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12 January 2016

Brighton Equitable Co-operative Society (at Hove & Portslade)

Judy Middleton 2001 (revised 2015)

copyright © J.Middleton
This wonderful photograph was taken on a trip in around 1932 to the Northampton Shoe Factory. The ladies belonged to the Co-operative Women’s Guild (Portslade Branch).


It was on the 1 January 1888 that the Brighton Equitable Co-operative Society was founded with a membership of 200. The society was fortunate to have the distinguished social reformer George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906) as its president. In 1892 he published his memoirs in a book entitled Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life. It is a very apt title because he never tired of taking on the establishment at full tilt.  He lectured on socialism, supported the co-operative movement, edited the Reasoner and saw no reason why a person had to take a religious oath in court or Parliament. In fact, in 1842 he became the last English person to be imprisoned on a charge of atheism. He was born in Birmingham but by the 1880s he was living at Camelford Street, Brighton.

The Co-operative movement became popular with poorer inhabitants because as well as providing essential food at competitive prices, it worked on the principle that profits should be shared amongst the membership who looked forward to the annual dividend. Shopping was a painstaking business because customers had their individual membership number recorded manually at each transaction. In addition, the Co-op sponsored sporting events, provided social meetings, established women’s guilds and there was a club for children. 

First Shops

On 16 May 1888 the first shop opened at 32 North Road, Brighton.

By 1902 there was a branch at 2 George Street, Portslade, which lasted until 1905 and then re-appeared at 49 North Street, Portslade. Presumably, this was a move to larger premises since George Street was a tiny road, a turning off 40 North Street, while North Street was the main shopping area in Portslade at that time. 

In 1900 the Co-op established its head office at 96 London Road, Brighton.

In around 1908 the Co-op opened a small shop in Blatchington Road, Hove. It is an interesting fact that while other Co-ops have come and gone, it is still at Blatchington Road to this day, meaning it has traded in the road for 107 years. At one time the Co-op had a very strong presence in Blatchington Road with a butcher’s at number 101, a baker’s at number 82, a chemist at number 68 and a laundry outlet at number 99.

The 1920s and 1930s

Brighton Co-operative Society grew slowly and by 1900 there were still only 932 members. But by 1921 the number had risen to 10,000, helped no doubt by taking over other Co-operatives in Sussex. The 1920s and 1930s proved to be the heyday of the Co-op.


According to the 1934 Directory Brighton Co-operative Society owned or ran the following enterprises.

Brighton – Boot Repairing Depot, 6 Baker Street
Brighton – Co-op Hall, Hanover Place
Brighton – Central Dairy, Hanover Place
Brighton – Central Confectionary, 82 London Road
Brighton – Central Greengrocery, 84 London Road
Brighton – Department Stores, 94-101 London Road
Brighton – Grocery & Provisions, 2 & 8 Bristol Road
Brighton – Grocery & Provisions, 40 Dyke Road
Brighton – Grocery & Provisions, 56 & 75 Lewes Road
Brighton – Grocery & Provisions, 31 North Road
Brighton – Grocery & Provisions, 269 Preston Road
Brighton – Grocery & Provisions, Whitehawk Road
Hove – Central Bakery, Grocery Warehouse and Laundry, Portland Road
Hove – Department Store, 39-41 Boundary Road
Hove – Grocery & Provisions, 82 & 101 Blatchington Road

There were bakeries at
Haywards Heath

There were Department Stores at
East Grinstead
Haywards Heath

There were Grocery & Provisions at
Burgess Hill
West Broadwater

 Blatchington Road

 copyright © J.Middleton
The original Co-op store in Blatchington Road was very small.

The first shop was located at number 78; in 1919 London architects Bethell & Swannell submitted plans for alterations to premises at numbers 99 and 101. Brighton Co-op used the same architects for all their stores at Brighton and Hove. The premises were located on the corner of Haddington Street, which later became the Co-op Confectionary Department. In 1938 part of the present expanded site was purchased with more properties being purchased over the years.

John Bryon, who was born at Montgomery Street, Hove in 1925 found the Co-op a fascinating place because of modern technology in use there. This involved wires that ran overhead from the various counters to a central cash desk. When a purchase was made, your money and relevant bill were enclosed in a small brass canister and off it whizzed to the cash desk. Then you had to wait patiently until you saw the canister zooming back with the correct change inside.

