A look back at the golden age of the Co-op

FOR generations of Yorkshire folk, the phrase 'divi day' will conjure up a whole host of memories.

It was, for those too young to remember, the magical day when the Co-operative Society issued its dividend to members.

And now a new book has been published which looks at the golden age of the Co-op – and its famous 'divis' – in one part of Leeds.

Historian Anne Jones decided to chronicle the life and times of Morley Co-op to make sure its contribution to the local community would never be forgotten. She said: "The first thing people remember about the Co-op was 'divi day'. People would queue up and hand in their small pink divi slips and receive their dividend.

"The money, paid out twice a year, or sometimes quarterly, was a big thing for a lot of people and allowed them to buy extra items they usually couldn't afford. It was a really important moment for a lot of people and they have fond memories of queuing up with their mum.

"The Co-op was also a very forward-thinking organisation–- it had women's committees back in 1937 and very much supported the women's lib cause.

"The Co-op was such a big thing in its day. It was the lifeblood of the local community."

The book, which is being sold to raise money for charity, tells the story Morley Co-op from its beginnings in 1869 to the modern day.

For the 112-page Divi Day book – which includes 200 photographs – Anne interviewed scores of locals.

She relates how the original Co-op building in Albion Street had its own grand hall which would be used for weddings and began its own lending library for "penny books" long before Morley Library was even thought about.

Pre-dating Morley's famous town hall, the Co-op also had its own abbatoir – local people told stories of soon-to-be butchered animals escaping and running amok – and even a coal depot.

Mrs Jones also recounts memories of products sold in the stores - including cocoa wine (containing cocaine) and the famed blue bags of Co-op sugar.

And she retells the history of individuals like George Speight, a Co-op chemist who led an orchestra in the town. He tried to sign up to the Army but failed his medical – much to his disappointment but to the delight of dance-loving locals.

The book also includes references to much-loved general managers including Mr J T Spence who steered the Co-op through the Second World War and his successor Sam Priestley who dressed as Santa every year and rode around the town.

In its heyday there were 21 branches of the Co-op in Morley, Tingley, Gildersome and East Ardsley. Just two of those are still occupied by the Co-op – Gildersome and the one in Bradford Road, Tingley.

The original Co-op building in Morley is now a solicitors' office but many of the original features remain, including a stone beehive that adorns the top of the building.

Proceeds from the book, funded by the Co-operative Heritage Fund, will be split between the charities of the Lord Mayor of Leeds – Create, Riding for the Disables and the Samaritans – and the Mayor of Morley, who supports children's and youth groups. It is available from all Morley area branches of the Co-op and from Co-op Travel at the White Rose Centre.

Copies can also be ordered by calling 0113 252 6757.

Karly Strawson and four-year-old Myles Smith, from Pontefract, strike a pose. Picture: James Hardisty

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