns. Ultimately it attracted so much attention that a meeting was called of delegates from a large number of societies throughout Scotland. To that meeting the promoters did not invite us. The effect of the meeting appeared to us hopeful of good results, but in this we have been disappointed. A committee was appointed, but the work seems to have ended with its appointment. If the question—and a very proper one it is—is again to be revived, the carrying out of the preliminaries must be placed in other hands. It is a pity the former effort has been so unmercifully burked.”


This attitude is supported in subsequent issues of the paper by Mr Borrowman, of Crosshouse (afterwards manager of the Wholesale), and by other writers. The editor himself returns to the subject in the July and August issues; and on the 2nd of September 1865, on his invitation, a meeting of delegates Was held at Barrhead, in the office of the Scottish Co-operator, at what is now 175 Main Street. We can well believe the statement made by some of those present that the arrangements for the meeting were of the most primitive kind, and that the delegates had no prearranged programme of business laid before them. But, however humble the meeting-place, and however informal the proceedings, here, in the back premises of a little Barrhead printing office—if those present could have known it—was the birth-chamber of the now gigantic Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society. The societies represented at this meeting were Barrhead, Crosshouse, Paisley Equitable, Paisley Provident, Paisley Manufacturing, St Rollox, Hamilton, Port-Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Renfrew. Mr Borrowman was called to the chair, and Mr M'Innes was appointed secretary. After full discussion, the meeting resolved to proceed further; but the delegates were apparently anxious not to give offence, or to seem as if they were usurping duties which had been placed in other hands, and so Mr M'Innes was instructed to write the 1864 committee and request it to call a general meeting of Scottish societies, with a view to the establishment of a wholesale society.

The newly-appointed secretary carries out his commission, but only after many letters have been written does he receive definite information to the effect that the committee appointed in 1864 has done nothing, and can do nothing now, as “ most of the members then appointed have become widely scattered and some of them gone abroad.” This correspondence and other preliminaries consumed time, and the next delegate meeting is not held till the beginning of the following year (1865). The few months thus passed have not, however, been wasted, for, by word and pen, Mr Borrowman and Mr MTnnes and Mr John Paton, of •Barrhead, have been propagating their ideas throughout the country. From March onwards meetings of the delegates are regularly held. The seed so assiduously sown has taken root and now begins to germinate, and by the month of June there is a larger conference, at which thirty different societies are represented. At this meeting the indefatigable editor-secretary reports that he has corresponded with 120 societies, and many of these he has personally visited on the subject. We are now in the very thick of the arrangements, and finally another grand conference is held in Glasgow on New-Year’s Day 1868. Replies favourable to the formation of the Wholesale Society, and urging immediate action, had been received from twenty-six societies, and of these perhaps the most hopeful and encouraging is the one from Barrhead. "The circular,” says this letter, “has not yet been laid before the members, but the committee are unanimous in its favour; and, as an evidence of their approval of the principle, they have taken shares in the North of England Wholesale Society, and during last six .months, purchased from it to, the extent of 900,” The day following the Glasgow conference. (2nd January), a similar .meeting was held in Edinburgh. Resolutions to proceed were adopted at both meetings, and at the Edinburgh one a special vote of thanks was accorded to the .secretary,, Mr M'Innes; “ for the excellent statistics laid before them and the amazing amount of correspondence he had undertaken,”