On 7 September 1981 a public meeting was held to discuss proposals to expand the grocery and provision store. The scheme involved the demolition of eight houses. This was not at all popular and there were heated exchanges with most people stating a preference for things to remain as they were. Frank Creed, Co-op’s chief executive, stated they would build a new car park costing £500,000 on the existing site in Malvern Street. But while building work was in progress, the existing car park would be closed for six months. The fact that the Co-op was not prepared to pay any compensation to local residents also went down like a lead balloon. The hostility from local people may be one reason why the Co-op later built a superstore in Nevill Road in the 1980s where there was plenty of space.   

It is somewhat ironic that while the grandiose superstore in Nevill Road has since been taken over by Waitrose, the Co-op continues to trade in Blatchington Road.

In 1993 the Co-op was re-fitted on its Blatchington Road site. The shop was not closed while all this was going on between April and November, which was rather trying for both staff and customers. The entrance from Malvern Street was closed off, which gave more space for the layout and resulted in that corner turning into an up-market wine store. Councillor Peter Martin and his wife Jacqui, Mayor and Mayoress of Hove, officially re-opened the revamped store in November. At the time Cliff Newnham was store manager and he had 22 years of experience.

  copyright © J.Middleton
The recent photograph was taken on 18 July 2015. Note that the new corporate colour is light green but in the past it has been dark green as well as light blue.

Boundary Road

copyright © J.Middleton
This postcard records the rather elegant shop-front at Boundary Road in the 1920s.

In 1919 Hove Council passed plans presented by Bethell & Swannell of London for a new shop at 39 / 41 Boundary Road. The result was a handsome structure with three display bays and two entrances. It was not just devoted to grocery and provisions either but sold clothes, boots and shoes as well. Although it has long gone, it is still remembered fondly by older residents.

George Ford was manager of the grocery department during the Second World War and he was a very popular man with the customers. He was previously the manager of the grocery department in Portland Road and he was quite happy to stay put. But the manager of the Boundary Road store had been called up and Ford was asked to take his place. Ford agreed but only on condition that he could resume his duties at Portland Road after the war.

In 1960 a new Co-op department store was opened further up the road at number 75 and the old store was sold to the Post Office, which erected a very utilitarian structure on the site. However, the new Co-op did not last as long as its predecessor. The problem was trying to do too much on a fairly small site. There was a thriving grocery department on the south side but the rest of the ground floor was occupied by a mishmash of articles for sale including clothes. Upstairs, there was a furniture store plus the office where you queued up for your dividend. The store closed its doors on 21 January 1989 and in October 1989 the site was sold for £875,000.

Nevill Road

Brighton Co-op purchased the land on which the new superstore was to be built from the managers of Brighton & Hove Greyhound Stadium. At first East Sussex County Council directed Hove Council to reject the plan because they were worried by potential traffic problems. But in 1983 they changed their mind after an agreement was reached with the Co-op about paying for traffic improvements.

In May 1985 work started on the superstore and it was ready for business the following year. It was the second superstore to be opened by the Co-op, the first being at Peacehaven.

The architects for the Hove superstore were the Elsworth Sykes Partnership, the structural engineers were Campbell, Reith & Hill and the builders were Rice & Sons Ltd. The finished store covered 50,000 square feet, comprising 28,000 feet of selling space and 22,000 square feet of storage. The construction utilised 255 tonnes of steel, 147,000 facing bricks, 46,000 blocks for internal work and 27,000 terrazzo tiles for the sale area. In 1987 the superstore won the best new building design award, given biennially by Hove Council in conjunction with Hove Civic Society. The award was presented to Ron Bilzon, deputy chief executive of the Brighton Co-op.

The superstore was refurbished in 1992. The crèche was one of the novel features of the store, located in a Wendy House-style building right next door. Children could be dropped off there while their mothers went shopping. It was designed for children aged from two to six years and the charge was only 50 pence. It was expected to be a hit with busy mothers but David Wright, advertising manager, said when miniature trolleys were introduced in the store, patronage dropped dramatically to only 20 children a day. Youngsters much preferred to follow their mothers around pushing their own trolleys. The crèche closed on 20 August 1994 and a travel care service replaced it.    

Portland Road

 copyright © J.Middleton
The Co-op was justly proud of its magnificent complex in Portland Road.

It is said that Brighton Co-op first acquired land at Portland Road in 1917 but planning applications were not presented to Hove Council until the 1920s. The Co-op occupied premises in this road for 77 years.

