Newcastle Co-op
Little helper

Co-op House
Sat. 22nd June, 2002

The Newcastle Co-operative Society owned premises on Newgate Street from its inception in the 19th century, and during the retail boom of the late 1920s and early 30s when others were building in Northumberland Street, the CWS decided to stay put.

The Co-op architect, L.G. Ekins, combined modern Art Deco with Classical features and more than a dash of Egyptian influence. Howard Carter's recent discovery of the fabulous treasures of Tutankhamon in 1922 fuelled stylists for decades after.

The new
Co-op department store opened for business in 1932 and was an instant hit with shoppers.

The massive frontage sports two massive towers. These contain stairs and lifts to all floors.

Today, the cross of St. George fluttered from the top, in sad recognition of the English football hopes, dashed yesterday.

This massive south tower displays an unusual barometer. The north tower has a clock with, instead of numbers, the letters "co-operative". Although the clock works fine, the barometer has been promising bad weather for about a decade.

Those tall windows are a bold emphasis of the vertical, the rise from the ground, the lofty ideals of co-operative ownership with shoppers as shareholders.

South tower
North tower and Darn Crook

The northern tower forms a junction between the flat frontage and the thoroughly modern curved corner. The street along the side is Darn Crook, once blocked off at the other end just out of sight, by the town wall. The way was cleared through to Gallowgate in 1810.

Behind those curved first floor windows is the cafeteria where shoppers can be reminded of a 1960s works canteen. Steaming pans of pulverised produce and giant teapots are constantly ready for action.

The generous curve granted open space to the city and was the previous location of an alehouse. There is a sort of ironic justice in this change.

The North Eastern Co-op
Dizzy stairs

The name was changed in 1970 to the North Eastern Co-op with a clever little logo. The first national logo was introduced in 1968. The new society was an amalgamation of Darlington, Newcastle and Blyth co-ops as the main players and many other smaller ones that still operated as going concerns. Many local co-ops were bankrupt at the time.

The progressive policy of the North Eastern Co-op is thanks to David Hughes, a home grown manager, who put the products on the television, raised the public profile, and modernised the presentation and product range.

Those little men holding up the stair handrails are a clever device. Their co-operative efforts still push forward after 70 years

The decoration in the ground floor entrances of the towers is a sad and ephemeral Formica fašade. The surface design apes birds eye maple, and the 1920s kitsch is mixed with a Norman arch. Note the lotus columns following the Egyptian motif.

The idea is good but the execution is shabby and cheap. I don't think this gives a good first impression to those entering the building.

The internal space of this building is retail floor space, and as such is unremarkable. The original design is uncluttered and it has been augmented by later facelifts and ceiling drops.

South Tower entrance
South Tower first floor
Inside the tower window

This first floor entrance from the stairwell is more original, with warm pannelling and matched marble. The pink panels and black tracing are a pleasant touch and in keeping with the original period.

This detail from the inside of one of those tall tower windows shows the Art Deco zigzag electric flashes. This was a temple to modernity.

In the centre of the building is this atrium to the first floor roof light. Note also that escalators are provided in this central location.

The floorboard look is hard wearing synthetic floor covering over the original mahogany parquet. The new is cleaner and safer. There will be no loose pieces and no splinters to cause court cases.

The product lines are plain and solid. Here in the furnishing department there is little that would appeal to anyone under forty-five.

Below, the typical view of the interior displays the seeming uninterrupted space, but note the clever mirror pillars.

First floor atrium
Interior of furnishings

Although there were few shoppers this morning in this shot, business was brisk later. The obvious comparison would be with Fenwicks. That store has deliberately narrow pathways through the store to give the impression of greater activity.

Inside the curved corner is the cafeteria. It is stuck in a time warp. It reached the early 1960s and stopped. The fare is solid, unadventurous, and overcooked.

The catering is an object lesson in the history of heart attacks, and as you can see so clearly here, smoking is virtually obligatory.

I think it is the height of bad manners to waft stinking clouds of cancerous chemicals without let or hindrance. I consider this to be especially so during eating.

Restaurant for smelly smokers
Side of building on Darn Crook

This side view of the building along Darn Crook shows the less splendid brick constuction. The ground floor shop fronts were for related outlets such as dry cleaning, shoe repairs and travel.

Half way down the building is the archway that leads to the goods reception area.

As this is the area headquarters the top floor is given over to offices, a training centre and there is a maintenance department in the basement.

The co-operative movement is still going strong, and other retail outlets may be more modern, spacious and out of town, but this great old lady still dispenses her gracious gifts with a Mother's loving care.

Finally, a view of the newly planted Eldon Square. The Whitebeam trees that stood here for about 80 years were considered to be too old and have recently been replaced with these new saplings. Although only planted here for a week or so, one at least has been subjected to bark stripping vandalism. Whitebeams are particularly resistant to airborne pollution.

New trees for Eldon Square

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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