At a later date, Messrs Borrowman and M'Innes are deputed to visit the English Wholesale, and on their return everything is at last in order for a start. As evidence of the fact that Mr M'Innes was the real “ head-centre ” of this effort, and illustrative of the power which he possessed, we may quote the following from his retrospect of the proceedings up to the point at which they had now arrived, namely, the appointment of a managing committee, for the new Wholesale. He had exceptional means of knowing the outstanding men of the movement,, and the first committee and officers were, elected entirely on, his recommendation. “In concluding this statement,” he said, “I hope,I will not be considered impertinent or dictatorial if I offer a few remarks on what your first committee should be. It would be a hazardous experiment to vote your committee without knowing something of the individual merits and general character of those appointed, as I believe you will all be more or less ignorant of the fitness or unfitness of those now present, from the fact of your being to one another , comparative strangers. The chief characteristic of fitness for such a position is thoroughness in the principle and honesty and zealousness in promoting it. You must avoid the appointment of those who are specious and plausible professors, whose whole interest is bound up in making a society subservient to the gaining of some end. Let none of your committee, if you can avoid it, be of those who are co-operators merely for personal ends ; if you do, such persons will sacrifice your interest and ruin or jeopardise the success of your society. Let your committee be men who have faith in the principle they profess, who are shrewd and zealous in carrying it out, and whose character will produce confidence in the members.” No more admirable catalogue of the qualifications required in a co-operative committeeman could be given than is contained in these sentences. For the reasons thus stated, Mr M'Innes recommended a list of office-bearers which had been approved by the promotion committee, and urged the delegates to accept this list in its entirety. The delegates were wise enough to do so, and doubtless the early success of the Wholesale was in large measure due to Mr M'Innes’s careful selection. The committee thus proposed included Mr Merrylees, Kilmarnock, chairman; Mr Borrowman, Crosshouse, manager; and Mr John Allan, Barrhead, secretary.


Thus from the first conception of the idea of the Scottish Wholesale until it is safely launched, Barrhead has taken its full share in the early work, and can point with pride to the fact that the man, who above all others is responsible for its creation, is a Barrhead man, and that the responsible duties of its first secretary is placed in the hands of another Barrhead member. This is surely a worthy record, and that it stirred pride in the heart of Mr M'Innes is evident by the many laudatory references he makes in the Scottish Co-operator to “ our Society." Thus it is with apparent gusto that he writes, when reviewing the third quarterly balance-sheet of the Wholesale Society: “our Society (Barrhead) is easily first in the matter of purchases;” and shortly after this when Barrhead resolves to lend the Wholesale “ another 100,” the editor breaks into a further paean of praise. “ Barrhead’s healthy co-operative spirit,” he says, " is illustrated by their resolve. This is prudent, far-seeing wisdom, as it ensures a return of five per cent., and it further enables the Wholesale Society to enter the markets with an increased money power. The step is also creditable to the members as showing their confidence in co-operation, unlike those miserable specimens of professed co-operators who are forever whining about safe investments—a set of bugbears to be found in every society, and who, when they find their way to the management, are generally ‘ losing battles gathering straws,’ until they drive their society into difficulties.” This whole-hearted support by Barrhead Society both in the matter of purchases and capital was in direct contrast to that of many societies, some of which, “ refused to sink money in that speculation, but might go in at some future time.” These others did go in when the success of the Wholesale was assured ; but the honour of achieving that success belongs to the pioneer societies which boldly risked their capital and gave their loyal support when capital and support were most needed. It need only be added here that in all its attitude towards the Wholesale in those early days Barrhead remained consistently, and whole-heartedly steadfast. When the squaring' up. of the preliminary expenses is reached, the committee asks the stun of one halfpenny per member for this purpose. Barrhead at the following quarterly meeting decides that this is inadequate, and generously votes one penny per member. Whereupon the heart of the editor again rej pices, and he says : “ We endorsa this, belief and heartily , rejoice that our Society, without any. influence brought to bear on it, has given so spontaneously and so, handsomely. This is true public spirit. The Society always gives heartily to the general movement, and it seems the more it gives the more it gets.” Before taking our leave of. the Wholesale, it may be worth noting that at the conclusion: of his labours , as its chief promoter Mr MTnnes. was rewarded with a vote of thanks! At ,one, of the meetings it was stated that he had not received a tenth part of his postages and travelling expenses. At a later date, however,, this was to some extent remedied, and a testimonial was started as a recognition of his services. The money thus raised reached a total of, over 60, which at, best must be regarded as a meagre monetary return for, all his labours. Doubtless the knowledge that he had so securely laid the foundations of this notable addition to the edifice of co-operation was in itself a sufficiently great reward. A further propf of Barrhea.d’s close connection with the early days of the Wholesale may be noted. in the fact that nearly all the work for the first, building in Paisley Road, after the removal from Madeira Court, was entrusted to Barrhead tradesmen. The building,. plumberwork, and painterwork were some, pf the sections for which local contractors were responsible, and there are still with us some prominent members of. the Society who were employed at the construction of the building.


