England’s Co-operative Movement

BookEngland’s Co-operative Movement

England’s Co-operative Movement

An Architectural History

Historic England


September 30th, 2020



Other Formats



The neighbourhood co-op store was an essential element in the English shopping landscape for a century and more. Initially identified by the iconic co-operative symbols of beehives and wheatsheaves, eclectic store designs by local architects made a lasting impact on the townscape. Robustly independent local co-operative societies and lack of overall branding happily produced an unusually diverse range of architectural styles. And they were much more than just shops – their integrated educational facilities, libraries and halls made them a focal point for communities. The Co-op eventually offered a ‘cradle to grave’ service for its members. Behind the network of stores was the Co-operative Wholesale Society, the federal body responsible for manufacturing and distribution. Its factories employed thousands during the productive peak of the 1930s, and its architects brought modern design standards to bear on the whole gamut of co-op buildings. Co-op architecture is still around us countrywide, with everything from Victorian edifices to post-war artworks there to be seen and enjoyed. Using a wonderful selection of archive and modern illustrations, this book reveals the intriguing story behind the co-op’s buildings, from corner shops to vast department stores and innovative industrial structures. Remember, it’s all at the co-op now!

'Accessible in style and timely in its publication, England’s Co-operative Movement reflects not just academic interest in the subject but public enthusiasm for twentieth-century architecture. [...] Taking a chronological approach from the pioneering retail societies of the 1840s to the present day, [Lynn Pearson] presents a richly illustrated guide which contextualises buildings in relation to the expansion and changing functions of the co-operative movement.'Natalie Bradbury, Co-op News

'There were many buildings which were new to me in this book, which surveys the history and development of co-operative architecture, from shops and department stores to bakeries, warehouses, laundries and even mobile shops. In addition, a wealth of archival material [...] offers a rare glimpse at those premises which have been demolished or changed beyond all recognition (or in some cases never made it beyond plans and drawings).'Manchester Review of Books

'Pearson’s book provides an eminently readable account, the first of its kind in single book form, of the clear links between architectural and social change expressed in the development of the co-operative movement’s diverse buildings.'Nicholas Doggett, Context

Winner of the Association for Industrial Archaeology's Peter Neaverson Award for Outstanding Scholarship 2021

‘Pearson has produced an expansive, chronologically arranged historical survey, broken down by broad building types (retail and industrial), then further subdivided, and as a general survey it is unlikely ever to be bettered... Pearson’s book must be welcomed as the starting point for all future researchers. To unravel such a complex subject is almost as heroic an undertaking as the Co-operative movement itself.’

Julian Holder, Architectural History

'This book is a long overdue celebration of the architecture of the [cooperative] movement, illustrating the contribution co-operative stores made to the high streets of England and recapturing the pride, confidence and economic muscle of the co-operative movement in its heyday.'
Robin Thornes, Journal of Historic Buildings & Places


Author Information

Independent architectural historian and photographer.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Illustration Credits9
List of Abbreviations10
Part I: The Retail Movement Gains Popularity: 1844 to the 1910s11
1. Laying the Foundations: Retail Societies, 1844–189013
2. Pioneering Production: CWS Depots and Factories, 1863–189729
3. Stylistic Free-for-all: Retail Societies, 1890 to the 1910s41
4. Concrete Progress: CWS Depots and Factories, 1897 to the 1910s97
Part II. The Boom Years: The 1920s to the Mid-1950s117
5. Loss and Recovery: Retail Societies in the 1920s119
6. Industrial Development: The CWS Between the Wars139
7. Buying Goods in a Fairy Palace: Retail Societies in the 1930s155
8. Building a Post-War World: Co-operative Architecture from the 1940s to the Mid-1950s181
Part III: Decline, Fall and Rise: The Mid-1950s Onward193
9. Art for the People: Co-op Design from the Mid-1950s to the 1960s195
10. Superstore to Convenience Store: Co-op Architecture in the 1970s and Beyond217
Appendix 1: Number of Co-operative Stores by Date245
Appendix 2: CWS Industrial Locations246
Appendix 3: Timeline of the CWS Architects’ Department248
Select Bibliography250