The land was a three-acre site on the north side of Portland Road and eventually buildings occupied an area of 110,000 square feet. . The Co-op was also interested in housing and plans for 20 semi-detached houses on the north side of Portland Road were passed in 1920. The Co-op employed the same architects for all the buildings here as well as other stores at Hove; they were Bethell & Swannell of 16A John Street, Adelphi, London.

In 1920 plans for a bakery and stabling were passed, a temporary building was erected in 1921 and a shop in 1926.

In 1920 the Co-op requested a supply of electricity to be laid on to their bakery.

In January 1925 Hove Council was in negotiation with the Co-op to purchase around one-third of an acre from them for £750. The Co-op agreed provided the council built a new road linking Portland Road with Old Shoreham Road; this road was to become Olive Road.

Leslie Hamilton, senior, (1918-2000) was born in St Aubyns Road, Portslade. He later became a long-standing councillor as well as the first Labour Mayor of Hove. But in 1933 he left school at the age of fourteen and went to work at the Co-op bakery in Portland Road where he earned the grand sum of ten shillings a week. His duties included greasing the bread and cake tins, cooking doughnuts in a huge vat of bubbling fat, lifting them out and inserting a dab of strawberry jam. He progressed to greater things such as making slab cakes and wedding cakes. But if he wanted to stay on at the bakery, he would have to start working night shifts, which he did not fancy at all and so he switched to the Co-op butcher instead. In 1939 he was called up into the Army. After wartime service he worked for Co-operative Insurance and the office was above the store in Blatchington Road.

The chief glory of the Co-op site in Portland Road was the laundry complex opened with a great flourish on 17 March 1934. A special souvenir booklet was produced to mark the occasion.

Messrs Chapman, Lowry & Puttick Ltd of Greyshott, Hindhead, Hampshire were the general contractors and Messrs Duke & Ockenden Ltd of Littlehampton were responsible for the wells, pumps and storage tanks. Messrs Baker Perkins Ltd supplied the washing plant in the washing room; Messrs Cochran & Co of Annan supplied the boilers and Messrs Urquhart manufactured the storage tanks. All machinery was of British manufacture. 

‘Approaching the Laundry from the entrance in Portland Road, you will observe on either side … four very large openings near the pavement. These are entrances to large air ducts, which form part of an unseen system for the ventilation, radiation and replacement of air within the Laundry.’

The laundry was divided into four departments – sorting, washing, finishing and packing. ‘Dust, dirt, fluff, soot and steam being the great troubles in a Laundry, we have attempted so to construct the building that there are few, if any, flat surfaces.’

In a protected corner of the packing room, special machines were installed to deal with starched goods including a steam-heated porcelain-lined collar tube and a three-roll rotary collar-polishing machine.

The 80-foot tower was, not surprisingly, adorned with two lightning conductors. The interior was arranged as follows:

Ground Floor

The boiler house contained two 17-foot high boilers with a working pressure of 100lbs.

Pump Room

Two boreholes had been driven to a depth of 250 feet and were worked by two vertical reciprocating pumps driven by separate electric motors; the plant was capable of delivering 8,000 gallons an hour.

Mezzanine Floor

A circular staircase reached this floor, which was intended to house an engineer’s store and workshop

First Floor

The water was pumped through two Permutit water softeners to the soft water tank over the second floor with a capacity of 25,000 gallons.

Second Floor

This floor contained three storage tanks each containing six tons of crude oil for the boilers, which collectively could hold around 13,500 gallons. There was a lower tank called a Calorifer that heated water by means of steam coils; it could heat 3,000 gallons an hour. The storage capacity was 300 gallons.

Large girders could be seen from the second floor supporting the soft water tank and the hard water tank with a combined weight of 160 tons.

Later Days

The laundry and bakery continued in use until the 1970s. In later times the site held a transport department, a vehicle repair shop, a dairy, grocery and pharmacy warehousing and offices.

In the 1990s the Co-op moved their main distribution centre to Crawley and thus the Portland Road site became surplus to requirements. By January 1994 it was up for sale and in June of the same year it was sold for an undisclosed sum to Hartfield-based Gladefine. The buildings were demolished during October and November 1996 and a piece of industrial heritage bit the dust. A sad loss was the lengthy mosaic lettering ‘Brighton Co-operative Society’ that graced the frontage to Olive Road and another piece of mosaic lettering around an elevated skylight.