Another great service which Barrhead (did. for the co-operative movement at this time was the providing of it with its general propaganda. It is of this period that Mr William Maxwell, in his " History of St Cuthbert’s Association,” says: " Barrhead was recognised at this time as a propaganda centre for co-operation.” For this work twp men, Messrs John M'Innes and John Paton, were chiefly responsible. The former, as we have seen, was-editor of the Scottish Co-operator. The paper itself was a great instrument for propaganda, and, in addition, Mr M'Innes, although not a very effective speaker, was always ready to give his services as lecturer. Mr J ohn Paton, as is well known, was an orator of a very high type, and although he is best remembered by his work for temperance, it was in defence and propagation of co-operation that he began his public career. For about ten years, onward from 1862, he was indeed the " apostle ” of .co-operation in Scotland, and travelled far and wide preaching the new gospel. Almost every issue of the paper for a time contains reports of his lectures or a list of places he has visited. The reports given are, of course, only abbreviated sketches, but they suffice to indicate in many cases the virility of expression and the clarity of thought for which the speaker was afterwards noted. Referring to one of Mr Paton’s co-operative lectures, a writer describes it as "a rich intellectual treat, and, displayed a thorough knowledge of the question conveyed by persuasive eloquence, and although the lecture was deeply philosophical, yet the language was so plain that all must have understood its meaning.” Of another of Mr Paton’s lectures it is said: “ The address was a treat of no ordinary kind, and was worthy the cause and the occasion. It showed that the speaker was a great thinker and an eloquent exponent of his thoughts." This work of propaganda, although it produced no dividends, was of great value to the movement in Scotland.


With the assured success of the Wholesale, a desire for further co-operation on the federated principle had shown itself, and as bread was dear it was most natural that the societies should turn their attention to baking. In this, Barrhead, with some of the Glasgow societies, is again to to the fore. Indeed, at the quarterly meeting in August 1868, before the Wholesale had actually started business, Barrhead decided to issue invitations for a meeting to discuss the project, but only three other societies responded to the call. At a second meeting, held in Glasgow in October, thirteen societies were represented, and of these six, including Barrhead, intimated that they were ready to federate for baking purposes. The Barrhead delegate (Mr James Ferguson) was elected to the first management committee. In February 1869 the local Society paid over the sum of 45 to the Bakery committee, and when they were ready to start business in June it was to Barrhead the committee came for their first manager—Mr Robert Sturrock. From the commencement Barrhead stood loyally by the new effort, and as speedily as possible it weaned its members from the purchase of bread froM other sources, and directed its entire trade to the U.C.B.S. The first year of the Baking Society was a troubled one, and success was not easily attained. But although it certainly did not prosper under the care of its first manager, it replaced him, in 1872, with another Barrhead man, Mr Robert Craig, who admittedly made order out of its chaos, and set it on the high road to success. In this spirit of loyalty Barrhead continued its connection with the U.C.B.S. for a number of years, until a resolution to establish a branch at Johnstone or Paisley created local opposition, and set the Barrhead committee upon thoughts of doing its own baking. In 1877 this ended in the Society building its own bakery.


The Wholesale Society and the United Baking Sbciety are two outstanding examples of successful federative action ; but in addition to these the Society had also invested money in other undertakings of a co-operative character, only some of which were successful. These included the Paisley Manufacturing Society, the Cooperage Company, Oak Mill, and the Co-operative Iron Works. It was this willingness to help forward the general co-operative movement which enabled the chairman, Mr John Allan, at the ninth annual soiree, in October 1870, to declare : “ We cannot boast of our sales being anything like the turnover of some societies, but we do feel proud to know that we have more money in the societies that are established for the higher stages of co-operative development than any other society in Scotland, and this is the real test of sound co-operative consistency.”


