The Co-operative movemement was a strong influence in working-class society. Foleshill the industrial, blue-collar area of Coventry, was no exception. Lockhurst Lane, (Foleshill) Co-operative Society was the second to be formed in Britain after the initial Rochdale Group. My Grandma Lucas, her sister Alice and infact the whole family were staunch members of the Co-op movement.
At an early age I had to memorise our check number because it had to be quoted when making a purchase. Their goods were reasonably priced, and the quality was good, so with every purchase adding up to a dividend payout, they definitely had an edge on their competitors!
With what glee the women of the household totted up what they expected to get paid out on 'Divi' day. It was as good as "pennies from heaven" in an environment when it was a struggle to "make ends meet" and a matter of pride not to let your poverty show. The Divi meant something long needed could be afforded or perhaps a treat for the family.
From about early 1942 I lived just around the corner from the Co-op, and a back wall of one of its buildings was the rear wall to our garden. Not a very exciting outlook you might think, but the red brick was cheerful, and Mum's small patch of garden glowed with the flowers that her "green" fingers coaxed from the little plot, so honestly, we didn't notice the confinement of that wall and those of neighbouring buildings.
The main shop, on the Foleshill Road/Holmesdale Road corner was a double storey. I was fascinated by the system of payment as the money and docket went into a "shuttle" and was placed in the wall, and with a rude slurp and whoosh, it vanished, to reappear shortly afterwards with the change. Large though it was, for a suburban shopping centre, it proved inadequate and shops in Holmesdale Road were taken over for the butchery, grocery and greengrocery departments. Similarly it spread along the Foleshill Road and we had a pharmacy/gift shop.
ln later years the Co-op became our landlord, buying up our block of houses in Webster Street from "Uncle" Tom Lucas. There were great plans for expansion, but I don't know whether it has come to pass. I must find out!
Now Great-Aunt Alice lived to be only 10 weeks short of 102 years old. She had joined the Co-op in Leeds when she was 18. The local press wrote up articles on her, in December 1973, on the occasion of her 100th birthday, and there is a large photograph of her; with the Mayor kissing her cheek. She lapped it up as she had always been a lively little lady! Another photograph shows her with an enormous cake which was presented by the Nuneaton and Atherstone District Co-operative Society and delivered to her by their secretary-manager. She had been a member of the Nuneaton branch for 65 years and had been a stalwart of their Women's Guild.
When I think of this indominatable lady I hear her saying, "I'm just going down to t'cwop!". When asked what had contributed to her longevity, as she drank a celebratory glass of whisky, she said, "I like it", winking one of her bright blue eyes, "and that's the truth. A drop of whisky in my tea regularly has done me a power of good"
It was the habit of so many of us to try the Co-op first when needing anything, and it rarely fell short of our requirements. One of my favourite pairs of earrings was bought from t'cwop, in the early 1950s, and is a constant reminder of those times past, living in the shadow of "The Co-op".