Welbourn Co-operative

The Welbourn Co-operative Stores 1878 -1981 by Bill Goodhand

The Old Co-op Shop, founded 1878- photo from The Joiner’s Arms collection, reproduced with permission

No 5 Branch of Lincolnshire Co-operative Society in Welbourn has the distinction of being the first rural co-operative stores in Lincolnshire (and possibly the first in the whole country) – with a reputation of being the best managed in the county. Providing a comprehensive retail service to Welbourn and neighbouring villages, it not only had a thriving shop fronting onto the High Street but, to the rear, had a large bake house, housing for delivery carts and stabling for several horses.

The shop also provided an extensive delivery service of groceries, bread, animal feed, paraffin and coal to all of the Cliff villages between Frieston and Harmston and outlying farms and cottages. In the early days, for some isolated farming families, the weekly co-operative delivery service was their only contact with the outside world. The Co-operative Society would also purchase, or exchange  groceries for, any surplus eggs and butter.

The Society also made a particular effort to contribute to village life by organising a wide range of social and educational activities which included providing a field for the football team; two grass tennis courts adjacent to its buildings off Blacksmiths Lane; organising a flower, fruit and vegetable show; organising concerts and lectures; setting up a lending library; and acting as a savings bank for customers.

In 1910 the Welbourn Branch provided the first social housing in the village, building two semi-detached cottages to let, close to the shop. It also purchased the five cottages facing The Green, including Sir William Robertson’s birthplace. Already owners of two smaller farms, in 1915 they purchased a further 350 acres in the village, which they ran as a thriving dairy farm until 1977.

From 1937, the Society held an annual summer camp for urban children at the Welbourn farm with provisions provided by the village Co-operative Stores.

At the time when the Welbourn Stores first opened its doors in 1878, the members of a co-operative society were generally perceived as potential revolutionary socialists and a threat to the rural social order. It is therefore a credit to a group of labourers and cottagers in Welbourn at that time, that they came forward with the first request to establish a Co-operative Stores in their village. The initial meeting at Welbourn, attended by leading members of the Lincoln Co-operative Society, took place around a pile of road stones on the Green since the Society’s speakers had been unable to hire the village school rooms due to the opposition of the Rector and local shop-keepers. Later meetings, however, were able to be held in the Joiners Arms until finally, on the 2nd May 1878, the new shop opened with goods delivered by van from Lincoln.

An article by Norman Bates published in ‘Town and Country News’ in December 1933 records that   the shop carried over£2000 worth of stock and had an annual trade of £26,000 or approximately £500 per week. They sold over 2000 bottles of pasteurised milk a week and the adjoining bakehouse produced 2500  loaves weekly, providing the membership with an annual dividend of 1/3d. in the pound, a higher figure of most of the neighbouring co-operative branches. Amongst the prices: a 2 pound loaf cost 3 ½ pence; milk was 3 ½ pence a quart; tea 10 pence a pound; sugar 2 ¼ pence a pound; margarine 4 pence a pound; a tin of herring 4 pence; baked beans 5 pence; potatoes 4 pence of 5 lbs. and coal 1 shilling 6 pence a bag.

The Welbourn Co-operative Stores 1878 -1981 by Bill Goodhand is based upon a series of articles first published in the Two Villages magazine.