The next really important productive effort was that of the Farming Association. The idea of working the land is a most attractive one to most people, and in the early eighties a section of the Scottish co-operative movement was eager to enter upon agriculture. Considering the large and immediate outlet which co-operation’s great distributive agencies provides for the products of the soil, it seems easy (theoretically) to make farming pay. As a matter of fact, however, the results have never quite realised expectations ; but there are still many who are impatient at the failure or partial failure which has so far followed co-operative efforts in this direction. When the Scottish Farming Association was launched, in 1885, it was under auspices that were by no means unfavourable. There was a fair amount of capital, the ■experiment was on an adequate scale, and there was little difficulty in finding a market for its goods. Nevertheless, in spite of all these advantages, the association was a failure. Three of its five farms were in the Nitshill district, and it was only natural that our Society should support it by buying its products as freely as possible. At the first appeal for funds, fifty shares of one pound were taken. This was increased at a later date to 100 and then to 200, and in February 1895 500 was given to the association on loan. The association went into liquidation in 1897, and eighteen months later a “ first and final ” dividend of 6/2 per on loan capital was paid. The share capital was swallowed up in its entirety, so that not only did the idea of co-operative fanning suffer a serious setback, but there was a heavy financial loss as well.


A similar fate befell the Bo’ness Pottery, which started business a few years later than the Farming Association. Into the reasons for that failure we need not enter—even if we could. Different observers have assigned different reasons, but the fact itself is undeniable that the pottery was a failure, and swallowed up a lot of good money. Ever ready to help, Barrhead took shares, although only to the extent of 75, and it sent on to the pottery all the orders it could muster. When the Pottery was wound up, in 1893, every penny thus invested was lost.


A much more successful effort was the Selkirk Tweed Mills, into which Barrhead put 150. The mills did a fairly good trade, and in 1896 were taken over as a going concern by the Wholesale Society.


A very different, type of undertaking was that which next engaged attention. In 1890 the members of the Ayrshire and Renfrewshire Conference Associations jointly determined upon the erection of convalescent homes for the West of Scotland. In July 1891, and again in August, representatives waited upon the Barrhead members at their monthly meetings, and advocated the erection of the Homes at West Kilbride. The visitors in July were Messrs Deans and Flockhart, and in August Messrs Flockhart and Inglis, and as a result of their appeal a first donation of 100 was voted. This was added to from time to time, and in all 300 was given, in addition to various sums voted to cover the cost of material wrought by members of the women’s guild for bazaars held in 1893 and in 1900. Over and above these sums there were, of course, contributions from individual members. The value of the Seamill Convalescent Homes to the members of co-operative societies is fully appreciated by those who have benefited from a stay within its hospitable and kindly walls. From year to year the Society contributes generously to the funds of the Home, and the admission tickets placed at the disposal of the committee are distributed as carefully as possible amongst applicants who may be in need of the rest and change which the Home provides.


A few years after the erection of Seamill, an agitation was begun by the societies in the East of Scotland for the opening of another convalescent home, which should be more conveniently placed for members within their area. In February 1901 our Society voted 20 to the funds, and by and by when the committee in charge had decided to purchase “ Abbotsview,” on the Tweed, for the purpose of establishing an inland home there, two further sums of 20 were also granted. Assistance was also given in connection with a bazaar which was promoted to increase the funds; and, at a later date, when the Renfrewshire Conference decided to furnish a bedroom at “ Abbotsview,” Barrhead voted a further small sum towards this object. Members in need of a change have now a choice of these two Homes. Those who have spent a time at Abbotsview speak in the highest terms of the Home and its surround it? gs, but, as is quite natural, it is not nearly so popular with Western patients as the nearer seaside home at West Kilbride.



