Robert Booth on his visit to the Co-operative Archives at Holyoake House

The family of Robert Booth contacted us recently to let us know he is celebrating his 100th birthday in May 2023.  He visited the archive recently with his son and we were able to record his memories of working in co-op movement and show him items from the collection which brought back some happy memories.

The recording and transcript have been added to the Co-operative Heritage Trust archives at Holyoake House in Manchester.

In the interview, he talks about meeting his wife, his time learning a trade, attending training, celebrity shoppers, sausages and was able to reel off his divi number...

"I can remember…dividend was paid every Thursday week every quarter. And one quarter of course was near to Whit [Whitweek].  People weren’t particularly wealthy in those days, there was a lot of unemployment, and dividend was a perk for the housewife generally. She got that. Well, what it meant at Whit, the children got equipped with, with new Whit clothes and shoes and our Central premises at Downing Street used to have long queues where the women folk used to draw their divi and then go and spend it on clothes for the children. Lots of things I remember about there."

Mobile Butcher

Robert Booth started his career with the Manchester and Salford Equitable Co-operative Society straight from school in 1939. He began as a butcher’s boy at their shop in Burnage Lane. After returning from Naval Service in World War II, he then ran a mobile butchers’ shop around the new estate at Wythenshawe before managing the new butchers’ shop on Minsterley Parade, Woodhouse Park.

Oldham Equitable Mobile Shop.  Co-operative archives ref. CPR 22-27

The Wythenshawe Estate began with roads that had been built by German prisoners of war. Post war, new blocks of planned housing was built on the development but at this time there were still no local shops. Having mobile shops which went to these estates meant that customers could walk in to the shop, pick up a basket and buy their goods with ease. Later, stores were built on Minsterley Parade. The photo below shows Mr Booth's shop just under the ‘Equitable’ part of the Manchester and Salford Equitable Co-operative Society which he was very proud.

M&S Equitable Society butcher shop in Minsterley Parade, Woodhouse Park, Wythenshawe c 1960s. ‘Dad was the manager of the shop but unfortunately was on holiday when the photo was taken.’

The following years took him to posts at Mode Wheel Central Office (Salford), the Butchery Departmental Manager at Co-operative Retail Services at Blackley and finally to become the General Manager of the brand new Central Super Store of nearby Oldham Industrial Co-operative Society.

Part of Mr Booth’s job was to buy livestock for the store:

‘We had our own abattoir and had a pork factory and a pie making factory all down at a place called Mode Wheel which was by the side of the Manchester Ship Canal. ‘

The Oldham Co-operative Society superstore was at Kings Square and managed by Robert Booth from the days it was being constructed to the day he retired.

"Oldham was a Co-operative Town I learned... We had attached to the Society a link with Henshaw's Blind Society. And then of course immediately after the First World War, there were so many men badly injured with eye problems through gas coming back home afterwards and Oldham decided they would open a small factory for these, some of these men to make baskets at work and such like. So that went down very well with the rest of Oldham People. No doubt helped our trade."

There were many celebrity shoppers including actors from Coronation Street and a visit from Ken Dodd who insisted on paying for his own food from the delicatessen.

At one point, the CWS and other independent co-ops were looking to expand into superstores and there were many visits to the Oldham Society Co-operative as a successful model. 

'Pioneers Co-operative Society's town centre hypermarket at Oldham has a selling area of 50,000 square feet and parking for 440 cars. The store opened in 1976' Photograph from the Co-operative Press Photograph Collection ref CIP/1/68/4ii

Workers’ Playtime

Part of being a manager was to ensure his staff were happy. Many of the staff had been ‘Mill Girls’ and mentored the younger staff. Mr Booth knew nearly all his staff by their Christian names, would walk round every morning to ensure the departments were looking good and to greet the staff and there were various events which involved both the staff and the local community such as the pancake race held every year.

Pancake race held in Kings Square, Oldham c 1979

After over 40 years of service, Robert Booth retired in 1983. A keen walker, he joined the Co-operative Holidays Association and enjoyed many a walk and holiday with the group. He is still a member of the Co-op, and although shopping is now a bit more difficult, he remembers going round shops and from habit totting up the price of the goods before reaching the tills.

His Grandson writes:

"Throughout his career, he was known for his dedication, hard work, and commitment to his staff, and the Co-op’s mission and values. He was also known for his high standards and people skills. He was always looking for ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the business, and his ideas and suggestions were often implemented by the company. He was a valuable asset to the Co-operative Movement and his contributions to its success are immeasurable."

Manchester and Salford Equitable Co-operative Society and Oldham Equitable Co-operative Society Ltd origins:

The Manchester and Salford Equitable Co-operative Society worked with other Salford societies, Eccles and Pendleton, in the early day to solve initial supply issues to stores until the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) was established in 1863. They traded independently until merging with Norwest in 1970.

Oldham Equitable Co-operative Society Ltd started as Greenacres Hill society in 1867 and merged in 1854 with Oldham Industrial Society which had started earlier in 1851. The merged society joined the Pioneers which itself became Norwest Pioneers and just known as Norwest until 1991 when it became United Norwest, then United Co-operatives in 2002 following a series of other mergers in the regions. From there 'United' was renamed as The Co-operative Group in 2007. Both societies that existed at the time Mr Booth was working helped to form CWS as a regional business in the first place to supply their own members with a wider range of goods and a better rate of dividend.

Both Oldham and Manchester and Salford (known as M&S) were represented at the 1870 Congress agreeing to form the committee for the Co-op Union (Co-operatives UK today) and allocating a portion of the profit to registering the millions involved in co-ops around the country.

The records of the Manchester and Salford Equitable Co-operative Society and Oldham Equitable Co-operative Society Ltd are held at Manchester Archives+ and Oldham Local Studies and Archives respectively. The Co-operative Archive hold a number of periodicals including the M&S Herald and two large photo collections  If you wish to visit the archive to look at any material or listen to the interview, you can find out more details of how to do this on our website.

Unless otherwise stated, photographs are owned by the Booth family.