Monday, 8 June 2009

"It's all at the (South Suburban) Co-op NOW!"

Along with vague memories of its old advertising jingles, the Co-op store is still a familiar sight on the High Street and there's a reasonably sized supermarket version on the corner of Rose Hill roundabout on the Sutton/Morden borders. What is possibly of more interest though (unless you're on the lookout for a sandwich, as I was last week) is this elegant and very large pebble dashed plaque on the side of a nearby 'Landlords Furniture' shop on Rosehill Avenue (and to be honest I never thought I'd ever use the words 'elegant' and 'pebble-dashed' in the same sentence). Although the area is generally of 1930's vintage, and the sign is probably not of any great age, it is quite intriguing when you notice it. There might well be people reading this who worked for the company and certainly would have have been customers. It was all new to me though so I had a bit of a dig around to find out a bit more about it.
Wikipedia is always worth a punt and indeed it gives a potted history of the Society. Basically it was an amalgam of several smaller local co-operative societies operating in Surrey and Kent. In the early days these sort of societies provided a whole range of services and goods for their members, from milk to coal, books to funerals, food to furniture and any profits at the end of the year were paid back to their members in the form of a cash dividend or 'divi'.

However, reading around the subject solved another minor query. I had a photo of a stately building in Tooting, now a function hall, that had an RACS Ltd pediment. At the time I didn't know what it stood for but I now know that this was a building belonging to the South Suburban Co-Operative's big local rival, the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative Society!
I found some information about the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (including some reminiscences that claimed that RACS stood for 'Robbing All Customers Slowly', which seems a bit harsh) that shows that its acquisitions included the local Wimbledon Co-operative society, so it looks as though Morden might have been the border 'badlands' between these two local powerhouses. By all accounts there seems to have been some rivalry between them but ultimately it did them no good as they were both absorbed into the national Co-Op in 1985 leaving little more than a few plaques and name plates to tease the curious!
One last thing I never knew about the Co-Op, but found out reading around them, was that it has its own political party. In fact it has up to 29 MP's, including Ed Balls but you're not likely to know that as the Co-Operative Party has allied itself with the Labour Party so closely it no longer campaigns as an individual entity, even though it still aparently exists and functions independently. Its MPs are listed as being members of the Labour & Co-Operative Party, rather than just the Labour Party, but the fact that its official party colour is grey probably suggest that they don't spend as much on image consultancy as their Labour colleagues


Mr. Jolly said...

Firstly, I'd like to say that I love this blog, as the sort of sad man that loves walking the streets looking at stuff that interests me (or psychogeography as I believe the more pretentious call it) I look forward to every new post. It turns out that this blog is politically instructive as well. A couple of years ago there was much talk in the political blogosphere about how the Labour party was technically bankrupt, or at least on such flaky financial ground as to make their accounts subject to quite close scrutiny. The bank that held their accounts was revealed to be the Co-Op bank. I now understand better the links between the two organisations. Many thanks.

Yelfy said...

Thanks for your comments and also for the wonderful term 'psychogeography' which I see was defined by Guy Debord as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals." (although 'sad man on a walk with a camera' is a good alternative). Considering I'd never heard of Debord a year or so ago it's interesting that not only is he defining my activities on here, but was also used to define a suggested philosophical approach on possibly one of the most pretentious football banners ever hung at a game.

Jill said...

Thank you for this! I have lived near the RACS building for years and always wondered what RACS stood for and what the building had been. I'd guessed some kind of shop/department store but what exactly I didn't know. Yes, I could've googled it but it actually never occurred to me! It's a lovely building and although the upper floors are still in use the ground floor is sadly now bricked up - until about 2 years ago it was a large Indian vegetarian restaurant.

Sue said...

I am old enough to have gone shopping in the RACS Tooting store. It was a huge department store, I remember the toy section being particularly good - well I was a kid! There was a supermarket, at that time the only one apart from M&S in Tooting. There was a funeral director and the travel agent.
It started to go downhill during the mid-late eighties, and gradually less and less of the store was used till it finally closed, possibly around 1990. The supermarket survived a bit longer but eventually closed.

South Norwood

Anonymous said...

Te RACS Tooting building is teh subject of a planning application to demolish it and turn the site into a mixed use development incorporating anhotel, apartments and retail units.
A campaign has been set up to try to save this building. Go to Facebook and search for "Save The RACS Building" for further information. I would welcome all contributions of personal recollections of the building which ceased use as the RACS in 1984 when the RACS joined forces with the Cooperative WHolesale Services (CWS). Dale Ingram, Tooting Local History Group.

Phattone said...

Do you read Iain Sinclair? He is the master of 'psychogeography' and London. His writings about the East End are amazing but he tends to touch on most parts of London. The Co-op buildings in Woolwich (SE18) used to take up both sides of the road at the bottom end of Powis Street when I was a child (1970's). Its now an Argos, a carpet shop and a Burtons. Some of the signage is still there and its worth a trip to see that, the Ferry and the foot tunnel if nothing else.

Whyperion said...

RACS owned a coach company (Duval's and coaches in the red and grey livery would appear with both RACS logos on some and Duval on others in the 1960s/70s.

Morden RACS building ( there are demolition pictures on Flickr ) is where the present day Sainsbury's (and offices to side and above ) now stands. The co-op hall was where the Tube car park (merton council) stand ( part site only- rest was parking) Mum and Dad sang in the co-op (RACS) choir.

I think the co-op at Wimbledon Chase was RACS, but Lower Morden south suburban ( I could be wrong) Wimbledon Chase held the Co-op dairy, with the earlier electric milk floats being in a brushed silver/ali finish with RACS logo on, later milk floats were white with the blue square Co-Op logo. Closed when acquired by Dairy Crest ( whom had earlier acquired Unigate in Gap Road wimbledon, the Unigate in Kenley Road closing earlier, the other main dairies were Express Dairy by Morden South station, Job's from over Kingston area , Metclalfe's in Merton High Street( Hand cart delivery originaly then they got a small electric float around 1968 possibly a second-hand ext Job's Dairy.
RACS also had supermarkets in Merton High Street junc with Haydons Road, Tooting Junction, Raynes Park, Wimbledon Park but I cannot remember a RACS in wimbledon town itself ( Tesco was where the BMW dealership/Wibbasdown pub now are located )
I have a RACS members yearbook somewhere , divi- checks (metal tokens) and old laundry tags from the co-op laundry, possibly some co-op insurance books

katie king said...

Can any one tell me when the co op in woolwich closed its doors please

katie king said...

Can any one tell me when the co op in woolwich closed its doors please

briseyk1 said...

I worked at RACS Travel at Tooting from 1982 to 1985. The RACS covered a broad area from New Malden to West Wickham.

I lived in Earlsfield and we had both South Suburban and RACS. The divi was different in both and they had separate books of stamps- like Green Shield Stamps but blue- put the wrong stamp in your book and you could not redeem it

Stuart W said...

Happy to confirm there WAS a small RACS store in Wimbledon town centre. I went to it on its last trading day! It was in the building now occupied by Majestic Wine and closed in the late 80s from memory. Thankfully the Co-op has just opened a new store in Durnsford Road and is about to reopen in Haydons Road