Although'it had helped so assiduously in the promotion of productive concerns for other districts, Barrhead had to wait until the year 1897 before it was favoured with the establishment of one within its own territory. And even then this new effort was largely the outcome of the local Society’s energy and capital. We noted in an earlier chapter that a notable result of the traders’ boycott in 1895-6 was an increase in the enthusiasm and activity of co-operators. It has been said that the Laundry Association was one of the direct fruits of this externally-created interest, and it is quite probable that the stirring up which co-operators then received had something to do with the decision to proceed upon this new venture. The idea to begin with was entirely a Barrhead one, and the first proposal was that the Society should start a laundry of its own. It was soon realised that something more than the support of one society would be necessary if success was to be attained, and the promoters at once set themselves to the tapping of a wider area for sympathy and support. Successful appeals were made to the Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, and Glasgow and Suburbs Conference Associations, and it was under their auspices that the laundry was finally started. An earnest and hardworking committee was got together, and no stone was left unturned in their efforts to secure the necessary capital to begin with. The first response from other societies was distinctly cautious. In February 1897 Barrhead had applied for 400 shares, but in July of the same year the total capital subscribed only amounted to 945. Nevertheless, the committee were satisfied with the prospects, and ground having been secured in Barnes Street, plans were prepared, building was proceeded with, and business commenced in June 1899. The total share and loan capital subscribed to this time was only 1,291, and the buildings and plant had cost considerably over 2,000, so that it is manifest that only the courage and faith of the committee carried them through, and finally secured the success at which they aimed.

Restricted as they were by a shortage of capital, it is no wonder that the first few quarters of the Laundry Association’s working resulted in loss. The preliminary expenses were heavy, and to meet the accounts of the various tradesmen a bond on the property for 960 had to be obtained from the Wholesale Society. At a later date the Barrhead Society backed its opinion by advancing another 500 on loan to the struggling committee. This was in May 1900, and it may be regarded as the turning-point in the association’s battle against adversity. Prosperity was not attained at once, but slowly trade began to increase and the adverse balances to disappear, until in June 1902 an actual, though small, profit was declared. A couple of years later the entire deficit was wiped out, and since then the Barrhead loan has been repaid and the Wholesale Society’s bond wiped out. In 1905 the association began paying dividend on all trade done, and it has continued to do so ever since. Trade continues to increase steadily, and from time to time additions and alterations have been made, to cope with this growth in an adequate fashion. French-cleaning, carpet-cleaning, dyeing, and other branches have been added, and, although the amount of work is now greatly beyond the first hopes of the committee, they are still in a position to undertake very much more than they are receiving. The association covers a wide area in its search for work, and besides the goods received and despatched per rail it has now 15 horses and vans daily engaged in the collection and distribution of parcels in the Glasgow and Paisley districts. Presently the laundry employs a staff of 169, of whom 37 are males and 132 females.

Mr M'Intosh, of St George Society, was the first president, but Mr Robert Campbell, of the Barrhead Society, succeeded Mr M'Intosh in February 1901, and has been chairman of the association ever since. To Mr Campbell probably more than to any other single individual is the start and ultimate success of the laundry due, and his and its friends will hope that he may be long spared to pilot it through the smooth waters, as he helped to guide it through the rough. Mr Robert Colquhoun acted as secretary to the committee from its inception, and now fills with acceptance the position of cashier. Mr A. G. Shannon, who was the manager first appointed, is still at his post, and retains the confidence of the managing committee.


With this account of the Laundry Association our story of Barrhead’s support to the general co-operative movement might close, but we cannot leave the subject without a reference to a motion brought forward at a meeting of the Society, in August 1899, by Mr Gavin Pinkerton. Mr Pinkerton moved that the Society agree to put aside a small sum from quarter to quarter to form the nucleus of a fund to be used for productive purposes.

“He did not wish,” he said, “that this Society should act alone, but that an effort should be made to induce conferences to take up the idea, so that the funds would be ready when new productive concerns had been decided upon in suitable localities, and thus avoid the wearisome search for capital which had so recently hampered the Laundry Association.” Mr Robert Murray, jun., seconded, and the motion was carried by a majority against the previous question. The idea seems a useful one, and worth commending to the notice of societies; but no further steps in the direction suggested by Mr Pinkerton appear to have been taken.

We started this chapter by making a bold claim on behalf of our Society, and we think it will be admitted that sufficient has been said to justify the claim that Barrhead in this matter is entitled to adopt as its motto: Nulli Secundus—“ Second to None.”


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