I had expected to be writing, this month, about the end  of Gillingham Borough Council but the last meeting of  that authority is arranged for 24th March (a week  from the time of writing) so, all being well I hope to  comment on this historic event next month.  It’s obviously a period of great change as the  management of The Rainham & District Co-operative  Society Ltd have announced that they are to close all  activities here in Rainham on 4th April. This is a  terrible blow to the prosperity of the Shopping Centre  which will now rely, almost entirely, upon Tesco  continuing to trade, remember that they stated that  trading would be continued for at least five years after  the new store opened at Rainham Mark on 1st  February 1994.

One would hope that the closure of  the Co-op will encourage Tesco to remain open in the  Shopping Centre as so many older folk would find it  difficult to shop elsewhere.  The level of rents in the centre are of great concern  to many of the traders as the last review took place  when rents were far higher than now and rents  charged under the leases never go down. It’s ironic  that we’re dependent upon one supplier for grocery etc  in Rainham when, pre war, we had the Co-op,  International, Perks, Roses and Quinells and many  smaller well stocked shops.  I have information on the origin of the Co-op in  Rainham somewhere but my ‘big box’ filing system  has failed me this time so I am grateful to Mr Aubry  who has collated a lot of information on Kent Co-ops  and the Labour Party. 

End of an Era - Closure of Rainham Co-op Stores in 1998

On 25th November 1872 a meeting was held to  consider opening Co-operative store facilities here in  Rainham but nothing developed until 1891 when  Sittingbourne Co-op opened a branch shop. At that  date Rainham, as part of Milton Regis RDC, was far  closer to Sittingbourne than Gillingham. It was just  102 years ago, in 1896, that Rainham and District Co-  operative Society Ltd was born. I’m pretty sure they  started at 1/2 Station Road which are the top shops on  the eastern side immediately below the garden of the  Whitehorse PH, that’s where they remained until the  Shopping Centre was opened.  I do have an advertisement from Kelley’s Directory  of 1908 which quotes the annual sales at nearly  £16,000 with a profit of £1,500, a membership of 505  when the population of Rainham was around 4,000.  The Share Capital was £5,447 with an entrance fee of  l/- (5 p). The first telephone was number 4.

The sales  covered Grocery, Hardware, Crockery, Tinware,  Drapery, Boots, Clothing, Furniture, Bakery, Pastry,  Corn, Coal and Meat.  Many people worked long hours, often six days a  week in the early part of the century so could seldom  get to the shops, members would leave notes for the  baker ordering replacement boots or items of clothing  etc. Many didn’t lock their back door or if they did  then those making regular deliveries would know  where the key was placed so that they could leave  deliveries of bread etc on the kitchen table. The . x  Women’s Guild, much involved in the education of women was started in 1900. The early Managing/  Secretary was Mr A.W. Barnes and subsequent  managers Mr Harry Budd and Mr Reg Lucas are still  remembered.  The new large shops and hall, opposite the Church  were opened in 1928 costing £10,000, designed by  Mr F. Mattocks and I think built by Bridges. It’s  ironic that this was opened in the same year that the  Extension to the Boundary Act was passed which  transferred Rainham to Gillingham and the building  has been demolished in the same year that Gillingham  is to be absorbed within the new Medway Towns  authority.

Many of us remember with affection the  dances in the old Co-op hall and the large clock which  hung from the frontage until it was considered  dangerous during the war and taken down.  Many Co-operative Societies were closely affiliated  to the Labour Party and Rainham was no exception as  most of the Committee were also ardent Labour  supporters. I recall the Conservatives putting up  candidates in the 1950s in an endeavour to obtain  control of the Gillingham Co-operative Society. It was  probably because of the political affiliation that the Co-ops played an important role in community  activities and the dividend earned on purchases  enabled many members to obtain shoes and clothing  etc. This dividend was, I think, paid quarterly when members would queue up the stairs to the office in  alphabetical groups at advertised times and you will  still find those who were very young children in pre  war years who can immediately recall their mother’s  membership number. At one time tin type coins were  issued. 

Photos of Closure of Rainham Co-op Stores in 1998

One rather unique feature which each shop used  was the overhead cash transmission system (I forget  its patent name) whereby the cash and bill were sent  in a two piece wooden cup by spring action from the  point of sale to the office and in due course of time  returned with change and receipt, absolutely  fascinating to young children!  The Co-op fetes were an outstanding event in pre  war years, members’ children were seated in long rows  at the Recreation Ground and then supplied with eats  and tea, each one taking his or her own mug. There were great urns of tea poured out by helpers in white  enamel jugs with sandwiches, buns, various types of  slab cake and sometimes fruit and sweets. Much of  the excitement came from the free rides, swings,  roundabout and various side shows. I believe that non members’ children had to pay for the tea and the  sideshows! The Rainham Co-op Treats

The carnival was another pre war feature  when decorated horse drawn carts and vehicles  paraded through some of our main streets with many  youngsters in attendance.  Rainham pre war was a hotbed for football and the  Co-op had a very successful team in the Wednesday  league and won many trophies. I was speaking to  Harry Howting recently and he rattled off the team of  his era as though they played last Wednesday. Edgar  Apps, Joe Cox, Percy Payne, Bill Costen, Sid Norris,  Dave Coppins, Sid Muggleton, Harry Howting, Percy  Major, Len Stockey, Sid Skinner and later Stan Lacey.  I’m sure that older residents will have many  memories as Rainham Co-operative Society Ltd had a major influence on our community pre war with many  personalities such as the departmental managers like  Bill Samson, Mrs Ovenden, Mr Lacey, Mr Norrington  (later Maidstone Road) then there were the office staff  like Mr Mattocks and Mr Waterman and Committee  (like Messrs Bowra, Day, Dartnell and Ransley. I hope that some previous employees or their children will write to ‘Action Forum’ so that far more of the history of the Co-op and those who made it tick  may be preserved for posterity. 

Freddie Cooper        



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