I am grateful to David Howard for supplying this Edith Howard photograph of the Andover Co-operative stores in Bridge Street that was taken around 1934. This was the fourth of five buildings that the business occupied during its time in Andover. The first was in New Street which lasted just a few months; then they moved to Bridge Street but on the opposite side of the road next to the bus station, and finally to this site on which three successive stores were constructed.

This Bridge Street location, first taken up in 1909, was restricted to the west by long-standing leases held by the Catherine Wheel coffee tavern and Collis’ cycle shop which both expired in 1921. The Andover Co-operative Society bought the freehold of these buildings some years before and so when the leases ran out it was free to demolish those two old business premises. At the same time the existing 1909 shop was transformed out of all recognition, and this impressive building opened for business in March 1923.

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Andover Advertiser: The Andover Co-op building in Bridge Street 1923-1986Co-operative societies had their origin in Rochdale in the 1840s and the idea gradually spread southwards during the 19th century. Each local society was autonomous, run by a management committee, although much of the goods on offer were purchased from the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) which supplied nationally. The Co-op also made arrangements with local farmers and suppliers to buy on a much larger scale than would be possible for individual shopkeepers and this meant that prices were competitive.

As an added incentive, shoppers at the Co-op could opt to become a member for a small joining fee. Each member was given a number to be quoted every time a purchase was made and at the end of the year would receive a cash dividend according to the amount spent. It was an early form of loyalty card that ensured customers would stick to the brand.

However, it is easy to see that such methods would be anathema to the family businesses in the High Street who saw their customer base shrinking as a result. And indeed, there arose a form of new class divide between those who shopped at the Co-op and those who did not – ‘Co-op-ers’ as they were sometimes disparagingly called. Nevertheless, it was a success; membership at Andover had increased from 400 in 1901 to 2,164 by 1923, while trade had shot up from just under £3,000 per annum to £82,000 over the same period.

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When it opened in 1923, the Andover Co-op must have been the town’s largest department store – at least in selling the widest range of goods. For all the early co-ops, first and foremost was the grocery department - food having spawned the movement originally. But by the time Andover formed its first society in 1901, it was common, if space allowed, for a multitude of other types of ware to be available under the same roof.

A booklet produced by the Andover society in 1923 to celebrate the opening of the new store shows photographs of the various personalities involved in the new set-up: department managers include Mr F Roberts (grocery), Mr H J Hedges (bakery), Mr J C Reid (drapery) and Mr E Lang (outfitting). Furniture could be bought there and the above photograph displays a sign for developing and printing – an eight-hour service. There must also have been a garden department which supplied equipment as reels of hosepipe are just visible outside the part of the shop nearest the Town Mill. Other specialties within the building included butchery, confectionery, an upstairs café, china, linoleum and carpets. Even a cycle shop was contemplated but this may not have materialised and there may have been several attempts to establish a new department over the years with some not proving to work.

During the post-war period, with the advent of bigger competitors, such as the supermarket brands, the individual co-ops were squeezed out and many amalgamated with others in order to keep solvent. Andover joined the Portsea Island co-op in 1968 and not long afterwards a new Andover store was built, the final central premises in the town. However, after some stringent management decisions over viability, this was closed along with others nationally in 1986. 

If you are interested in local history, why not join Andover History and Archaeology Society? Details can be found at andoverlocalhistoryarchaeology.uk