By 1936 there was a Co-op’s butcher shop at 42 Station Road and it was still there in 1954 and there was a Co-op chemist at 37 Station Road. By 1974 the butcher had gone but the chemist’s was still in business. Today there is no Co-op outlet in Boundary Road, Hove or Station Road, Portslade, once a hive of Co-op activity. Instead today there is a Co-op Funeral Service to be found in Valley Road, having taken over a former chemist’s shop and a Co-op pharmacy operates in Chalky Road Medical Centre.

Portslade Council passed plans for a Co-op grocery and provision store in January 1935. The single-storey building was located at 99 Trafalgar Road, right next door to the Southern Cross Mission. It was a homely sort of shop, which still delivered goods to your house until the mid-1960s. The van-man would collect your order booklet on a Monday morning and your goods would arrive later in the week. This store lasted until 1972 when George Rose, office equipment, took over the premises.

It seems there has been a change of heart regarding small stores where once all the talk was about superstores. In this atmosphere a small, neighbourhood Co-op was built recently at Portslade in Shelldale Road. It occupies a site once covered by a pub’s garden. The pub was the Gardener’s Arms and although the pub has shut the building still stands. It was a lovely decision to keep the free-standing pub sign, which now advertises ‘Co-operative Food’ on a light green ground whereas it used to have a painting of two brawny fore-arms holding a seedling.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The new Co-op at Shelldale Road.

In July 2015 a survey conducted by The Co-operative Food provided some interesting results. Apparently, the big weekly shop was on the decline and nowadays one in 20 people shop for groceries every day. A quarter said a daily shop avoided waste while 27 % asserted bulk buying did not fit in with their lifestyle. (Metro 17 July 2015)

Recent Times

In September 1994 it was stated that Brighton Co-operative Society ran 33 grocery stores from Worthing to Hailsham and inland to Tunbridge Wells; the company employed 1,400 people.

In 1993 at the Cooperative Congress in 1993 it was decided all co-operative societies should aim for a merger with the national Wholesale Co-operative Society by the year 2000.

On 21 September 1994 the question of Brighton Co-operative Society merging with CWS was voted on at Hove Town Hall. Bob Cole, retailer controller of the society, said that instead of little Brighton Co-op fighting the might of Tesco and Sainsbury, it would be the giant CWS instead. Local members voted in favour of a merger with CWS and the decision was ratified at the society’s half-yearly meeting on 12 October 1994 at Hove Town Hall by 197 votes to five. On 12 November 1994 Brighton Co-operative Society formally merged with CWS. Tony Birch, Brighton Co-op’s chief executive, resigned and in February 1995 it was announced that 200 Sussex staff would be made redundant, the accountant department in London Road would be transferred to the Co-op’s national accounting department at Glasgow and the supermarket in Eastbourne would close down.

On 2 April 2000 CWS and CRS (Co-operative Retail Services) merged to form a £4.7 billion operation. This meant the CWS family of businesses contained the following:

1,100 food stores
300 travel service branches
25 car dealerships
33 farm businesses (the Co-op is Britain’s largest farmer)
39 department stores
55 Co-op eye-care premises
Co-operative Bank
Co-operative Insurance Society

The CWS has also converted eleven Somerfield stores acquired in a £90 million deal. On 14 January 2001 a new name was adopted – the Co-operative Group (CWS) Ltd.

As regards market ethics, it is interesting to note the Co-op was the first dealer to stock Fairtrade coffee in 1992 and they launched Fairtrade bananas in 1999. Also in 1999 the Co-op paid out £21 million to dividend card-holders, that is their ordinary customers.

Since then the Co-op has had a rocky ride, which just goes to show that becoming such a big company is not always an efficient move. Incompetent management and bad investments have made newspaper headlines. The annual dividend payout has gone but dividend card-holders do receive the occasional discount and special offers.

Local Shops and Businesses in 2015

76/82 Blatchington Road, Hove
Chalky Road, Portslade, Pharmacy
88/92 Church Road, Hove
133 Kingsway, Hove
Old Shoreham Road, Hove, formerly the Atlas pub 
67/71 Portland Road, Hove
5 The Parade, Hangleton
Shelldale Road, Portslade
96 Valley Road, Portslade. Co-op Funeral Care
Western Road, Hove (between Brunswick Road and York Road)


Carder, Tim Encyclopaedia of Brighton (1990)
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Council Minutes
Middleton, Judy Portslade & Hove Memories (2004)
Portslade Council Minutes 

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
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