Co-operative Movement

Introduction

Perhaps the first co-operative shop in Scotland was set up as early as 1769 when sixteen handloom weavers in the Ayrshire village of Fenwick clubbed together to buy food provisions for sale to its members.  Other early co-operatives were soon established in Govan, Kirriemuir, Arbroath, Kilmarnock and Bridgeton in Glasgow.  The main purpose of these early co-operatives was to provide affordable goods to the working classes and they were treated with suspicion by the authorities at a time when unions or combinations were illegal.

In the Falkirk area the largest workforce was that of the Carron Iron Works which was accustomed to innovation and change.  It is not surprising that a group of them should come together in 1825 to form the Carron Victualling Society as a sort of Joint Stock Company which then formed the backbone of the Scottish economy.  New legislation in 1850 – the “Industrial and Provident Societies Act” made it easier to establish such businesses and by then the Rochdale Co-operative was advocating the system.  From 1860 onwards there was a flood of new co-operative societies.  In our area many of these were set up by colliers to break the truck system whereby men working in a pit bought their provisions from the pit shop and became indebted to the pit owner as a result.  In most cases these working class men and women were strongly supported by principled members of the middle class – men who had only recently made it in industry themselves.

The co-operative societies in the Falkirk district include:

Alloa (Airth)    1862 * Grangemouth
Bo’ness Larbert
Bonnybridge    1863* Laurieston      1871 *
Camelon         1857* Longcroft       1873 *
Carron           1825 * Redding         1861 *
Denny Slamannan    1861 *
Falkirk Stenhousemuir
Grahamston & Bainsford

Many of these societies donated money to, or took out shares in, new societies as they were set up, creating a virtuous circle.

As well as these retail outlets there were two national production centres in the Falkirk area associated with the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society – the soapworks at Grangemouth and a pottery at Bo’ness.

Each of the co-operative societies in the Falkirk area was unique.  Up the Braes and at Longcroft, Bo’ness and Airth, the societies were dominated by colliers and the society’s fortunes fluctuated according to the state of the mining industry.  Colliers soon found that money invested in good times could be called upon in times of dire straits and often referred to the local co-operative as their “savings bank”.

We are not able to provide individual histories of all of the above named societies at the moment, but we have made a start.  Those marked with an asterisk have short histories which may be found on this website.

Airth Branch of the Alloa Co-operative Society

Bonnybridge Co-operative Society Ltd

Camelon Co-operative Society Ltd

The Carron Victualling Society

Laurieston Co-operative Society

Longcroft Co-operative Society

Redding Co-operative Society Ltd.

Slamannan Co-operative Society

Recollections of a Soapworks

The SCWS Soapworks, Grangemouth